upper room daily devotions

Monday, December 03, 2012

Sermon Advent 1C "Dark and Light-An Advent Rhythm"

A few days ago, the ceiling light (my only light) in my study burned out. Because I’m too short to reach it, changing it requires me to go to my detached garage, lift the ancient wooden door, scrape around in boxes until I find a replacement, carry in the ladder, climb up, remove the fixture, and change the bulb. Okay, in the scheme of things, not a complicated process, but with work and rain, I simply couldn’t bother, so it’s still burned out.

As Advent begins, I’ve been thinking about light and darkness and justice and righteousness and signs and portents and a baby. It’s a lot . But I keep coming back to my study. Light, for me, has always meant hitting a switch and voila – Light! All my life. I’ve never lived without electricity. Even when I spent time in Congo, although it was sometimes intermittent, the house I stayed in had electricity…even hot water. On the evenings when the power was off, we simply turned to our flashlights and battery powered lights strategically placed all over the house. Switches…and voila…light.

This has not been true for most of human history. By and large, we were active during daylight hours and we were quiet, still, and restful during the night. It was a rhythm that ordered our whole interaction with the world. While today we suffer from what scientists call “light pollution,” this would have been a ridiculous concept even 100 years ago. We are oversaturated with illumination: the light from street lamps, buildings that never go dark, clocks with digital displays, TVs, computers, ereaders like the Nook and Kindle, car headlights, and so on. We are so overstimulated that we don’t know how to stop, slow down, take stock, be still, appreciate the darkness, and get back into the groove, the rhythm that evolution has relied upon in us for safety, rest, and rejuvenation. A few years ago, I lived near I5 and I used to get a little loopy thinking about how the traffic never stopped on the interstate. All night long headlights burned through the darkness and people catapulted their way from one destination to another. Culturally we do not stop. And this culture of limitlessness, of constant movement, it has a cost. Advent can help us pause.
Advent is not just a season of Light. Too much light washes everything out, washing away. No. Advent is a season of light in the midst of darkness. Darkness and light playing off one another. We have to welcome the darkness in order to appreciate the light. It’s important to know and not be bowed by the darkness in our world, in our lives.
As a holy season of preparation like Lent, Advent is a time of prayer and preparation. But, the Latin root of the word for Advent means “to come.” Something is coming; and we are waiting for it. But, waiting, anticipating, resting. These things are not our forte.

In many ways, Advent is a seasonal mirror of the Jewish Sabbath. Jews start their days at sundown. We begin our year (Advent is the start of the Christian calendar) in a season of darkness. During Jewish Sabbath, people are called to worship, reflection, community, and joy. Advent does as well. Jewish Sabbath leads people away from the busy-ness of everyday life back into a rhythm predicated on the belief that we were made for no other purpose than to commune with our God. Advent brings us back to our purpose, too. During this season, more than any other during the church year, we celebrate all of the many titles and roles given to and taken on by Jesus. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Light of the World, Word of God, vulnerable child, a baby born into poverty, Emmanuel (God with us), and so on. During our waiting, we anticipate the coming of this complex and wonderful God.  Moreover, we can’t begin to commune with God if we can’t spot God, if we can’t see God, feel God, know God.
Luke’s portents could have been written today: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” Whoever says the Bible is irrelevant hasn’t read it. This past week, the UN has been gathered in Qatar to wrangle, once again, over global climate change. Once again, the world had few expectations of this meeting. And, once again, it hardly was covered by the media. Yet, hurricanes continue to intensify, the oceans continue to acidify, the Northern hemisphere is growing warmer with fall and winter becoming delayed by weeks, fresh water is scarce in many places, drought, and climate change driven famine are taking place. There is distress among the nations due to the roaring of the sea and waves. And we are confused. To address climate change with any seriousness would require us to interrupt our patterns of behavior – globally to do so – and to change our rhythms of life. To slow down. To use less. To expect less autonomy. To live differently.

Luke, clearly, wasn’t talking about climate change, but his words are prescient, all the same. Luke, recalling words from a prophet, speaks of international chaos. We see that all around us, too: throughout Africa and the Middle East, but all around us. Even here in the United States, as we debate the fiscal cliff, economic policy, and engage in hyper partisan politics, we are fainting from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the earth.

We experience spiritual darkness, too. Loss of loved ones, economic stress and distress, old and painful psychic wounds, uncertain futures, unknown purpose, our own mortality. Individually, we faint from fear and foreboding.

Then Jesus tells a story, which seems to make little sense. A great storyteller, but sometimes his stories leave us scratching our heads in wonder. Yes, sprouts on trees tell us that life is coming, but what has that to do with the sun, the moon, and the stars, and distress upon the earth. Moreover, this passage comes from the end of the gospel just before the events of Jesus’ final week of life. They move us toward the crucifixion. Why are they read during Advent?

Change. This is a story about change. About endings and beginnings. God’s time is more mystical than chronological. During Advent, we look back at the birth of Jesus but we also look for Christ coming again. Each Advent we declare that this age is ending and a new one is being born. We celebrate not just to arrivals of Jesus (his birth and the second coming) but we remind ourselves that God is born into the world all of the time. We are incarnational people. God is here. In the hyperbolic portents but in the quiet moments, in our struggles, in the poor babies born today, in the margins of society now, not just 2000 years ago, not just in the future. We wait for what is all around us. We celebrate the birth of the not yet. It’s a jumble of mystical wonderful frightening experiences. This is the why the angels must declare again and again, “Fear not!” for this kind of mystical hodge podge is uncontrollable, uncontainable, unpredictable. It is interruptive and disruptive. Change. Everything changes.

Where is the darkness in your soul? Is there a way you can move into your darkness this Advent – embrace it a little? Touch the sorrow. Touch the loss. Touch the fear. And remember, everything changes. There is a light that splits your darkness. A light different from all others. A light emanating from the Light of the World. A light found in the stars. A light that is leading us, sometimes circuitously for sure, but leading us all the same from the stars to the stable, to the side of a God who is born among us, who knows the completeness of the human condition. There is a light of justice that shines wherever there is injustice and oppression. There is another light that calls us back to a rhythm of existence of dependence upon it; it demands that we let go of the artificial lights upon which we rely. Let them go, it says. Let them dim. Let them fall to the ground. They are worthless. There is only one light that shines with truth and mercy, and it cannot be found in the sky or in a lamp.

Go to Christmas by way of a route of rest and justice. Awaiting the change that only our God brings. So, close your eyes and enter that moment of darkness as I leave you with a poem from Wendell Berry called The Peace of Wild Things. It says,

"The Peace of Wild Things"
-Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of the wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.




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