A favorite aspect of Advent for me is the invitation to consider the anticipation with which God’s people longed in the darkness for the Messiah. While I resonate with this for a variety of reasons, a big part of the draw is that this aspect of Advent reminds me that the Christmas story takes place in a vast and larger Story, one through which runs a dominant theme of light breaking into darkness—an image, in fact, which we find at the beginning of the Story itself.
Recently, I spent some time in those very first sentences of the Story in the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible, where I ran across Agnes Norfleet’s muses on the role of God’s speech:
The mode of God’s creative power is divine speech. All that is needed for the creation of light, even before the sun and stars have been created (1:16), is God’s intrusive word. That word that creates also qualifies what it creates as “good.” Before God spoke there had been only darkness and chaos, and now at the utterance of the divine word there is order and goodness.This intrusive nature of God permeates the rest of the Story. Norfleet observes, “This exclusive work of God’s creative power continues through the rest of Scripture and even extends to communion with humankind today.” God continually intrudes into this reality he created and within which we live and breathe.
And as I read those opening words of Genesis and Norfleet’s words, I can’t help but think of how John begins his gospel with the image of light intruding into darkness, too:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it….In the beginning, the intrusive Word. I love how John starts like this, securing Jesus before the very creation. Scot McKnight observes that we too often truncate the good news of Jesus. We begin in the middle of the Story rather than the very beginning—and that beginning is important.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
In the beginning, out of the formless void and darkness came that intrusive light—a light that the darkness would never, ever overcome. Love intruded and created life. Created us. And we were created good. It was beyond imagination, the goodness. It was the wide-open spaces of his grace and glory—and we freely roamed, breathing deep the very breath of God.
Then came the day we tore ourselves from him. When our hearts tore and death and sin scuttled in and greedily gnawed at our very cores. In crept darkness, sure it would overcome and drown us.
But God could and would not be thwarted. This intrusive God sweeps through his creation, disturbing and unsettling the darkness, weaving threads of that good beginning persistently and invasively through history—redeeming, restoring, steering irrevocably a broken creation towards its intended beginning once more. He is relentless in this. As the psalmist pens, darkness doesn’t have a chance: “If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”
In all the Story, I find Christmas to be the ultimate intrusive act of an intrusive God. He took on flesh and blood and lived among us. With Jesus, we see God. And with Jesus, darkness and sin are in their throes of death. With Jesus, light and life triumph—and at the end of the Story, death and darkness will be no more.
Advent reminds us of the intrusive nature of God—and that is both comforting and unsettling. That this relentless, powerful God of Love is not far but near and intimately and intrusively involved in the world reminds us that we can trust he is who he says and can do what he says. We all experience darkness, but Advent reminds us that the light will overcome it.
But Advent also reminds us that when light does overwhelm darkness, the world is often profoundly stirred and disturbed, unsettled and upheaved. God doesn’t settle for darkness in his creation—or in any of us. He will intrude and persist, and often, like the psalmist, that can make us feel pinned down or hemmed in.
But that is how it is with this intrusive Word.
And Advent reminds us: He is coming. He has come.