Rooted in it’s Nordic heritage Up Helly Aa draws crowds from all over the world. The streetlights in Lerwick are dimmed for the occasion. The Guizer Jarl and his squad begin their procession from the Hillhead and make their way to where the galley is burned. Along the route, onlookers wait in darkness for the first flickers of flame, as the streets are lit up with the glow from the torches.
The ‘light up’ marks the beginning of the squads’ procession into the night. For Shetlanders the last Tuesday in January is also the start of the lighter nights; after the six-hour days of winter the days are lengthening. On clear nights, the ‘mirrie dancers’ (northern lights), spread across the sky bringing a wash of colour, while, later in the year, people enjoy the summer twilight, known as ‘simmer dim’. Light plays a pivotal role for the inhabitants of Shetland. Longer days are a chance to do outside work, enjoy nature and appreciate the beautiful beaches and hills before the long nights of winter return.
Aside from the changing of the seasons and the gloom of winter, there is another kind of dark. This darkness is experienced throughout the world. It is not seasonal, affected by latitude, nor diminished by sunlight or torches. It is the darkness we are all born into. The Bible describes everyone born into the world as living in darkness (Isa 9:2, Luk 1:79, Eph 5:8). Nonetheless, there is hope…
Jesus was the only man who could be called ‘the light of the world’, because He was different: He never did anything wrong. He lived with the sole purpose of dying to pay the price for our sin – all those everyday selfish actions which distance us from God. As the light, the Lord Jesus shows up what we really are as sinners; but in three hours of darkness upon the cross He bore the punishment for the things we have done wrong. He did this so that we might be forgiven.
What, then, does it mean to follow the Lord Jesus Christ? It means, first, to acknowledge that we are sinners before God, people who fall short of His perfect standard. Then we must accept Christ as our rescuer and redeemer. Once we have done that, God will enable us to turn our backs on living selfishly so that we truly follow Jesus by living to glorify God.
Through His death and resurrection, Jesus opened the way for us to believe, to change, to find hope and joy in something outside of ourselves. He offers us a restored relationship with the God who loves us, bringing us into ‘the light of life’ – a joyful life lived for Him and a secure future in heaven.