advent: welcoming light into darkness
Updated: Feb 23
The following is an edited excerpt from Light Up the Dark: Restoring Healing and Deliverance to Disciple Making, Doug Balzer, 2021.
I used to live in the city of Fort McMurray, in Northern Alberta. In many ways, it’s a city of extremes. Being the “face” to Canada’s oil industry and possessing the third largest oil reserve in the world, Fort McMurray predictably experiences the extremes of cyclical commodity booms and busts. Because of its northern location, Fort McMurray experiences extreme ranges in temperature, all the way from minus 40º Celsius in winter to plus 35º in summer.
On June 21, the summer solstice, it doesn’t get completely dark during the night. This is the longest day of the year for the northern hemisphere, with the sun rising and setting at 3:34 a.m. and 9:23 p.m. With there being close to eighteen hours of sunlight, seventy-four percent of the day has daylight. This had a direct effect on my energy level. I needed less sleep. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see people going for walks or doing errands in their yards at midnight when it would still seem like dusk. In contrast, during the winter solstice, the sun rises at 9:00 a.m. and sets at 3:47 p.m., not even seven hours of sunlight, representing merely twenty-eight percent of the day.
My office didn’t have a window, and I would frequently go days without meaningful exposure to natural light. I struggled to live with such limited exposure to sunlight. This also had a direct effect on my energy level. Now I needed more sleep. This affected the way people lived—it wouldn’t be uncommon for people to go extended periods without emerging from their homes. Light is life-giving. Darkness is energy-robbing.
Today I begin to write this book during the Winter Solstice; December 21, the longest night of the year. This is also the season of Advent, the season of lights in the midst of darkness. A classic Advent scripture is found in Isaiah 9:2, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
This text was of deep inspiration to George Frideric Handel who composed an oratorio in 1741, what has become commonly known as Handel’s Messiah. This text was also inspirational to C.S. Lewis as he wrote a metaphor of the cosmic struggle between darkness and light in his Narnia series. This is the gospel, the gospel of light. The light seen by people in darkness is the Emmanuel, God (now) with us. This is the reason why the Christmas season is so deeply characterized by lights, candles, and decorations. Darkness hasn’t won. Light has won. Jesus has and is lighting up the dark. Hence, Advent is the season of authenticity, where God himself invites us to acknowledge the darkness in our own lives. He welcomes us to expose to his light, those places in our hearts and souls that are yet-to-be-redeemed; where we feel more captive than free, where we still grope in the dark rather than walk in the light.
Advent is a season to rediscover the enduring and brilliant light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its fullness. Yes, the gospel is a cognitive message but so very much more! It is light that changes the nature of every part of our lives, our communities, and our world. A facet of this gospel of light is the work of Jesus represented in healing and deliverance, two words that have regrettably caused much confusion, fear, and dissonance in the church. Too many Christ-followers find themselves in one of two ditches when it comes to their understanding and practice of healing and deliverance.
One ditch is characterized by fear. Some may be fearful of extremes they have seen expressed in these ministries. Images may come to mind of people screaming, grotesque bodily wretching, self-serving televangelists, suspect claims of the miraculous, and all-too-often associated with an appeal for people to open their wallets. I don’t fear such experiences as much as I grieve them. I also distance myself from such harmful and corrupted representations of Jesus in healing and deliverance. Deliverance has less to do with what we are being delivered from (i.e., darkness) and so much more with whom we are delivered to, Jesus himself! He delivers us to peace, to freedom, to discover who we were really created to be.
This ditch may also be characterized by unfamiliarity, the mere lack of experiential knowledge on the subject. Many people in the church have received little or no teaching. Here, people may be trapped in an Enlightenment view of the world, where the only perspective to have is through the lens of empirical, scientific evidence. This myopic perspective has significantly affected both the theology and more so the practice of the church in the West. The distance between that which we read in the scriptures and what we observe in the church is far too wide. I deeply grieve the perspectives and practices (or lack thereof) of this ditch.
The second ditch is characterized by the idolatrous exploit of the ministries of healing and deliverance for selfish gain. Rather than a response to humbly follow Jesus and allow him to set the agenda, these ditch-dwellers attempt to build a ministry upon self-aggrandizement and sensationalism. One tell-tale of such peril is a ministry that sees the “supernatural” limited to the public stage and through their proclaimed spiritual elites. Rather, Jesus intended all his followers to function as his body, with no singular individuals subtly attempting to capture the glory and credit.
In this advent season, I pray that the Prince of Peace, the Light of the World, would be welcomed in your heart, to bring the hope of light to dim and dark places, to invite you into a more profound experience of the Gospel of Light. I pray that you would give Jesus access to bring his light to your yet-to-be-redeemed places in your soul and this same blessing to those around you. I pray that his light would bring deliverance to you from darkness, and his healing presence to places that are broken. I pray that these seeds of light would find their way to every tribe, tongue, and nation to bear uniquely and refractorily the brilliance of Jesus Christ.
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Click here for more info on the book, Light Up the Dark