All I Could Say

A Sermon for Advent 3, after the shootings in Newton, CO
For the story, the room was darkened, and candles were lit at the end of the story, and again with each repeated line from the Gospel of John. 

What then, should we do? John the Baptist and all the prophets of Advent have reminded us – though none of us need the reminder this week – that the world is not as it should be. In the face of hard realities, the people in the wilderness ask questions: What should we do? Who are you really? Are you the one who will bring change to the world?

These questions maybe aren’t so different from the ones we have been asking since Friday morning, when the violent tragedy in Connecticut – and the shootings at an Oregon mall – ended the lives of so many children and adults. Sometimes, questions are the only response, the only prayer, we know how to offer. How? Why? How could someone do such violence? How did he get in? How – Why did this happen?

Questions are part of tragedy and loss, and the grasping for answers is a way of dealing with the shock, the emotions of grief. We are not alone in our questions. The people of God have been seeking – even demanding – answers for thousands of years:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me for ever?

How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I have perplexity in my mind, and grief in my heart, day after day?  Psalm 13:1-2

Return, O LORD; how long will you tarry? Be gracious to your servants.Psalm 90:13

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?   Habakkuk 1:2

Some of these questions have no answers, and maybe never will. Some of our questions are simply lament – crying out to God when crying is the only prayer that makes sense. Every once in a while, the questions are the way forward. On Friday afternoon, my friend Joanna asked this question:

how do we keep on keeping ourselves open, brave, and tender in a world in which things like this can happen? 

Christians, among others, tell some of our deepest truth in stories. So, once upon a time, a mother and father lived with their three sons in a cabin in the woods. As the couple got older, they began to wonder which son they should leave in charge of their home. They came up with a simple test: Whoever could fill the house would inherit the home. Each son had one day, from sunset to sunset, to fill the small home. The first son loved to paint and create art. He worked all night creating new paintings and hanging his work to fill the space. At the end of the day, though the house was beautifully decorated, it was really only about half full. The second son, who loved books, spent his day carrying and stacking books. At the end of the day, the family enjoyed his great library of stories and knowledge, but the house was really only about two-thirds full.

On the third day, the youngest son who was quiet in nature, seemed less busy. His parents worried that he might not participate at all. But at the end of the day, just as the sun set, he invited the family into the house and lit the candles he had placed around the room. The house was full, of the warm glow of candle light. The youngest son inherited the home, and as far as we know, lives there still with his brothers.

In other words, in perhaps more familiar words, here is the only answer I have found to Joanna’s question:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

 The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

The only answer I have found – though its not a simple answer – in how to keep open and brave and tender is to practice light.

In the wilderness of Advent – when trees are bare and there is more darkness in the world, and now, after this week, it seems like there is more darkness that people ought to bear – in this wilderness, John the Baptist stands and calls us to live for the Light.

What then are we to do? We listen to John’s words, calling ourselves and one another to turn towards light: to be generous with our resources and our compassion, to be honest and fair in our daily work, and to shun greed and violence and all the ways we see fellow children of God as something to be used instead of people to be loved.

We grieve and cry together. We pray and sing and give. We who are able hold the light of Christ for those who are too burdened to carry it for themselves. We hold on to hope – the kind of hope demands that we turn whatever we can around, to work for that which we hope for. We practice the ways of God, who wipes away all tears, and abides in peace that moves beyond understanding.

In a short while, our church school will help up practice light by celebrating St. Lucia, whose very name means “light.”

St. Lucy’s day is December 13th – the anniversary of our church. You’ll hear more of her story in a while, but the feast of St. Lucia is especially important in Sweeden, where winters are long and dark. At the darkest time of year, children dress up and bring light in the darkness, sharing food with their families and with those in need.

The saint who shares our birthday is celebrated for bringing light into darkness. The Christ we worship and the Christ are waiting for is the light in the darkness, and God calls us to be light to the world as well. Light may not seem enough – maybe even isn’t enough – to fill the spaces left by grief and violence and disaster. But light shining in the darkness– and the hope it brings – is the gift we have, the story we tell, and life we prepare for in Advent, at Christmas, and throughout our lives as Christians. May God give us the open hearts, tender souls, and brave actions needed to live in the light.


About mommymergent

Joyfully living as momma to Miss Bliss, serving the Episcopal Church as priest, and reluctantly becoming part of the mysterious emergent church
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