In the Northern Hemisphere, the short days and long nights of winter come with lectionary readings full of references to dark and light. Each Isaiah reading speaks of darkness and light: “Arise, shine; for your light has come” (Isaiah 60:1); “I will give you as a light to the nations” (Isaiah 49:6); “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2). Psalm 27 begins, “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” and Matthew 4:15-16 quotes Isaiah 9:1-2. In each passage, darkness indicates danger, fear, and occupation; light is associated with God, Israel, joy, and salvation.
Christians living in a racist world need to acknowledge this scriptural pattern and be aware of the harm it has caused, the ways it has been exaggerated and distorted in Christian theology and hymnody to say that white is good and black is bad. We need to reclaim and proclaim the many positive biblical references to Africa and Africans and the positive references to darkness. In the same passage where Israel is a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6), we find the beautiful dark images of a mother’s womb (Isaiah 49:1) and the shadow of God’s hand (Isaiah 49:2).
If, as the title of this magazine section implies, we are not simply to read but to live the ambiguous and contradictory word that is our sacred story, we must be challenged and struggle, and we must act and speak against racism when we encounter it.
Laurel A. Dykstra is a scripture and justice educator living in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is author of Set Them Free: The Other Side of Exodus.
A Disturbing Gift
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12