“You are the light of the world...Let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14, 16
It’s rather hard to believe that, at the end of this month, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving and entering the season of light: Advent and Christmas. Soon, the frenzy of multi-colored bulbs will be blinking...blinking...through the shades of our bedroom window. Shopping plaza fluorescents, burning way past closing time. It’s the winter sun, glinting off new-fallen snow. It’s too much to eat, too much stuff, great expectations, dashed expectations, family ties, and families untied. Wherever we live and whatever is going on in our lives, Jesus, the light of the world, comes to us again.
I’ve heard the term, “unprecedented,” to describe this year to the point that I’m beginning to have great disdain for the term. I find myself asking, “Is It Light Yet? If this is the season of light, how come I feel like I’m stumbling in the dark?” This may be the season of light, but many of us feel more in sync with the gathering gloom. Here we are, dragging as the fears of the pandemic continue. It has been a year of doubts and disappointments.
Something of which I have also been made aware of this year is the language we use to describe this time. I’ve read that we in North America are much more likely to hear dark and light as references to skin tone. In his book Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. (Fortress Press, 2019), the Rev. Lenny Duncan addresses the light-vs.-dark symbolism of many Advent services. Duncan shares that too often: “We have reduced the Advent season to ‘from darkness to light,’ a theme reinforced by repetition and tradition. And darkness is just another way of saying blackness—another symbol that equates blackness with evil and light (whiteness) with good” (pp. 67–68).
Mindful of the pitfalls of language, throughout history varying cultures have created celebrations to counter the shortened days. The winter solstice was celebrated as a turning point. No one's sure how long-ago humans recognized the winter solstice and began heralding it as a turning point -- marking the return of the sun. One theory claims the Mesopotamians were first, with a 12-day festival of renewal, designed to help the god Marduk tame the monsters of chaos for one more year. Many, many cultures the world over perform solstice ceremonies. At the root is an ancient fear that the failing light would never return unless humans intervened with anxious vigil or antic celebration.
Doesn’t it feel like we still do that? I’m convinced that my neighbor is trying to do that. I can’t help but wonder if AEP sends him a thank you Christmas card for helping them make their year-end goals!
Within the church we do embody celebrations and saints who counter the dark. For example, the 3rd Sunday of Advent is also the commemoration day of Saint Lucy, also known as Saint Lucia, (283 – 304) who was a wealthy young Christian martyr venerated as a saint by both Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox Christians. Her feast day in the West is 13 December, by the unreformed Julian calendar the longest night of the year; with a name derived from lux, lucis "light", she is the patron saint of those who are blind. Saint Lucy is one of the very few saints celebrated by members of the Lutheran Church. Her hagiography tells us that Lucy was a Christian during the Diocletian persecution. She consecrated her virginity to God, refused to marry a pagan, and had her dowry distributed to the poor. Her would-be husband denounced her as a Christian to the governor of Syracuse, Sicily. Miraculously unable to move her or burn her, the guards took out her eyes with a fork. In
art, her eyes sometimes appear on a plate that she is holding—symbolizing the fact that she holds up the vision of the kingdom of God, despite walking in darkness. Interesting celebration—young girls and women wear greens in their hair along with candles—always seemed a bit scary to me.
This Advent, I invite you to ponder anew the shadows you have been experiencing in your life. It’s an anxious time isn’t it?
Maybe there have been times in your life when you felt as close to God as the shirt you’re wearing. You woke up feeling God’s smile upon your day, God’s favor shining on your health, job, plans, and relationships. Now, you’re just numb. The room of your soul is filled with shadows. Maybe it feels like a long way from the springtime of your faith.
Is it even possible to anticipate Christ’s coming, when the shadows have so crowded out the light? Of this we can be sure: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). Advent is a time where we are reminded that in the midst of the darkness, we have light. In fact, that’s what Advent is: the sure coming of God’s morning. The triumph of light, though it arrives as light through a teeny crack. What’s amazing is that most often, God comes not in dazzling displays, but in the half-light of the ordinary. As the ancient hymn proclaims, “When this old world drew on toward night, you came; but not in splendor bright, not as a monarch, but the child of Mary, blessed mother mild” (ELW 245).
You may not see God in “splendor bright.” In fact, right now, you may feel like you can’t see God at all. But whatever your pain is, know that God is in the middle of it. God loves you in the middle of it and will not forsake you to it. God’s light may come gradually, but it will come. God’s promises are true. Just as God promised that the Messiah would come into the world, this Christmas season, God re-affirms that the Messiah will come again into your world. Christ the child comes again to our world. Christ the child comes again to you. Let us look toward the light!
The sermon series for Advent and Christmas entitled, “The Light of the World” follows:
11/29 Light for Life (Advent 1: Is 64:1-9; Ps 80; Mark 13)
12/06 Light for the One (Advent 2: Is 40; Ps 85; Mark 1:1-8)
12/13 Light for our Darkness (Advent 3: Is 61; John 1:6-8, 19-28)
12/20 All Services (Advent 4: Cantata and Pageant)
12/24 The Light of the World (Christmas Eve: Luke 2)
4pm, 6pm, 8pm, 10pm