Enveloped by Light (Advent 3)
Enveloped by Light
December 13, 2020 (Advent 3)
Rev. Fritz Nelson
I love the warmth of my car on a cool but sunny fall day. I get cold easy. Those first really cool days of the year usually chill me to the bone. But my sun baked car exudes warmth. Warmth radiates off the seat, off the steering wheel, through the windshield. As I settle into the seat, as my body begins to warm, I relax. My clenched muscles and nerves open up. The warmth embraces my body.
Cold causes my body to clench and shrivel. So does intense pain, a mind jumbled with fear, disappointment or self criticism. Anger, hopelessness, the general weariness of this world. I close up, I tense up, I shrivel. Until something changes – often the smallest thing. The touch of a good friend or lover. A caring phone call. Really good chocolate. A caring doctor who listens. A smile on the face of a stranger. A ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds on a dreary day.
Sunshine. Light. For us northern hemisphere Christians, Jesus birth comes in a time of darkness. As the days became shorter my genetic ancestors filled their halls and houses, their courtyards and campsites with light, willing the sun to return. Our spiritual ancestors contrasted light – a gift from God – with darkness – the evil, pain, hurt and sin clinging so closely to the human experience. God, they taught us is light. Jesus is the light of the world. As our genetic ancestors did, we light the tall, white pillar candle to ward of the darkness of the season. As our spiritual ancestors taught us, we call the light Christ and name a darkness vastly greater than that defined by time and planetary rotation.
A ray of sunshine on a cloudy day appears as a divine blessing upon our world. I relax. My being loosens. We are loved. I am loved. The worse my day the more welcome the ray of light. The colder I am, the more welcome the sun filled car. The more isolated I’m feeling the more welcome a lover’s touch. The darker my night the more welcome the most distant star.
“Because their shame was double” God tells his prophet Isaiah, referencing the disgraces and displaced Israelites, “because dishonor was proclaimed their lot, therefore they shall possess a double portion, everlasting joy shall be theirs.” The darkness in Israel, the pain, the suffering, the injustice, the displacement was deep. So they would receive a great light. Not the glow of a tiny candle. Not the pinprick of a distant star, but a light so great the people would have no need of sun nor moon, for the glory of the Lord would be their light.
Light infuses Isaiah. The glory of the Lord responding to the hurt and pain of God’s people. A light composed not just of photons and neutrons but of earth shaking, life shaking, on the ground change.
- Those who experience oppression – whether physical or psychological – receive the light of good news.
- Those who experience broken heartedness find themselves encircled by light, bound up, made whole.
- Those who experience captivity receive the light of liberty
- Those who are imprisoned receive the light of release
- Those who are bankrupted by debts – whether spiritual or literal – receive the light of forgiveness.
Into a world of mourning God comes with vengeance, riding upon the waves of divine light. God replaces the ashes of mourning with festive garlands. God replaces the despair of mourning with gladness. Into those with faint spirits, God instills the ability to dance. And for those whose lives lie broken and scattered, God gives the strength to rebuild.
Light in darkness. Real light. The embrace of a sun warmed car on a chilly day. The touch of a friend or lover. The caring presence of a doctor who listens.
I called a friend the other day, a hospital chaplain, to encourage her in the COVID battle only to learn she’d been having health problems herself. As she was being prepped for surgery at the hospital where she worked one of the nurses asked if she could pray with her. “You’re always praying for others,” the nurse told her. “Would it be okay if I pray with you?” A simple thing, a little thing, a light in the darkness after a long, frustrating medical journey.
We’re light no more than the moon is light. In the midst of our weariness and hurt, God is as light to us, filling us, surrounding us, loosening our fibers, strengthening our being, healing our souls. God’s light then shines through us into a world lost in darkness. We bring good news. We bind up the broken. We forgive. We open prison doors and proclaim release to the captives within. We bring festive garlands and deep gladness into the corridors of death and get on our hands and knees, collecting the pieces of a broken world in need of rebuilding.
Love, light, intertwined with the long ago birth of a child, into the darkness of a world then, of a world now. A seasonal darkness governed by planetary rotation. A spiritual darkness clinging so closely. Hope, and warmth, over the long journey.
So we light candles. At home, to spare our advent candles and preserve the sacred Christ candle, an old green pillar candle sits in the middle of our Advent wreath. At night, as we eat, as we pray together, we light it, pushing back against the darkness. Here in church, we light the small Christ candle, the Advent wreath. Counting down to Christmas, pushing back the darkness. Back on All Saints day we lit eighty-eight candles, one for every person in the county who at that time had died from COVID. Pushing back the darkness. As we film the Christmas Eve services we find ourselves lighting candle after candle. Candles in the sanctuary. Candles on tables. Candles in chairs. Candles in a stable. Light after light after light pushing back against the deep darkness enveloping us. Prayer after prayer after prayer as we yearn for restoration, for salvation, for the Lord to come.