Let’s start by considering the results of the “advent action” suggestion from last week… Do you remember what it was? Cleaning our bedroom windows so that the light can shine through. I must confess that I did not do my bedroom windows; mainly because they’re on the second floor and would require getting up on a long ladder to do the outside–and THAT’s where it’s really dirty. But, I did clean inside and out the windows in my kitchen. I gaze from them multiple times a day, so that effort was really worthwhile.
This week our action suggestion involves doing random acts of kindness, and we’ll check back next Sunday to see how we did with that one.
Our focus for this morning, the third Sunday in Advent, is shining the Light. Again this week, as soon as I read that phrase, I harkened back to the Inner Light week in the “What DO the Quakes Say?!” series. I have a clear memory of hearing the words of Quaker scholar Michael Birkel in our video from that week, where he said “The Light was not simply a cozy fire to warm ourselves with on a wintry day. The Light was a beacon and this beacon spread its light over all those aspects of ourselves that we might prefer to admit weren’t there. The Light reveals to us—among other things—our own capacity to do terrible things, to do great harm in this world. And so the Light was powerful but it was also terrifying.”
Now I am not out to diminish our images of illumination that comfort and warm and support us. But, I do want to offer that while the light that shown on and through Baby Jesus was beautiful and miraculous, it also totally disrupted the status quo of those who allowed their lives to be altered by it. Disrupted in often uncomfortable and unhappy ways; like understanding that the kingdom that had broken into human lives would displace the wealthy, powerful and successful. That it would allow the impoverished and oppressed in society a place at the table of God’s providence and love. By the same token, our efforts for a warm, cheery, prosperous, delightful holiday may need a few adjustments to accommodate the shining beacon of God’s Light.
I’ve come upon a few descriptions over the past couple of weeks, that offer surprising, uncomfortable, miraculous results of the shining of God’s mercy, peace, justice and love into our settings and lives.
Tony Robinson commenting on a verse from Psalm 79 which says “Pay back our neighbors seven times over, right where it hurts, for the insults they used on you Lord”, offers the following perspective:
“The 79th Psalm is pretty raw stuff. There’s this verse, telling God it’s “payback time.” There are cries for vengeance and divine wrath.
As Advent begins and our thoughts turn to mangers, Bethlehem, and choirs of angels, this psalm seems, at best, discordant. There’s not a thing about it that’s pretty or sweet.
Such raw, desperate prayer was prompted by the violation of all that was holy. The Temple had been desecrated and destroyed. The people have been slaughtered. (“They’ve left your servants’ bodies as food for the birds” v. 2). Their enemies gloat.
There’s a tendency in the church, perhaps particularly in a season like Advent, to censor out such realities and such raw emotions. Church becomes a place to be polite and on our best behavior or to be only upbeat and happy.
While acting on the feelings expressed by this Psalm can be a mistake, it is also a mistake to censor them from our experience and from our faith. What is holy is violated daily in our world. Children are abused and neglected. Lives are tossed on the scrap heap of unemployment. Once lovely neighborhoods are turned to ugly wastelands. People with power use it to feather their own nest, not to serve the common good.
A faith that does not tell it like it is, that does not reckon with evil, risks becoming sentimental and irrelevant, especially in this present time.
So, while I don’t find Psalm 79 to be easy reading or praying, I am grateful for it. I am grateful for a faith that is honest enough to tell it like it is and to submit the truth, along with our feelings of outrage and betrayal, to God.”
Another devotional by Kenneth Samuel recommends being attentive—or letting the light shine– on those people in our lives we take for granted:
“How often do we express our gratitude for the people in our lives who have been with us consistently through every trial, triumph, twist and turn we’ve had to face?
Most of us would admit that our list of constant companions and steadfast friends is not long at all. We are blessed if we can count one or two. But the gratitude we owe those one or two is quite immeasurable.
The Advent season is a good time to give thanks to and for those people in our lives who have not been seasonal in their relationships with us. Their hands have always been outstretched to help us; their shoulders have been the ones we’ve leaned on with dependable regularity; their presence has always assured us that even during our darkest days, we were not alone.”
And finally, I found this comment on an old familiar TV show one that speaks to the illuminating power of the light as that which exposes my own internal darkness and doubt, which allows me to become preoccupied with my own issues and biases. You see, what we see and what we hear in life depends NOT totally upon what’s happening outside us, but rather how we interpret them through what is inside us:
In one of the All in the Family episodes that aired some years ago Edith and Archie are attending Edith’s high school class reunion. Edith encounters an old classmate by the name of Buck who, unlike his earlier days. had now become excessively obese. Edith and Buck have a delightful conversation about old times and the things that they did together, but remarkably Edith doesn’t seem to notice how extremely heavy Buck has become. Later, when Edith and Archie and talking, she says in her whiny voices “Archie, ain’t Buck a beautiful person.” Archie looks at her with a disgusted expression and says: “You’re a pip, Edith. You know that. You and I look at the same guy and you see a beautiful person and I see a blimp. Edith gets a puzzled expression on her face and says something unknowingly profound, “Yeah, ain’t it too bad.”
I thought the scripture selected for this “Shining the Light” theme– which was Luke 8:16 –was a bit strange, until I did some research. It made a whole lot more sense when I realized that it was a part of the whole passage we heard earlier. But even with that clarifying things, the parable of the sower and the seeds is a weird Advent text.
Further investigation helped me to understand the connection. One Bible scholar says:
“Just as one sows in order to reap a harvest, so also one lights a lamp in order that it may give light. One does not [plant] so that the birds may feed on the seed or so that it may be choked by the thorns. Similarly, one does not light a lamp in order to extinguish it under a jar or to hide it, ludicrously under a bed. The purpose for the sowing—God’s purpose for the Word—is that it effect change.” Remember my little graphic from last week? If the word equals the light, then the parable is about spreading the word OR the light… Shining the light can only matter IF by shining, the light is received AND UTILIZED. The responder (to the light) has an obligation for understanding, openness, and making a decisive reaction to that illumination. Advent is about preparing to respond and then, RESPONDING to the light as it shines into our lives. All three illustrations I shared earlier involve a response to the light; as it exposes negative and rough stuff, as it illuminates the part of our lives that have been a firm support, and as it exposes the sin inside ourselves.
The Bible scholar goes on to say: “[Shining the light] can have such far reaching consequences for blessing or for judgment that we must always be careful not to consider it casually or respond to it only superficially. Shining God’s light demands a radical openness on our part, our most serious and thoughtful consideration, and our most trusting response.”
The Divine Light exposes the condition of our hearts as an act of love. We learn we depend on the transforming inner light of Immanuel, God-with-us to live in unity with God and the beloved community. We learn there is One, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to our condition.
“Showing it like it is” can and should inspire or motivate us to respond in ways that bring the hope, peace, joy, and love of Advent into our lives and the lives of those with whom we connect. It is THEN when Christ comes to redeem and claim and release that inside each of us which brings forth God’s reign into our reality and experience.
Consider these queries as we wait together:
Where is the Light shining in your life?
Where is it shining in the life of this faith community?
Where do you see it shining in our world?
Do you welcome the Light of Christ to reveal and speak to your condition now and into the new year?