In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple
will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills
and all nations will stream to it...
God will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many people.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into the pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord. (Isaiah 2:2, 4-5)
A staff member of my former church marveled at his young precocious nephew named Sam. He told me that one December, just before Christmas, this five-year-old noticed nights were getting longer and the daylight shorter. On a late afternoon his mother left him with a babysitter so she could do some Christmas errands. After she left, every few minutes Sam would look out the window and ask his babysitter what time was it and how soon would his mother be back. Over and over, every few minutes after looking out the window, seeing the growing darkness, he asked the same two questions: What time is it? How soon will my mom be home?
After an hour of this, the babysitter sought to reassure Sam. She asked him why was he asking her repeatedly about the time. Sam answered, “It’s so dark so early; I guess God really means it when it gets dark now. I hope He isn’t too mad.”
A simple reasoning for a complex reality.
How often when we seek answers and reasons for life’s uncomfortable or fearsome circumstances, and when things go wrong, we place God’s wrath or judgment behind it all. While God is present with us in all that we face, we need to take responsibility for our actions or apathy that may contribute to anything we face. Too often in our civic discourse or even in our personal struggles, we do not examine our own motives, or seek to be informed by the whole truth and not that of our own manufacturing. Too often we seek to blame someone or something beside ourselves, as an emotional and psychological escape and vindication. Scapegoating, we forge swords and spears to thrust and destroy.
Which reminds me of a wise observation by the Rev. Canon Ed Rodman: Never believe your own propaganda.
Turning away from self-examination, accountability or from being fully informed in complex or difficult situations is turning towards the darkness within us. But even in that turning and in that darkness, God is present, seeking us.
This time of the year, and now during the three pandemics of COVID-19, of racism and of distortions and conspiracy theories, we experience growing darkness in the world, and at times within ourselves. The season of Advent invites us to take some time to find those places within us that are dark only because we are not willing to see and grasp the light of God’s love, shining upon and within us. Jesus is the Light that lightens the darkness around and in us.
The Rev. Sam Portaro in his volume of meditations, Daysprings (Cowley Publications, p. 4), writes:
Advent is a season of proclamation. Week by week we light the candles of the Advent wreath not as a talisman against the darkness but as a testimony to the Light. Isaiah saw the Light and proclaimed it in a vision of a world created by one Creator, a world where the darkness of hatred and hostility are overcome by shared work and welfare, a world that belongs not to darkness but to God. In such a world there is no way, not any need, to “prepare” for God‘s coming; God is already here.
Looking out the window, young Sam could only see growing darkness. He wanted the embrace of love and safety of his mother, and worried whether she would return; and of course, she did. We all have experienced Sam’s fear and anxiety. At times in our mind we see only the darkness closing in upon us.
Advent reminds us that the love and the Light of God is coming among us, and at the same time, is already with us. Rather than an either/or reality, with God we experience a both/and reality. God is present now and yet is also coming. In the midst of darkness the Light is present to us to behold and embrace. Embracing the love and light of God, rather than holding on to the swords of fear and anger and the spears of hostility and prejudice, we can forge plowshares and pruning hooks to harvest truth, justice, love and peace.
Again, the words of Sam Portaro remind us that the Light and God’s love both shine in the darkness of the world and within us:
Christians profess to have chosen the Light.…the victory of light over darkness, of life over death. From our desperate, disparate, dispirited lives we stream to this decisive reality, a community ruled by light and love. As God’s mountain in the midst of a world of hostility and hatred, we are called to persist in embracing one another, loving one another. We are encouraged to turn our energies from warfare to welfare, maintaining even in death itself that life is worth the living and the loving. (Daysprings, pp. 4-5)
The Light is here now and is bringing hope and love into our midst. May we invite, may we embrace Jesus, the Light of God and the Love of God incarnate, within us. May we allow the loving Son shine in and through us.
Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris