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Category Archives: Epistles

Blessed Foolishness

(a sermon for February 2, 2020, the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, based on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

I strongly suspect that within each one of us there exists a desire to be thought of as… wise. That is to say, as one who is considered by others to be intelligent and knowledgeable about things; as someone who’s mature and discerning and filled with all manner of insight.

And on the face of it, there’s certainly nothing wrong that that (!); after all, as it says in the book of Proverbs, it is “the LORD [who] gives wisdom, [and it is] from his mouth [that comes] knowledge and understanding.” (6:2) So to want to be thought of as wise would seem to be a laudable pursuit in life. However, that said, it should be added that one must take care in this endeavor; for wisdom, like beauty, is very often in the eye of the beholder.

I remember once toward the end of my first year of seminary, I happened to be in attendance at a student and faculty reception; a “meet and greet” with the graduation speaker that year.  And as is more or less required in an event like that, together with a couple other of my classmates, I was making my way toward my Old Testament and Hebrew professor – Dr. Stephen Szikszai – to say hello and to meet our seminary’s guest.  Now, to be honest, I was never particularly comfortable in a setting such as that, so my hope was to get in and out of there as quickly and smoothly as possible.  But Dr. Szikszai, God rest his soul, would have none of that; he greeted me from halfway across the room with the same rich and booming Hungarian voice that students at Bangor had long both respected and feared: “Ah!  Here ist vun of my Hebrew scholars now – Meester Lowry!”

Even all these years later, I cannot begin to describe to you how that hit me: he called me Hebrew Scholar!  Michael Lowry: seminarian, pastor, and… Hebrew Scholar!  I’ve got to tell you, that sounded pretty good!  I remember to this day what an immediate ego boost that was.  I mean, I’d had no idea that Dr. Szikszai thought of me that way; I was a pretty good student, I guess, but a Hebrew scholar?  Hey, this was great!  Of course, the thing about a comment like that is that you don’t want to be all puffed up about it – you at least want to appear humble – so I just said, “Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that…” In retrospect, I guess my feeble attempt at humility didn’t really come through, because to this Dr. Szikszai replied, “Dun’t get carried away, Meester Lowry.  Being a scholar does not make you smart!”

Alas, it as a glory short-lived, but oh, so sweet!

Now, I’m not sure if Dr. Szikszai intended for that to be a “teachable moment,” but nonetheless in that rather humbling experience there was a profound lesson to be learned; and not simply that generally speaking, “we’re not as smart as we might think we are!” It’s also that true wisdom is a relative thing, and in many ways might actually have to do with more than one’s course load and academic standing!  The seeds of wisdom might well be nurtured through the proper accumulation of knowledge, perception, intuition and decisiveness; but its harvest comes in knowing how it’s to be used and when!  As one of my seminary classmates said to me at the time, presumably to offer me some small amount of comfort in the face of that minor humiliation, “Don’t worry… it’s not that you’re smart that counts; it’s how you’re smart!”

Oh, well; lesson learned!  What’s interesting about all of this, though, is that the world in which we live actually has some very clear definitions as to what constitutes intelligence and wisdom, and so often it’s equated with other matters of life and living: things like guts, and courage. and the survival of the fittest; the ability to come out on top in a “dog eat dog” world, where might makes right and nice guys finish last. In the words of Scott Hoezee, of Calvin Seminary in Michigan, “This is the way the world works, true enough.  And if you are scrappy and brave and are willing to claw your way to the top of the ladder – no matter how many little people you have to step over along the way – you can and you will achieve success as defined by the wisdom of the age and the savvy of the most intelligent among us.  This is very simply how to get things done” in this world and in this life.

In this world, perhaps; but in what is the good news of our text for this morning, it’s is most decidedly not the case with God… for ours in the God who has “made foolish the wisdom of the world.”

You know, one of the things that has always moved me about this particular epistle, Paul’s first to the Church in the ancient Greek city of Corinth, is that it is in fact addressed to a people who were at once diverse and deeply divided as a Christian community.  The truth is that these Corinthians spent as much time bickering with one another as they did on matters of spirituality, and the irony was that what they bickered over the most was over who was the most spiritual!  Never mind that they were each and all “called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of [the] Lord Jesus Christ,” who Paul refers to as “both their Lord and ours;” it’s that they have these factions within the Church of Corinth had these very different ideas about what that all meant.  And since they were given to a whole lot of one-upmanship and a great deal of pretention, a whole lot of this pretty much came down to who, as regards life and faith, could be counted wise – that is to say, the wisest – amongst them!

So into this debate comes Paul, reminding the Corinthians and us that the true meaning and understanding of our Christian faith will never be discerned through human thought and wisdom precisely because “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom;” and that divine foolishness “destroy[s] the wisdom of the wise” and thwarts the discernment of the discerning; to quote Scott Hoezee once again, proclaiming these “mysteries of God that all coalesce around the cross of Jesus Christ,” this message that  “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved… is the power of God.”  

The ways of worldly wisdom have to do with logic and correctness and power; but that’s not how it is with God nor is it the way of salvation.  No, writes Hoezee, “here God upends it all.  We are not saved by power but by weakness.  We are not saved by worldly wisdom but by apparent folly.”  It’s the whole world – and everything we ever thought we understood about it – being turned upside down and inside out; and it all happening because of the cross, “the ignominious, shameful, accursed death of God’s own Son that the shining effulgence of all this counter-wisdom burst forth… the darkest moment in human history that led to the light… the death that led to life.”  The cross shows us the wisdom of God like nothing else ever could; but along with that, there’s something else: in the process we learn to live with the kind of wisdom that comes in a life of faith.

Speaking of my seminary days, I’m reminded here of a class in which one of my fellow seminarians was asked to present a paper about his own personal journey of faith – in other words, to tell the story of how he came to a belief in Christ and a sense of being called to the Christian ministry — but as soon became very evident, this man’s paper was an attempt to prove God’s existence through a series of interconnected mathematical proofs!   Now, you need to understand that this particular classmate had come to seminary after having already had a career as a mathematician and college professor.  I can also tell you that his hypothesis about God was clearly brilliant; and we knew this because he went on for over 15 minutes, and not a one of us understood a single word he said! But here’s what I remember: when he was finally done, the professor (who was very kind indeed) asked the student, “And what conclusion did you reach from this?”  And, after a long and painfully uncomfortable silence, all this student could do was shrug his shoulders, grin a sheepish grin and say, “I don’t know!” 

You see, try as we might, our human wisdom, however extensive or accumulated, can neither define nor direct our knowledge and understanding of God; neither can it ultimately serve to formulate the priorities and doctrines of a life grounded in faith!  In fact, it’s just the opposite:  true faith means living out of that place between our human wisdom and God’s blessed foolishness, this foolishness which “is wiser than human wisdom;”this overarching awareness that our strength and our hope, our joy and our peace, all that which is good and blessed about our lives, and indeed life itself comes to us “in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

It’s this blessed foolishness that as Paul says (himself quoting from the eloquent words of the prophet in Isaiah 29:14) “destroy[s] the wisdom of the wise” and thwarts “the discernment of the discerning.”  And it is what makes us who we are as believers and, might I add, as the church of Jesus Christ… and if you don’t believe that, “consider your own call, brothers and sisters.”

Actually, there’s a little bit of, shall we say, a comeuppance in Paul’s words that were not entirely unlike that which I received from Dr. Szikszai! Remember, these Corinthian Christians prided themselves on the depth and superiority of their own wisdom as regards matters of spirituality and faith; and yet, Paul is very quick here to poke a hole in their inflated egos: “Consider your own call,” he says.  “…not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the strong.”  Or, if I can use the version that’s set for in The Message, “Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose those ‘nobodies’ to  expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies?’”  God chose what is low and despised in the world so that “none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God.”  (Don’t you love that?  I can hear the Corinthians now: “Well, thanks a lot, Paul… I guess…”)  But that’s the nature of God’s blessed foolishness: that it’s those who in the view of society are foolish, weak and low who come to know the true wisdom of God; and through whom God’s reign is established!

In Christ, you see, true wisdom is always going to be imbued with a sense of humility and lowliness that will set you apart from the rest of the world every time.   It will indeed, at times, lead you to be reviled, and persecuted and looked upon by the world as weak and foolish; and if you’ve ever had occasion where you’ve stood firm and opposed to others on some issue because of faith, then you may well know what I’m talking about.  And yet, if you look around at any real change that happens in this world, the kind of loving action that transforms human life and moves society a bit closer to the kingdom of God, that’s where you’re going to find someone who was willing to foolishly divest themselves of the kind of kind of power and prestige borne of human wisdom.  That’s the place where, as in the utter foolishness borne of the cross, you will see great wisdom, true sacrifice, and a world being saved.  Jacques Ellul actually says this very well when he writes that “in the world everyone wants to be a wolf, and no one is called to pay the part of the sheep.  Yet the world cannot live without this living witness of sacrifice.”  It is the mandate of true wisdom, writes Ellul, that “Christians must offer the daily sacrifice of their lives, which is united with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”

And as I said before, it is such sacrifice – the stuff of holy and divine blessed foolishness – that makes us who we are as Christians, you and me; and not only that, it’s what calls us forth as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May it truly be said of each one of us, beloved, that today and every day, in everything we did, we willingly and joyfully embraced that foolishness, all for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, in whom and through whom comes all of our wisdom.

Thanks be to God. 

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2020 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

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On the Way to the Holy Night: A Gospel of Peace

(a sermon for December 8, 2019, the 2nd Sunday of Advent; second in a series, based on Isaiah 11:1-10 and Romans 15:4-13)

Along the edge of our backyard at the parsonage is a fairly straight row of four or five very small pine trees.

Now, I don’t know if those trees had been intentionally planted there, either by our neighbor or perhaps one of the previous residents of our home, or if they’re there simply by virtue of nature’s own gracious silviculture; but I have to tell you that those little pine trees have long been an endless source of fascination for me.  For you see, when we moved in to the parsonage seven-plus years ago now, those pine trees were just the tiniest of saplings barely poking out of the soil; and I’ve been watching them grow ever since.

And the thing is, by my reckoning not a single one of those trees should even exist, much less continue, as it has, to grow taller and stronger from year to year!  To begin with, the soil isn’t all that great out there, and that particular spot doesn’t get a whole lot of sunshine; we’re barely able to make grass grow because it’s usually overrun by moss, not to mention surrounded by a fair number of other trees and the random incursion of an invasive plant species.  Moreover, whenever it rains to excess around here, especially when snow melts in the spring, that whole area floods quickly and easily; and I can personally vouch for the fact that over the years those trees have, however unintentionally, have nonetheless pretty much been mowed, raked and leaf-blown to within an inch of their very lives!  Simply put, there’s not a single reason that any of those little pine trees should even have survived (!) this long given everything they’ve been through; but in fact, they’ve thrived and much to my surprise little by little they just keep right on growing! And yes, I must confess here that I do find myself wondering what those trees might look like in another, say, 10 or 20 or even 50 years or so; because if those trees are growing this well now even as they’ve been forced push their way through all manner of environmental adversity, just imagine how tall and strong they’re going to be when in fullness they become all that God has created them to be… I mean, life being what it is I might not see it come to pass, but someone will; and when it happens, won’t it be amazing?

I’ve been reminded of those pine trees this week as I’ve been thinking about that opening verse of our Old Testament text for this morning from the 11th chapter of Isaiah, one that’s often heard especially in these days of Advent:  “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its roots.”

On the face of it, it’s an image not unfamiliar to those of us who dwell in this part of the world: a tiny seedling pushing out into the sunlight through the twisted rubble of blown down trees out deep in the woods; or else winding in and out of the crevices of old stone fences and glacial rocks.  Isaiah’s image of a green shoot sprouting out of an old, dead tree stump paints a perfect picture of life defiantly carrying on amidst all manner of adversity; it represents the good news of a promise made and how that promise will be, in due season, fulfilled.   But as Isaiah puts forth the vision, that’s only the beginning: Isaiah then continues on with all those beautiful and oh, so familiar images of wolves living with lambs, bears and cows eating side by side, “the calf and the lion and the fatling together, [with] a little child [leading] them;” the same child, presumably, who now can safely play around venomous snakes!

This is the vision that’s long been referred to as “the peaceable kingdom” and it’s the stuff of many a Christmas card;   but let’s be honest here: as we understand “nature’s way,” friends, it’s also a pretty unlikely vision!  Let’s face it: in this real world in which we live predators and prey generally do not co-exist all that well, lions are anything but vegetarian, and by and large there’s no toddler who has ever or would ever be allowed to “play over the hole of the asp.”  To quote the Rev. Dr. Janet Hunt, a Lutheran pastor and blogger out of Illinois, the truth is that in Isaiah’s vision, “the stakes are too high.  The consequence too great.  It is in the very nature of the snake to strike, the wolf to feast, the lion to enjoy a regular meal of red meat… like it or not, it is the natural order of things for the menagerie Isaiah describes.”  It’s one thing, after all, to suggest that there might be a fresh branch or two growing out of a composting stump, bringing forth at least a modicum of hope amidst adversity; but a world where life should utterly prevail against every possible peril, to say nothing of a triumph over that so-call “natural order of things” that regularly seems work against its very survival?  To live in a world so radically upended that love and care is the first order of all things…

…well, that’s just… that’s just… the Gospel (!)… which, by the very definition of the word, is good news, indeed.

Or, as it’s expressed in the words of the song, “Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace.”

Actually, there’s much more to this vision of a “peaceable kingdom” than just the idea of lions and lambs sharing the same living space; and it begins with realizing that just prior to where we started reading this morning, we’re told that God, with “terrifying power” will have cut down the tallest of trees and that “the lofty will be brought low.” (10:33) “He will hack down the thickets of the forest with an ax,” says Isaiah, “and Lebanon with its majestic trees will fall.”  So immediately there’s some context for the kind of natural growth that’s described in what we’ve read today; but there’s even more happening there than just that.

Historically speaking, you see, the nation of Israel had already been split into two kingdoms; the northern kingdom, which had been captured by the Assyrians, and the southern kingdom of Judah which had been defeated by the Babylonians with the people taken into captivity.  For the most part, both Israel and Judah were now being led by ineffective and often corrupt leaders; any sense of equity or justice (if you could even call it that) was selective and arbitrary at best; and there was little conviction toward personal righteousness, nor any commitment to their faith or of worship, for the people had often and repeatedly turned from the Lord. It was for God’s people a time in which there was no true awareness of God’s shalom, that is, the whole peace of God (and by that we’re not merely referring to the absence of war but also the wholeness of life and living – health, prosperity, companionship, joy, and on and on – all of which is borne out of a deeper relationship with God.  So without that it’s most certainly a time of hopelessness and deep despair… and yet it’s in the very midst of this agony – with the nation of Judah left in ruins, the land and forests devastated and gone – that Isaiah’s vision is proclaimed: this soaring, wonderful vision of what God was about to do; a sure and certain promise of a bright future and of true peace.

And it’s a promise that starts with a ruler: one on whom “the spirit of the LORD shall rest,” and one who will most certainly be of the house and lineage of King David.  He will have “the spirit of wisdom and understanding… of counsel and might… of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.”   “With righteousness he shall judge the poor.”   As The Message goes on to translate it, “He’ll judge the needy by what is right, render decisions on earth’s poor with justice…” – and I love this – “…each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots, and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.”  He will be Israel’s true Messiah – the one who, as Isaiah reports elsewhere, shall be named “Immanuel,” (7:14) which means “God with us” – who alone will be the one who is able to bring forth this “impossible possibility” of a peaceable kingdom to the world. In him, says Isaiah, this vision of “the earth [being] full of the knowledge of the Lord” will in due season become reality.

What we’re told here, you see, what we’re promised, is that in the end life… and true peace… will prevail.

Of course, we’re still waiting for that promise to be fulfilled… but then, I didn’t need to tell you that, did I?  The fact is that you and I live in a world that’s far removed from the vision of a peaceable kingdom, and in a time where on any given day, there’s news of yet another shooting, another act of terror, another episode of abuse and degradation, another example of neglect for the least and lowest in the world, and yet another instance of those who would employ the rhetoric of love only to justify attitudes and behaviors that are rife with anger and hatred.  Isaiah’s vision of the world dwelling in a true and living knowledge of the Lord remains as hopeful as it is glorious, but the sad truth is that it just doesn’t exist in our reality; or at least not yet.

But then that’s kind of the point of this advent season, isn’t it: an understanding – a lamentation, if you will — that all that we hope for in this world hasn’t happened… yet… but nonetheless continuing our hope-filled proclamation that it will in due season, because the Lord has promised it will be so.  And so we wait and watch and get ready for its coming.

This is what makes us “advent people,” beloved; this inner knowledge that the reality we are experiencing all around us is not the final reality of things.  I’m reminded here of a wonderful piece from a few years back written for the Christmas season by Garrison Keillor, in which he lamented the sorry state of the world but then added that faith was now more important than ever.  “What else will do except faith in such a cynical, corrupt time?” Keillor asked. “When the country goes temporarily to the dogs, cats must learn to be circumspect… to walk on fences and sleep in trees, and have faith that all this woofing they hear is not the last word.”

I love that; because as “advent people,” we faithfully affirm that the current reality we see and hear around us – all the tragic woofing of warfare, hatred and rampant injustice – is not the last word, but rather we proclaim, boldly and joyfully, that the final word belongs to God in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who has truly taught us to love one another, the one whose law is love, and whose gospel is peace.  It’s also a reminder to us, I think – as we heard in our Epistle reading this morning, from Romans – that since “by steadfastness and the encouragement of scriptures we… have hope,” it follows that we should live out of that same kind of steadfastness and encouragement, living “in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together [we] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  In other words, if his law is love and his gospel peace, so it should also be ours as well: seeking to live our lives with the spirit of true wisdom and understanding; letting the decisions we make for ourselves and our world be girded with the benefit of good counsel and loving strength; and letting ou first priority be that we welcome one another – no matter who that “other” happens to be – as we ourselves have been welcomed: peaceably, with all the wholeness of God’s peace and of his grace, and ever and always after the manner of a child.

In one sense, I suppose, it might seem like kind of an inconsequential effort when measured against the overwhelming nature of the world’s realities.  Then again, as we’re already noticed in the advent candles, every newly lit candle adds just that m 2019  uch more light into the room.  Likewise, as you and I seek in anticipation of Christ’s coming to live unto his gospel of peace, suddenly we begin to experience how the old realities give way to a new and living vision, a marvelous and miraculous foretaste of how the future will be by God’s promise and plan. That makes all the difference as we move forward, beloved, because then we will be living “as if” it’s already come to pass… until that blessed moment of triumph when it does!

And that… will be amazing!

So, as our Advent waiting continues and we keeping making our way, ever closer, to the Holy Night of Bethlehem, let our prayer be the same as that which himself prayed as a blessing unto the Christians at Rome, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

And, always, may our thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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On the Way to the Holy Night: A Thrill of Hope

(a sermon for December 1, 2019, the 1st Sunday of Advent; first in a series, based on Isaiah 9:2-9 and Romans 13:11-14)

At a time of the year that is so traditionally bathed in all manner of light I’ve always found it interesting, and quite telling, that the season of Advent (and the celebration of Christmas that it anticipates) begins in darkness.

Not that that our modern world leaves a whole lot of room for darkness: being a lover of all things Christmas related, I’ve also taken notice that whereas most people used to wait until at least the day after Thanksgiving to light up their outdoor Christmas displays these days it’s not unusual to see Santa and his reindeer all lit up and “ready to glow” mid-way through November! In fact, when I was in Maine a few weeks back just after Halloween, I was driving down this back country road at just around dusk, came around this corner and by golly (!) there was this house with its yard filled to overflowing with inflatables and twinkling lights!  Too early?  Yes, probably… and too much?  Well, all I’ll say is “to each their own.”  Mostly, though, I feel about this the way I do about playing Christmas music “early;” like it’s such a short season to enjoy Christmas lights, so why not?  And besides, in these times in which we live who wouldn’t agree with the sentiment expressed in that song of the season, “we need a little Christmas, right this very minute… we may be rushing things but deck the halls again now!”  So I say, have at it… and Merry Christmas!

I will have to say, however, that over the years I’ve come to appreciate the notion that where Christmas lights are concerned, less is sometimes more and in the process makes, if you will, an “enlightening” statement of faith.  Years ago, back in my student pastor days, I spent more than a few December nights driving back from seminary classes, quite often along those back roads, and it’s funny what things you always remember: there was this farmhouse up toward Grindstone, Maine, set back from the road at the end of a long stretch of woods; where the people who lived there had taken an “understated approach” to their holiday decorating.  By that I mean they’d simply strung some colored lights around a waist-high evergreen tree and let it glow in the midst of the winter darkness.  Nothing unusual, I know; except that this little Christmas tree stood a long way apart from the house and barn, out in the pasture; at least a couple hundred yards away, if not more.  And that, of course, ignited my curiosity:  why had they done that?  Why wasn’t this Christmas tree standing closer to the farmhouse or out by the barn? Had they actually gone to all the trouble of stringing an extension cord that far out?  Was this a Christmas tree intended for this farmer’s herd of dairy cows or had it been set there for the pleasure of passing white tailed deer? I tell you, the possibilities of it staggered the imagination (!), and I was sorely tempted to pull in to this farmhouse, knock on their front door and ask the people who lived there to tell me all about it!

But as I thought further about it, it began to make perfect sense that they’d put their Christmas tree way out there in the middle of a darkened pasture; because this would most certainly be a spot where the brilliance of those lights could shine most prominently, piercing through the winter darkness and unalloyed by any and all distractions of the world surrounding it. Or, maybe the family in that house just wanted to be able to look out their living room window and simply bask in the beauty and wonder of a Christmas tree!  All I know is that this little tree immediately became an advent parable for me, the affirmation of a divine promise fulfilled and a reminder that no matter how dark it may have seemed to be, “the people who walked in darkness [had] seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light [had] shined.”

A thrill of hope, and a cause of rejoicing in a dark and weary world.

It’s important, I think, to take note of the fact that the season of Advent which begins this morning is not to be thought of as merely as a “Countdown to Christmas.”  This isn’t to say that these four weeks aren’t about waiting and watching for something to happen – after all, our very word “advent” comes from the Latin adventus which means “coming” – but there’s more to these four weeks of the Christian year than simply getting ready for December 25 to come.  Moreover, even though Advent is certainly about a symbolic waiting for the coming of the Christ child in the manger of Bethlehem, making room in our hearts for this wondrous gift of God given 2,000 years ago, it’s about even more than that.  The season of advent is also about a gift that is yet to come: our waiting for Christ’s return in glory and that moment when God’s amazing vision for his creation comes to full fruition; for that time when all that we have yearned for in faith and hope finally becomes a reality in the world and in our lives.  As we regularly proclaim in our times of communion, this is about the “mystery and wonder of our Christian faith” manifest in the sure and certain promise that “Christ will come again.”

Ultimately, you see, it’s this “coming” for which you and I are waiting and watching and preparing.  Author and New Testament scholar J.R. Daniel Kirk actually refers to this as seeing “the coming of Christ in double-exposure: looking forward to the second coming Christ in the future even as we look forward to celebrating the first going of Christ that lies in the past.”  But just as our “Way to the Holy Night” of Christmas Eve and Day begins not with shepherds, wise men or a heavenly chorus but rather with Isaiah’s promise of great light in a darkened world, so you and I who are dwelling in the midst of our own darkness also await, as the song says, “the breaking of a new and glorious morn.”

But make no mistake… that day is coming soon, and very soon.  In the words of our text for this morning, “the night is far gone, the day is near.”

In truth of fact, this relatively brief passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans amounts to what the Rev. Susan Eastman of Duke Divinity School refers to as an affirmation that “as Christians we are all ‘morning people.’”  Yes, it’s dark now, but “the time is just before dawn, the sky is brightening, the alarm is ringing, day is at hand.  It is time to rouse our minds from slumber, to be alert to what God is doing in the world, and to live in accordance with God’s coming salvation.”  “You know what time it is,” writes Paul, “how it is the moment for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.”  In other words, we know what God has already done in Jesus Christ; we know how the people who walked in darkness saw a great light, and we know that it will be so for us as well and that this light is very, very near to us indeed!  We are not people of the night; we are the people on whom light has shined, the ones for whom a child was born, the one who is named “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  We are the ones who have been given salvation and the true light of life through the Lord Jesus Christ, and we are ones who, soon and very soon, will know the full and brilliant light of his glory; so, says Paul, as we await that moment in its fullness “let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices… for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

Now, what’s interesting here about Paul’s advent promise of light is that it immediately connects it to, shall we say, a more ethical and moral stance in life.  “Let us live honorably as in the day,” says Paul, or as The Message bluntly translates it, “we can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight.” (One thing can be said for certain, friends: no matter what the translation of scripture happens to be, friends, nobody can ever accuse Paul of sugar-coating its truth!)  The point here is that if we are truly people of the light, then we need to live unto the fullness of God’s promises in the here and now so that our hearts might be truly ready for the day of wonder that is coming soon.  And the time for this is now; for you see, the darkness is passing into daylight and a new age is dawning.  So it behooves us, as believers and as true “advent people,” quoting The Message once again, that we need to “get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute.  Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!”

Seems to me that’s not only a pretty good way to start out on our way to the Holy Night of Bethlehem, but also a clear directive as to living out our Christian faith in this twilight time between the darkness of these days and the “not yet but soon to come” great light of a new day.

There’s so much I love about this sacred season and most especially in the traditions of worship that we share together in this place, beginning with lighting the advent candles of hope, peace, joy, love.  I love how from week to week as we light those candles “advent-ually” (!) we have this full circle of light that, with the addition of the light of the Christ Candle on Christmas Eve, becomes the light that gets passed from person to person in thanks and praise for God’s light coming into this world in the guise of a child.  It’s one of the most beautiful and powerful times we share as a worshipping congregation, and I have to say that not only is it one of my favorite parts of Christmas, pastorally speaking it’s probably my favorite moment of the entire year, singing “Silent Night” and watching this sanctuary go from relative darkness to one filled with the glow of candlelight.  I love it because it’s the culmination of this advent journey we’ve taken to the manger of Bethlehem and the gift that’s been given us there; but I also love it because in the larger sense, it represents the great and holy light that has shone into the deep darkness of life and living, as well as a potent reminder that though even now that darkness can seem overwhelming to us to the point of seeming rather hopeless at times, nonetheless “the night is far gone, the day is near,” and in the advent of Christ there is a thrill of hope as the weary world rejoices… and in the process the pathway toward a new and better and blessed life opens up before us.

This light of HOPE and the thrill it brings is ours, yours and mine, beloved; and so, as our advent journey “on the way to the Holy Night” begins… so “let us [truly] lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

And as we do, may our thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN.

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

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