by Jenna Olson Popp
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” – John 1:5
If there were a theme song for Advent, I think this verse in John would be it. I see and hear it when the Advent candles are lit, sermons are spoken, and memes are posted with the verse on a picture of a candle with a black background. Literally, it’s everywhere.
But during this season of Advent, I’m having a hard time seeing the light. To be honest, I don’t see any light at all. And it’s not that the darkness has overcome it, it’s that I truly believe there is no light to be found. It just doesn’t exist right now. I’m at a place where I must accept this darkness and death as a new reality. And so that makes this verse a little more confusing. What happens when we believe there is no light? What happens when the darkness is so overwhelming that you can’t even muster the energy to look for the light?
Enter the shepherds.
In the story of Jesus’ birth, the shepherds are the first people that hear about his birth and see him in person. “So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:16
And when they left, they decided to tell everyone about it. “When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.” – Luke 2:17
Now these shepherds, probably alone in a dark field, had it easy. They were told by an angel of God exactly where and when to go to see the light. Wouldn’t that be nice? To have very specific directions on where the light is. “Go left on Old Cheney, right at the first Oak tree and BAM, there you’ll find God!”
But in finding Jesus, the shepherds were given a gift – the gift of seeing the light firsthand. And the only thing they could do was point to it and let everyone know where it was.
Sometimes, when the light is nowhere to be seen, we need shepherds. We need shepherds that have seen the light – that know it’s there and real – to come and direct our gaze. We need shepherds to shake us out of our misery and fix our heads in the right direction and say, “Look! It’s right there! The light is right there. See it.” We need shepherds that enter into our darkness and death and walk with us out of it, leading the way.
I’ve had a couple shepherds in the past couple of weeks do just this – point to the light when all I see is darkness. It’s still dim, it still feels too far away, but I have people proclaiming that it’s real. And that’s enough right now. That is hope enough. And even if I continue to question the light’s existence or become cynical with questions or doubts, the light will still show up. The baby Jesus will still be born. God will still enter into our midst as a human. My doubt and uncertainty does not prevent the light from breaking into this world. So may you hear what I’ve been told lately: Look, there’s light. You might not believe it is there, but look for it and know that it is for you.