The most exciting moment of Sunday morning: Miss Hilary rolls the brown packing paper across the windows, and the sunlight disappears for a moment. They scramble to hold something for the procession: the wreath, the candles, the Bible, the beloved snuffer, the purple cloth. We wait, in the darkness, and then we begin to sing,
The people who walked in darkness,
have seen a great light.
Just those words, in a melody I remember from a different song many years ago. The words last us through the small legged march to the other side of the room. We sit on our small woven mats as Miss Andrea lights the first candle on the wreath. This one bright candle – the one for hope – burns against the dim brightness of the packing paper.
The darkness – that’s the question for these wise young ones – what is the darkness like? How does it feel?
They answer with the truth: “I don’t like it.”
“It’s hard to see.”
“But now we have a candle!”
I catch myself almost laughing, but in an instant, I realize: theirs is the first hopeful answer I’ve heard in a long time. But now we have a candle. Now we have light. The simplest of answers, in some ways not even a direct answer to the question – but still, the hope. That beautiful, rich hope.
Now we have a candle. The flame leaps and flickers shadows over the prayer card, the verse from Isaiah 9.2 – “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.”
Oh, don’t you see? This is the hope, the final, ultimate, gut-wrenching reality that we who spend so much time in shadow, cling to? The light has dawned. This deep darkness is overcome, flooded and filled. We have a candle, and more than a candle. We have the light.
I wonder who that light is, Miss Andrea asks. And my heart twists and turns, because even though I long to hear it, even though I know in my heart there is an answer to this question, on Sunday I’m all torn apart with my own inability to say it. So Charlie says it for me. “I think the light is Jesus.” The strap of one of his overalls is twisted, and I can see that his left shoe is coming untied. And then Lily adds to the beauty: “Do you see the brightest part of the candle? I think that is Jesus.” And my heart is undone by these hopeful faces watching the brightest part of the candle, thanking Jesus for birthday parties and Christmas and presents.
Because that’s the answer sometimes we need a child to say for us. That Jesus is the light. That we are the people who have dwelt in deep darkness, and now have seen a great light.
Between the packing paper over the windows, the procession to the prayer table, the lighting of this first candle of hope, and the small hands that find mine, the red coats that twirl outwards, the voices that sing out the truth, I find that Jesus has a surprise for me this Advent:
“At that time, Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and revealed them to little children.” (Matthew 25)
And with them to guide me, I journey towards the light.