I was recently reading an article about a town in Alaska that beginning last Friday (November 18th) won’t see the sun rise again until January 22nd. Located 1,300 miles south of the North Pole, Barrow is the northernmost town in the United States. (For perspective, Salt Lake City is 1,356 miles from Indianapolis.) The people there call it a “polar night.” They won’t be in complete darkness though; “civil twilight” – when the sun is 6 degrees or less below the horizon – provides a dim light for about six hours a day in November and January and about three hours a day in December.
I can’t imagine living in that little light. For one reason, I’m fairly sure I learned in a long-ago science class that our bodies need vitamin D from sunlight to help us absorb calcium. For another reason, I completely believe Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real. I was just talking with a friend about how our bodies become sluggish and how it’s just plain harder to be happy in the winter months (Ebenezer Scrooge was onto something). For one last reason, I’m not a fan of driving in the dark because it makes the oncoming car lights all the brighter and blinding to the eyes.
And then I have to remind myself that darkness isn’t always that bad. Barbara Brown Taylor in Learning to Walk in the Dark wrote, “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.” There are things we can only learn in the dark like how monsters under our beds can’t hurt us or having those conversations that could never be spoken in the light, lest there be madness or judgment.
Darkness always teaches us the power of the light. In Barrow, Alaska, the people know the power of the light because for three to six hours a day, the darkness can never overcome the light. It’s the same with the Christian story. According to John’s account of Jesus’ life and death, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light. (1:5, CEB)” and as much as we’d like, we don’t always recognize the light when it’s in our midst.
I think that’s ok if we don’t always recognize the light. I have a sign by my desk that quotes C.S. Lewis: “I believe in Christ like I believe in the sun. Not because I can see it, but by it I can see everything else.”
The light of Christ will always be present and by him, we can see the world in a new light (pun intended). Like in Barrow, we might only see dimly but by the sun, we can see the cold tundra before them. As we enter this Advent time of waiting for Christ’s return, we remember the Light set before us that allows us to see as God sees.
Interestingly, on November 18th, the sun rose and fell on Barrow for the last time. Beginning on December 1st, Barrow will once again be named Utqiagvik, its original native name. As followers of Christ, we rise and fall with our new names as Christians, named after the Light of the World, given to us at baptism.
- Pastor Emily