Benediction Online

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The People who Walked in Darkness have Seen a Great Light

Isaiah 9:2-7 

I’m sure all of us can look back on any number of embarrassing things that we have done. There is one incident in particular which for years later woke me up at night in a sweat of mortification. It was one Christmas Eve in my late teens. The church was dark and everyone’s candles were lit for the first hymn, and candlelight procession just as we did this evening. A magical moment which I completely ruined. As the choir gathered at the back of the church to process in candlelight, I insisted that it was time to turn the lights on, and even when the rest of the choir disagreed with me, I strode over and turned them on anyway. That year’s candlelight procession took place in full blazing electric light.

Later, when  I realized my mistake and my hubris in being sure I was right and everyone else was wrong, I was horrified. 

Looking back on it now, I wonder what was going on for me. Was it just the moral certainty of adolescence? Or was there something about the darkened church that seemed eerie and uncomfortable?
If you have ever been in a deep cave and turned off all lights you know something of the awe and discomfort that most humans feel in the presence of darkness. We are not usually at ease in the dark. We love to light up the night, and since time immemorial humans have welcomed the return of the light at the winter solstice when the days start once again to get imperceptibly lighter.

As we heard, the main events of the nativity take place at night, in the dark. We aren’t told what time of day Jesus was born but if he was like most kids, it wasn’t a convenient time and it was probably after dark. We do know that the shepherds were on the hillside guarding their sheep in the night. The magi too travelled at night in order to follow the star.  The tradition that it all happened in midwinter didn’t develop until the 4th century but that too adds to our sense that it was at the darkest time that God was born in human form. As Isaiah the prophet thundered, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
I know very little about astronomy but I understand that astrophysicists hypothesize that almost 27% of the universe is dark matter- that is matter which doesn’t respond to light and 68% is dark energy. If they are right we indeed live in great darkness – only about 5% of the universe is visible ordinary matter – the kind we deal with everyday.

Darkness abounds. We have all experienced times of personal darkness when loss or fear or depression has been overwhelming and we could not imagine ever again taking joy in ordinary things. Globally we are experiencing dark times with wars in the Middle East, parts of Africa and on the Russian border; and nationally these are dark days when Congress will not govern, the top 1% continue to get richer, racial unrest grows and there is a hunger epidemic in the richest nation the world has ever known. And now we also know that we are surrounded by the cosmic dark.

Into this darkness comes a baby.

It’s almost ridiculous. In the midst of great cosmic darkness, comes the light of the world. But the light does not come with angels in great glory. The light does not come descending from the heavens. The light is not broadcast simultaneously across the planet in thirty-six different languages. No, the light is born in an obscure town in an insignificant country to a young woman, scarcely more than child herself, who conceived outside of marriage. And this light comes as a baby who is not born in a comfortable palace or even a clean motel but in a stable among animal dung, dirt, and fleas.

That’s the way God works.

God consistently works in ways that we find surprising. God consistently chooses the small and insignificant to bring the greatest blessing. That’s the topsy-turvy nature of God’s reign.

God works among the insignificant to bring hope and change. Here in Los Osos we are hardly at the center of the nation’s mind. Most of us are happy to be in an insignificant backwater where great people with great passion try to make a better life for themselves and their loved ones. It can seem as though nothing we do here really matters on the big stage of world politics. It can seem like nothing we do can have any impact on the huge issues like global warming.

But God works among insignificant people in insignificant places. Here tonight God is at work. God is in our midst and God is calling us to open our hearts to his apparently insignificant coming. We often long for God to break into our lives in great power and might, when actually the Spirit moves more like the breeze which we don’t understand and we don’t pay much attention to. “If God exists,” we say, “Let him prove himself by solving this problem, by doing this miracle.” We forget that God’s work begins in the manger with a baby who has to be love and nurtured by humans. We forget that God’s work begins in us.

I long to hear the angels sing. Sometimes I think I catch a note here and there. But that is not what’s important because what is most important is always something or someone we are likely to overlook. Jesus said “Unless you become like little children you will never enter the reign of God.” Unless you become like little children who maintain their sense of wonder; who have not developed a veneer of cynicism or a sardonic sense of humor; little children who notice and delight in small things; little children who can still hear the angels sing because they haven’t filled their minds with worry and strain. Unless you become like that you will not be able to find the reign of God to enter it.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” God’s light is a baby. It is not enough that we see the light once. God’s light has to be cherished and nurtured. God’s light shines in the darkness even when we have turned our heads away so we can’t see it. It is still there, but it is not growing in us unless and until we make an intentional commitment to it.

As we start to glow with the Christ light in us we are making a difference.  We too become the light in the darkness. As we nurture that inner flame and allow it to grow, dissipating the darkness of our own personalities, the baby light grows and fills our whole being and connects with other lights. The insignificant becomes significant in the great web of connection that we share with all beings. We may be an insignificant group of people in an obscure town on the edge of a continent, but as we commit to the light, not just seeing it and going away but nurturing its growth within ourselves as individuals and within our community we too become part of the Christ light that shines in the cosmic darkness.

We don’t need to turn all the lights on to dissipate the darkness, because within ourselves we carry the hope that is the gift of Christmas; the hope of peace on earth, goodwill to all. The hope that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light and are now carrying that light and nurturing that light and that one day spiritual light will completely dissipate the darkness of ill will.

That is our hope. The baby in the manger is a symbol of God’s gift to us. The gift of light and renewal.
My prayer for you and all our world today is that we may all be blessed with hope, and that people of the light everywhere will allow themselves to shine with the glory of God.


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