by Emily Anne Carson

During Advent, we welcome the illuminating power of the light of Christ. Jesus’ presence reveals God’s infinite compassion even in life’s greatest challenges. The four weeks of Advent provide a special season in which to reflect upon the impact of the Light in all areas of life – especially in the difficulties we face.

I misunderstood the mechanics and meanings of light for most of my life. It’s referenced in many popular idioms: “light of your life,” “seen the light” and “all sweetness and light” to name just a few. Jesus talks about the light, too. He says, “I am the light of the world” and “Let your light shine.”

For years, I falsely believed that embracing the light was about being positive, finding the silver lining, and keeping my chin up. I was wrong. Shining the light isn’t about forcing a plastered smile onto my face; instead, it’s about developing the courage to reveal what’s real and empowering others to do the same.

The light isn’t especially noteworthy all on its own; it’s amazing because of the way it illuminates everything around it.

Sit in a dark room for a while. Then light a small candle. It is miraculous the way even a small source of radiance brings spaces into clearer view. This is what Jesus does. This is what Jesus calls us into. His Light.

Jesus doesn’t force people to be smiling sunshine. Instead, he invites people to be forces of illumination – revealing what’s true. Jesus brings reality into clearer view and gives us courage to recognize it, celebrate what’s sacred, heal what’s broken and keep journeying.

As we head into the four weeks of the season of Advent, we have the opportunity to acknowledge the illuminating power of the Light. Life’s challenges illuminate uniquely. In the midst of them, the light shines and we enter into a new relationship with reality even when it’s hard. Christ, the eternally shining light, is present with us always.

I’m paying close attention this year to the way Jesus enters into loss, failure, disruption and change. His presence makes all things possible. Through him, even deep challenge holds within it the potential for illumination and transformation.

Nearly a decade ago, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). My body eats its own platelets for no obvious reason. In jest, I call it my unfortunate “bonus feature” – an internal, insatiable appetite for the part of blood that makes clotting possible.

Over the past decade, the immediacy of my medical needs has shifted. There were years early on that involved multiple, multi-day hospital stays and blood transfusions. Sometimes it was really scary; I wondered if I’d bleed to death. These days, my condition is very stable and involves just a weekly blood test and weekly bone marrow stimulating injection to help my body make extra platelets.

This experience has been irritatingly illuminating. Jesus is like that sometimes. We don’t necessarily want to find Him inviting us into a deeper relationship with the Truth of the Universe in the midst of challenge and sorrow, and yet there he is. Always. Ever-shining, ever-loving, ever-near.

My medical condition is invisible. I like it that way. I like to pretend it doesn’t affect me or disrupt my life. But it does. I still go to the hospital twice a week every week. My husband and I are uncertain whether it will ever be physically safe for me to carry children. As the years pass, this weighs more heavily on my mind than I ever express aloud. As we step closer to Advent, I feel God’s Spirit calling me to let the light shine into and onto this space of pain.

One of the healing gifts of the Light is that it makes visible what is often otherwise invisible in all our lives. Fear. Uncertainty. Insecurity. These are real, normal human emotional experiences. In naming them and facing them, deep healing and learning become possible.

What if, this Advent season, we allowed the light of Christ to shine into what’s real? What if in the midst of challenges – the old ones we’ve carried for decades and the new ones we encounter each day – we make space for the Light to illuminate? What if we step into this season without a hefty holiday agenda and instead just work on breathing in and out and opening up to whatever kinds of illumination would lead to our individual and collective healing?

There’s an expression I like: to see something in a new light. This Advent, may Jesus open our hearts to recognize life anew. May we sit with what’s real, and may it give us the wisdom to live more deeply and authentically. God grant us the courage to welcome the Light.

Discussion questions:

1. Have you ever experienced a challenge that was irritatingly illuminating? Where was God in the midst of it? What did you learn/are you learning?

2. What types of support and spiritual practices give you the courage to turn toward the Light?

3. What are your hopes and intentions for this Advent season?

Closing prayer:

God who Illuminates, grant us the courage to live in right relationship with reality. When we are tempted to live in fear and pain and uncertainty, you shine your Light of infinite compassion upon us. This Advent, surround us with people and experiences that illuminate your truth in our midst. In the name of Jesus, we pray, Amen.

Emily Carson is a curator of curiosity. She loves exploring new hiking trails and coffee shops with her husband, Justin, and their Redbone Coonhound, Finn. She is a pastor and currently serves as an Assistant to the Bishop & the Director for Evangelical Mission in the Southeastern Minnesota Synod, ELCA. Find Emily on Instagram at @emilyannecarson.