by Dr. Reed Lessing
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as winter depression, is a mood disorder that some people experience in the cold and dark months of the year. Those who get SAD may sleep too much, have little energy, and often feel down and out. Additional symptoms may include a tendency to overeat and, of course, this leads to weight gain.
Just around the corner, another kind of “sad” is quickly approaching. It happens right after Christmas. We often call it the post-holiday blues. Cherished relatives and friends will have said their tearful goodbyes. Gone will be their cacophony of choruses: “Thank you so much,” “You shouldn’t have,” and “It just fits.” Under the holiday spell, Americans will shell out more than $500 billion for toys, turkeys, travel, tinsel, trees, and Tylenol. But what will we get for it? Size 36 will be exchanged for size 40, eggnog will be on sale for half price, and that delicious pecan pie will become stale as it lies forgotten in the back of the refrigerator. When these January blahs are placed on top of SAD, we find ourselves in a sad, sad, sad, sad world!
Some doctors suggest that one treatment for winter depression is regular exposure to light. Special therapy employs light boxes that emit more lumens than a customary incandescent lamp.
There Is Another Light Too
Isaiah bursts into our gloom and promises a more massive display of light. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (Is. 9:2 NIV).
I’m not totally comfortable admitting this, but as a child I was an unabashed fan of the Lone Ranger. “Nowhere in those sterling pages of yesteryear can one find a greater champion of justice. We turn again to those thrilling days when out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse, Silver, for the Lone Ranger rides again!” But in every episode, 29 minutes and 30 seconds into the half-hour program, somebody would inevitably ask the question, “Who was that masked man?” Here was someone who had been without a pistol, or in prison, and certainly in a pinch. The Lone Ranger rescued him. But he missed it!
Isaiah initially promised light to the ancient tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali (Is. 9:1). These Israelites were called out of Egypt, fed and nourished for their wilderness journey, and given their tribal inheritance. They had the sure and certain prophetic words of men like Elijah, Elisha, Amos, and Hosea. The Lord had repeatedly loved, saved, and rescued them. But they missed it (2 Kings 17).
In Holy Baptism, you and I are called out of darkness and into marvelous light. With Christ’s true body and blood, we are fed and nourished for our journey to the New Jerusalem. What’s more, we have an inheritance in heaven that can never perish, spoil, or fade (1 Peter 1:4). God has repeatedly forgiven, cleansed, and delivered us. But we miss it!
Why? “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
All too often we love the darkness of self-centered narcissism, live in the shadows of lies and half-truths, and long for more of the filth that feeds our flesh. The Prince of Darkness mocks our feeble discipleship, our failed relationships, and our fatal attractions.
But Isaiah promises a great light!
The first light to shine in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali was Gideon, who make mincemeat out of the Midianites (Judges 6:35). Judges 7:20 states, “Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, ‘A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!’” Soon after Isaiah’s time, another light would shine. King Josiah marched north with the burning torch of his newfound word of the Lord (2 Kings 22). It was a lamp to his feet and a light for his path (Ps. 119:105).
But the best light was saved for last. Luke writes, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:9). Simeon celebrates, “A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). The Magi marvel, “We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:2). What a light show! Majesty arrived in the midst of the mundane. Divinity entered the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a teenager, and in the presence of a carpenter.
Jesus took on flesh to take us into His arms, heal our hurts, and destroy our darkness. He became a human being, not to demonstrate the innocence of infancy, but to live the life we could not and experience the Father’s judgment so we need not. Here is dazzling light, brilliant light, and eternal light!
But with Gideon, the light burned out because of his son’s wickedness and idolatry (Judges 9). With Josiah, the light faded when he died at the Battle of Meggido (2 Kings 23). Would this light burn out as well? Would it cease to shine for all time? Would Christ’s betrayal, blood, and burial be the final curtain call?
Not on your life! “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5 ESV).
Art Holst, a veteran NFL referee, tells about the game when Kansas City Chiefs tight end Fred Arbanas was tackled so hard that his artificial eye popped out. Soon the missing eye was found. Arbanas popped it back into place and was eager to resume play. Holst then said to Arbanas playfully, “I’m impressed with your courage. But what would you have done if you had lost the other eye?”
“That’s easy,” snapped Arbanas. “I would become a referee!”
Referees aren’t the only ones who get stuck in the dark. So do we, especially right after Christmas.
Hear the word of the Lord: “Arise, shine, for your light has come” (Is. 60:1).
Don’t miss it!
About the Author: Dr. Reed Lessing is director of the graduate school and associate professor of exegetical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo.