If you are prepared to read a book which will plunge you unremittingly and unsparingly into the physical and spiritual darkness which envelops and frames Advent, get your hands on a copy of Cormac McCarthy's prize winning The Road. His spare, bleak prose matches perfectly the horror of the post-apocalyptic nightmare he unfolds. The symbolism of darkness and light is searingly present as we walk with the principal characters through American landscapes which have been utterly devastated in a long past nuclear war. McCarthy's depiction of nuclear winter, of a hope-less world shrouded in ash where sunshine is but a dim memory, turns our warm Advent platitudes on their head. The people who walked in light are trapped in darkness and gloom is nearer the mark. Alan Warner's review of the novel will help you decide whether this book is for you. He writes that "The Road affirms belief in the tender pricelessness of the here and now. In creating an exquisite nightmare, it does not add to the cruelty and ugliness of our times; it warns us now how much we have to lose." It is exactly this theme which George Monbiot explores in his appreciation of McCarthy's book: "A few weeks ago I read what I believe is the most important environmental book ever written. It is not Silent Spring, Small is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world."
What The Road does is stop us in our tracks and force us to think deeply about what matters most to us. Encountering the unsparing loss of all that we take for granted, each of us is challenged to become part of the solution to ensuring a collective, sustainable and just future for the whole human family. As such we truly become Advent people, for whom the text of Isaiah 35, set for the third Sunday of Advent on 16th December,is especially poignant. Read The Road and you will know why. And at the heart of our Advent journey is this other well-loved text from Isaiah:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
The two principal characters in The Road struggle with what it means to be 'good people' in the darkest of times. Within them the light of goodness still flickers, a fragile light in a land of deepest darkness. The people who walked in darkness; that means you and me too. To see the light of God's love in the life of Jesus is to be challenged to respond in such a way that we become lights of hope in a dark world. Advent challenges us to costly commitment, to take our stand as others have done throughout history with John The Baptist, for the sake of the most vulnerable and exploited people on the planet, and indeed for the planet itself.
The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
"Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight"
With the likes of Wilberforce, Mandela and Tutu, we shall be in good company as lights in the darkness, unceasingly striving to prepare for the dawn.