Walking Peacefully in the Dark

Luke 1:67-79                                                                        2nd Sunday of Advent

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                          7 December 2014

 

God of mercy, may the Word you speak this day take root in our hearts, and bear fruit to your honor and glory, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

When I was a kid, I was very scared of the dark.  I knew that my fear was in my head, but I had a hard time overcoming it.   As I would walk home from my next-door neighbors’ house, I would break into a run, because of the shadows or a barking dog, or the rustling of leaves.   As an adult, it is even more clear to me that the dark places are scary because of fear in my head.   I firmly believe that we have a responsibility to put away fear by trusting in God.   It does not mean there’s nothing to fear; it means that I play a role in diminishing my own fears so that I can walk peacefully in the dark.   I believe walking through life without fear takes years of practicing faith over fear. 

 

This week I thought about the first responder, Police Lt Mike Madden, 24 year old veteran, who had to be the first one to calmly enter the building, see the carnage, walk past injured and desperately afraid people to assess the situation, look for the active shooters, and make a plan for getting everyone safely out of the building.   Do you think he was scared?  There were people moaning, and alarms sounding, and folks too scared to move, and he was surely frightened with them and for himself as well.   Fortunately, he was experienced enough to hear the voice of the dispatcher and to know what the tone of voice meant.  And he set aside his fears to do his job to walk peacefully through the darkness.      

 

As Lt Madden had experience and training in responding calmly in a time of fear, so we people of Christian faith, and of all faiths, need to respond calmly to the terrorism so that we are thinking and acting reasonably.   We want to bring some measure of peace to the dark places, and we know how to do that with Angel Tree gifts and Alternative gifts and compassionate care for our friends who are sick and dying.   But what to do about the violence and all the refugees? 

Those are the places in the dark that scare us.    We were already troubled for what we consider to be normal stressors, but then when we overlay the news of terrorism, of true enemies in ISIS cells in our cities, we run through the dark scared, our faith lost, our peace gone, and that’s why we especially need the encouragement of Zechariah’s Blessing.

 

The Benedictus, Latin for blessing, tells us first – what God has done to rescue us; second – what we are supposed to do in response, serve without fear and third – what the prophet John the Baptist will do, prepare the way for salvation, and finally – what God will ultimately do through the gift of Jesus Christ, the Most High, bringing light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, guiding us in ways of peace.

Luke 1:68-79

68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,

70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

71 that we would be saved from our enemies

and from the hand of all who hate us.

72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,

and has remembered his holy covenant,

73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,

to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,

might serve him without fear,

75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.

78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,

79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace."(NRSV)

 

In the first part there are seven active verbs of which God is subject. God has

looked with favor on us and redeemed us. God has raised up a mighty Savior as

God promised us. God has saved us from our enemies. God has shown mercy and

remembered his covenant.   In other words, friends, God has been faithful. God has not let us down, even when we were faithless.   These words are uttered by Zechariah before the birth of Jesus, but they speak of the Savior as if he already is.  Remember Luke is crafting the memory, the story, knowing already the rest of the story -- life and death and resurrection of Jesus

 

We then, being rescued by God, are called to serve God without fear, in holiness

and righteousness all our days.  It is important to note that we are first rescued.

God doesn’t call to us when we are swallowed up in fear.  No, God rescues us from our enemies.   Then we are called to serve without fear of death and in thankfulness for our salvation.  Our holiness and righteousness are in response to his rescue.   The Old Testament reminds the Israelites sixty times that it was God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt. God rescued them. God rescued us from our slavery to sin.  Our grateful response is to live holy and joyful lives.

 

John the Baptist is called the prophet of the Most High, the forerunner. He goes to prepare the way, to give knowledge of forgiveness. John prepared the way for the first coming of Christ. We Christians are called to prepare the way for the second coming, which we anticipate during Advent.  Our responsibility, like John’s, is to share the good news of God’s forgiveness in word and action.   You see, if you are really in touch with the fact that you nearly died and God rescued you, you cannot help but be filled with gratitude and with compassion for others.   

