Sunday, December 01, 2013
December 1, Advent 1, Children of Light 1: Walking
Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44
The image of Light is an important image in the Bible. The Bible employs the image of light in a great variety of usages. We will explore those images in the next four weeks. My sermon series is called “Children of Light,” for that is what you are. So let’s explore and enjoy the images of light.
But first, about Advent. Advent is a penitential season, like Lent. Advent was originally a season of fasting and sober self-examination, four weeks of it. There was no feasting until Christmas morning, and then twelve days of what feasting you could afford.
This sober observance of Advent has is now virtually impossible with the secularization and commercialization of Christmas. Unless we emphasized the contradiction: we could say that Advent contradicts the holiday season, and that the repentance of our souls in here contradicts the indulgence of our flesh out there.
But in this case, “contradiction” is not as good as “poignancy”. You can experience the holiday season with positive poignancy. Poignancy like pregnancy. There’s pain in it, there’s risk in it, and sometimes loss, but the relief of it is new life. A birth. The Word becoming flesh. The Incarnation means some affirmation of the flesh. Which is a mercy, because you cannot help but live within your flesh, and live among your flesh and blood. Your children deserve your gifts, your spouse deserves your gifts, your lover waits upon your gift, your boss expects you at the party, and your voice is needed when people are gathering to sing. You can participate.
These things do satisfy, they do, but not completely, these things are not enough, you long for something more. God has planted in you the desire for something more, the something more that all these things are pointing to beyond themselves, if you stop and look and notice it. That beyondness, that incompletion, that longing, is the poignancy you feel. And that feeling can be by turns desiring and despairing. You are longing for something you cannot attain. You can’t achieve your completion on your own. Advent reminds you to desire it as a gift from God, in some partial measure now, but in fullness only after you have died, when you receive your final salvation.
All the world is longing for the completion and summation which is promised with the coming of the Lord; that is, the Second Coming of the Lord; which is the opening theme of Advent, as you have noticed in the collect we prayed: “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal.” We open the season with his Second Coming in majesty and then we close the season with his First Coming in humility, as an infant.
The season develops backwards: we begin it at the ending and we end it at the beginning. It serves the poignancy. His first coming, though in the flesh, creates within you the desire for something more than flesh, and lest your desire be overcome by the despair of your flesh, his first coming comforts you. You are comforted at the end of the season, and you are challenged at the beginning, now. Today.
We are living in the darkness, the darkness before the dawn. There is some light for us, and that light comes from the morning star, just above the horizon. “How brightly shines the morning star.” Let me explain that the morning star is always a planet, usually Venus. Science has taught us what the Bible writers did not know, that the light that it shines with is a borrowed light. It is light reflected from the sun before the sunrise. The sunrise will be his Second Coming, the great and final dawn, and his First Coming is as the Morning Star, to give us joy and hope and light before the dawn. You cannot look directly at the sun, for its light is burning and blinding, but you can gaze upon the Morning Star, and rejoice in it, and it both satisfies and heightens your desire.
And it gives light enough for you to walk by it. You can walk forward in this light, even before the dawn. Enough is illuminated. Enough is enlightened. In other religions, enlightenment is what you attain inside yourself. In Biblical religion it’s different. You see it in Isaiah. Your enlightenment is around you: it is the light of God upon the world, illuminating it. And Biblical enlightenment is for walking in, not sitting in.
In Isaiah the light is from the Torah, which is the living Word of God, for Israel, and for all the world. In the gospel this living Word of God gets personified in Jesus, who is your Morning Star. He shines the light in which you walk. He illuminates the world before you. The world itself is dark and dangerous, and you have reason to be fearful. There is chaos there, and evils both natural and malicious, and you have your own handicaps and disabilities. But he gives you light enough that you can safely find your way across the landscape of your life that is before you.
Rise up and walk. Wake up, get up out of bed. Change your clothes, take off your nightgown, put on your day clothes, put on the armor of light. There’s an image! From Romans 13, “the armor of light.” Instead of wearing chain mail or heavy metal plates, you are wearing light itself, like a force-field around you, and you are protected by the light upon you, the light of Christ on you that you are absorbing but also reflecting, and as it shines back off of you it clears away the danger that is lurking in the darkness before you. It’s a defense designed for movement and freedom and joy and peace.
Your light is not a burning light, but a softer gleaming light, the light on you of Christ who is the hope and healing for the world, even in its darkness. You have put on Christ, you wear him like a robe of light, and that is healing for your own flesh, which frees you from the compulsions of your flesh, so you now can pay attention to what God is doing and what God gives you.
All this means that you live in the same world as everyone else, but you see the world differently.
It means that your illumination is not some private thing inside you, it’s rather very public, as public as the gospel, freely given, and freely shared with other people like yourself.
It means that you don’t have to solve the mysteries of the world in order to make your way in the world, or even the mysteries of your own life, to live life well.
It means there’s only so much you have to know and only so much you have to understand, and still you’re able to see your way. You don’t know when your Lord is coming back, but you know what it means that he is coming back, with a greater light, but he is coming to you now with the light of his Holy Spirit.
You long for some light in your life. Some solving of a mystery you live with, some illumination to manage your obstacles, or navigate your uncertainties, or just get through the week, or just get through the pain. You need the world illuminated, or just that one small piece of the world which is this week. The light is always there, but it’s also always a surprise.
You have seen it. Maybe only once or twice, but that’s enough. The brief shining moment, the flash in the sky. You can stretch that moment across your life, you can keep on walking in it. That is what religion is: it’s how you stretch that one brief shining moment across the whole course of your life as you go forward.
You don’t have to be passive, you can be active. You can be doing those things you can do now which anticipate the better things you can’t do yet, but you will do when your completion comes.
Keep awake. Pay attention. You have taken off the compulsions of your flesh so that you can pay attention in your flesh. The good news here is that the power of your attention is not in your own self, but in the light that’s given to you. All you have to do is walk. Don’t worry about getting it all correct, don’t worry about your stumbling or your mistakes. Be like a little child, just learning how to walk.
Walking is the image of the Christian life. It’s one of the most basic things that human beings do, and it is God’s metaphor for life. It’s meant to both relieve you and empower you.
And you are walking with your head up. Looking toward the dawning glow on the horizon. Because the day is still to come. You don’t know when it will come, but you know what it means that it will come. It is up to God, and it is from God, and God will do it.
Copyright © 2013 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.