Waiting for light to break through the darkness

Written by Steve Norton

Is there anything more beautiful during the holiday season than the sparkle of Christmas lights? Some homes dare to blaze like the stars in the sky, while other homes emphasize simplicity. But no matter the style, the shimmering glow of the homes in our neighbourhood always give me a sense of awe. As the nights get longer, Christmas lights become a symbol of joy for all to see during a season of darkness.

So, in a weird way, the darkness becomes important. That’s not to say that the darkness is good. Sitting in darkness creates fear and anxiety when you can’t see what’s around you. But without the darkness, it’s harder to appreciate the light.

Maybe the best example of this comes through the 2006 film, Children of Men. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, Children of Men takes place in the year 2027 as the world is in disarray. For the last 18 years, no children have been born and the world is left wondering why. Chaos ensues. Riots are commonplace. Immigrants are blamed by the government.

In short, this is a world of darkness and sadness as humanity sits and waits for its inevitable demise. (After all, if no children are born, where is the hope for the human race?) In the midst of these tragic circumstances, we’re introduced to Theo (Clive Owen), a former activist who has walked away from the fight after the death of his son. When Theo runs into his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore), she asks him to help smuggle Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), a mysterious young woman, through the military checkpoints to find safety. What Theo doesn’t realize, however, is that Kee is about to give birth, making her invaluable to the rest of humanity.

Featuring some of the most stunning long camera takes in twenty-first-century cinema, Cuarón manages to make each moment feel endless. In doing so, Cuarón puts the burden upon the viewers to feel the emotional weight of every moment. For the last 18 years, humanity has lived without hope for a future. For the last 18 years, they have been left waiting for the clock to run out.

But, if 18 years seems like a long time, imagine what it must’ve been like for 400.

In church tradition, the “400 Years of Silence” is the name given to the period of time between the end of the book of Malachi and the beginning of the book of Matthew. The era received its name because, during those years, no new prophets arose and no one claimed to hear the voice of God. For the people of Israel, this was a time of grinding away, without knowing what lay ahead for them. It was a seemingly endless period of spiritual darkness.

Then, like Cuarón’s vision, a pregnancy provided a glimmer of light. When the angel Gabriel visited Mary, his message about her upcoming child was the beginning of something wonderful in the midst of chaos. Mary’s response is one of humility, despite the scorn that the unwed mother would receive from others. To the world around Mary, her child would bring scorn from those who don’t believe her impossible story. (Even hubby-to-be Joseph attempts to ‘divorce her quietly’ because of the shame that would be put upon them).

Even so, Mary’s pregnancy would signify something far greater to the world: a new beginning.

Trapped under the oppression of the Roman Empire, this too was a time of fear and trembling. People were subjugated and evil was rampant. But with the birth of Christ, they were reminded that God still remembers them. In fact, even as we walk through our own times of crisis, we can be confident that we are not forgotten. Even in our darkest moments, light is coming.

And that light may come in a form that we don’t expect.

After all, in a world of power, who would have thought it would be an infant who would change everything? Just like Mary, Kee’s child signifies the return of life and hope to a world without either. Cuarón never loses sight of this comparison within his film. (In fact, when Theo discovers her pregnancy, he immediately stammers the name of Christ out of shock). To Cuarón, the spark of life was what humanity needed to believe in the future.

To him, the birth of a child become a signal that light was about to shine in the darkness once again.

About the Movies for Advent series:

This year for Advent we’re looking in unexpected places for the themes and meaning of Nativity. We all have our favourite Christmas movies, and we know what to expect from them, but when it came to the waiting of the ancient Israelites, the burdens Mary and Joseph had to bear, or the road that led to Bethlehem—these suggest stories of a different type. And so, we’re going to seek out those stories and discuss them together!

Each Friday in Advent, “Behind the screens” columnists Adam Kline and Steve Norton, along with guest writer Jason Tripp, will each take turns reflecting on the hope, peace, joy, and love of Advent.

This series complements weekly virtual meetups where you can discuss four different films and related themes and scriptures. These Gatherings are hosted by the Free Methodist Church in Canada and New Leaf Network.

Watch this week’s recording here. To participate in upcoming discussions, sign up here.