Darkness and Light: What Downton and the Gilmores Have in Common

Highclere Castle (April 2011)

“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”- 1 John 1:6-8

It takes a lot for me to confess my enjoyment of two popular t.v shows (one dates me more than the other). The Gilmore Girls and Downton Abbey both boast scripts saturated with fantastic dialogue and mesmerizing situations. Who doesn’t love the soaring, opening piano notes of the PBS spectacular, Downton Abbey, as we ride on the back of Lord Grantham’s dog toward an epic castle under clear, blue skies? And who doesn’t love the title shots of the little town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut, filled with all its wittiness and charm, in the The Gilmore Girls? What, we may ask, do these two shows have in common? Well, behind the charm and appeal of these stories lies a world of deceit, intrigue, and darkness.

These shows thrive on characters who rarely tell the truth (though they are constantly learning the lessons from not doing so), who constantly walk around with secrets that could damage any number of the other characters on the show, who fill each other’s ears with never-ending gossip, and who are constantly trying to out-manipulate one another to get ahead.  O.k, o.k. I’ll admit: there is great human ingenuity in these stories and both have a lot of good things going for them. There’s a lot more to the shows besides this one aspect. But, let’s be honest, what keeps us coming back time after time isn’t the beautiful scenery, charm, or lovable characters: it’s the drama. It’s the fact that things are always happening in the “seedy underbelly” of the plot which, from episode to episode, make us bite our fingernails and wonder why no one ever just comes out with the truth. The characters rarely learn their lessons, but we can. 1 John 1 gives us a beautiful picture of living an exposed life in the light of God.

Walking in Darkness. Verse 6 starts off with a John flare. John is known for a very black and white outlook on things. His call to moral purity and to an exposed life, though, is only a reflection of God’s requirements for His people. John tells us that if we claim to have fellowship with God, but “walk in darkness”, we are liars. What does it mean to walk in darkness? Just look at the characters in these shows! Lord and Lady Grantham, all the “help” at Downton, Emily and Richard Gilmore, and Lorelai and Rory all reflect this principle perfectly. To walk in darkness is to walk in immorality, to continually practice unrighteousness. It is to live a life filled with deceit and selfishness. To walk in darkness, though, is more than simply commiting immorality. To walk in darkness is not only to commit immorality, it is to hide that immorality as well. It is to act as if everything is peachy, like we have it all together. Our sin would have us to believe that we are the only ones who struggle, we are the only ones who are messed up. Sin would have us believe that we need the shelter of the fig leaf. And with this lie, we become separated from each other and separated from God. We falsely believe that we are the only ones in need of help. Thus, we are unwilling to confess our sins to others because we are fooled into thinking that we need their approval and acceptance to live. All of us are perpetually trying to fit into a world in which we think that we are the only sinners. We are constantly trying to polish our exteriors so that others will love us, and because of this, we are all walking around completely terrified that someone will actually find out how messed up we really are.

Walking in the Light. To walk in the light is obviously the reverse of walking in the dark. It is to walk in righteousness, in godliness. It is more than morality, though. To walk in light is to expose yourself. It is to confess our sins, to let the mature Christians in our lives know how in need we really are. These shows though, prove that it is more appealing to walk in darkness. It is more appealing to do what the flesh wants, it is more appealing to hide. So what reasons does John give to spur us on to “Light” living? Well, for starters, he tells us that Jesus is there. He tells us, “. . . walk in the light, as he is in the light.” Certainly fellowship with Jesus trumps living in darkness. He is the Son of God, the Savior of His people. He is our hope and joy! To live a life of confession and righteousness is to live a life in communion with Christ. But John also gives us a second reason. If we walk in light, “we have fellowship with one another.” The Light of Christ enables us all to put down our bleach for our whitewashed tombs and actually be honest with each other. Dishonesty is a mark of darkness, honesty and openness is a mark of the Light. It’s only when we are honest with each other about our fears, sins, and failures that we can actually pray for each other, hold each other accountable, and point each other to Jesus. We will not pray for each other when we don’t think others need prayer. We won’t hold each other accountable when we think no one else sins. And we won’t point each other to Jesus when we think others are already looking at Him. None of us are looking to Jesus as much as we need to, none of us are being held accountable like we need to be, and none of us are praying for each other as we should. We need each other, period. Walking in Light enables us to have true, godly fellowship with each other.

For those who walk in Light there is a beautiful promise: we are forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Christ (v. 7). We must confess if we are to receive mercy. We must be willing to have our whitewashed tombs shattered before we can be brought back to life. Confession to Christ, exposure of ourselves, faith and repentance are the ways in which we grasp all that we have in Christ. This is no works-based salvation. Christ is calling us all to give up. He is calling us all to stop working so hard to maintain the image which separates us from Him and separates us from each other. There is enormous grace and cleansing to be had for those who come out of hiding.

As we watch episode after episode of these shows, we beg the characters to be honest with each other. We beg them to do the right thing, reach out for help, confess to one another, and be reconciled, and things usually make a turn for the good in the end. These shows, though, really are indicative of our lives as believers. We are enticed again and again to walk in darkness, and we are constantly having to repent of the use of our resources on bleach. Let’s learn a lesson from Downton Abbey and the Gilmore Girls: a life of secrecy, darkness, and fear leads only to a breakdown in human relationships and ultimately a breakdown of the relationship between creature and Creator. A life of exposure, honesty, and godliness, though, leads to sweet communion with Christ and fellowship with each other. It is this fellowship that brings us true life. It is this fellowship that helps Christians experience here and now the glorious communion that they will experience in fullness when Christ comes again.

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