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Third Thursday of Advent: A Voice in the Dark

By Tyler Charles

Advent Devotional | December 17, 2020

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

—Luke 2:8-10 (Read Luke 2


My grandfather was a big man with even bigger hands. The kind of hands that could fix fences on his farm, barehand a baseball from his grandson, and obscure the entire deck as he dealt out a hand of gin rummy.

He was a Navy man, a basketball player, a follower of Jesus, and the kind of man who declined a chance to pitch in the Chicago Cubs farm system just so he could marry my Grandma and establish their own farm, the kind with soybeans instead of strikeouts.

And their farm happened to be next door to the home where I was raised. So during my youngest years, my grandfather had a constant companion as he fed cattle, maneuvered farm machinery, and just about everything else.

He was my first hero and my first best friend.

He was also the kind of man who would sneak out of the shot just before a photo was snapped, the kind of man who was content to listen much more than he spoke. At most family gatherings, he was more likely to laugh than to speak, laughing most boisterously at slapstick humor from the likes of Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy. My whole family gained an appreciation for those comedians, mostly because of the laughter they elicited from my Grandpa.

A few years before he died, when I was still seven or eight, my extended family spent a day exploring a series of caves. This was a tourist destination—not a spot for bona fide spelunkers. But even touristy caves can prove dangerous for young, absent-minded children.

In one of the largest caves, there was a narrow tunnel that most everyone in my family skipped—everyone except for my Grandpa and me. As one might expect in a narrow cave passage, it was damp and dark, with various rock formations jutting out in unexpected places. When Grandpa and I reached the end of the passage, we headed back the way we came. No one else was ahead of us or behind.

Suddenly, before I even had time to realize I was falling—let alone catch a glimpse of where I was landing—I found myself panicked and floundering in a shallow pool of water and the stickiest muck one could ever imagine. I don’t know if my foot slipped or if I strayed a little too far from center, but I landed chest- and face-first.

Only a second or two could have passed; I realize that now. But in the moment, I was gasping, flailing, shrieking. I could not get my bearings, and I was panicking—absolutely terrified. And then I heard something over the sound of my own cries.

Laughter. Someone was laughing.

It wasn’t taunting, spiteful laughter. No, not that. This was the booming, almost wheezing, I’m-laughing-so-hard-I’m-trying-not-to-fall-over kind of laughter. And it was coming from someone I trusted as much as anyone in the world.

I stopped thrashing, because suddenly I knew: if my Grandpa was laughing, I must be fine. Everything must be fine.

Soon enough, his big hands snatched me from the suction-grip of the thick muck.

Carefully, we walked out of the cave together. And by the time we emerged to find the rest of our family, I was laughing too. (And my family has enjoyed laughing about it ever since.)

Our adventure didn’t end there. Yes, I was lined with a layer of hardening mud, but there were still more caves to explore. And we kept moving.

***

This kind of experience is found in the Scriptures too.

Luke 2:8-10 says this:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

When the world falls out from under the shepherd’s feet, it is the words of the angel that calm them—fear not, everything is okay, we bring you good news.

And some three decades later, the terrified disciples are huddled in a locked room when they hear the voice they long to hear above all others.

After Jesus’ crucifixion, John 20:19-21 tells us that,

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

The light shines in the darkness when we encounter a voice that we know, hands we can trust.

Recognizing the light is what can free us from our stupor, or even paralyzing fear. But then it’s time to move—time to climb out of the cave, make a late-night trek to Bethlehem, or venture outside the locked rooms—regardless of what’s on the other side.

In John 8:12, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

There will be more darkness ahead, but never enough to overcome the Light of the world. No matter how dire things seem, Jesus still beckons us onward.

2020 has been messy; we all know this. But our adventure doesn’t end here. There are still more caves to explore.

Time to keep moving.

—Tyler Charles is Midwest Staff Director for the CCO.


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