Isaiah 60:1-5

Get out of bed, Jerusalem! Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight. God’s bright glory has risen for you. The whole earth is wrapped in darkness, all people sunk in deep darkness. But God rises on you, his sunrise glory breaks over you. Nations will come to your light, kings to your sunburst brightness. Look up! Look around! Watch as they gather, watch as they approach you: Your sons coming from great distances, your daughters carried by their nannies. When you see them coming you’ll smile – big smiles! Your heart will swell and, yes, burst! All those people returning by sea for the reunion, a rich harvest of exiles gathered in from the nations!

Isaiah 9:2

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows – light! sunbursts of light.

Already, we are living in the days of the winter darkness. We wake up to starlight, the moon hangs overhead well into the day, and we pick up our children from school by the sunset, we eat by candlelight or lamplight every night. We curl up in blankets and we serve piping hot comfort food to each other. The days are often grey here, too, on the Pacific south coast. This was new to me ten years ago when we first moved to this area. A prairie kid by birthright, November days were a diamond blue light of sunshine, bright and hard, reflected off the first piles of snow, refracting and dazzling. We filled our souls up with that light before the sun began to set in the short turn of the days, yes it’s dark now but tomorrow it will be bright again.

Instead now I’m caught between the ocean and the mountains, so the days are grey and the clouds are often low. It’s not unusual to have the lamps on for the entire day, moving from a black night to a dark and grey drizzle of a day and back into darkness, always cold, always damp.

We’ve grown used to it, many of us even love it. We have acclimated to the darkness, redeemed it with books and candlelight and coziness and pots of soup. We move through the day with our shoulders hunched against the rain, our hoods up to protect our hair and our ears until it feels like we are moving underwater, the sounds of the street muffled and a wash of water at our feet.

We think we’re fine, we think it’s good, we think weather doesn’t matter that much to us, and we are used to it, after all there are parts of it that we love! we find each other in the darkness and we redeem it, baptize it with our imaginations, absolutely, but then…. Oh, then comes the day when the sun rises in the sharp brittle light of near winter mornings when there are no clouds in the sky.

Oh, on that day.

Light! Light!

Oh, look at that sunshine!

On that day, we fling open our blinds and we wash the windows from the inside, we sweep our floors because the light has shown us the dust of our comfort. We bundle up in our woolies and we stride out into the sunshine, grins on our faces. We go to the park and we walk with our hoods down no matter how cold it is. It’s always a bit colder without the clouds, sometimes the wind will take our breath but we stand out in it anyway. “How about that sunshine?” we crow to one another at the grocery store and the school pick up line and the office. “Oh, what a lovely day!” We call each other to meet at the playground or the walking trails. “You’ve got to get outside today,” we say coaxingly to the ones who hate the cold.

We are wide awake after the grey comfortable slumbers, we can see our breath and we can see the light, and we feel alive, alive, alive again. The light has swept away our torpor and our dull coziness, bracing us awake.

And then when the spring comes and the days grow longer and the clouds light altogether….well.

Then, in those days, we fling the windows wide open even though it’s still a bit too cold outside and the wind sweeps into our homes, the cold swirling into the corners. A few short months ago, this very temperature sent us running for our mittens and heavy coats, now after months of deeper cold, that number on the thermometer feels like a balmy day, worthy of t-shirts.

We feel a compulsion to clean and to sweep and to make our spaces sparkle like the light. We prepare our homes for the arrival of the light and the warmth like fancy people prepare their homes for big parties. Doesn’t someone have a bottle of champagne somewhere? We are all unbuttoning and unwinding and unfurling and then we are tipping our faces up to the light with our eyes closed against the brilliance, still seeing the light through our lids, feeling the promise of warmth and growth and life again.

So there is a metaphor for you.

This Sunday, light a candle named Hope at your table with your people because it is still dark outside.

But it won’t be night or dark grey days forever and right now, there are glimpses of the Kingdom still breaking through.

There is light enough by which to live: speak hope.

John 1:1-5

The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him; nothing – not one thing! – came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.


This is the first part of a series of Advent Sunday night candle meditations. This coming Sunday, Christians all around the world – in churches and in homes and in refugee camps and on the streets – will light the first candle, the Hope candle, to open Advent, the traditional season of preparation for the coming of the Christ-child as well as the reminder that Christ is coming again.

The Full Advent Series

Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here! :: Why Advent Matters

First Sunday: Hope

Second Sunday: Peace

Third Sunday: Joy

Fourth Sunday: Love

Christmas Eve: The Christ Candle

All Scripture quotations are from the Message paraphrase. Image source.


I used to think I wanted peace in faith (a guest post by Rachel Roth Tappling)
Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here! :: Why Advent Matters
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  • Sandy Jones Fox

    Yes, yes! As a fellow PNW’r, I so get this. We aren’t as grey in Portland as you are in BC, but we have many rainy days, short days, dark days. The past few days have been sunny, blue and cold and it’s been glorious to be outside.
    Yes, the light has come, the light is coming. What glorious anticipation.

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  • Est

    Thank you for this. My husband and I have been in a season where things have felt quite hopeless for all different reasons. Will be lighting a candle today and praying John 1 today and in the days to come. (I really love that translation)

    • Me, too. Sometimes it’s good to read familiar words in a new way to be reminded of how incredible they are!

  • Nancy Roe

    HMM, Yes! Having been a North country girl, can so relate! Relishing all the words! Thank you for this!

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  • I lived in BC for about 10 years. I know the dark days – both dark in the weather, and dark in spirit. Thank you for reminding us of the light! And the Light of Advent!

  • sara

    Beautiful words. I live in Scotland and are days are just as you described. By 3pm it is dark and the sun doesn’t rise until almost 9am. Advent is extra special this year for me. Both my littles are big enough to understand. We are traveling back to the states in a week. I haven’t seen my dad in a year. He hasn’t seen my girls. I’m as excited as they are. Hope and light.

    • Hope and light, indeed! What a blessed season this will be for you, sara!

  • Oh Sarah, this is so beautiful, it brings tears to my eyes. Hope is here, and it is on its way!

    “Advent, meaning ‘the coming,’ is a time when we wait expectantly… We wait in expectation of the full coming of God’s reign on earth and for the return of Christ, what God will yet do. But this waiting is not a passive waiting, it is an active waiting… we are in a world pregnant with hope, and we live in the expectation of the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. As we wait we also work, cry, pray, ache; we are the midwives of another world.”

    I read the above in ‘Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals’ today, and promptly thought how much you’d be nodding your head and saying, “Yes, YES!”

    • That is beautiful, Erika! thanks for sharing it!

  • Katie Noah Gibson

    So gorgeous, Sarah. I know those dark dreary days and then the unbridled joy that the light of the sun brings. Hope! What a beautiful word. xo

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  • Janelle Wilhelm

    This is so beautiful. Your writing always makes me wish I lived in Canada. And what a perfect metaphor for Advent. It’s my favorite season of the liturgical year because it reminds me of how crazy and improbable and amazing God’s story is—and how much I need that hope of Emmanuel.

  • Rose

    So beautiful!

  • Meagan

    As always, your writing is wonderful. It’s good to be reminded to hope in this season. But I was wondering if you, or anyone on here, has any resources or words of wisdom for one who is entering the holiday season without a church home. I recently left the church that had been my home my entire life (24 years), and I’m not entirely ready to find a new church yet. The decision to leave my old church was not one that I made lightly, and it has resulted in quite a bit of grief and feeling, to borrow a phrase from your new book, “out of sorts.” This will be my first Christmas season without my church community, and I’m not really sure what to do.

    • Deborah Spencer

      Hi Meagan, I am praying for you! So sad with you about having to leave your church home. I would encourage you not to give up on God’s people, wherever He may be calling you to worship. We are one big, (sometimes messy) family and it really does take a lot of forgiveness and grace on all sides to live as one as Jesus prayed we would! May you find a sanctuary of rest and peace, even as a welcomed guest, in this Christmas season. In His love~

      • Meagan

        Thank you so much for your kind words. I am truly touched by your encouragement.

    • That is definitely an “out of sorts” season. In those times in my life, I either worshipped anonymously in another church (just showed up late and left early), worshipped/observed Advent with my own family, or gathered with a few friends in our homes for homemade services. I know it’s a difficult time and I pray that you feel the nearness of Immanuel as you catch your breath in the grief of loss.

      • Meagan

        Thank you so much. Those are all great ideas. You don’t know how much I appreciate this.

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  • Ooooh boy, is this good! I live in Atlanta, but it sounds like our weather is similar…many, many grey days, wrapped up inside with a good mug of something hot. I love the respect you portray that we have for spring and the coming warmth and light. Thank you so much! Brilliant.

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  • Hannah Joy Bemis

    Sarah, this is so beautifully expressed. Here in Spokane, WA, we recently experienced a windstorm that took out power city-wide. In our home we were without electricity for seven days – true darkness! During that time and since God has been speaking to me in metaphors of light and darkness. Our family is experiencing our first season of spiritual struggle or “darkness” as our three-year-old daughter was just diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. While we are so thankful this disease is treatable, we still wrestle with the “Why” questions and grieve our old normal. Beyond our story, there is so much darkness in the world as a whole right now…AND YET “there is light enough by which to live.” Those glimpses of the Kingdom are what keep us going. Thank you for your words!

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  • Sarah, thank you. Just… thank you. Your words are beautiful and delicate and firm. And somewhere, deep down, I know that they are also True.

    You are a gifted and skilled writer; thank you for sharing your craft with our world 🙂

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