December 16, 2012

The Light Shines in the Darkness

Advent 3, Year C, RCL
December 16, 2012
Two days after 28 people, including 20 children, were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.
Click here for the audio.

I wish I had a different message for you this morning. I really do. As a matter of fact, I did have a completely different sermon written and ready. I even kind of liked it.
And then Friday happened. And whatever I had written on those pages didn’t matter so much anymore.
Friday, December 14th, 2012, was a dark day. It will be a day that punched each of us right in the gut and left each of us and our nation changed. We don’t have to know someone directly to be impacted by Friday’s events. Each of knows an elementary school student, an educator, a school faculty member, a police officer, a firefighter, an EMT, or an emergency room professional. We have someone, or probably several someones, like that in our own lives, and even in this room right now.
When moments like Friday’s unspeakable tragedy crash into our lives, we want there to be some sort of justice for the fallen, some sort of punishment for the perpetrator of the crime, some sort of something to make it right. We want to make it like it never happened. We want to take away the hurt and the pain. We want something, someone, to fill the empty hole in the lives of those 27 families. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t do or give anything to erase the memories of the students and teachers who survived on Friday.
Unfortunately, all we can do is have a broken heart.
Thursday, December 13th, 2012, was the Feast of St. Lucy, or San Lucia. Lucy was a young woman who was martyred in 304 during one of the worst persecutions of Christians. Until Pope Gregory changed the calendar in the late 1500s, December 13 was also the shortest day of the year. In other words, it was the darkest day, the day with the least amount of sunlight in the whole year. The name Lucy comes from the same Latin word lux where we get the word light. In fact, it is still tradition in many Scandinavian countries that the youngest girl in the family wears a crown of candles on St. Lucy’s Day. The candles remind the family that even though it is the darkest day of the year, from this point forward, the light will only grow.
Our Gospel this morning begins with a disturbing verbal assault from Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptizer. It would have been delightful if John had introduced himself by saying, “Hi. I’m John, and I’m here to help point you in the right direction…” Instead, his followers and those just stopping by to check him out get called a “brood of vipers.” How pleasant.
Here’s the thing about John the Baptizer. He wasn’t the light. He even says that he’s not the one they were looking for, that he’s merely pointing the way. He doesn’t do this quietly or calmly. He does it boldly and courageously. The Gospel of John talks about him this way:
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. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:6-9)
This Wildman of the Wilderness, John the Baptizer, got himself into more than a couple of troublesome spots with people for speaking truth to power. He starts off that way today with his “brood of vipers” comment. He keeps going, too. Did you see that?
Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
He’s saying that God doesn’t care what has happened in the past. God doesn’t care who your ancestors are or were. What have you done today that is going to help bring peace to the world and God’s Kingdom on earth?
Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
You hear that kind of message a few times, and you’ll begin to wonder why you got out of bed on a perfectly lovely Sunday morning. Instead, the crowds say, “What can we do?” They ask John, who has just accosted them for being who they are, what they can do differently?
So John tells them. He is pointing them (and us) to the one true light of the world. We cannot welcome the Light of Christ, let alone be the light of Christ, if our focus is on ourselves and not on something beyond ourselves. So John lays it out:

  • Give to those who have less.
  • Don’t take more than you need.
  • Don’t think that what you did yesterday is going to count for what you do tomorrow.

If we have do those things, we will make room for the Light of the World. In fact, we’ll make so much room for the Light, that as John’s Gospel also says, the Darkness cannot and will not overcome it.
The Feast of St. Lucy is about daily increases of the amount of daylight in our lives. The message of John the Baptizer and the season of Advent are about preparing for the Light of the World. In nine short days, we will again celebrate the birth of the Jesus the Christ. “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 will continue to outshine the darkness, including the darkness of this past Friday in a small town 600 miles away from New Bern..
Charlotte Bacon, 6, Daniel Barden, 7, Olivia Engel, 6, Josephine Gay, 7, Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6, Dylan Hockley, 6, Madeleine F. Hsu, 6, Catherine V. Hubbard, 6, Chase Kowalski, 7, Jesse Lewis, 6, James Mattioli, 6, Grace McDonnell, 7, Emilie Parker, 6, Jack Pinto, 6, Noah Pozner, 6, Caroline Previdi, 6, Jessica Rekos, 6, Avielle Richman, 6, Benjamin Wheeler, 6, Allison N. Wyatt, 6.
The staff: Rachel Davino, 29, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Lauren Rousseau, 30, Mary Sherlach, 56, Victoria Soto, 27.
Adam (20) and Nancy (52) Lanza
Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon them.
And let all God’s people say, “Amen.”

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