Gaze at a sunset and what happens? If you’re the romantic type, maybe you get dreamy, eloquently poeticizing about how the kaleidoscope of colors paints the celestial canvas with fading rays of light. Or maybe you just say, “Oh, look, that’s pretty.” More often than not, we pay no attention to this daily occurrence. The sun goes down, the sun comes up. So what? We’ve seen it thousands of times.
But Adam had not. Not that first day of his existence. What did the father of our race think when he saw his source of warmth and illumination slowly swallowed by the western horizon? For hours few he’d loved its light Had basked in its embrace. Then soon, too soon, befell the night, When darkness veiled his face. There is an old Jewish tradition that Adam, during his first experience of night, was overwhelmed with fear, because he assumed that he had forever lost his beloved sun. To him that virgin sunset was not poetic, nor pretty, nor mundane; it was cataclysmic. All through those black hours he wept like one bereaved, as if he’d witnessed that ball of fire lowered into its distant grave. Only when the eastern horizon began to blush with the first winks of dawn, and his lost gift of light was found again, did Adam grasp that this, too, was the course of life in this world. The sun that sets will also rise.
Granted, a manmade tradition this is, but one that for me has always embodied a divine truth. It is a parable of human loss. For who of us, at some point in our lives, has not watched with horror and grief as our own “sun” vanishes? You stand around a rectangular depression in the ground to watch a box of wood that cradles your beloved slowly lowered into the dark earth. You walk out of the courtroom where you and the one who was flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone, had sat on the opposite side from you, hard and cold as stone. You are haunted by the scream of “I hate you!” and feel the whoosh of the slammed door as the child you bore stormed away to God knows where, disappearing for God knows how long from your life. You become like that Adam of legend, as light wanes and darkness waxes, and your life is swallowed by shadow.
I suppose I could try to encourage you with the assurance that your sun will rise again, that loss and gain, like sunset and sunrise, are merely part of the course of life in this world. And there would be truth in that, as well as hope. But I wish to impress something else upon you, which I think is even more important. For I too lived a shadowed existence for years, my loves and hopes trampled under midnight’s foot. And in those years of dark grief, though the hope of a coming sunrise did ease my suffering to an extent, knowing something else meant even more to me.
That something else is that there’s someone else in the darkness beside you. He is one who was born in the cold and the dark, unwelcomed by the world he came to save. He knelt in darkness the night before his execution, wrestling with the thought of his impending death, praying so fervently that his sweat became crimson. He hung suspended in an unearthly darkness for three hours, impaled upon a rack of torture, forsaken by friends, and even by his Father, till death came calling, and the tomb welcomed this lord of life.
There’s someone else in the darkness with you: this man, this Jesus. This is the one Isaiah described as “despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Jesus is a God who knows darkness firsthand. From the night of his birth until the day of his death, he felt its cold chill, knew its temptations to despair. He is the one who is beside you during those lightless hours. You may not feel him there. There are times when you may not even want him there. But he is, and will remain, closer to you than your own skin.
This man who is light of light will sustain through the dark of darkness. When your life is swallowed by shadow, he will feed you with his love. When tears run down your face, he will wipe them away with hands that bear the stigmata of a saving crucifixion. He is not a God to give up on you, nor to walk away, no matter how long your night lasts. For when, like Adam, all you’ve knows sinks away into darkness, he will make known to you that his love is light even in the deepest, darkest midnight of life in this fallen world.