The life of Isaiah the prophet traversed dark and difficult times. During his ministry Israel was beset on all sides by threats and violence. The present lacked all security; the future was shrouded in uncertainty.

In the midst of this confusion, Isaiah sought to bring words of encouragement. He aimed to stir hope and trust in peoples’ hearts. He encouraged them to look up from their difficulties and believe in God’s faithfulness.

What Isaiah did not do was offer any road map for reform. He did not lay out a program to fix the ills of society. He had no scheme to achieve military victory or establish international stability. He had few practical prescriptions for successfully maneuvering in the midst of the political turmoil and oppression that beset the nation of Israel.

Isaiah seems to have understood that it is not possible for any human program, no matter how sophisticated or sincere, to banish the darkness entirely.

What Isaiah did offer was a vision for how people might best live within the darkness. Isaiah pointed the way forward for Israel saying,

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!
(Isaiah 2:5)

It sounds so simple, “walk in the light of the Lord.”

What might my life look like if, especially in the dark times, I was able to “walk in the light”?

Light makes visible that which I would rather not see. To “walk in the light” is to live truthfully.

When I “walk in the light” I come out of hiding; I stop pretending; I renounce all self-deception. To “walk in the light” is to live transparently, honestly and authentically.

The problem is that, when I find myself in dark times, I tend to fear the light. I do not want my darkness to be revealed. I prefer to hide my weaknesses to protect my vulnerabilities. I do not want to be seen. At times of uncertainty and confusion, I do not even want to see myself. I prefer the darkness.

I resist the prophet’s challenge to face the divisions in my life. I would rather not confront my own hypocrisy and dishonesty. I prefer to ponder my perception of the division in your life and to hold you up to judgment in a futile attempt to avoid facing the reality of my own vulnerability and pain. I worry that, if the light shines too brightly, you will see me as I see myself and turn away in horror. So I lurk in the shadows revealing only small bits of myself and sheltering all the vulnerabilities I feel compelled to protect.

The more I try to hide in the dark of night, the more I live in fear of the revealing light of day. The dark offers a strange illusion of security; it promises shelter from those parts of life I instinctively resist. But, when I settle down in the darkness, I am lost, cut off from my true nature, unable to find my way home. My heart grows dull; I lose touch with that voice of truth that seeks to help me find the light this season celebrates. So, Isaiah urges me to “walk” on, to put one foot in front of the other according to whatever little shards of light I am able to perceive. Then the light grows. I see more clearly. Uncertainty and doubt begin to ease, replaced by a settled inner knowing.

Christmas summons me to acknowledge the reality of the darkness, to look with clear-eyed honesty at the brokenness of the human condition. The Christmas story is hedged around on every side by uncertainty, tragedy and pain. As much as I might want this season to be only a celebration of peace and goodwill, the spectre of suffering and injustice is never far beneath the surface.

But Christmas also invites me to affirm that the dark cannot defeat the light. In this season of beauty and mystery I am challenged to acknowledge that

(John 1:5)

This is the triumphant promise of the life Jesus lived, the death he died and the power he released into the cosmos. The darkness is never stronger. I do not need to retreat into self-deception and dishonesty. I do not need to be afraid. There is nothing that cannot be faced. The darkness does not define my life. My deepest identity resides with the light. “The darkness” cannot “overcome” the light that dwells within.

When I “walk in the light” I have nothing to protect. I live in the freedom of the faith that honesty and authenticity are the only path to that security for which my heart longs. The more fully I “walk in the light”, the more light there is even in the midst of darkness.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
(Isaiah 9:2)

Yes the dark is real. It is painful, confusing and at times feels overwhelming. But the light is never extinguished. As I grow in sensitivity and awareness, I see the light everywhere, no matter how dense the dark may, at times, seem to be.