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:
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”