ADVENT WEEK THREE – LIGHT & DARKNESS
December 15, 2019 – Pastor Vannae Savig
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 to 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. We would love to be your church home.
The New Year is just around the corner. I cannot believe how quickly 2019 has gone by. I’m sure you all have considering what your New Year’s resolution should be. Usually resolutions are about stopping bad habits or taking on new healthy habits. Well, look no further, I have a great resolution recommendation! We have multiple Sunday morning teams that are looking for people just like you. Our greeting team is a great way to meet new people and help people feel welcomed. You can serve one month on one month off. And its great if you don’t want to miss the service. Another great place to meet people and welcome people, would be the Welcome Desk. You help new people get acquainted with our space and pass out free gift cards (which automatically puts a smile on people’s faces).
This is typically a once per month commitment. You can also serve as a communion distributor. You pass out the communion during the service. Its nice because its during the service, so you don’t have to miss anything, it is pretty simple, and you get to participate in a holy moment with people. This is a once per month commitment as well. And the last place I’ll mention is being an usher. This is for all those people who would rather help out behind the scenes. You help with counting how many people are in the sanctuary during the service, with collecting and/or counting the offering, and filling up the communion cups or putting out the donuts. This is typically a 1 month on 1 month off commitment. If any of these sound like ways you’d like to serve in the New Year, please let me or any of the staff know.
So advent is upon us and we are in our advent sermon series about light and darkness. As Pastor Donnell and Pastor Marissa have said over the past few weeks, our theme for Advent this year is “Light and Darkness.”The inspiration for our theme comes from Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark.” Scripture often focuses on God’s light and that has led to the belief that light is the source of goodness and hope. This belief implies darkness is not wanted or needed, it is something to get rid of, or that God is not even present in the dark. Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, helps us to reimagine our understanding of darkness, primarily how Christianity heavily relies on the idea that light as good and darkness is bad. Often times, many of us when we hear the word “darkness” we think about being frightened, or that darkness symbolizes evil, sin and dark spiritual forces. This is not the darkness we are talking about in this series. We are proposing the pair of light and dark can exist together in balance, not opposition. Taylor asks, “What can light possibly mean without dark?” God shows up in the darkness. Like in Genesis 15, when God tells Abram to go out into the darkness and count the stars. That he will have as many descendants as there are stars. God is there in the darkness. And in that darkness God can offer surprises.
Today I am reading from Luke chapter 2, we’ll be reading about shepherds learning that Jesus is born. But first, I’d like to set the scene a bit about what it’s like to be a shepherd back then in the Middle East. The duties of a shepherd in open country like Palestine were very difficult. In early morning they led the flock from the fold, walking ahead to find the spot where they sheep are to be pastured. The shepherds would watch the sheep all day. Making sure none of them strayed, and leading them to water, be it a well or a stream. At night they brought the flock home to the fold, counting them as they passed under the rod at the door to assure themselves that none were missing. A shepherd’s work wasn’t necessarily done at when night fall came. Shepherds would take turns sleeping throughout the night to keep watch over their flocks. Imagine laying down on the hills after a long day of work, watching the stars, and resting. The whole world is quiet, the sheep are sleeping. They are probably pretty familiar with the darkness. There was a comfortability with the darkness, a peacefulness. But on this seemingly ordinary night shift, the night offered a surprise. This night, that seemed like any other night, offered hope.
