[Blair Roberts, husband to Melissa and father to Makena and Bella, is the Youth Minister at Glen Elm.]
“Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”
Things are scary when you’re in the dark.But even a little bit of light brings the assurance that everything will be alright.
We have a conflicted relationship, bears and I.
I spent a summer in Alaska as a fishing guide in the middle of nowhere. A rustic old cabin was my home for two months. The only way in was by float plane. It was beautiful and isolated. Never in my life have I been to a place that brought such peace and quiet in the depths of my soul. Until I saw my first bear. There were two older cubs, recently separated from their mother, that liked to come near our cabin. They must have smelled our food, or lived nearby during the winter months, because it was a weekly occurrence that we’d see them tromping along the outside of our camp, curiously looking towards us. At least I hoped it was curiosity. On bears, hunger looks the same as curiosity. One weekend, I was on my own. The owner of the camp had flown home to take care of business and we had no guests. Just me, in the middle of nowhere, with my fishing pole, books and bears.
At this time of year, there was only an hour or so of darkness each night. One night I awoke to the sound of the bear alarm ripping my ear drums apart, in the middle of that one hour of darkness. If I was a less honest man, the story would tell of me jumping out of bed, grabbing the gun and wrestling the bears into submission. The reality looked more like a terrified 19-year-old, stumbling to find his gun in the darkness and shakily pointing it at the door, frozen in fear. I stepped outside slowly, expecting to be jumped the second my foot went out the door. But there was nothing there. I turned off the bear alarm and heard something crashing away in the bushes. I heard another something going the opposite direction crashing through the river. The image of our two friendly brother bears flashed through my mind. After firing a couple shots in the air to assure them they could not eat me without a fight, I sat down at the table. Although I knew the sun was coming up soon, it was the longest half hour of my life. But there was no way I was going back to sleep in the dark. Something about knowing the light was coming made me feel safer.
Dad used to take us camping once in a while: him and his three boys, roughing it as best you could with me tagging along behind, whining about mosquitos. Long Lake was in the middle of nowhere, but Dad wanted us to hike there. Rather than hauling and setting up a tent, we simply laid a tarp on the ground and tied one end up and over a tree branch, protecting us from the rain but allowing us to sleep under the stars. The story that follows is not my own, because somehow I slept through the entire thing. My dad woke up to a bear standing over my brother Peter. He was sniffing something on the ground right next to his head. Mark woke up to the same terrifying scene, and taking cues from my dad, kept quiet. To this day I have no idea how one of us didn’t get hurt or die. Dad stood up in his cowboy hat and tighty whities (sorry dad, but it’s the funniest part of the story). He grabbed his machete. The bear heard him and quickly moved away from Peter, somehow not crushing him or me as he backed away. Dad stood tall against this bear in a match of wills, a stark contrast to my night alone in Alaska, quaking in my skivvies (there, we’re even, dad). The only thing I know more terrifying than a mother bear protecting her cubs is my father with a machete protecting the life of his children. Dad charged the bear, hoping and praying it would scare it away. It didn’t budge until the last second. It ran away, but not very far. Dad started a huge fire and kept watch the rest of the night. He stared down a bear for us that night. And I slept through the entire thing.
Both nights were dark and terrifying, but one I faced alone and the other was with my father. The one, I felt unsure I would make it through. The other, I was unaware of the danger because my father was fighting on my behalf. The darkness is so overwhelming sometimes. Poverty, war, hatred, broken families, sickness–the list goes on and on. The darkness feels overwhelming when we are in the middle of it, when were walking in it. Sometimes the darkness is brought on by ourselves and the mistakes we’ve made. Other times it comes from nowhere, attacking with all its might. We anxiously await the day when the light will come and overtake the darkness. Jesus promised us he would come back and establish his Kingdom, where the darkness would be overtaken by His light. While we await that coming day, it’s so easy to forget in the meantime that our heavenly Father is the light, and he is already here if we have eyes to see him. While all things dark and broken are not gone, we can be assured that our father is with us, shining a light in the darkness.
During Advent, we focus in on the waiting. But it’s not an anxious waiting. The way I waited for the sun to come up in Alaska. It’s a waiting filled with hope and confidence. Confidence that our Savior is coming back and he is watching over us right now. A waiting that says someday, all this darkness will be turned to light, and I can walk with confidence through the shadows because the Lord is my shepherd, and I am following Him. Jesus is calling his disciples to walk in the light and not be overcome by the darkness. As we await the day when the darkness in this world will be shattered by the piercing rays of God’s light, we are called to shine the light of our hope and anticipation in the midst of this darkness, joining God in his work. So many in this world are clawing and scraping their way through, longing for a light in the midst of the darkness. Let us point them ahead to the day when Jesus will erase the darkness with his beautiful light. Let us show them that while the light is shining dimly now, but there will come a day when the darkness will be erased. Let us believe it with all our hearts. Advent is a time where light breaks into our hurried routine and shatters the darkness. When we tune into what’s going in around us, we can see the light cracking through everywhere. Soon, it will burst forth and the darkness will be gone.