What the darkness of a tropical jungle taught me about Advent

dark

We’re in Advent now – the darkest time of year. It is truly the four darkest weeks of the year. We are edging ever closer to the winter solstice: the shortest day of the year and the longest night, and the day in the northern hemisphere in which the sun travels as far south as it ever will.

The ancients – so they say – feared the sun would continue dipping farther and farther south until eternal night came and the sun returned no more — which is in a way true in the northernmost latitudes.

But on December 21st or 22nd (depending on the year), the curse reverses. Stops, and turns back. The winter solstice is a promise that night will not last forever. The days will lengthen. Light and warmth will return.

But now, as the darkness of December dives ever deeper, we remember the darkness of a world without a savior. We remember the 400-year long wait to hear the voice of God again. We remember the oppression and the lack and the longing.

And we wait. We wait for freedom and redemption and unblemished communion with God. For everything in Herod’s Temple was but a shadow of the communion we are created to live. And the communion we now enjoy through Christ crucified and risen is still but a shadow of the feasting and oneness and rejoicing in the eternal Kingdom Come.

So we wait.

I remember in the States how the darkness would get the best of me. Not before Christmas mind you – there was too much joy and excitement and twinkle lights – but after. In January (which was far colder) the short days would depress me. It wasn’t enough to immobilize me, but it was enough to feel its weight bearing down on me — and February wasn’t much better.

But I was never afraid of that darkness. In that developed place, there are enough city lights and home lights that the darkness didn’t ever feel total. Here, though, it’s different. Our low tropical latitude means sunset comes on fast and strong, all year round. The darkness doesn’t just deepen. It makes a swift descent.

And the darkness is much more complete. I never noticed it as much, before we boarded a boat too poor to own a light for a sunset “cruise” in Kampot. That darkness I tell ya, it’s quick. And thick. It’s a despairing darkness, and feels as if morning might never come.

Sunset comes at nearly the same time year round: 6 pm. We don’t have shorter days (not by much anyway), but we don’t have longer days either. I do miss the seasonal lengthening.

And though we live in the city, the darkness is still complete. Out my front door is a partially completed yet still tall and as-yet uninhabited row house. It blocks whatever city lights might get to my 3rd story living room window. So when night begins, the darkness is total.

And ever since that dark river trip in which I truly encountered the darkness of the Cambodian jungle, I cannot bear even to look out my window at night. Not after riding along a churning, muddy river without a light. This darkness is too much for me. And too soon. Each evening it comes too soon.

But isn’t this the soul of Advent? The darkness is too much for us. We were not created to live in this darkness, nor to take part in creating the darkness.

So we wait. And we cry out. We cry for mercy. We cry for hope. We cry for return. Return of the Light. Return of the Son. Return of the King.

Until He comes, we will cry. Until He comes, we will wait. Until He comes, we will not lose hope.

And we will remember. We will remember that at just the right time, eternal, all-powerful God became flesh and dwelt among us. Pitched His bodily tent among us.

His is the unwavering Light in this present darkness.

Come, Lord Jesus.

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