Reading: “I AM the Light of the World” from Parable and Paradox by Malcolm Guite
I see your world in light that shines behind me,
Lit by a sun whose rays I cannot see,
The smallest gleam of light still seems to find me,
Or find the child who’s hiding deep inside me.
I see your light reflected in the water,
Or kindled suddenly in someone’s eyes,
It shimmers through translucent leaves in summer,
Or spills from silver veins in leaden skies,
It gathers in the candles at our vespers,
It concentrates in tiny drops of dew,
At times it sings for joy, at times it whispers,
But all the time it calls me back to you.
I follow you upstream through this dark night
My saviour, source, and spring, my life and light.
If you haven’t heard of Malcolm Guite, you should check him out. Guite (pronounced Gite, rhymes with kite) is an Anglican priest, poet, and literary scholar. He’s also the closest thing to a real-life Hobbit I’ve ever seen. I think this poem, “I AM the Light of the World,” serves as a perfect reading for Advent.
This type of poem is called an Elizabethan sonnet, which means that it follows a particular form: 14 lines, divided into three sections of four lines, and one section of two lines. These sonnets also contain what is called a “volta,” a twist, a change in tone or theme in the last two lines.
In this sonnet, Guite magnificently explores the light of Christ which permeates our whole world. We can see it within each other, and we are reminded of it every time we see light out in creation. If we only had the first twelve lines, we might think our poet was in a state of sheer ecstasy. But with the volta, the last two lines betray the truth: “I follow you upstream through this dark night,” the poet writes. However beautiful God’s light might be, the author is in darkness. Is this literal darkness? Is this the darkness that comes from not knowing what God is calling us to? Is it the darkness of grief? Is it the darkness that comes when God is silent?
Whatever the darkness might be, the poet recalls the light of God and pushes forward to the day when he will see that light again.
Isn’t that what we do in this Advent season? We remember God’s promise of light in Jesus Christ even as we trudge through our our dark, dark world. We hang lights on our houses and trees, light candles on our tables, and light fires in our hearths all to testify to our hope that darkness does not have the last word. Light will shine in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.
Christ Jesus, light of the world, shine in our weary hearts this Advent season. When we walk in shadow, remind us of your light. Hasten the day when your gleaming brightness will extinguish the dark.