Sunday, December 17, 2017

Year B Advent 3 2017 Blinded by the Dark

Year B Advent 3, 17 December 2017
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Blinded by the Dark”

Collect: Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

John 1:6-8,19-28
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.” If all the world was blind, and you could see, how could you describe the gift that you have been given? How do you describe a sense that someone else does not have?

I have a dear friend that is a master of what he does. He is a craftsman beyond compare, and is nationally renowned. One day in speaking with him, he paid me a compliment saying he was envious of that skill. Surprised, humbled, flabbergasted, I looked at him and reminded him of his gift, how he can look at raw materials and from them make pieces of art and function that will live on in families for CENTURIES. I said, the way he can look at the formless and see where to take it to make art, I cannot do that. Innate in his mind and after decades of cultivating his skills he had a unique perspective, a genius if you will. He could in no way communicate to me “how” to do that, but likewise what he made comment on is incommunicado from me as well. What the other can see with no work is beyond our personal comprehension.

Now think if you were born blind. You have NEVER seen light. It is incomprehensible. You were blind at birth, and you will be blind at death. There is not a spark of light that can reach your brain through the neurological wiring to you brain. Now think of how someone could describe a sunset to you, one of those beautiful ones with more colors than there are words for, where the play of light and clouds, shadows and hues are beyond comprehension.

How would you even start? Other sense words would have to come in. Temperature words: warmth, coldness. Sound words: loud, whispering. Touch words: delicate, rigid. But the words we have fail us when we cannot even speak the same language.

How can someone who can see possibly tell a blind world about the light? Maybe that is why prophets come across as angry. Maybe they are frustrated that what is so clear and obvious to them is IMPOSSIBLE for the rest of us to experience, much less comprehend. We cannot even grasp it. The faculties required are not even present. They have to resort to metaphor and analogy, to parables and exaggeration.

This is where John found himself, a foot in two worlds. Proclaiming to all the world what he could see, and they are blind to it. Proclaiming to all the world that one is coming who is from that other place and will be describing things beyond any experience they have ever had. Awe. Wonder. Fear. Delusion. Any of those would be acceptable responses. Understandable responses.

All the prophetic voices do their best to be attentive and speak for the unseen world. Isaiah, Elijah, John here, or even Dr. Seuss’s Horton who hears the Whos. All do their best to describe with words that are beyond the ability to convey the truths they can so clearly see. Nothing could be more frustrating. Nothing could be more personally compelling.

It is imperative for us to understand darkness so that we can most fully proclaim the light.

I used to take kids into caves. I got paid to do it at the summer camp where I worked. A big part of learning to be in a cave is learning what Darkness truly is. Most of us have never, ever been truly in the Dark. At one point in most caves, you are in deep enough that the light cannot get in that far in from the surface. We use light all the time to orient ourselves. We use it to orient ourselves to our position, to the time of the day, to so many things. And while we use light, learning what it is like without it is important, too. We would get in a safe spot in the cave, and show the children darkness truly is. We turn everything off but we would leave one light on, and describe what was about to happen so they would all feel and stay safe. I would cover over my flashlight and the glow would break through my fingers. That faint glow would seem like so much soon. And then, when all was ready, we would turn out all lights, and sit in the Darkness. We could hear the drips in the cave, each others’ breathing, and sometimes even our own heartbeats. After about a minute I would invite the kids to wave their hands in front of their faces. Their brains, so conditioned to being in the light, would convince them that they could see their hands waving. I would ask them to close their eyes and do it again, and again their brains would “see,” supposedly, their hands waving. We so long for the light, that our brains fill in the blanks and convince our consciousness that we “see” even though that is impossible. Our whole bodies are designed to seek and absorb the light. I would pull out a lighter, and ask them to look toward where my voice was coming from. They would look my way, and I would strike the lighter. Having become accustomed to the dark, the individual sparks would stand out, and the flame would seem blinding. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome, comprehend, or even compete with it.

The kids would often go off and explore in the halls and nooks and crannies around where we were sitting, and I would sit there alone in the dark. I would place myself in the tunnel leading out so no one could get past me. I could hear them, and see the faint glow of their lights in the distance. After a few minutes, I could only hear them. And still I would sit there in the dark. I was not scared, I knew I had a flashlight in my hand. I was not scared, because I knew I had a lighter in my pocket. I was not scared, I knew the way back to the Light outside the cave.

Advent is the the acknowledgement that we are sitting in the Dark. And to quote Isaiah, “the people abiding in darkness have seen a great light.” (Is. 9:2) Christmas is the Dawn, the celebration that the light has come into the world. Especially when we feel that the world is dark, and that there is no light in the world, Christmas breaks in. Remember, you know the light. I trust you have seen it, felt it, and could remember it even in the darkest of times. In essence, you have a spiritual lighter in your pocket. When the world seems darkest, that means the dawn will soon be here.

I have heard from many people about troubles they are facing individually. I hear all over the hard days we are facing collectively. I would agree. But we, we must do and be different. In what we say and what we do, we must BE DIFFERENT. As Paul urged the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”

Friends I urge you, in these dark times, I urge you to “Enlighten Up!” Be a beacon, be a light. We are not the light, but we can share the light.

And to help us understand Darkness and Light, let us look a few verses before today’s text about John. From the opening verses of the Gospel of John: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot comprehend it.” And that is what we celebrate in this season. That light which cannot be overcome, cannot be comprehended, cannot even be grasped. The Greek word used here in John 1:5 is just that, an ambiguous word, κατελαβεν, KATELABEN means “grasp” & “against,” take hold of, either physically or intellectually. I love that this verse speaking of the relationship of light and dark has this ambiguous meaning. Darkness is not the equal of light, it is the antithesis of light.

Hate is not the opposite of love. Love is an intense feeling of affection, while Hate is the intense feeling of dislike. But Apathy, apathy is the opposite of love. Apathy cannot understand caring, cannot conceive of caring. Apathy cannot even compete with Love. Love is all consuming, and when we see someone in Love, we know it, we celebrate it, we honor it. When we see someone proposing, we all stop and hold our breath. When they say yes, we cheer. But Apathy is nothing, Love is everything. Darkness has the same relationship with Light. It cannot even compete. Once light has come, darkness has lost its meaning. Darkness may remain, but only in its hiding places from the light.

I have to remember that when there are dark days. I have seen the light. The light has come. Darkness cannot even compete. I hold the light. I share the light. I know that there is light even when I cannot see it. Darkness has no meaning. Darkness only remains in its hiding places from the light. The Light shines in the Darkness and the Darkness cannot even compete.

Advent is the the acknowledgement that we are sitting in the Dark. And our Joy is this, the Dawn will soon be with us. Amen.

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Blessings, Rock