Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: advent, Christmas, Christmas lights, darkness, fear, Isaiah 11:1-10, Jesus, Matthew 3:1-12, Romans 15:4-13
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
I’ve been thinking about fear lately. More specifically, about when we learn to fear and how we come to decide what is scary and what is not. Helping a two-year old navigate her world brings up these kinds of questions. As evening falls, her little, insistent voice is just beginning to say things like, “It’s dark, Mommy, I’m scared.”
There is something within us and something perfectly rational about being afraid of the dark. Shadows obscure the reality of things. Darkness prevents us from seeing and avoiding dangers. What would otherwise be useful tools: knives, scissors, garden hoes, even coffee tables, can all become quite harmful when we blindly stumble into them. If we can’t see or know what’s right in front of us, we have reason to fear, because approaching them improperly could be dangerous.
We’ve been traveling deeper into a season of fewer and fewer hours of natural daylight. Without the help of street, yard, or car lights, it can feel blinding to be out in the dark. We might wonder what dangers are out there, just beyond our sight.
We put lights around our homes and towns to keep us safe. I think of those automatic motion detector lights, designed to scare away intruders. They work not only to protect against things outside me. They also help illumine the way from my car to the door as I try to balance bags of Christmas goodies.
During hours of darkness, we keep lights lit as we live our days vigilant, looking out, for the things we fear. This is the kind of vigilance Jesus seems to speak of at the end of our reading from Matthew. Keep awake! The homeowner wouldn’t have broken vigilance and gone to bed if he knew a thief was coming to rob him. So keep the security lights on! Lock your doors! Don’t leave your car running unlocked as you try to defrost it before heading to work or school! Look out for danger!
I think many of us know the vigilance that comes from fear. As I think of parents sending their children off to college, I remember my own mother’s forwarded emails of the various things to be afraid of- scams and kidnappers and other dangers. Smart phones and social networking make sharing these warnings even easier today. With a simple click, we can share another’s advice to look out for the next danger.
Our gospel has some scary and confusing images: a reminder of the deadly flood, a vision of people being swept away, a thief coming in the night. These images are juxtaposed with the sense that God is doing something really big and unexpected in sending the messiah. Jesus wants us to be on the alert for this action — but I don’t think we need to fear this work of God. Instead, Jesus is inviting us to transfer our state of high alert and our willingness to share warnings of danger into a way of anticipating and proclaiming God’s life-giving action.
What would it be like if we were vigilant for works of joy? How would our lives, our community, be different if we were always on the lookout to spot the first signs of joy- or of love- or of life-giving transformation breaking into our world? What would it be like if we spent half as much time sharing news of God working in our lives and communities as we spend sharing news of fear?
On Thanksgiving morning, I took a little drive to get out of a house consumed with last minute packing, toddler bathing, and general house scrubbing, as I prepared for a time of worship. Sometimes I like silence in the car when I’m alone, but that morning I flipped on Wisconsin Public Radio. The call in program asked people to share about the best gifts they’ve received or given. People shared amazing stories of generosity and relational turning points. Some shared of organs donated or received in life-giving surgeries. One woman spoke of an unexpected embrace from a brother who rarely showed his love, and his offer to do the family’s dishes so she could play a game with her niece. For a whole hour, people called in to share news of joy, love, and generosity– selfless acts that I believe God makes possible in our lives. This was broadcast all over the state and available online.
It made me wonder- where and how are we sharing news of the ways we reflect and experience reflections of God’s love? Jesus came into our world, into human life, to declare God’s love and welcome for all people. Jesus makes possible a change of heart, an act of selfless generosity, and hope even in the face of despair.
With Thanksgiving over and Advent begun, many people are starting to transform their homes for Christmas. The mini transformations that are occurring are a sign to point us towards the transformation God is working in our world. God has come to us as Jesus, the incarnate one, the baby in the manger. But Jesus’ coming is not the only work of God we celebrate during Advent. This is a time to expect that God is still at work to break into our lives and bring a life-giving change.
In this season of increased darkness, we use lights to push back the darkness and reveal what is in front of us. The lights of candles and Christmas lights remind us to look into the darkness with hope.
One of my favorite things to do in this season is to drive around neighborhoods to see everyone’s decorations. It gives me the sense of the whole community becoming aware of the joy of this season. In a way, it reminds me of our reading from Isaiah.
Isaiah speaks the word that God shows to him. God offers a vision of a changed world, in which all the nations will recognize God’s presence and wisdom. The world will be so changed that war and weapons will no longer be useful. Isaiah offers this vision after acknowledging the destruction that is a part of his world. We know that destruction and danger are a part of our world today, but God invites us to also look forward with hope- hope and trust- for a new future of peace and joy for all peoples and nations.
Among all the choices for decorations, from inflatable santas to elegant wreaths, the one thing featured in most homes will be lights. Instead of serving as increased security, they are meant for increased awareness of joy and hope- a celebration of God’s coming into our lives. The next time you notice Christmas lights, I pray that you also take a moment to notice one way God is working in your life and our world. Use the opening this season provides in conversation to share your own experience of God’s coming- God’s Advent. Invite someone else into this joy.
God has come to exchange your fear for joy. Rejoice! Share the good news.
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