The Place of Light

Scripture Text: 1 Peter 2:9-10

9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

First Peter reflects the rapid expansion of the early church.  This fledgling church was struggling with community, with their mission, and the fact that they were continually faced with various types of suffering.  So, this letter may be one of encouragement— “hang on, you can do this”.  It’s obviously been read by struggling communities ever since that time of its writing, including us.  It is a call to move to something different. 

The community is reminded here that they are called to a broader mission.  They just have to pay attention to what it is.  The language of the priesthood may be a little off-putting.  But I’m reminded what Barbara Brown Taylor says in her book, The Preaching Life: “…when God calls, people respond in a variety of ways.  Some pursue ordination and others put pillows over their heads, but the vast majority seek to answer God by changing how they live their more or less ordinary lives…” (p. 26) In other words, we are all called.  But we have to change.  The point is that it’s how we respond to God’s call, it’s how we are called out of darkness into the marvelous light.

OK, here’s where we need to stop.  We have talked about this journey of Advent, this move from darkness to light.  But this is tempting to think of those conditions as places—the place of darkness, the place of light.  We fall into imagining that place called Heaven with the golden streets.  The problem is that that is not found in Scripture–ANYWHERE.  That notion of the “place” of darkness, the “place” of light, the “place” of earth, and the “place” of heaven is not real.  Truthfully, I don’t think it’s a place.  I think this move is from one way of being to another, one way of seeing to another.  I mean, otherwise, how do we reconcile in our minds that God is here.  Is God somehow commuting?  I don’t think that.

This Advent journey, this move from darkness to light, does not transport us to a new place.  Instead, we are transformed where we are.  We are transformed into the Light to the World—THIS world, THIS place.  I think that’s why God came, Emmanuel, God With Us, to show us that we are called HERE.  We are called NOW.  Let this Advent journey be a movement to a new Way—that Way that moves from darkness to marvelous Light, this marvelous place of Light.

Faith can be described only as a movement of flight, flight away from myself and toward the great possibilities of God. (Helmut Thielicke) 

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

The Light in Our Midst

Scripture Text: Zephaniah 3:14-20 (Advent 3C)

14Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 15The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. 16On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. 17The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing 18as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. 19I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 20At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.

The book of Zephaniah is probably set in the time of King Josiah.  This was a time of indifference of the people.  Perhaps they were tired; perhaps they just got a bit too comfortable; perhaps they forgot who and whose they were.  So, the earlier passages of this book are foretelling a time of destruction, the Day of the Lord coming in divine judgment for the people’s sins.  That’s hard for us to hear.  In the darkness of this world, it is hard for us to hear a tale of destruction, rather than hope.  But lest we begin to imagine some dramatic apocalyptic movie scene, we come to this passage.  It is changing what the Day of the Lord might look like.  It is a voice of hope, foretelling not destruction but salvation.  And it shockingly proclaims that “the Lord, your God, is in your midst.” 

What does that even mean?  In our midst?  Like, here, now?  What do we do with a God who is here?  See, we’ve been content to spend these few days in the beginning of our Advent season looking for the Light that we know is “out there” somewhere.  It all sounded so simple.  But this…the Light is here?  The Light is with us?  That’s a totally different thing.  In fact, that changes EVERYTHING.

Somewhere we have indeed convinced ourselves that God is “out there”, an elusive deity that we are trying desperately to approach.  We have been somehow convinced that all of our hope rests in this “out there” God, that getting to God will once and for all save us.  And, yet, we also know that God is everywhere.  God is here, here with us.  So, which is it?  I think perhaps the reason we don’t see God and don’t feel God upon demand is not that God is elusive or hiding in plain sight.  The reason is that we are not fully prepared to know the fullness of God, the fullness of life that God has in store for us.  In language of some of the New Testament scriptures, we live beneath a veil, a veil that we have sewn, a veil that we are not prepared to shed, a veil that somehow obstructs our view of the Light or shields us from what we do not know or do not understand.  And, yet, there are holes in the veil, places where the threads are worn and beginning to tear.  And through those holes we sometimes get glimmers of light.  This Light in our midst is always peeking in, beckoning us forward, guiding us into the Light that we might become full, that we might finally know this God who is in our midst, finally be prepared to see what we’re meant to see and be what God means us to be.

So, what do we do?  We do what we’re called to do in this time, in this place beneath the veil.  We prepare ourselves to see the Light.  This is the season of that preparation.  Walk into it.  You will never be alone.

We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God…We must not…assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) 

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

Still Looking For Dawn

Psalter: Luke 1: 68-79 (Advent 2C)

68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, 70as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. 78By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

This passage, the Benedictus, the Song of Zechariah, are the first words of Zechariah after he had been rendered mute upon finding out that he and his wife would finally have a son.  Zechariah is the father of John the Baptist and the husband of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin.  These words, Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini, or “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, form Zechariah’s blessing of his son. See, Zechariah was the one who knew who his son was, knew that he was the one that would point to the dawn that was beginning to break on the horizon. 

Zechariah voiced this beautiful passage as an affirmation of faith.  He wasn’t unclear about his reality.  He knew the way the world was.  But he also knew who his son was, who he would become.  He understood the purpose to which his son was called.  He knew that his son was the one that could point to the Light that was just beginning to break through. So, in an incredible expression of faith, he understood that the claim of this season is not that God will fix things, not that God will put the broken world back together, but that God will go where the Divine is not expected, where God is not wanted, where most think that change or redemption is impossible.  Faith is believing not that God will take away the darkness but rather that God will break through the darkness and the Dawn will come. 

We are called to live the same.  We are called to voice the Light into the darkness that others might see its dawning.  Advent is a season lived in darkness; it is also a season that knows the Dawn is just over the horizon, “…the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.  (Rabindranath Tagore) 

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

The Light-Gatherers

Scripture Text: Luke 3: 1-6 (Advent 2C)

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Well, we know it’s Advent when John the Baptist shows up again!  Most of us don’t really know what to do with John.  After all, he was actually a little bizarre.  John was this wild wilderness man who wore animal skins and made his meals off of locusts and honey and whatever else he could find in the wild.  He was actually a little radical, preaching what could probably be considered hellfire and brimstone sermons to convince people of his message.  OK, maybe John’s “bedside manner” had a little to be desired.  Yes, John was the one who never quite conformed to the way of this world, to acceptable society, but rather chose to focus solely on what it was God was calling him to do.

John never claimed to be more than he was.  His only mission was to point to the one who was coming, the One that would BE God in our midst, the One that would baptize us with water and the very Spirit of God.  So, though his preaching was often fiery and overly-zealous and maybe even a little off-putting, John was a Light-Gatherer.  Light-Gatherers do more than just look for the Light.  They do more than follow the Light.  Light-Gatherers walk into the Light, gather it in, and reflect it off of themselves.  Jesus taught that his disciples and his followers were called to be a Light to the world.  That is what John did.  He was a Light-Gatherer.

Creation is full of light-gatherers.  You remember photosynthesis, don’t you?  It’s the process by which plants take in light and transform it into energy and growth.  That’s probably a really good lesson for us.  We, too, are called to be Light-Gatherers, to take in the Light and transform it into energy and growth for ourselves and for the world.  Then we are called to reflect that Light, the Light of God, into the world.  We are called to be a beacon, a Light-Gatherer of the Light of God.  So, in this season of Advent, go toward the Light but don’t stop there.  Gather the Light and reflect that Light to the world.  Be a Light-Gatherer.

Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being.  Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light. (Albert Schweitzer) 

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

Let There Be Light

Scripture Text: Genesis 1: 1-5

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

We talk a lot about light during the Advent and Christmas seasons, that coming of the Light as it is birthed into the world.  But go back to the beginning.  The Light came to be back then. It was always there, pushing back the darkness and illuminating all of Creation. According to this much-beloved story of Creation, God said the Light into being and there was Light.  This opening part of Genesis is essentially an affirmation of faith in the God who created the world and all that exists.  It doesn’t refer to the beginning, per se, but rather the beginning of the ordering of Creation.  See, the heavens and earth were there as dark, formless voids.  And God began to order Creation and into Creation God breathed Light. In the beginning, God began to re-create Creation—with Light.

The Light was always there, always pushing back the darkness of the world.  But sometimes our eyes are not adjusted to the light and we miss what it is illuminating for us.  We find ourselves in the darkness.  So Jesus came into the world not to BE the Light but to show us the Light that was always with us.  Jesus was part of that Light, the revelation of the Light, and came to show us how we, too, can reflect that Light throughout the world.

In this season of Advent, our journey guides us toward the Light.  It is the Light that has always been there.  It is the Light that God created.  It is the Light that Jesus Christ came into the world as God Incarnate, Emmanuel, to reflect, to show us how to be the Light. And yet we often travel in darkness.  The darkness is not bad.  God created the darkness just as God created the light. But the darkness cannot sustain us.  Only the Light, the Light that God created, the Light that God came into the world to reflect can sustain us.

So, as you travel through the darkness this season, remember to look for the light, those flashes of light.  They are there.  They will push back the darkness, illuminating it, making it more bearable.   Journey toward the Light.  It is the very essence of God coming into the world.

My ego is like a fortress.  I have built its walls stone by stone to hold out the invasion of the love of God.  But I have stayed here long enough.  There is light over the barriers.  O my God…I let go of the past.  I withdraw my grasping hand from the future.  And in the great silence of this moment, I alertly rest my soul. (Howard Thurman) 

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

Colors of Light

Lectionary Scripture Text: Philippians 1: 3-11 (Advent 2C)

3I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

The passage for today is the beginning of a first-century letter and Paul begins by reassuring them of his prayers and his pride in them because of their faith.  See, Paul was never all that interested in winning converts.  The game was not about numbers.  He was more concerned about people entering into a new relationship with God that keeps them going.   He was encouraging a faith that would keep them going through the hard times, would empower them to look at their lives the way God meant them to be, the way God looks at their lives.  

This season of Advent calls us to do the same, to change our way of looking at our world, at our lives, at ourselves.  It is a way of adjusting our eyes to see the light.  It’s not about religious rules or theological presumptions.  I don’t even think it’s about doing the right things.  It’s about seeing things the way they are.  See, contrary to accepted belief, I don’t think Paul had a rigid adherence to religious laws or set ways of believing.  (I DO think some of his disciples and followers, some of whom wrote some of the letters attributed to Paul may have been a little more rigid in their belief.)  Paul really wanted people to be genuine, honest, and sincere.  He wanted everyone to be who they were called to be. Paul’s image of praising God has to do with real people living changed lives and changing others’ lives in the process.  It has to do with seeing in a different way.

The world often discolors our view.  We are affected by artificial light and fabricated color.  Paul talked about “full insight”, actually seeing things the way they are.  It means we have to strip away the colors that are not real.  You remember your science.  Light is just a collection of colors.  Black and white aren’t even colors at all but merely an absence or a congruence of colors that make us see things differently.  But what if you could see your life the way it was meant to be, with the colors God intended? The Light to which we move during Advent is not some fabricated collection of colors.  It’s true light; it’s true colors.  But it may not be what we thought it would look like.  After all, sometimes life is hard.  Sometimes it holds difficulty and loss and things not turning out the way we envisioned.  So, Advent calls us to be open, to be open to recoloring our world so that it looks the way it should look.  Open your eyes—to everything—to every color and every combination that God shows you on this journey.  It will be glorious!

God is in the symphony, where harmony exists amidst the tension of pitch and tone.  God is in the beautiful sunset, where contrasting colors hint at the glory of the Creator.  God is in the beautiful relationship, where solidarity is born of struggle and disagreement.  God is in the beautiful individual, whose wrinkled skin is witness to a life of challenge and hardship lived with the confidence that it all makes sense.  (Paul D. Sweet) 

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

Fire and Light

Lectionary Scripture Text: Malachi 3: 1-4 (Advent 2C)

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m focusing on Light this Advent—those flashes of light that come unexpectedly, often unbidden, that fill our lives with illuminating color and spark.  But light is not always welcome.  It’s not always a warm twinkle that tiptoes in or peeks over the horizon as it waits until your eyes are adjusted to it.  Sometimes it is hot and explosive, even blinding.  Sometimes it comes as a burning bush or a chariot of fire.  And sometimes it is almost destructive, a white-hot fire that burns out of our control.

This Scripture from the Book of Malachi speaks of a fire such as this.  It is a refiner’s fire that will reform the society in preparation for the day of the Lord’s coming.  It is a purifying Light that will change everything and everyone that it touches.  Its first hearers were probably as uncomfortable with this whole fire message as we might be.  After all, fire is destructive.  Fire burns.  It is a light that consumes, that destroys.  But it also purifies.  It purifies by burning away the ore so the precious metal inside is revealed.  It is intense, heating beyond what most of us can normally stand.  But one has to get close enough to the fire to work with the metal for it to be refined.  It is risky.  It might even be painful.  But it is the only way for all the impurities to be removed.  The impurities must be burned away until the new part is revealed.

You’ve probably already heard this illustration because I’ve used it before, but it’s wonderful as it tells the story of a woman watching a silversmith at work.  “But sir,” she said, “do you sit while the work of refining is going on?” “Oh, yes madam,” replied the silversmith, “I must sit with my eye steadily fixed on the furnace, for if the time necessary for refining be exceeded in the slightest degree, the silver will be injured.”  So as the lady was leaving the shop, the silversmith called her back, and said he had still further to mention, that he only knows when the process of purifying was complete by seeing his own image reflected in the silver.

Light always brings about change.  Sometimes it’s warm and inviting—a sunrise, a guidelight, a lamp.  And other times the Light brings about change so fast that it is painful.  But we are meant to be changed.  We are meant to be refined.  Our very image is being burned into the change that we see in this world.  This Advent light is on the horizon.  We can’t push it away, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.  It is our journey—into the Light.  And we WILL be changed.  And, finally, the image in which we were created, that very image of God, will be revealed.

But whether small or great, and no matter what the stage or grade of life, the call brings up the curtain, always, on a miracle of transfiguration-a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth.  The familiar life horizon has been outgrown, the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand. (Joseph Campbell) 

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli