Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 23rd, 2018

MUSIC:

Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming, arr. Michael Pretorius, Chancel Choir
A Cool Silent Night, arr. Judy Nishimura Sandy Ruff and Matt Thompson-Aue

COVER:
The Dream of St. Joseph, Anton Raphael Mengs, Wikimedia Commons

You are the light of the world.
–Jesus

When I am Among the Trees Mary Oliver
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,”
they say, “and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine.”

Matthew 1:18-15 Scholars’ Version
The genesis of Jesus the Anointed was as follows. While his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before she moved in with him, she was found to be pregnant by the holy spirit. Although Joseph her husband was a virtuous man he didn’t want to expose her publicly; so he planned to break off their betrothal quietly.

While he was thinking about these things, a messenger of the Lord appeared to him in a dream with these words: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to take Mary as your wife, since the holy spirit is responsible for her pregnancy. She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All of this happened in order to fulfill the prediction of the Lord spoken through the prophet:

“Look, a young woman will conceive her first child
And she will give birth to a son,
And they will name him Emmanuel.”

(The name means “God is with us.”)

Joseph got up and did what the messenger of the Lord told him: he took Mary as his wife. He did not sleep with her until she had given birth to a son. Joseph named him Jesus.

We light the fourth Advent candle in honor of Joseph, who followed his holy dream.

Isaiah 60:1-2
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of God has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the people;
but God will arise upon you,
and God’s glory will appear over you.

Quran 24:35
God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of God’s light is a niche, wherein is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass. The glass is as a shining star kindled from a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west. Its oil would well-nigh shine forth, even if no fire had touched it. Light upon light. God guides unto God’s light whomsoever God will, and God sets for parables for humankind, and God is knower of all things.

John 1:1-14 Scholars’ Version
In the beginning there was the divine word and wisdom.

The divine word and wisdom was there with God,
and it was what God was.
It was there with God from the beginning.
Everything came to be by means of it;
and without it not one thing that exists came to be.
In it was life,
and this life was the light of humanity.
Light was shining in the darkness,
and darkness did not master it.

There appeared a man sent from God named John. He came to testify—to testify about the light—so everyone would believe through him. He was not the light; he came only to testify about the light.

Genuine light—the kind that enlightens everyone
–was coming into the world.
Although it was in the world,
and the world came to be through it,
the world did not recognize it.
It came to its own place,
but its own people were not receptive to it.

But to all who did embrace it,
to those who believed in it,
it gave the right to become children of God.
They were born not from blood,
not from physical desire,
not from male desire;
they were born out of God.

The divine word and wisdom became human
and resided among us.
We have seen it glory,
glory appropriate
to a Father’s only son,
brimming with generosity and truth.

Howard Thurman
Open unto me — light for my darkness.
Open unto me — courage for my fear.
Open unto me — hope for my despair.
Open unto me — peace for my turmoil.
Open unto me — joy for my sorrow.
Open unto me — strength for my weakness.
Open unto me — wisdom for my confusion.
Open unto me — forgiveness for my sins.
Open unto me — love for my hates.
Open unto me — thy Self for my self.

Lord, Lord, open unto me!

Amen.

Genuine Light

The lectionary text for this week is about Mary. We celebrated Mary last week, so I thought I would reflect on a text that is used for Christmas Day since we never have church on Christmas Day.

It is the text of John 1:1-14.

It is a creation story. The creation of light.

In the very beginning was Divine Word and Wisdom.

It comes into the world as light.

Light comes into the world.

That is Christmas.

What is Christmas?

It is the celebration that the Divine Light has come into the world.

This world in all of its darkness has received light.

This world in all of its blindness and meanness has received light.

The Christmas Carol, “What Child is This?” knows about this:

“Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?”

It is to this mean estate, to this common life, to this unheralded place, that the light shines.

All of the world is created by Divine Word and Wisdom.

One would think all of the world would know its Creator, but it does not.

The Light comes into the world and yet the world knows it not.

Why? Why cannot the world know this?

Why isn’t it automatic? Why doesn’t everyone see and receive the light?

Sometimes the light is too bright.

It shows too much. It reveals too much.

The light shines in dark corners and there are things we would rather not have revealed.

Secrets we carry. Dark thoughts we harbor. The meanness of our own lives.

If the light comes into my world, I will be exposed. I will be revealed. All the work I have done building up my image, creating my persona, crafting my rationale, justifying my existence will be exposed for the artificial construct it is.

According to the text:

Genuine Light—the kind that enlightens everyone
–was coming into the world.
Although it was in the world,
and the world came to be through it,
the world did not recognize it.
It came to its own place,
but its own people were not receptive to it.

The light is too bright.

The light does nothing more than show what is there. It shows what Divine Word and Wisdom created and loved, but the love is too strong, the light is too bright. Our world is too small.

We are afraid of light. We are afraid that if the light shines in our darkness, who we are will be exposed and we will not be loved. If people really knew who we are, we would not be loved. Maybe that is true. But the point is not what people think.

The Divine Light is what is coming into the world. The Divine Light comes from the Divine Word and Wisdom and the Divine Word and Wisdom created this world and created each of us, you and I. The Divine Word and Wisdom that comes into the world is not our enemy. The Divine Word and Wisdom loves us. We are made of it. We are made of light and of love.

Sadly, we have listened too often to those who have imagined Divine Word and Wisdom, God, if you like, as judge. It is true that God is judge. But the judgment is not of eternal punishment, rejection, and condemnation. We have done enough of that already to ourselves and to others. The judgment is of Light which is Life which is Love.

The Light that shines in our darkness, does not shine to condemn. It shines to transform.

It takes risk to believe that.

It takes radical trust to allow light to shine in our dark corners.

Only when we allow that light to shine in our dark places,
can we see what is really true about ourselves and about our world.

Truth needs no justification, or rationalization, or scheming, or planning, or image-building.
It just is.

Truth needs no manipulation.
Truth needs no lobbyists.
It needs no propaganda machine.
It requires no threats or bribes.
It needs only a witness.

Here is the part that is hard.
Here is the part that requires trust.
Here is the part that requires faith.
That is to trust that Light will not kill us.

The Light may expose every pretention that we have about ourselves
and our tribe and our country and church
and whatever identity we have.

The light that comes into the world…
the Genuine Light that enlightens everyone
will most certainly make us vulnerable.
But it won’t kill us.
It gives us life.

That is scary.
That is why the text reads that “people were not receptive to it.”

Fear is a powerful emotion.
It is a helpful emotion.
Fear is a basic instinct for survival.
If we aren’t afraid when we should be, we are lunch for a predator.

But, there comes a time,
when we are afraid out of instinct,
or because we have been told to be afraid,
or perhaps because previous experience taught us to be afraid,
that the fear is no longer helpful.

Our fear serves to keep in the dark parts of ourselves that we no longer need to keep in the dark. We think that we are protecting ourselves, but really, we are just refusing to live life. We are refusing the truth of others and of ourselves. We are refusing to love.

Light is not our enemy.
Light comes from God, Divine Word and Wisdom.
We have been created out of it, and are loved deeply.

When we realize the goodness of light,
It can help us alleviate even our fear.
I don’t have to be afraid of that any longer.
I can let the light shine in my dark corners
Because the Light comes from the Divine Word and Wisdom.
Divine Word and Wisdom loves me.

The message of fear is strong.
It grows like mold in darkness.
Be afraid of people who look different than you do.
Build up walls and keep them out.
Build up our defenses.
Attack first just in case.

All of that fear thrives in the dark.

I love the dark.
There are times when we do need the dark.
I find the dark healing during times of grief.
In the words of Robert Frost:
“I am well-acquainted with the night.”
I am protected by the dark.

Or in the opening words from Paul Simon’s Sound of Silence:
“Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.”

But there does come a time, when the Light comes in.
The Light does not come to punish or to condemn.
The Light comes into the world to redeem.
The Light comes into the world to love us and transform us.
The Light comes into the world to show us what is real.
The Light comes into the world to delight in us as we are…
and as we might become.

The Light comes into the world to heal humanity.

So much money, so much energy, so much violence is needed to maintain fear.

Truth on the other hand only needs a witness.

Witnesses, people with integrity and character do the following:

They say what they see.
They act on what they see.
They say publicly why they acted.

That is what the light brings into the world.

The light brings character.

The light was shining in the darkness,
And darkness did not master it.

Jesus was born in a time of occupation.
According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke,
Jesus was born in a time of violence and darkness.
Not unlike our own time.
Jesus was born among the poor and the oppressed.
He was born among a people bounced around by Empire
And by villainous, paranoid, oligarchs.

The first person who was afraid was Joseph.
It took an angel in a dream to wake him up.
Don’t be afraid, Joseph.
This child in Mary’s womb is from the Holy Spirit.
This child will be a light in the darkness.
This child will save us from our sin and our fear.

This child is a gift from Divine Word and Wisdom.
This child is a light in our darkness.

Don’t be afraid.
Follow the light.

Joseph woke up.
And he did it.
He followed the angels in his dreams and he saved the Holy Family as the story in Matthew shows.

That is why we call him St. Joseph and name aspirin after him.

Saints are those people who allow the Genuine Light of Divine Word and Wisdom to shine in their lives and expose the darkness of their fear. They do that because they care more about Divine Word and Wisdom than the so-called word and wisdom of other people.

These saints trust in the source of this Light and receive the Light as Love and then respond with courage.

We may not be saints like Joseph, Mary, and John the Baptist who we heard from during Advent. But we are not just sinners either.

The Light is for everyone.
The Light has come into the world.
Notice the present perfect tense.
The past action has present consequences.

So much so that we can say the Light is coming into the world.

We can catch a little bit of this Light at least at Christmas.
We can receive the Light of Divine Word and Wisdom,
the Light of Truth just a little bit more than we did last year at this time.

And maybe a little more tomorrow.
And next year.

Little by little our fears can be released,
The dark corners can have light shown on them
And we can breathe freely,
Sighing with liberation,
Because are not imprisoned by that darkness any longer.

We are free.
Free in the light to love.

As I see it, that is what Christmas is about.

Amen.