I’m recording this message from home on Wednesday before Thanksgiving – so a Happy Thanksgiving shout-out to all of you for tomorrow. I hope you have a wonderful and delicious day surrounded by love. You deserve that.
Okay, on to our First Sunday of Advent homily:
It should be no secret or surprise to anyone that we do not know the exact date of Christ’s birth, and so, because of this, the Church borrowed a secular feast day and baptized it Christian.
Thousands of years ago Pagans saw the world as a great cosmic struggle between the powers of darkness, and the powers of light. They noticed that at different times, darkness seemed to be getting the better of the light. The sun/the light, was getting weaker. It was obvious that those fearful dark days were getting stronger and longer and the people were afraid that someday the darkness would kill the sun and the light altogether, and they shuddered in fear.
But around the end of December, the people noticed that the tables had begun to turn. The sun was regaining its strength, and it began to push darkness off, and the light returned.
When the Christians came along, they took over this Pagan notion of the light defeating darkness. They chose December 25th to celebrate the birth of Christ. So in the Christian scheme, within the great struggle between good and evil and light and darkness, this would be the time when the darkness of sin and death would now be overcome by the light of the world: Jesus, the son of God. The Christians called this time Christmas, and they made the Season of Advent the beginning of the end of darkness, a time of looking forward to the coming of the light. And that is what it has meant ever since.
Advent marks that time when darkness begins to grow weaker, and the sun becomes stronger. Advent is an invitation to break through the darkness into the light. It offers a challenge that comes to us very forcefully with a question:
- What darkness do you need to overcome?
- What darkness in your life would you like to see reversed?
- What darkness in your world would you like to see reversed?
- What breakthrough would you want for this Season of Advent?
I suggest that if you are looking for an Advent motif in order to roll-back some of the darkness, it might be the motif of light-beaming. We all contain within us the power to bring light:
- a gesture to make somebody feel better,
- a smile,
- picking up the telephone,
- an apology given,
- a reach outward.
Very simple things, and yet with them we can heal hearts and souls, and often bodies. That could be our goal for the new liturgical church year, to be light bearers beaming light into darkness.
There is a story of six people who froze to death around a campfire on a bitterly cold night. Each person had a log of wood they might have contributed to the fire; but for reasons satisfactory only to themselves, each person refused to give what they had.
A woman would not give her log to the fire because she said she hated men.
A homeless man would not give because there was a rich man in the group.
The rich man would not give because he did not want to warm someone who was obviously shiftless, lazy, and drank.
Another would not give up his log because he recognized someone not of his own race and religious faith.
As each person withheld their piece of fuel for reasons justifiable only to themselves, the fire eventually died, and so, they all died. This story was originally told in a poem that ends with these tragic lines:
“Six logs held fast in death’s still hand
were proof of human sin;
they did not die from cold without,
they died from cold within.”
In the early part of the Gospel story, when Jesus is just starting His public ministry, He calls His disciples to follow Him. Two of them ask Jesus, “Rabbi, where do You live?” and Jesus simply says, “Come and see.”
I think it would be only natural for us to sometimes ask “Jesus, where do You live today? Where do you live now?”
When we see examples of warring among nations, open hostility among those of other political parties, insurrections, famine, hurricanes, fire, floods, drought, even locusts / cicadas … one does begin to wonder!
I think it would be only natural, at times like this, especially during the past 20+ months, to ask “God, where do you live today? Where are You in all of this? Are You still here?”
I think Jesus would say in response:
I live within the darkness in people, come and see.
I live within the dark hurt in you, and in others, come and see.
I live within the dark pain and dark grief and dark struggle of human beings everywhere, come and see.
And when you come and see, bring your piece of fire wood with you to make light and warmth.
If this world,
if this nation,
as a faith community are going to roll back the darkness, then Advent is the time to begin.
A New Year,
a new beginning,
a time when darkness begins to slip.
Then, hopefully, in your life and mine and in the lives of those we touch, the Son, Jesus, will begin to rise and dispel the darkness. No matter how
old or young,
weak or strong,
no matter who we are,
we all have the power to make it happen.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog