Light in the darkness

A devotional greeting from Anne Brit Aasland, pastor at Mindekirken, the Norwegian Memorial Church, Minneapolis


Photo: Lukas
Illuminated crossing during Christmas holiday in Oslo during winter all covered with fresh snow during evening time.

Anne Brit Aasland
The Norwegian Memorial Church,

What is the proper way to prepare for Christmas? And what are we preparing for?

Already in November we start to fill our surroundings with light, a lot of light. We light candles and put out lanterns, inside, and outside, we decorate our houses and trees, and we hang lights from streetlight pole to streetlight pole. We show the world what’s coming, what we are waiting for, what’s important to us. But what is it really that we are waiting for?

The big Christmas feast? Good food and family and friends surrounding us, an occasion to say, “I love you,” not only in words but also through Christmas cards, invitations, good food, presents, and hugs. Christmas preparations and the candles we light carry anticipation with them; they help us keep our spirits up when daylight is scarce and the time of darkness is long. To look at life with joy is easier when we surround ourselves with light than when we sit in the darkness.

“Let there be light!” God said when he created heaven and earth, and there was light. The apostle John says, “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)

The lights fill us with anticipation and happiness about something great that we are waiting for. John says: “The true Light who gives light to every man was coming into the world. “So, the celebration is actually not only a celebration of light amid the darkness but a birthday party for a child who was born, a child who became so important that we have created a calendar that dates time to before and after his birth. 

Our anticipation is to see, experience, and feel the true warmth of the true light that shines on the entire earth. Then, we think not only about the sun but that the creator of the sun, moon, stars, and the earth is coming. “The kingdom of heaven is coming,” Jesus said.  “Now heaven and earth meet in a child lying on hay,” we say in an Advent hymn by Eivind Skeie, “ Light the Candles.”

The Norwegian philosopher Henrik Syse put it his way: “The high and the low, the absolute abstract and the absolute concrete meet, not to be at war with each other and obliterate one another, but rather to meet in way that brings down the high and raises up the low. 

He also says that it’s not only the words in the Bible he believes in but in the message of what is taking place.  We can discuss Quirinius, folk tales, birthdates, and the virgin birth until we’re blue in the face. The true message clearly lies in the deeper reality that the story points out. 

It is the message that God has become a living person in a small, newborn child. It is a message of reconciliation, of goodness among the bad and evil, of happiness and salvation. That is God is coming to us as another human being. It is not only about going go to heaven when we die but that God’s heaven and all his goodness is coming to us.  That is this experience that the story of Christ is built upon, which the great reality points to. Because of this, we can, with philosophic reasoning and genuine humanity, sing out about the child in Bethlehem.

Yes, let us be happy each Christmas Eve, because that is when Jesus was born. This is neither philosophical wrangling nor childish nostalgia. It is simply a message of humanity itself, said the philosopher and Sunday school teacher Henrik Syse in his book With Devotion: Texts for Courage, Hope and Faith in Everyday Life (Cappelen, 2014).

In the true spirit of Christmas, may your Advent season be filled with peace, and joy, light and life.

The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

This article originally appeared in the November 29, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Anne Brit Aasland

Anne Brit Aasland, born in Stavanger, is a theologian, social anthropologist, coach, and author. In Norway, she is based in the Bærum parish and has worked in crisis centers and prisons. She is currently serving as pastor at Mindekirken in Minneapolis.