 

The last two verses of this passage are the promise of what God will do. God,

filled with tender mercy, will make the dawn break upon us, giving light to those

who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, guiding us in the way of peace.

This message is peace is just what we need. It’s what the world needs. We walk in the darkness and we have two choices, we can let the fear grip us, or we can lean into the hope and the peace that our Christian faith provides.     

(slide) We walk through the darkness, knowing that God promises daybreak. We walk in the darkness in solidarity with those who grieve and with those who are scared.  We walk through the darkness peacefully, aware that we must find a way to dramatically limit civilian access to weapons of war that kill people with brutal speed, making these mass murders so easy for terrorists to orchestrate.  Not only that, we walk through the darkness, looking for ways to build bridges with peaceful people of all faiths, aware the radicalization of persons happens when we lose sight of the human dignity that God has given to each of us.   And we do not walk in the darkness without a light.  Jesus Christ is the light of the world.   Jesus was born into a dark world.   Remember that Herod ordered a mass murder of young boys, as soon as he heard of the birth of Jesus.   Remember that death on a cross is a public act of terror by our standards, much as it has become familiar to us.   Mary and Joseph ran to safety to protect their young son, but later, Jesus accepted his own death without a word on his own behalf.

 

I am reminded of Antoine Leiris, whose 35 year-old wife was one of the 129 people killed in Paris, who wrote the beautifully defiant letter to ISIS, which went viral on Facebook.   He said, So, no, I will not grant you the gift of my hatred. You're asking for it, but responding to hatred with anger is falling victim to the same ignorance that has made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to view my countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You lost.

 

ISIS wants us to hate Muslims and to be suspicious of all immigrants.   Then they can justify their own actions.  We refuse to live by the rules of hatred, because we worship the Prince of Peace, who came into the world to bring light to the darkness and to guide us into the way of peace.   To be peaceful is to be generous of spirit toward all people, yet unwilling to compromise your faith and values.

 

Today is the Feast of Saint Nicholas.  Saint Nicholas lived on the land that is now Turkey.  He was the Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor way back in the 4th century.  He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him.  

He got such a reputation of being kind and gentle, and generous of spirit, that many have followed in his ways.   His name in Dutch is Sinterklaas so he has really been around quite a long time.   But here is the most interesting thing that we modern Christians need to know about St Nick.   He was deeply concerned for the poor, and he defended the faith in the Council of Nicaea, when Arius tried to claim that Jesus was just an ordinary human being.   As the story goes, gentle and kind St. Nick slapped Arius in the face at the Council and Nicaea and that would have been reason for him to lose his position as bishop, but the council members prayed about it overnight and concluded that for such a crucial matter as this, sometimes an exercise of force is needed.  So I say to all who carry on the tradition of St Nick, Sinterklaas, remember that what mattered to him most of all was that we should take Jesus Christ seriously. 

 

It was Lt Madden’s job to walk into the Inland Regional Center building in San Bernardino and to be calm and wise.   He and his comrades brought peace to a dark and fearful place.   It is our job to take Christ’s peace to a fearful world.    The Incarnation is about God’s love being made flesh, and so we take our own flesh, our bodies into the dark places of the world to bring God’s light.   Christ has gone before us.   We are not afraid.   We are people of faith.   We have the peace of Christ, who died and was raised, just like the saints who have gone before us.  St Nicholas of the 4th Century and St Julian of the 14th century give us a peace that is chocked full of courage.   Julian of Norwich, the author of the first book by a woman in the English language, said this, as part of her near-death experience revelations:

 

“In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.   “But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'

 

For all of you who are frightened in the days by all the trouble you see around you, remember the words of the angels to the shepherds:  Do not fear.  For unto you is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  This is good news of great joy for all the people.  Glory to God in highest, and peace on earth, good will to all.