The gospel we just heard begins with these words:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was 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.
What has come into being in him is life, and the life is the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.
Like John, the voice crying from the wilderness across the Jordan; like the prophet of third Isaiah, like the psalmist, we, too, live in a land and a time of darkness. Darkness marks and often mars our days. We can’t avoid it. We live in dark times.
Boulders of hate and state-sponsored meanness and callous indifference to the neediest among us litter the landscape of our lives. Our earth warms; waters rise; the atmosphere that blankets us thins and frays; the poorest on the earth suffer most. A cold war threatens to turn hot.
The words of a poet, a prophet, a preacher come to mind. In a time, some of us remember well—America of the early 1950’s—Howard Thurman wrote these words:
Let the bells be silenced
Let the gifts be stillborn
Let cheer be muted
Let music be soundless
Violence stalks the land:
Soaring above the cry of the dying
Rising above the whimper of the starving
Floating above the flying machines of death
Violence still stalks our land—in shopping malls and concert halls and schools and churches too, violence stalks our land. Even here in New Mexico, in this thin place where spirit infuses the earth and the air and the space in between, a young white-supremacist well-armed and filled with bitterness and hate, bursts into a school and kills two students.
In the darkness of our days, we cry out with the psalmist
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
Like the watercourses of the Negev or the Rio Puerte or even the Rio Grande
In the darkness of our lives, we give voice to our hope that
Those who sowed with tears/will reap with songs of joy
That Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed
Will come again in joy, shouldering the sheaves
We pause again. We look back—back into our own lives and into the lives of those who have gone before us.
With the psalmist we remember those times
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion….
For Then was our mouth filled with laughter/and our tongue with shouts of joy.
And with the psalmist we remember that the Lord has done great things for us; we remember those moments of restoration:
—when God promised old Abraham (and Sarah and Hagar too) that their descendants would be more numerous than all the stars in the heavens;
—when God brought Joseph and Jacob back together again;
—when God brought the exiles home to the Promised Land, first from Egypt
and then from Babylon.
Perhaps we remember moments when, in the darkness of our own lives—as individuals, as this community of faith, and as a country—God has mended our broken hearts, our broken lives, our shattered world. Moments when we’ve caught a glimpse of that light shining in the darkness of our own day, of our own time of our own world.
Elie Wiesel—author, activist and Holocaust survivor—used to tell the old Hasidic story of the four rabbis, each of whom lived in a time of great darkness. The first rabbi, in deep desperation, went out to the forest, set a fire, and then prayed for a miracle which did indeed occur; years later, another rabbi lived in another time of darkness. He, too, went out the forest. He couldn’t remember how to build the fire, but he remembered the prayer and sure enough his prayer, too, was met with a miracle. Many years later, a third rabbi was living in darkness. He couldn’t remember how to build the fire or even the prayer, but he made his way to the forest and his efforts were rewarded with yet another miracle. Generations later, another rabbi faced a time of great hardship for his people. All he had were his words. “I am unable to light the fire, and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and that must be sufficient.” And it was. You see, God made humankind because God loves stories.
You and I, we stand today with John on the far side of the Jordan. We join him in pointing to the light—the moments of light that have illumined the dark places of our own lives.
Ours is the work of pointing to that light; ours is the work of telling our own stories of light puncturing the darkness; and ours is the work of drawing out and hearing such stories of others. Every time one of those stories gets told, that light that is the life of the world gets just a little brighter.
Take a moment. Bring to mind one of your stories of light shining in the darkness in your life or in the life of someone you love. Let your mind linger with that story.
Perhaps on your way out of church this morning, you’ll share stories of light with oneanother. Pointing to light—that the work God calls us to this Advent.