Isaiah 60:1–2 (NIV)
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
My goodness, the days are long. The darkness rolls in so early and then steadily lingers through the wee hours of the morning. Five o’clock looks like midnight, and morning seems to move in so slowly, as if somehow weaker than usual. If that weren’t hard enough, for the night to be so very long, the daylight isn’t much better. Winter days can be seemingly sunless. A dim, grey heaviness covers the sky like an unfortunate oppression of wintertime. For many, the sun won’t pierce through the cloud-covered sky for many months. Darkness covers the earth. Some days that darkness feels so very deep.
Isaiah leans into the reality that darkness is everywhere, that shadows infiltrate every corner and linger not just around but over us. And in a way we tend to do with darkness; we deny it as something “out there” and “around.” But the text implies that the people are in darkness too. Like, it’s not just a “thing” out there; it’s something that lingers in and around us. It fogs our thinking. It clouds our judgment. It disguises our ability to see God more clearly. Darkness is the sin and separation that happens in us, between people and God himself. And Isaiah, even in the middle of reminding God’s people of the light that breaks through the night, doesn’t let us forget that sin and separation act as the cloud cover between us and the divine love we were designed to know.
When I was young, in our little house on Union Street, from time to time I would find my way into the living room and pull all the cushions off the couch and blankets from every corner of the house. I’d stand some cushions upright, find a chair from the kitchen, and cover my rickety structure with those same blankets until I had made a masterful cave, a den of blankets and bobbles to hide myself in. The smallness of that space sparked imagination and playful, childlike fun, but it was also an escape, a way of separating myself from the big things of the world around me. Sometimes, the darkness of it was deeply comforting. But as I’ve aged out of blanket forts, I’ve grown into hiding, withdrawing in different ways.
My guess is you have too—when you pull the covers up tighter and avoid the call to a new day, anxious at what it holds; when you avoid connection and conversation because it feels so very hard; when you curl up for binge-watching and doom scrolling until you collapse, numb into bed. We have our ways of separating ourselves from things, numbing ourselves from life and God in it.
Separation seems to be our tendency. We tend to keep space between God and us. It’s been that way since Adam and Eve’s hiding and the dark days of Noah when only one was faithful. Isaiah reminds us of the tendency for separation, like the thickness of a cloud that blocks out the sun, a heavy blanket of covering between us. In Isaiah’s time, that separation was the sinful disobedience of God’s people going their own way, living for themselves, and taking control of their own path instead of walking in his. And because some things never change, that’s our separation too. We hide ourselves away under the covering of control, independence, disregard, and mistrust. We let fear swell in us as the enemy convinces us to doubt God’s goodness in the same way he did at the beginning. It was only as self-separation began to live out in unbearable consequence that they would be willing to turn to the Lord to lift the burden and relieve their sin.
And yet, even as darkness covers and separates, attempts to hold us in its fog of disconnect and uncertainty, it doesn’t preclude God’s desire to break through anyway. The glory of God is on full display over and above the covering of that separation. The splendor of God rises on Israel in spite of them; because God’s glory isn’t dependent on us at all.
The everything of God, the one who is, will be, and has always been, is glorious because of his nature and by his own choosing to radiate love upon us.
That’s what’s so overwhelming about the light and love of God; it breaks in anyway. It inches in with its rising to break through the stifling cloud cover of sin in spite of the ways we chose separation. The light of Christ seeks us out by piercing through the darkness in the most minuscule and miraculous ways. God’s light will shine because God will be glorified—with or in spite of us.
If that’s the case, if God will be glorified, and is already revealing that glory in and above the cover of darkness, then why not lean into the light, looking for it, finding its rays piercing through the cloud cover, and believing the one who has always been to continue his in-breaking glory. Like a child crawling out from under the covers to find the delight of their loved one, to turn from our isolation and climb up on laps for the love of another, we can peak out from the cover of separation to see God there.
This beautiful, in-breaking passage is a beacon of light and hope in the middle of despair. While the circumstances of their sin and separation continued their course, God would share (through Isaiah) words of promise that light was returning to them.
This particular translation uses an interesting word right in the middle of the tension between God’s light and their darkness. He says, “See?” The King James says, “Behold.” Isaiah is inviting God’s people in this prophecy of promise to look for where the glory of God is being revealed and inviting them to have eyes to see beyond the cover of darkness. To “see” is to peek out from under the covers with curiosity, hopefulness, and delight. It’s choosing to believe God is at work, bearing his light all around, and stepping in to actively participate with him, eagerly leaning in to see God and to hunger for more of his light.
In fact, in the Old Testament it’s precisely when the people of God began looking outside of themselves, turning to God, and crying out for more of him that the light would shine on them again. This Advent, as we strain our eyes to see beyond the darkness of the suffocating cloud cover, and ask for God’s light to be revealed, what we will find is that he’s already revealed it.
Almighty God, light and hope revealed, we join in praising you for your in-breaking glory that is already shining. We are overwhelmed with the reality that your light always shines. When all we can see are clouds overhead and believe the grey skies will never break with light again, remind us that your glory covers all things and is rising on us. Where we are overwhelmed with grief, burdened with uncertainty, anxious for the night to end remind us that the separation we may feel only grows the longer we wait to look for you in it. Even as we carry the pain of waiting for things to change remind us that your unfailing love is in it, too, that your glory and our grief can share space until you come again. And would you make the cry of our hearts just that—for you to come and reveal your glory in us and, one day, to all the world again? Amen.
Where do you feel the heaviness of waiting or the longing for resolution?
When you find yourself in the uncertainty of darkness, do you tend to withdraw, pull up the covers, or settle into the shadows? If so, what would it take for you to peek your head out from under the covers and look for God’s glory revealed, especially as we wait for the promised coming of a Savior and returning King?
Before we go, would you join me in singing that beautiful Advent hymn of Israel’s waiting—and ours, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” You can find the words in Our Great Redeemers Praise on page #162, google the lyrics, or if the song is new to you, just listen in to the words of longing.
For the Awakening,