Darkness to Light

The people

The people who walked

The people who walked in darkness

deep darkness

have seen

have seen

have seen a great light.

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One of my favorite moments of the whole year happens on Christmas Eve. Yes, you can probably guess it’s the singing of Silent Night with the candles, but probably not for the reason you think. It’s what happens right before it. When the world (or at least the church) is dark. Darkness. It’s a profound thing.

It is the symbol, the tangible evidence of everything that is lonely, scary, and sad.

The church goes completely dark and I sing the first verse of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, I speak the words of Genesis and John 1. When God proclaims light I strike a match. God said “Let there be Light” “Ptchhhh” the match strikes and flame appears, so vivid, so bright in the midst of the great darkness.

I’ve been walking in deep darkness this week. We lost a beloved member of our staff, it’s a crushing blow, he was my creative partner, my friend. He resigned to deal with a a crisis in his life. I’m heartbroken. I’m in the dark about where to go and what to do, about how to move forward.

Today as I watched the Advent Wreath be lit in the first service I realized that the first candle brings the most light. I’ve been reflecting on how this is the Hope candle. If you light a candle in the midst of darkness the room is flooded in light, no matter how small the light, any amount of light overcomes the darkness. It literally is painful on the eyes at first. It’s a miraculous things to watch, it’s one of the most beautiful images of God’s love I have ever witnessed.

But as you add to the light (as we did today) it’s not quite as satisfying as that first candle. We are making progress, the amount of light has literally been doubled, yet it is not as miraculous for some reason as when something was formed out of nothing. Yet again, there is a turn. On Christmas Eve we will light all five candles and then spread that light throughout the room and the light, the love of God entering the world is overwhelming.

I am always sad on Christmas Eve for those in the congregation, I wish they could see what I see. I see a room flooded with light, a candle illuminating each face, some smiling with their families proudly, some silently weeping from heartbreak. It is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Each candle a representation of God’s love for them. Every candle a remembrance that the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness, the darkness cannot, will not, and shall never overcome it.

For the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. As we add to our candles each week this is my hope and my prayer. Amen.

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Advent: Come Lord Jesus

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Tear gas engulfed the police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., on Monday. Credit Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

I can’t stop staring at this image.

The juxtaposition of light and dark. If glanced at it could look like Christmas lights.

Look again.

It could be blurred Christmas lights with haze.

But it’s not…

It’s tear gas, and machine guns, and gas masks, and the glare of shells on Rambo style rounds of bullets.

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday after the Darren Wilson grand jury decision and my timeline and news feed was full of comments from pastor friends and how they were addressing the decision. My sermon was written, it was finished before I left for vacation, the week before. It was on the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel and mentioned race, but in that quick and general way. It was about the darkness of the season and how we rush to cover up the darkness with twinkling Christmas lights. And then I read this article today, which contained the photo above. The article was good, but I stared and stared at the image.

We rush to cover the darkness…

As I write this a song plays “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent/Wondrous Love” a piano solo by David Burroughs. This is one of those instances where if I didn’t find embedded music that automatically played on websites so annoying I would do it. It’s only a sample, but click here, then go back to the image. There are no words in this version, but here is the first verse of the hymn.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

I want to yell and scream, and if that’s what you need to do, do it. Yell. Scream. Amen!

But as I think about the darkness, the waiting, and the season of Advent – I cannot help but see the images, the images of people standing in silence with their arms raised.

“Don’t shoot,” with fear and trembling we stand.

David Burroughs combines this hymn with “What Wondrous Love is This.” An Advent hymn, with a Lenten one. Two seasons of waiting, waiting to receive our savior – our light in the darkness – and waiting for the end of the earthly journey. A journey that ends with injustice, injustice that was part of the political system. An injustice where the laws “worked accordingly.”

How does this advent end? When does this advent end? How many more lives will be lost? How many more tears will be shed? How many more images like this will appear?

I have no answers, only more questions and to simply say this: Come Lord Jesus, Guide our Way.

Burning Love

So here’s what happened. I got a steamer for Christmas (you know so I never have to iron again) and it works great! But I am a dumb ass at times (NO!… yes…) and by being an idiot I burnt my arm.

I spent all day icing it and putting aloe on it and two days later it is looking better but still very red.  Here’s today.

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Although it is very cold and I am wearing lots of layers I am constantly pulling my sleeves up, and the bright red mark is drawing attention to my arm. But the thing is the burn is not what they are looking at, they are noticing that I have a tattoo on my arm.

I have tattoos, which are not secret and I do not hide them, but a lot of people don’t know about them because they are in white ink, and I am of Irish-Norwegian decent and almost the whitest white girl ever… no seriously, I like glow in the dark. Why would the whitest white girl ever get a white tattoo, because it’s for me.

Anyway, on my left forearm is the word “Love” and on my right forearm is the word “Grace”. They came at a very important marking of time for me, something inward that made a huge impact, an acceptance of self, a claiming of my body, and a testament and gratitude for my faith. I will also note that I did not get my first tattoo until I was into my 30’s.

They are also “incorrect” according to the tattoo etiquette (yes there is such a thing). However, I have them so that when I lift up my arms and give the benediction the right arm goes up “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” and then the left arm “the love of God”. They are not proper when my arms are down but when they are up giving the benediction you could read them.

I speak a lot about the benediction, I love it, it is the sum of the gospel in a few lines. But there are other reasons I chose these words.

There is a duality to life, today in honor of Epiphany I preached about darkness and light. I preached about the importance of honoring both the shadows and the truth of our lives. I chose these two words as they symbolized the duality of life; light and dark, free will and providence, estrangement and relationship. The important thing to remember about duality is that one side cannot exist without the other, and really, the pendulum does swing all the way over for a moment, but the large majority of the time they co-exist in tension.

So, love (on my tattoo) is the free will side, the choices I have to make. The shadow, the darkness, the estrangement. The things in which I can control. And my choice is love. God is love and all love comes from God but by choosing love I choose God in my life.

However (yes, I am an excellent Presbyterian and here is why) God chose me first, and I will never be separated from the love of God. No matter what I do, or how dark I go, or how estranged I get, God will not let me go, God will usher me to light, stay in relationship with me, and protect me. This is grace. There is a lot, and I mean a lot in my life in which I have no control over. There is also many, many moments in which I have simply been a dumb ass (yes, much worse that testing a steamer on my robe… which I happen to be wearing at the time).

God does not save me from all my stupidity and sometimes I get burned. Which brings us back to love.

The words are a cycle. I have been burned by love many of times, but love also burns within me as a light of Christ. As I have stared at my arm these last few days I have asked myself if it was all worth it? All the heartache, all the tears, all the struggle. Is a relationship with God (which is an exhausting process) and with people who God has brought into my life worth the burns, cuts, bruises, and yes, at times a broken heart. The answer is a resounding yes.

Because grace has remained unscathed. Grace is constant and shall not be moved, and because of this I have had the opportunity to receive great abiding love through the radiance of God shining in others and I can only pray that others have received God’s radiance in me.

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So for now, love is a little burnt, but she will heal, gently with time, with care, she will overcome her scar and chose to do it all over again.

Flood

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There is a piece of light in all of us…

Seen or unseen the light is there,

Ready to kindle, eager to respond,

Refusing to be rightly contained.

As soon as the tiniest space is allowed

It quickly emerges, floods outward,

Illuminating the darkest of places.

From “Little Pieces of Light” by Joyce Rupp, OSM

Darkness to Light

Advent is a season of waiting and preparing, preparing for the birth of the savior, Jesus, who came as a baby and whose birth we celebrate each year. We celebrate the spiritual birth and honor his work in our hearts on Christmas; it is a most sacred time of year.

Each year I write or say something like this from the pulpit, and I admit, I do not connect with it. Yes, I have two children and I know what it is to wait and prepare for the coming of a child. I also LOVE Christmas (in the secular sense). I love decorating and presents, both giving and receiving- I’m not going to lie. I love crazy sweaters and people’s “cheer” and parties where we dress up in clothes that sparkle.

I love it all.

But I, like most people who celebrate Christmas, want to skip right over preparation and hold the baby. I want to sing Carols of the birth, not of the coming. I want to skip right to the light and forget the darkness. When waiting for a child to be born there is so much unknown, so much uncontrollable mystery. The sex of the baby is always the first question asked, then the due date. And the annoying question that I always got was, do you think it’ll have red hair? As if I knew the answer…

As the expectant parent, grandparent, or friend we wonder. Will she be healthy? What is something happens to him? What if something happens to me? Will I be a good parent? And this is just the beginning.

If we skip over these very real and very scary questions, we are ignoring God. God is just as present in the preparation.

Christmas Eve is often everyone’s “favorite” service of the year. But when asked why it is not easily articulated. It’s the same story, same music, same candles every year, what makes it so special?

I believe what we cannot articulate is that Christmas Eve is the ritualization of the light meeting the darkness. For a few brief moments, everything is good, we tell the story of the birth, there are angels and shepherds, but then the lights go out. The words of darkness and watery chaos come, then the light of the word enters and the darkness could not overcome it.

This is the best news we have to share. The story of God through Jesus Christ has been summed up in many ways, but all the love, grace, mercy, faith, hope- can be summed up in this one verse.

The darkness, (cannot, will not, and) did not overcome the light.

The light of the world is coming this season, and we do need to adequately prepare. But we cannot ignore the darkness that comes with preparation, we cannot skip the tough, uncontrollable questions that come to us in the dark, for God is there too, ready to show us the way into the light.

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