Congregational Church of Grafton MA UCC, December 3, 2017
Isaiah 64:1-9: You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.
Luke 1:39-55 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Have you ever noticed how hard it is to see in the dark? The last few night have been pretty bright, true… but how about those nights when it’s raining . . .and there are no white lines on the road . . . ? It can get so difficult that you just don’t want to get out there. Even though the lights on your car do work, it can feel as though they are simply not doing anything.
Christ came to be with us because living our world is often like driving on a dark, rainy night with no lines on the road. We struggle to see our way, worry about driving off the pavement.
Sometimes, we just plain give up. I know I’m very cautious, reluctant to take a chance, on those proverbial dark and stormy nights. When it’s dark and hard to see the way, we move ever so tentatively.
Listen to one reaction to being caught in the dark – from Isaiah 64 —
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.
Do you hear it? The author’s complaining to God: You hid yourself and we transgressed. It was dark, and we couldn’t see the way, and so we stumbled. Please don’t yell at us; we couldn’t tell what to do. Help us, for we are your people.
It was a dark and stormy night. And who here today does not think we are living in dark and stormy times? How many of our admired leaders seem to have gone wandering in a place where they can’t tell right from wrong? How often have we struggled to see the right thing to do? Even when the sun is full out, there’s a darkness in our world.
And in this month of Advent and Christmas, comes Light into the World. Light comes to help us see in the darkness. In the lesson we heard this morning, Mary sings about the Light and what it does for us, when she says:
[God’s] mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. [God] has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. [God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
Light shines in our world when we see those things happening.
When the proud lose all that gives them pride, when the powerful lose their power, light is beginning to shine.
Most of all, when the lowly are raised up, respected, loved and sustained, God’s light shines upon all of us.
When the hungry are fed, there is the spirit of God.
When the rich don’t take the largest portion, while leaving nothing but the dregs for everyone else, there is God.
That’s why Jesus came. That’s why we call him the Light of the World. Because with Jesus, we can see the way forward. With Jesus, we can tell when we’ve gone off the path, veered off the road, when we dragging our car too close to the brush and scarring up the paint job.
In our public life, Jesus shines a light on the disgraceful cupidity of public officials, of those who have the power in their hands to make life generous or hard.
In all our world, Jesus shines a light on our personal behaviors, helping us to see the other as real and worthy of respect.
And in our private lives, Jesus gives us direction, helps us know right from wrong, keeps us company on our daily grind, gives us strength to continue to be witnesses for love and justice.
All this month, we’ll party, celebrate, give and receive gifts. Sometimes, the gatherings will be with friends, sometimes family, sometimes work… and I know that some of them will not seem to have anything much to do with a Light coming into the world and turning everything upside down. After all, we’re also celebrating the longest night of the year this month. And when it’s dark and cold, gluttony can feel pretty good.
But underneath all that self-indulgence, all the office parties, and whatever, lies a truth that the darkness cannot hide. Jesus Christ, the light of the world, has come to live with us and everything has been changed.
Power, gluttony, greed, misbehavior may seem to rule for a time, They will harm many, help no one, except those who revel in that sort of thing. But their power is fleeting; it cannot change the inner reality of our lives.
In the wonderful book, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis creates a world ruled by a White Witch, where it is “always winter and never Christmas”. The White Witch confronts Aslan, a lion and a representative of Jesus Christ. Aslan’s power changes the world… a prisoner of the witch, is racing along in a sleigh with her when he notices that the witch’s powers are declining:
Now they were steadily racing on again. And soon Edmund noticed that the snow which splashed against them as they rushed through it was much wetter than it had been last night….
Emilie Griffin writes: After a few moments Edmund realizes that the White Witch’s spell has been broken.
All around them, though out of sight, there were streams chattering, bubbling, splashing and even (in the distance) roaring. And his heart gave a great leap (though he hardly knew why) when he realised that the frost was over. [Lewis]
Patches of green grass and green tree-branches were beginning to appear throughout the forest. Aslan had broken the White Witch’s power. [Griffin]
Though the Witch fights it every step, Edmund can see more clearly than she. Her slave the Dwarf holds Edmund hostage and keeps yanking on the rope that binds him. But Lewis writes:
This didn’t prevent Edmund from seeing. Only five minutes later he noticed a dozen crocuses growing around the foot of an old tree—gold and purple and white.
It’s a simple but powerful metaphor: winter cold suggesting the deathblow of evil in human lives; and springtime to suggest personal transformation and the redemption of the whole human race.
Well, here we are in winter; it’s not as cold as it might be, but it’s cold enough in our world for the homeless to freeze, for the hungry to go empty away. It’s cold enough in our world to take from the poor and give to the rich. It’s time for light, real light, everlasting light. It’s time to make the invisible, visible, and so we welcome the Son of God, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
O come, O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.
© 2017, Virginia H. Child