Many years ago, Mike and I explored Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, the longest cave system known in the world. As we followed the park ranger deep underground, we came to one cavern large enough for our tour group to be seated. When we were settled and quiet, the ranger flipped off the lights.
Total darkness does not begin to describe it. I have never experienced a greater sense of disorientation. As futile as we knew it to be, we could hear people around us waving their arms in the air, trying in vain to see their own hands.
I had an uneasy sense of helplessness. Without light, how could we ever find our way out of this deep, dark hole?
And then the ranger’s grand gesture. We heard a slight rustle, a quick pfft…and in an instant the cavern was flooded with light.
From a single match.
2020 has been described as somewhere between a hot mess, a dumpster fire, and a train wreck. Yet a book of wisdom in Scripture reminds us there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3). In the first century, the depraved Roman emperor Nero had Christ-followers coated in pitch, impaled on posts, and set ablaze to light his debaucheries – a demonic twist on Jesus’ call for his disciples to serve as the light of the world.
Have you heard the Nativity story so many times that, while beloved, it’s become almost commonplace? The young virgin, the older husband. Lack of lodging. Smelly shepherds, angelic choirs, mysterious magi. The baby, crying and cooing in the manger. A comforting scene.
Which is why what actually happened was so radically revolutionary. Incendiary, even.
“And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
Could it be that to be overshadowed is to lose sight for a miraculous moment of the source of light? That when the Son of God was conceived in the womb of a woman, the overshadowing is what produced the Light of the World?
“Two thousand years ago, God knew that his children were not going to win their battle against the darkness on their own, so God 'struck a match' —creating a flame that would ignite the world and the hearts of humankind.” - Ed Robb, Making Room: Sharing the Love of Christmas
That baby in the manger? A bonfire.
The Christ? A conflagration.
Jesus our Messiah? A purifying flame kindling the world with his light.
Have you had difficulty seeing any good coming out of the darkness of 2020? Has God felt unapproachable, invisible, even absent in your situation?
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near.” (Numbers 24:17)
We must not mistake his silence for his absence or this present darkness for our future reality. Oh friend, the light of God’s glory blinds us in its brilliance! The sandaled steps of his Son sets the very earth ablaze with his presence.
“A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24:19)
We light a candle, and reflect. We step outside, and look up. We leave the lights on and welcome the wanderers home.
The grand gesture has been made.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)
God struck the match.
- Copyright 2020, Maggie Wallem Rowe. Inspired by sermon at Longs Chapel, Clyde, NC, December 13, 2020.