Luke 2:2-14 New International Version (NIV)
2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
On this night, light pierced the darkness – “the glory of the Lord shone around them” – and it terrified them. It was unexpected; it was surprising; it was intense! And they became the next ones to receive the message that keeps being repeated in this Advent story, “Do not be afraid.” All the characters with major roles in this story are visited at some point by angels and told not to be afraid. Joseph heard it in his dream; Mary heard it in her vision. Now the shepherds hear it out in their fields. It always begs the question, is this a scary story? Like, if I didn’t know that this was going to end well, would I be freaking out the way everyone else does when they see and angel? I mean I’m trying to imagine what it must feel like to have an angelic visitation, and I imagine it’s pretty startling. And every time the angels tell their listeners not to be afraid, the next thing they are told a plot twist or surprise. Joseph worries Mary’s pregnancy is a sign of her unfaithfulness to him; the angel tells him it’s actually a sign of her blessing from God. Mary fears the angel’s presence, uncertain why she’d be visited by God’s messenger and imagining it to be nothing good; the angel reassures her it’s a sign of favor, of God’s delight in her. The shepherds cower when the light floods their field that night; they think this visit is a bad one, that the angel brings “good news of great joy!” And the angel announces not so far away, under that same dark sky, a baby was born who would be the Savior. “Things are not what they seem” is news that can be comforting or unsettling, wonderful or terrible, depending, of course, on how things seem. But in a world where we’ve come to so easily associate light and dark with good and bad, it can be important to remind ourselves God shows up in everything: the dark night cradles the baby Jesus; the light piercing it displays God’s glory; the shepherds are invited to witness all of it. Surprising good news is all around.
It seems as if God is seeing those who are up late at night wondering where He is, and longing to see Him. God is honoring those who are longing for Him in the darkness. A while back, I was having a very hard year and trying desperately to see where God was in all of the hard things I was going through. I had a night that I just couldn’t fall asleep. I was thinking a lot, so I got up and went to sit in the living room in the darkness. And I felt led to pray and worship. I felt like I just got this nice private time with Lord in the darkness. I cried out to Him and just set in His presence in the dark, quiet, and peace of my living room. God showed up for me in the darkness. It was so very surprising!
God is everywhere and in everything. He can surprise us by showing up in the dark moments, the moments when we’re feeling vulnerable or confused, or just wondering where he is, just as much as he is with us in the light. The Shepherds, Joseph, and Mary all experienced the surprises and hope God can give in the darkness. God can reveal himself in surprising places and in ways we weren’t expecting or realizing we were needing.
A friend of mine says she has a journal of times that God surprised her and showed up for her. She said that often times when she’s feeling far away from God, or not seeing Him, she looks back at her entries in the journal as sees time and time again when God showed up in the dark spaces. Darkness can put you in a place of vulnerability. You know when you walk into your home, and it’s dark outside, and you’re groping around in the dark for the light switch? You are vulnerable, you don’t have control cause you can’t really see anything, you’re just hoping to find the switch soon. And if you’re anything like me, there’s a huge chance you will trip over something, which create quite the humbling experience.
God is with us in the dark moments and as much as the light ones. He offers His hand, and walks along side of us. In this day and age we are used to technology being the answer to ease our burdens. But when we are trying to figure out where God is when we are uncertain, is not as simple as turning on a light or googling something. We need to take time to recognize the times that God was with us, present with us, breathing in the darkness ready to turn chaos into order again. The next time you’re outside at night camping or star gazing think about how darkness can teach humility and dependence on the Lord. Like the shepherds during their night shift, God can surprise us as we wait on Him.
Let me tell one final story. When I first moved here I was quite overwhelmed. I moved across the country, bought our first house, started a new job, and was here without my family for a month. I felt vulnerable, confused, stressed, and really not seeing God in things. And then God surprised me! I drive to my new house and am waiting for the painter to come and walk through the colors we had picked and such. When the painter walks in, I think he simply asked, “How are you?” and I broke down crying. I ended up telling this complete stranger all the things that were overwhelming me. He told me that he was a part time chaplain and he listened and prayed for me. The painter reminded me of who God is and all that He has done, and will do in my life. I knew this was God being present in the darkness. God surprised me during an overwhelming and confusing time, by offering unexpected moment of someone responding compassionately with so much more grace I would ever hope from a stranger.
Each week we have been encouraging you all 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. But this is a slightly different prayer of examen. 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?” I would also encourage you maybe once a week or so to 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.
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.