Looking for the Light

Looking for the Light

I am not, as I wrote in my Advent letter, a big fan of shorter days and longer nights. The end of daylight savings time is always a downer for me. It is not that I am afraid of the dark, or even that I dislike it per se. There is something comforting and wombish about darkness. It is just that I don’t like so much of it. And yet, apparently, what I like and dislike is not the controlling factor in Creation, so here we are; long nights and short days. In the ancient world, in early Christian speech and writings, light and darkness were used as metaphors for the power of good and the power of evil. The people Israel are referred to as those who bear light for the world and Jesus himself is described as the light of the world. In the Gospel passage we just heard, Jesus speaks of a time of sheer darkness. A time when even the moon will not give off its light and the stars will be shaken. John’s Gospel, in particular, paints a sharp divide between darkness and light- you are either a child of the light or a child of darkness. There is no grey. Normally I am not a fan of this either—or thinking, to my eyes, much of life is grey.
But right now this dark/light imagery feels like a fitting metaphor for how many of us view our current national life. It feels to some of us like we are in a period of relentless night, a time like the one Jesus speaks of—when the forces of darkness are evident everywhere and seem to be gaining strength. On Friday, somewhat aptly in the darkness of night, we witnessed the passing of a tax overhaul that will, without question, reward the wealthiest of the wealthy and punish the poor and the middle class. And our political leaders are now talking about “fixing” medicare and social security. What many of us see in that language is a return to the days before the social safety net- the days when people could not retire, and when there were large numbers of our older siblings in Christ who were hungry, without homes, and sick. And yesterday I heard an interview with one Senator who said that now we really cannot afford to extend the CHIP program—a program that provides healthcare to poor children. The wealthiest nation in the world cannot afford to provide healthcare for the most vulnerable among us. All of this is overwhelmingly distressing, infuriating, disgusting. And, frankly, at times I just want to run away somewhere-sort of a “stop the world I want to get off” situation. It would be easy right now, in this time of darkness, to despair-to believe that light will never again seep into the room, our lives, the world.
And in the midst of this darkness, this frustration, this despair, Advent begins. This season of patient, hopeful waiting. This season in which we take time to examine our hearts, our lives—to prepare for the birth of Jesus. And even in our darkened world, if we take time to sit and listen carefully, we hear a song. It is actually a song that has been going on from the beginning, but one to which we may not have paid attention. It is a quiet song, not one that bullies us into listening, but it is persistent. A song sung by a young woman who was a refugee, who was among the poorest and most vulnerable people of her day. It is a song of a world turned upside down- a world in which the injustice we create is turned on its head—a song of a world in which the hungry are fed, the proud scattered, and the humble uplifted. A song that sees the world not as it is, but as God dreams it to be. Sung by a young woman who was willing to cooperate with God—to put her own body, her own life, on the line to advance God’s vision. It is a song of hope-hope in God.
Now, hope is a word that gets thrown around a lot. What the world usually means by hope is the jingoistic cross-your fingers—and hope everything is OK sort. That is not what Christian hope is about. Christian hope is the hope of Mary’s song, the hope of light in darkness—the quiet confidence that light always breaks in again. It is a song that sees exactly what the world is, but knows a greater truth, the truth of how God sees the world. It is the song of a people who are willing to be part of bringing that vision to reality, willing to embody this hope in their lives.
Christian hope is not pie-in-the-sky, reality denying hope—it is instead knowing deep in our bones, that, evidence to the contrary, God is working in the world and God’s dream for the world will be fulfilled at some point in time. We may not see any evidence of it right now, but we hope, because we know that God is with us, in us, and desires to work through us. We know that the world, darkness, does not have the last word. We know that light always begins to seep into the cracks.
In these ever lengthening nights, in this time of darkness, the world needs us to keep our hearts tuned to this song, and we need to know that Mary’s song is still ours, her hope is still ours. This is hard to do, Lord knows I know this. And yet this is our call-this is why we are here; individually and as a community. This is why we come together week in and week out to support each other, to remind ourselves and each other of the truth that the world is not ours but God’s, the truth that injustice, pain, brokenness are part of the world—that Good Friday happens, but also of the larger truth that Easter always comes. The world needs you and me to do what Jesus told his disciples to do—to keep awake—keep our ears tuned to Mary’s song, to God’s love song, and keep our eyes focused on wherever the light breaks in. The world needs places like St. Peter’s, places where we encourage each other to do this hard work, places where we hear the stories that give us the strength and courage to go on, places where we take time to let the great Story of God settle into our hearts, into our being. Places where we take time to let God penetrate the shells we build around ourselves, penetrate our darkness and light us on fire with God’s hope and love, and then send us out into the world to bear that light to others. Places that are learning-labs of love, compassion, and justice- of walking in the way of Jesus. My prayer this Advent is that we, like Mary and Jesus, never make peace with injustice, with our death—dealing culture, that we keep alert—we watch for the light and then let it fill us up and drive us out to bear that light to a broken, hurt, and darkened world.

Yesterday I re-found and, in closing, would like to share with you a blessing from a book by Jan Richardson called Circles of Grace. It is called Blessing When the World is Ending:

Look, the world
is always ending
somewhere.

Somewhere
the sun has come
crashing down.

Somewhere
it has gone
completely dark.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the gun,
the knife,
the fist.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the slammed door,
the shattered hope.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone,
the television,
the hospital room.

Somewhere
it has ended
with a tenderness
that will break
your heart.

But, listen,
this blessing means
to be anything
but morose.

It has not come
to cause despair.
It is simply here
because there is nothing
a blessing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world
is falling apart.

This blessing
will not fix you,
will not mend you,
will not give you
false comfort;
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.

It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
will come,
gathering itself
about you
as the world begins
again.

Amen.

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