First Sunday of Advent
Elizabeth M. Deibert
Light of the world, as we hear your written Word, may You, the Living Word made flesh, lighten the dark corners of our minds and hearts and souls.
For twenty years of ministry I have ordinarily followed the lectionary texts and the seasons of the church year with joy and seen them as gift and pattern, but today, as in recent weeks, I am going down a different path. I’m engaging a Christmas and Epiphany theme of light, because the culture we live in takes us to Christmas before it’s Christmas. For years, I have tried to shout against the noise and busy-ness of Christmas preparations saying “Wait! Stop! It is not Christmas. It is advent. And advent means waiting, longing, anticipating, but surely not celebrating the light of Christmas before Christmas.
Well, this year, I’ve decided not to stop being the purist. I’ve decided that we might weave the not-yet-ness of Advent with the already here of Christmas into a better understanding of the time and place in which we live. Jesus the light of the world has come into our darkness. He is already here, even as we prepare our hearts to receive the great news of God’s incarnation once again. He is already here when we erect our Christmas trees and turn on the lights and he is also here, when we are lying in a dark room of discouragement, wondering if the morning light of a new day will ever dawn upon us.
Let us anticipate this celebration of the wonderful gift of light by living in the light. Let us declare what all the bright lights of this season really mean. Let us ponder how the lights of Christmas might point us to the one true light, coming into the world to illumine all who walk in darkness.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it with justice and with
righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
(singing) For unto us a child is born Unto us a son is given. Unto us a son is given. And his name shall be call-ed Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
Handel has forever turned these verses to music for me and for many of you. Second to the Hallelujah Chorus, this one is best known music of all of Handel’s Messiah.
This child to be born is the one to lead us out of darkness. Isaiah talks about this time of darkness. The king had not listened to God, so God stopped speaking and the people were left in the darkness of their sin. It was a time of war and oppression. They were burdened by the yoke of their oppressor, by the bar across their backs, by the blood and death all around. But then they saw the light, and the bloody clothes turned into the fire of God’s glory burning bright. This vision of Isaiah has filled people with hope of a new day. And for Christians looking back, this 2700 year old vision is understood as Jesus Christ, the child born for us, the light of the world.
The symbolism of light and darkness is ancient and has many rich meanings across cultures and time. Darkness is associated with blindness, night, sleep, cold, gloom, despair, lostness, chaos, death, danger and yearning for the dawn. It is a striking image of the human condition. Unfortunately, we have transferred many of the negative images of darkness to person with darker skin. Light is seen as the antidote to darkness, and is an image of salvation. In the light, one is awake, able to see and find one's way; it is associated with relief and rejoicing that the night is over; in the light one is safe and warm. In the light there is life. Having paler skin, of course, does not mean one is filled with more light, only less melatonin, the pigment that gives our skin its beautiful shades of light and dark brown, with various hues of peach and amber.
Many texts in the Hebrew Bible use symbolism of light. Light is associated with creation: "Let there be light" is the first of God's creative acts in the Book of Genesis. Light is a metaphor for God's illumination of the path: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." In texts from the Hebrew Bible often read in churches during the season of Advent, light is associated with God's acts of deliverance as we see in Isaiah’s text about the people walking in darkness seeing a great light. Later Isaiah says what the choir sang to open our service:
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and God's glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Isaiah 61)
Light shining in the darkness is a central image in the birth stories. It is most obvious in the star of Matthew's Gospel, shining in the night sky and leading the Magi to the place of Jesus' birth. Luke makes use of the imagery as his story of "shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night." The "glory of the Lord shone around them" as an angel told them of the birth of Jesus, and then "a multitude of the heavenly host" filled the night sky, singing, "Glory to God!" But for John, the image of light is paramount. John speaks of the light which as the embodiment of God on earth can never be overcome by darkness.
Hear now what John says
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being 4 in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
5 The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 He came as a witness to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
8 He himself was not the light,
but he came to testify to the light.
9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
John says that we humans are creatures of either light or of darkness. There is no in between. The darkness is associated with death, while the light is associated with life. This theme is developed throughout the Gospel. In 1:4-9, John portrays Jesus as being the light of humanity and demonstrates that the darkness does not understand the light. John the Baptist came to bear witness of the light in order that we would live in the light. In the third chapter (19-21) Jesus states that the light has come into the world, but people have loved the darkness instead of the light because their works were evil. Evildoers hate the light and are afraid to go into the light lest their works be exposed. On the other hand, the ones who practice the truth come into the light so that it can be seen that their works were done through God. In 5:35 there is reference to John the Baptist as being a lamp that gives forth light. Jesus is also referred to as the Light of the World (8:12; 9:5) Jesus tells the crowd that it is necessary to walk in the light because the person that walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. He also tells the crowd to believe in the Light in order to become children of the light. Lastly in 12:46, he states that he has come as light into the world so that those who believe in him will not remain in darkness.
I pray that this Advent, you will take time to light advent candles at your table or at your bedtime and pray for more light in this world. Pray for the light of Christ to overcome all dark corners of despair and disobedience. Pray that our eyes will be open to this one and only true light, which is always shining, even when we cannot see.
Christmas lights are a big part of the culture of this season. We Deiberts usually spend one day simply buying the Christmas tree, getting it into a stand, and putting on lights. Then in a day or a week, we add ornaments. A tree with lights only is beautiful.
Ponder Jesus, the light of the world, as you put lights on your tree. See that activity not as one more thing to get done, but one more opportunity to dwell on the true light, who is came into the world and will come again to make all things bright.
Put candles in your windows and remember that Christ is always ready to welcome you home with warmth and love. Remember that in Christ’s light there is no hiding in the dark. Live with honesty and goodness in the light.
Cultivate the light of Christ within you, so that your light will shine for those who sit in darkness. Honor Christ in your life, such that nothing you say or do would be shameful in the light of Christ who loves all people. Let your light shine so that people will glorify the Lord of heaven and earth, the One who put the great lights of the sun and the moon and stars for you, the Lord whose brightness gives light to every day, whose glory might blind us if we could really see.
Come Light of the World, Messiah, strengthen my heart
through this waiting time, wash my soul clean,
heal me, and make me whole.
Come shine through me until my darkness is pushed back
and I walk in the light with you again.