ADVENT WEEK TWO – LIGHT & DARKNESS
December 8, 2019 – Pastor Donnell Wyche
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. As a church we partner with the liberating presence of God to cultivate joy, hope & belonging as Jesus invites us into freedom, keeps us free, and helps us free others. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.
Our theme for Advent this year is “Light and Darkness.” Last week, Pastor Marissa outlined for us what we mean when we say darkness. This reframing is important because lost in the language contrasting light and darkness is just how helpful, important and needed the darkness is. When you are out star-gazing, darkness is your friend, actually, the darker the better. When you have a gathered a group of friends for a round of flashlight tag, you welcome the darkness. And when you and those you cherish are gathered around a camp fire, the darkness invites, envelopes, embraces, hems you in.
But many of us have to contend with the language we have inherited about the darkness that darkness represents everything that frightens or threatens us. Darkness has come to symbolize evil, sin, or all of the dark spiritual forces that rebel against God in our lives and world. When the darkness embodies everything that we fear, this can distort us, our lives, and the ways that we see ourselves, others, and the world we inhabit. Without reflection, this distorted language can cause us demean and dehumanize others.
Theologically, pitting the light against the darkness is unhelpful.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
When you read the end of John 1:1-5, you might assume that the darkness is not needed or wanted–something that should be banished or discarded, or even worse, that God is not even present in the dark. That our source of goodness and hope is only found in the light. Remember what Pastor Marissa said last week, God is present in the darkness, breathing. When we only identify God with the light-filled spaces, we miss the God who also embodies the darkness, breathing new life into us.
During this series, we are going to suspend seeing light and darkness in conflict, that they at odds with each other. Instead, we want to seek out the ways that light and darkness work together, how they co-exist, one giving way to the other.
Dreams that Birth New Realities
In Matthew 1, there’s an account of how the birth of Jesus came about,
18His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:18b-24a)
Can you imagine being Jospeh, betrothed to someone who is now claiming to be pregnant by an act of God? As excuses go, this one had to take the cake. There’s so much for Joseph to consider here, so much to contend with. If he is like any of us, he might have started his discernment with all sort of questions, questions mostly centered in and around what’s the best possible outcome for himself. Maybe after a period of quiet reflection, Joseph could even consider what might be a good outcome for Mary too. As Jospeh considered all of his options, we should locate Joseph within his context. He lived and operated within a culture that had clear rules and regulations for what he could and could not do. The law of Moses, which ordered his religious life (and Matthew takes care to note that Joseph was a righteous man) declared that it was immoral to maintain a sexually comprised marriage. So with that mind, Jospeh decides to quietly divorce Mary. Divorcing Mary was what was considered the honorable thing to do in the face of infidelity.
Having made up his mind, he decides to sleep on it. How many of us have been invited when having a significant decision to make, to sleep on it? The wisdom here is that God often speaks to us in the darkness, in the space that gives way to our dreams. In the space where we are most receptive to God’s thoughts, wishes, and dreams for us.
It’s in the darkness, that gives way to our dreams, that God speaks to Joseph in order to birth new life. Joseph having determined to do what is expected, what is right, is invited instead by God to do what would be considered “wrong.”
Like Joseph we are invited to listen. To listen to the dreams that God gives us, especially the ones that come in the darkness–that space of confusion, brokenness, and scary-vulnerability, which can make us more open to considering the surprising possibilities God may invite us into.
Nothing is fully known in a dream, and that makes anything seem more possible. In our rational and intellectual context, we’re far more likely to wallow in the discomfort of confusion and not knowing than to even entertain the idea that we might celebrate or even notice the expanding possibilities that come with the loss of control, which the darkness that produces our dreamscapes create. Often God challenges our ideas of what’s right, what’s good, what’s important, and what’s true in the darkness that gives way to our dreams.
You see this unfold in the story of Peter.
12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:9-11:18)
It’s in a dream that God speaks to Peter about the possibility of the Gospel expanding out from among the Jews to reach the whole world. In this dream, Peter is invited to take and consume what had been forbidden for Peter to consume. In the dream, Peter resists God, reminding God of God’s own law and instruction.
