“Embracing the Light”, message for 12-21-14, with Luke 15:1-10

Last week’s suggested Advent Activity was to share “Random Acts of Kindness” throughout the week. Did anybody try this? My efforts ended up being mainly toward store clerks who seem to bear the brunt of people’s impatience and frustration during the holidays. It felt nice to treat these folks like the real human beings that they are. This week, the activity involves writing personal notes to stick in the gifts we’re giving. I hope we all get a chance to try this…

Our scripture this week, for the topic “Embracing the Light” was another unusual selection for Advent. And, like last week’s, it made more sense when I considered the whole passage in which the verse was located. That verse: 15:8 says—“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?” When we read the entire portion of the chapter in which that verse resides, we discover that it’s a part of a couple of scenarios set up by Jesus to show God’s diligence in searching for what is lost, and God’s delight at when what is missing has been recovered.

As I considered the passage’s connection to what it might mean to embrace the Light, I envisioned both the searchers as they discovered the sheep and then the coin. It is easy to imagine that their discovery would include an embrace of some sort…of both the lamb and the coin.

To embrace something is to hold it close; to encircle it physically, to surround it. Those things that are embraced are received gladly and included or incorporated into whoever or whatever the embracer is. In this scripture it is important to notice WHO does the searching and embracing, as well as WHO the recipients are. Shepherds and women are both stigmatized by this culture as unclean and undesirable. Both the lost sheep and the lost coin have little relative value in the whole scheme of things; but both are LOST and have a value BECAUSE they are lost.

The lesson in the searching and finding is that God values any and all who search, and receives ANY lost with mercy. The embrace of those who seek and those who are found reflect this inclusivity. As we EMBRACE the light, we are working—as God does to include and love EVERYONE.

God=Word=Light=Christ=LOVE à all things

I want to share a story that shows the embrace of the Light. An embrace that brings unselfish and undiscriminating Love at Christmas…

Read: “Christmas Day in the Morning” by Pearl S. Buck

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“Showing It Like It Is” -message for 12-14-14…scripture– Luke 8:4-18

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?

Finding the Light, message for 12-07-14–scripture: Luke 12:1-3

I want to begin my comments today by repeating and emphasizing our Advent theme this year. Last week I was more interesting in keeping everyone engaged in intergenerational worship then spending much time on background explanations. We are taking the verse about Jesus as the Light from the gospel of John—as you can see on the bulletin insert describing the candle-lighting process. The complete first paragraph of John, which includes this verse says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” This important passage continues on down through verse 14 of John 1. This is the Christmas story according to John. If you were going to make a word picture out what of this passage is saying, I think it would look something like:

God=Word=Light=Christ–>All things.

As we explored in the Quaker series this fall, the Light is an important focus for Friends. When we Quakers say Light we mean Divine presence. We also, as Quakers, believe that there is Light in every person. This Light reveals, teaches, empowers, comforts; most anything that supports and informs our relationship with God—because the Light IS God. And so, at Christmas, according to John we celebrate the arrival of the Light in human form; Emanuel-which means God with us; incarnate—or as the personification of God.

Our focus this year is to describe our Advent season in terms of that Light. Thus a process for making that Light a part of us and our life is defined by the weekly focal points listed; on our need of the light, finding the light, shining the light, embracing the light, and Living the light. In the interest of helping everyone understand what needing the light is all about last week, we talked about preparing (our places, ourselves) and noticing what was missing in the story of Babushka.

Also, last Sunday I introduced the idea of the “advent actions” those activities that will be listed and can be undertaken in order to experience each Advent idea or focus.

I will be sharing my own discoveries when I try to “do” whatever is suggested.

So last week the recommendation was to look at the newspaper and find stories of places that NEED the light of Christ. This was fairly easy to accomplish. I noticed that there were a series of stories throughout the week on how countries need to enact environmental standards to reduce or eliminate climate change. This will take light to reveal and inform the decisions of international leaders. And of course, all the stories about racial injustice around our country speak to the NEED of Christ’s light in those situations. Did anyone else try this? What did you notice?

On this second week of Advent, our focus is FINDING the light. Initially, it seems to me that finding light shouldn’t be too difficult, especially if we recognize it as a part of each and every person, and shining on in all places or situations. The reality as I experience it, is that light –or that divine presence or power or baby Jesus—is often overlooked, hidden or neglected. A special effort to locate light MUST be a part of our holiday preparations and celebrations as individuals and as a faith community. As I wonder what this might entail, I remember my experience after my cataract surgeries. Both times, when I had the eye patch removed the morning after surgery, I was overwhelmed by the results. My vision was renewed with vibrant colors, amazing perspectives on things that I have always known were well within my sight. And so one of my first questions is to ask what covers, or blurs or hides the evidence of light in my life?

During the holidays, so much effort is expended in creating bright and shiny and dazzling experiences. I work hard to make sure all the decorations are just right, that the gifts I give are just what the recipient wants or needs, that my celebrations are full of enriching musical sounds, and delicious food. What I know as truth is that while all these details are ways that joy and happiness are shared, that the SOURCE of joy and happiness–the light– can be obscured by these elements.

A common condition for me is that on Christmas Eve I often feel empty or tired or depressed. All the external conditions required by the holiday have been met or dealt with; all I have to do is wait until morning with its culmination of opened presents that are supposed to bring happiness and contentment…I can either go to bed and sleep through the emptiness, or invite folks in to occupy the time and space. Or; I can look deeper and search more intentionally to find that which is the legitimate source that illuminates all in life that I truly value. I can increase my awareness, open my heart, and truly FIND the Light that illuminates the real gifts and occasions of joy. I do this through prayer, worship, and by just asking God to help me find the Light.

In the scripture for today, we hear the words of Jesus as he begins to describe the hard times believers will suffer as the reign of God appears. He encourages his followers to not get caught up in what the Pharisees say and do. His word for what the Pharisees spread as proper belief and action is hypocrisy. This word in its Greek origin means to wear a mask or play a role—to be an actor. Here, the author uses it to describe the Pharisees’ understandings as being misdirected and incapable of discerning the authentic meaning of the reign of God according to Jesus’ example and witness. The Pharisees are playing at piety without really seeing the light. The piety our culture espouses at the holidays involves ornate decorations, getting what we want, spending the most money, and partying the hardest. This IS NOT the way of the LIGHT, which is Jesus, which is Christ, which is God. Finding the Light is finding that which brings truth, grace, peace, and love into our lives. The LIGHT is found–is present and available– where caring and compassion is shared among our family, friends, faith community; places where needs can be met for those in poverty, where justice is brought forth to those who are oppressed; and where violence is answered with mercy, forgiveness, and kindness.

The following is a devotional that I read this week, which describes well the process of FINDING THE LIGHT.

“I’ll never forget walking with my old golden retriever deep in November on the Appalachian Trail. It was that time of year when the sun surprises you by going down early. The trail blazes on the Appalachian Trail are mercifully white. I got off the trail on our way home. I knew I was lost because I didn’t see the white blazes. Wandering, getting colder as the world got darker, I found my [way back] in the nose of my dog. He nudged me back on the trail. He knew where it was. I didn’t. We made our way home.  [Finding the Light] is like a golden retriever’s nose, nudging you back on the trail, lest it get dark and you get cold.

What surprises me most about getting lost is how easy it is to become found. Just a few inches, a slight change of direction, a look the other way, or a look where we haven’t looked before: these are the nudges of Advent…In this season while we look for the [LIGHT or Jesus or Christ or God], it is important to listen to the nudges, even if they are as doggy as a wet nose nudging the back of our jeans…” [i]

As we sit together this morning, I ask us to consider:

What distracts us from the path to the Light at Christmas.

What do we ignore or overlook that can bring the Light?

How can we uncover the light in the midst of our own traditions and celebrations?

Where are we being nudged to go to find the Light this Christmas season?

[i] Based on a devotion written for the UCC by Donna Schaper “Advent is a Nudge”