Light in the Darkness

By Reverend John C. Lin

Christmas is a reminder that ours is a God of small things. I’ll explain.

One temptation that I am drawn to each year is that of the “holiday season.” It’s a time for gift giving, preparing for family gatherings, and browsing the glorious window displays that illuminate New York City. While these activities are mostly innocuous, if not even good, ways to occupy my time, they serve as distractions from any meaningful consideration of one profound theological truth and one uncomfortable personal realization. The profound truth is this: ours is a God of small things. And the personal realization is this: I am one such small thing.

The truth. As much as we might imagine the birth of Jesus as a delightful surprise to parents touring the Near Eastern countryside, who were resting temporarily in a quiet farmhouse, away from the hustle and bustle of urban Roman life, the conditions of His birth ought not be romanticized. His were the conditions of birth that we would never want for ourselves nor anyone we loved. It was winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the darkest and coldest time of the year. Jesus was born far from the lights of Rome, in a forgettable corner of the Empire, to poor refugee parents, among animals, removed from human habitation or community. In Matthew’s account, Bethlehem is named five times, as if to restate the name of a town you’ve never heard of or seen on a map. And while the image of Mary’s wrapping Jesus in swaddling clothes depicts a gesture of maternal tenderness, it is a reminder that she gave birth unattended at a time when childbirth was always in community, where the wrapping of a child was typically done by someone who assisted in the birth. It is into this world that God enters, as if to say, “I am a God who does not forget my most cherished possessions. I will search for the treasure that was misplaced in a dark, cluttered room. In fact, that’s the life that I will live, as an utterly forgettable child born to poor parents, in a remote place, with no expectation of amounting to anything. I do not overlook small things.”

Then there’s the realization. The realization is that not only do we find God in moments of darkness, when we feel forgotten and overlooked, but it is also in darkness when God finds us. In fact, he loves finding us! It happens after being laid up with COVID, after eight days of sweats, aches, and doomscrolling. It happens amidst the rigors of work as a lawyer or other professional, where you are in a highly desirable role but where you secretly wonder if there is any good way forward. It comes during the lostness of mental health struggles that feel isolating, even when you live in a city of nine million people and countless mental health professionals. He is a God of small things who loves finding them in the darkness. I am one such small thing.

Having married and lived with a legal professional for seventeen years, in one of the most competitive legal markets in the world, we’ve been through stretches of toil that feel like fumbling in the dark with no light to be found. I’ve walked through these seasons with many high-powered and often deeply broken professionals. These are times when every aspiration to do good, or bring equity and justice into the world, are eclipsed by a relentless stream of unforgiving deadlines and a mountain of student debt. 

And yet, it’s during these times when the brightness of God’s presence shines ever more brightly, into our world where we often feel forgotten and small. He finds us when we are lost. He loves to illuminate our world when we fumble around. And while feeling small, lost and forgotten can be unsettling and disorienting, he isn’t afraid to enter and shine light in the world, much like He did on the night when our Savior was born. He is a God of small things, who finds things that are lost in the dark. He doesn’t just shine a light from afar, but He enters into our world and illuminates it Himself. That’s what we celebrate during Christmas. He’s a God who is our light in the darkness. He is a God of small things.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5 (NIV)

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