You see this unfold in the story of the Magi.
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” … 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 1:7-8, 12)
After meeting with King Herod, the magi discover the child Jesus, present their gifts, and worship him. And it is in a dream that they are warned about Herod. Here they are politically/socially/geographically redirected by God from their seemingly appropriate course of action because of a dream.
And this is what God promised to do,
17“ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. (Acts 2:18)
It is here in a dream that Joseph is told that what is being birthed in Mary will be a child who will save his people from their sins. How does one wrap their mind around a dream like this? Isn’t what’s being described solely in the domain of God? But here is the truth: God invites us to partner in the salvation of ourselves and others. This happens as we begin to see our neighbors as ourselves.
Joseph wakes up and on acts on what he has learned from his dream. The darkness of the nighttime gave him both a new understanding of what was happening and new courage to act on that understanding. It’s almost as if, because a dark night, a dream is a setting in which nothing can be fully known, it’s also a setting in which anything might be possible.
I wonder if Joseph trusts this wild possibility because he’s part of a tradition in which God speaks to people in dreams and visions – and says some pretty unbelievable things. Like when God invites Abraham to look up at the night-time sky to count the stars.
4Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” 5He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6Abram believed the Lord, and he [God] credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:4-6)
Just like Abraham, Joseph decides to trust the God of darkness. Because here in the darkness, God breathes and speaks to Joseph inviting him into partnership to help save the world.
And maybe it helped that Mary also had a visitor, an angel who came to her and told her basically the same message: that her baby was from God, and that she need not be afraid. This is the truth, when God speaks about endless possibility, it isn’t something for us to possess, as verification of our special relationship with God, but of God’s intention to partner, not just with us, but with others in the God’s plan for salvation, and liberation, not just of ourselves, but for everyone. Because this is a common dream, a shared vision for humanity.
Stepping into the Darkness
When we first step out into the dark, it takes a while for our eyes to adjust before we can all the stars. So we are encouraging you to try a daily exercise of examen during Advent. This is one way for our eyes to adjust to seeing God’s presence in the light and dark of the past year.
We’ve talked before about the prayer of examen and how this can help you become familiar with God’s presence. Here’s a slightly modified seasonal version of the examen that you can try out this winter.
Take a few quiet moments every day to reflect on the day past. First, ask yourself two questions: Where was the light today? Where was the darkness today?
Then turn your attention to the Holy Spirit, and ask God a few questions. Ask, “where were you in that darkness? Where were you in that light?”
We are also encouraging you to once a week try these same questions looking back over the past year or the past few months. Hold your places of dark and light in God’s presence and ask God to show you where and how God has been with you in those times. We will have our annual gratitude celebration on December 29, and we would love to hear from you at that time about how you’ve seen God at work in the dark and in the light this year.
Joy. If you need joy, ask Him for it.
Freedom from panic attacks. Ask the Lord to reveal the roots of fear in your life. God is doing a new thing. Captivity and panic is not your inheritance, not is it your future. Freedom is your portion. The Lord will keep you safe.
Courage and new vision. The future before you may look very different than what you planned. But Jesus is still in it. The Lord wants to encourage you this morning and give you hope.
Peace. If you’re feeling restless or struggling with control, the Lord is calling you to give all of that to Him. Repent of the belief that it all depends on you. Invite Him to bring wholeness to your heart and give you the next step forward – in His timing, in His way.
Truth and security. Repent of believing the lie that you’re not good enough and forgive those who made you feel that way. The Lord is inviting you to receive and experience a deeper level of security in Him. Like a security blanket being wrapped around you: let Him be the validating voice in your life and restore your identity. Let yourself be hidden in Christ.
Provision for need. What do you need from the Lord today? Don’t be afraid to ask. He loves you.
Healing. If you are in pain of any kind, we want to pray for healing for you this morning. We have a specific word for someone who is experiencing stomachaches; chest pain.
Isaiah 61:3 – To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”
Proverbs 3:5 – Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding
Proverbs 16:3 – Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.
Nehemiah 8:10 – “… Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Matthew 7:11 – If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him
Matthew 11:28 – Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.