Moving Toward the Light
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United Church, Aurora, Co 12/14/2014
Based on Isaiah 61:1-4 & John 1:19-28
We are starting the third week in Advent, which means we are half way to the time when we will celebrate the birth of Jesus, or more importantly for some of us, we have only a couple of more weeks till we get to open presents! In just seven days we will once again experience the Winter Solstices, the longest night of the year. For those of us who prefer longer days and shorter nights, this time of the year can become very depressing for us.
For twenty-five years I lived in the Pacific Northwest, and was amazed at the length of the days in the summer, where bright twilight was common up to 10:30 p.m. The flip side to that is a realization that by mid August you could actually notice the days shortening on a daily basis. In fact, come mid-October, you rarely see the sun until mid February. That is one reason since moving here, I do not feel like I have experienced a winter – because of so much day time light.
Darkness often times is accompanied by a kind of sadness. For many it is a time of uneasiness, a time of possible danger, at the very least, a time of uncertainty. We equate darkness as a playground for misfortune, evil deeds, and vulnerability. In the movies, it is a time filled with vampires, zombies, and creatures that live beneath the ground.
Scripture also uses the contrast between darkness and light to describe moral situations. Theologian Barbara Brown Taylor writes in The Christian Century, “Biblically speaking, darkness is the pits. In the first testament, light stands for life and darkness for death. When God is angry with people, they are plunged into darkness.
In the second testament, light stands for knowledge and darkness for ignorance. When the true light comes into the world, the world does not know him. Jesus has come so that everyone who believes in him should not remain in the darkness…. The Gospel of John sums it up: ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.’”
Metaphorically, Advent is that sort of darkness that we live in until the birth of Jesus. During this season, we often use Isaiah as the primary book of reflection because of its understanding of being held captive (Israel living in bondage in Babylon), then the joy of freedom. As a book, Isaiah is split up into three major sections. The first speaks to the despair, the hopelessness of being held in captivity. The second part of the book, speaks about the hope, the joy of returning home, back to that place that God had given to them. In the last part of the book, there comes a realization that in the home coming, there has to be a rebuilding, for what had once been, no longer exists. Often times despair accompanies that realization; yet, Isaiah gives a message of “hope” as Israel looks to a time when all will be restored. This restoration has come to be understood through a little baby born in Bethlehem, whose name is Jesus.
Barbara Taylor, says, “As Christians, we measure time differently from the dominant culture in which we live. We begin our year when the days are getting darker, not lighter. We trust that the seeds of light are planted in darkness, where they sprout and grow we know not how. This darkness is necessary to new life, even when it is uncomfortable and goes on too long. The Christian Century, Nov 29, 2011, pg 37
Today’s reading of Isaiah 61: 1-4 is most appropriate for me, because it was what I used at my ordination service. It is the basis of my understanding of what being a minister is about. It is the foundation that I see as the church’s purpose, as it works to share the Good News of God to a creation that is walking around in a dark haze; in a kind of Matrix that tries to hid the love and light that God has for all of creation.
We live in a society where people are less connected to a church than two generations ago. Today, Christians and churches are looked upon in wonderment by most of the un-churched world wonder what is wrong with us, wonderign why we seem to hide in a world that isn’t real? They look at us and ask, “What is your purpose?” I find many churches cannot answer that question with clarity.
This week has been another amazing week for me. It started off with a very deep conversation with Sandi Ghaffari as we talked about various aspects of gun violence in our country. Although we had more questions than solutions, one thing that we both realized is how much fear there is in our world today, and out of this fear, comes anger and harmful actions. The underlying question that I came away with from that deeply meaningful conversation was, “How do we navigate in a world of darkness?” How do we keep hope when the predominate message is “no hope?” The follow-up to that conversation came on Thursday when six of us from Mountain View attended a prayer vigil starting at First Baptist of Denver and ending on the steps of the Capital, encouraging our elected officials to hold fast to the laws that were pasted last year to help prevent further gun violence.
Over the life of the church, the church has developed what I call “the Messiah syndrome.” The church thinks that its job is to save the world. If you were to read ten mission statements from varying churches, you will find that at least 80% will say their mission is to safe the world. It sounds like a reasonable goal since we are carrying on the work of Jesus. But the reality is, saving the world is is God’s job.
We are “the voice in the wilderness crying out”. Our job is to come, “as a witness to testify concerning that light…We come only as a witness to the light.” So how do we do this? What do we cry and how do we bare witness to this light? The best example for us is to take to heart what Jesus proclaimed at the beginning of his ministry. “… The LORD has anointed us to proclaim good news to the poor. God has sent us to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. We will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of God’s splendor. 4 We will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; we will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”
On this Third Sunday of Advent, we live in darkness; there is no doubt of this. There are many issues facing us as a country concerning world stability, many issues facing us as a body of faith, and there are many issues facing us as individuals. As we approach the longest night of the year in just a week, it is symbolic to note the over powering feelings of fear, sadness, and non-direction that exists in our daily lives. But it is equally important to know that through God and God’s love, there is light by which we can find our way. As a family of faith, united through three denominations, we have a proud history in sharing the love of God. We are a voice in the wilderness, that cry’s out the restoration that comes through Christ and His teachings. Do we have all the answers? I hope not. Do we struggle with the questions and the how’s? I hope so. For it is in that struggle that God’s love is birthed; this struggle, this journey is the Advent that we celebrate. Amen