Advent 3 Reflection by Mart the Rev

‘The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world’ John 1

I’ve been thinking about the light a lot this Advent/Christmas season.

There’s been so much of it! All those days of sunny hot days and the stretching out of the days into the evenings.  For us, Christmas comes in a season of light.  When that super moon popped over the horizon a few weeks back, the last light of the sun was visible on the western horizon.  That night there was no darkness at all, only light.  So much light.  How has the light got in for you through this year?

The trouble with so much light is that it can mask the dark that seems to loom behind all the brightness.

Malcolm Gordon, a musical colleague of ours wrote a thought-provoking article on the season of Advent. He talked about Advent as a season for naming what is broken about our world, and holding that space in order to long for a new world. I suspect that if you were in the northern hemisphere that would be an easier angle to take, as the days are short and often gloomy, and everyone, except the burglars, longs for longer days with warmth and light.  Malcolm contends that Advent is about lament and longing.  It is not a season to seek to attribute blame, but a time that seeks to be brutally honest about naming what is real ‘before God the only one who can make things right.’  Is that allowed for, especially in this season of light?  Of course it is, for the longing is not without hope…the Christ-child embodies that hope with the promise of God’s ‘Yes’ to life, and us, and the future we get to do our living in.

Some of you, I know, have had a very challenging year. There have been losses – losses of love and loved ones.  There have been health challenges that kind of diminish you… and the season ahead has to be one of making the most of what is left, for you are not the same as you once were.  For some people that has meant the world has got a whole lot smaller, more confined, less exciting, and some of your health challenges aren’t going to go away.  For some, it seems as if more and more is out of your control.

Globally we haven’t had an easy year. What has it been?  Testy… full of provocations and alarming stories of people fleeing for their lives.  There really are some characters out there who seem hell-bent on ramping up the tensions.  It is as if they get a kick out of raising the temperature levels on our collective anxiety gauges.  There is a carelessness about their words and a recklessness when it comes to risk assessment.  And in some quarters, Syria and Myanmar in particular, the disregard for citizens young and old, is just horrible.

I don’t know if I am reading this right, but these days it feels a whole lot harder being Christian in New Zealand. I have accepted for quite a while now that many see us as irrelevant, but there seems to be a growing hostility.  It is not helped by media reports on the Christian leaders who seem to be exploiting the people in their care and so obviously benefitting materially from the particular emphasis they push in their theology, nor has it been helped by the exposure of church leaders who have sexually abused people.  Actually, we are just as offended by these poor showings of Christian witness as everyone else is. But there is a cost to all of this that impacts on our style of church as well.  We get lumped in.  People think we brainwash children, exploit the weak, and feather our nests.  We get lumped in with the extremists in the same way that people of the Moslem faith feel they are lumped in with the terrorists who claim to act in the name of the prophet Mohammed.

There is some feeling ‘out there’ about what we are about, and it is just that little bit harder putting on a brave face and putting our best foot forward as a church. We have to work so hard to just appear helpful and normal and welcoming.  We have two new buildings but we aren’t in as good a shape as we once were so even making them work is an uphill battle!  It can all be quite destabilising.  I think it has been a challenging year.  I wonder when we are going to get an easier one!

Sometimes In this season of light, things can seem a bit gloomy. And I don’t want to be gloomy!  And I don’t think we should be.  But, it is not easy.

There’s a new U2 album out! In a few of the songs there is a sense that Bono, the singer, has been having a hard time of it.  It is as if he has been tracking through a dark and testing Advent, and he’s had to pare things down a bit to recover what is important. Have a listen to this song, track number 13 (There is a light)

And if the terrors of the night, come creeping into your days And the world comes stealing children from your room, guard your innocence, from hallucination And know that darkness always gathers around the light

If there is a light we can’t always see. If there is a world we can’t always be If there is a dark, now we shouldn’t doubt.  And there is a light, don’t let it go out

When the wind screams and shouts and the sea is a dragon’s tail And the ship that stole your heart away sets sail when all you have left is leaving And all you got is grieving and all you know is needing…

If there is a light we can’t always see. If there is a world we can’t always be If there is a dark, now we shouldn’t doubt.  And there is a light, don’t let it go out

‘Cause this is a song a song for someone, someone like me

I know the world is done but you don’t have to be I’ve got a question for the child in you before it leaves, are you tough enough to be kind? Do you know your heart has its own mind? Darkness gathers around the lights, hold on, hold on

There is a light we can’t always see. If there is a world we can’t always be. If there is a dark that we shouldn’t doubt, and there is a light, don’t let it go out

And this is a song a song for someone. This is a song, a song for someone, someone like me…

I wonder if we have to find new ways to look for the signs of the true light among us, who, as Bono suggests, is a light we can’t always see. I wonder is we have to step backwards a bit, or look sideways, or get up a hill and have another look at what is going on.  Or, possibly, I wonder if we have practice the true light’s presence even if we can’t quite work out where and how it is shining.

I’ve said it before, we’re not all that sure how to do church anymore. Something new is coming at us but there doesn’t seem to be a handbook in the glovebox to help us make it work.  Around us I observe a fair bit of Christian conjuring – you know, hype up what God can do for you and surround it with a charming smiley minister, and look and behave as if God is a product the consumer can buy and get good value for his or her money.  In that market you don’t risk a light you cannot see.

I don’t believe we will see what we need to see all that easily if we inhabit the world of bright lights and quick fixes. I don’t think we will see and hear God’s YES unless we embrace what is real in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  But there are some things we can and should claim.  There are some things we need to remember.  Things to remember like this:  That love wins.  That more good comes from what we do than we can ever calculate.  That every community needs at its heart a community committed to seeking to bearing the light of God’s love in its midst – a community practicing kindness, compassion, generosity, and grace, as Jesus did – as Jesus does. That if the church is struggling then society is struggling but probably doesn’t know it.  That there always needs to be people committed to speaking out and for the least, the little, the lost, and the last, as Jesus did – as Jesus does.  That always, everywhere, there need to be people, like the Baptist, pointing to the one who is the true light.  That’s our job, even if no one seems to be wanting to see what we are seeing.  That every community needs people in it who pray for it, and who work for God’s shalom.  We are called, not to be the world, but to be lights to the world.  Salt.  Salt and light.  Flavour and beacons.  That bearing light is a privilege and a special calling, and God blesses this endeavour.  That God is more often seen in the small unsung shaft of light – a kind act and a caring thought – and it is the accumulative power of these small acts that makes the world so beautiful.  That nothing is wasted – love and being loving is not wasteful activity, it is revolutionary activity.  It is the activity that really matters.  And this, remember this: That God comes.  God always comes, often under the radar, usually behind the scenes.  There isn’t always room.  There might even be hostility.  But God chooses to break into the circles where we dwell. God chooses to enter this. God chooses to be alongside, with, for, among, around, above, behind and below.  This true light, which enlightens everyone, comes into the world and utters a cry, and the cry is God’s word to us, and it is a promise, and the word is YES.  And it is sufficient.  It is sufficient. “You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary.” ― Annie Dillard,