Our Darkness is not Dark to You

Advent, Week 1 in LA:

In Isaiah 64, we read about a people yearning for God:

1O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
    so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
2]as when fire kindles brushwood
    and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
    so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

The prophet reminds the people and God of His mighty deeds in the past:

3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
    you came down; the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has heard,
    no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
    who works for those who wait for him.

But unfortunately, there is sorrow, too, in this passage. The people have transgressed. They have forgotten God. God is angry at their sin. In fact:

6We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

This word, “filthy cloth” (בגד עדים), as my priest pointed out, is actually a garment, a menstrual rag. The translators got a bit squeamish. The image is one that is crimson, red with blood. It is not just the people’s sins that are scarlet, here (cf. Is 1:18), it is also their Good Deeds. Everything, even their righteousness, is so deeply stained with sin that it has become like a menstrual cloth before God.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska: https://www.pexels.com/photo/blood-on-a-sanitary-napkin-7691783/

However, there is that promise that God gives us: though our sins are scarlet, He will make us white as snow. We see that image in the great multitude of heaven, in the middle of Revelation 19:

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out,

For the Lord God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready;
to her it has been granted to be clothed
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

The Bride here is God’s people, all come together, ready for the wedding feast of the Lamb. Instead menstrual rags, the Bride here is clothed in fine white linen, bright and pure. This linen is the righteous deeds of the saints, clothing the Bride. This is a cosmic image of covenant fulfilled, of love and commitment. And rather than good deeds stained with blood, the good deeds of God’s people clothe this cosmic bride. The Church and Israel, both found kicking in their own blood and lost to sin (Ez 16, Romans 6) are redeemed, whole, radiant, and pure. Both the gentiles who are welcomed into God’s covenant and all Israel are saved (Romans 11, esp. 25-36), and there is this beautiful wedding. Where our righteous deeds once were filthy rags, now together they make up a beautiful and priceless garment.

I am currently in LA, visiting a friend on my way home. On the flight over, I was beyond tired – it is flight 25 of 26 this year. The flight was freezing, as all flights inevitably are, and they kept the lights dimmed through the flight which seemed unusual for a morning-early afternoon voyage. But it was actually nice, the atmosphere was dark and relatively quiet. I was doing my church’s Advent devotional, and this passage really caught my attention from Psalm 139:

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and night wraps itself around me,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is as bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.

The Lord knows us so well, so intimately. The Lord knew us before we were born, and the Lord will know us after we die. No matter where we go, the Lord will see us – this is what the Psalmist means when we talks about darkness covering him. In LA, in Honolulu, in Bratislava, in Alexandria, in Kyoto, in Durham, the Lord will be with me all the days of my life. But the Lord told me something else through this verse as well.

Even when darkness covers me – when I am stressed, and sad. When I am lost and confused. When things seem completely overwhelming. When it seems that all my good deeds are filthy menstrual rags, used pads to be discarded –

That the darkness is not dark to God.

That as much as I can run all over the world, I could never run from the Lord. But so, too, as much as it seems that darkness is overwhelming me, the Lord cam see through that. The darkness is not dark to Him. God has taken what is red as scarlet, and made it white as snow. God has taken his disgraced and unfaithful bride, and wrapped Her in pure linen.

It is Advent, and we Christians are awaiting the Lord’s coming in the form of a tiny baby. At this time of year, we reflect with the church across the world of a miracle of unspeakable power – that the God of the universe stepped into time, and came to earth as a tiny and helpless baby nursed by a poor and powerless mother. We attend to the darkness in which we were formed, and marvel that God Himself allowed Himself to be formed in that darkness, too. We marvel that this was part of God’s story, and that through Jesus’s immense humility we the Church are grafted into God’s family. In Advent, we celebrate Jesus’s wonderous journey into humanity, into time and space and the start of the Church’s journey into God.

The darkness is not dark to God.

And God can take our stained good deeds and weave them into a beautiful wedding gown for His Bride.






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