Restore us O God; Advent 1 December 3, 2017

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.’

In those days the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.”

 We hear these words and the first emotion that rises up is fear. We cannot imagine not having light. We put nightlights in our house and on our streets. We surround ourselves with light and with even the best curtains, it seems even the digital clocks will still pierce the darkest room as we try to sleep. We are so surrounded by light that we don’t even realize how little we can see the dark until we are in a rare place without light polution.

People spend the day sun worshipping and the evenings dancing.

Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my favorite preachers and wrote the book, “Learning to walk in the dark.” Until I read that book, I have to admit that there were more than a few times the dark scared me. Like Taylor, as young woman I was not afraid of the dark, enjoying my fair share of sneaking out for midnight walks in the crisp and clear night air of Julian- not too far from here, but far enough not to have light pollution. To me, it was never really that dark I always had the stars to light by way- it always seemed my dirty white tennis shoes were a beacon to getting caught as they appeared to glow supernaturally in the star and moonlight.

As I grew older, I began to fear the dark and nearly succumbed to the modern tendency to put a nightlight in my children’s rooms. When I would walk to Los Angeles County hospital in the wee hours of night, alone on my way to an emergency chaplain’s page, I recall feeling safe in the belly of old General Hospital even though it was vacant but once outside, the night seemed ominous and scary. I had become afraid of the dark.   Then I read Barbara’s book and began to remember my joy and comfort in the dark of my youth. With some pondering, I the truth of her words: dark itself is nothing to be afraid of, rather, it is the dark inside us that we fear the most. When we hear the idea of the end times being in the dark, I wonder, are we more afraid of what is in the dark or what we will face when we are alone with ourselves?

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

This is the first Sunday of Advent- four weeks where we recall and practice what our ancestors’ did- a waiting for the Christ child- for salvation and hope. For four hundred years the Israelites waited for a prophet- a time of silence and spiritual darkness- a time to sit, wait, and reflect upon their own lives and God’s promises. It was hard, but it was not bad. Like that 400 year wait, Advent is the living between times. Only now we await second coming of Christ and still no different from Israelites, our time of waiting in the dark hours is a time to stay awake and alert to our own spiritual health and wellness.

For the Corinthian church that Paul writes to in today’s missive, it was a hard time as well. Christ had died and they were trying to figure out which way to go, how to live out this calling and following of Christ. They were not doing a great job either. They struggled and bickered, deeply divided and each side convinced they were right. Paul understood they were afraid and struggling and he writes in a positive assumptive position of comfort, reminding them that they can make it through this hard time, and they have been enriched by God in every way.   Paul reminds the church of Corinth that they will be strengthened and God is ever faithful and present through Christ and the Holy Spirit. And while not every word Paul wrote is appropriate for our time and application, this remains steadfast and true.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

God began with the darkness, in the darkness. In fact, light wasn’t even the first thing God created. God revelled in the dark and was not afraid- finding the desire to grow and create and nurture within it. We too, should not be afraid of the dark. Darkness has its role. In it we are forced to remain still or to move carefully and slowly if we try to walk in it. In the dark, we find rest. Our bodies are reminded to be still, to allow God and the nature of the universe to heal us, to rejuvenate and restore us. In the dark, we can see things we never notice in the day- the shape and color and even reflections that are missing in the brilliance of the sun. The dark and the light dance for us but all too often today, we are so accustomed to constant light that we have become afraid of the dark.

Because we cannot see ahead while we wait, we can examine our own self, our own sin and our departure from what God desires for us. Our world is scary. Broader communication leaves us more aware of how broken the world is around us and how hard living is. We are more aware that life is one difficult circumstance after another and it is obvious that God does not guarantee us a life free of pain and sorrow. It is enough to make us cry out and we can. Isaiah shows us what it looks like to yell at God and to hold God accountable to God’s own promises in our lives.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

As I waited for first call and time continued as it does, I began to doubt myself. I began to doubt those around me who told me that I was a solid candidate. I wondered aloud to a friend if I was so solid, why am I still not pastoring yet? His words? Maybe it isn’t about you. Maybe it is about God and God’s promises? He reminded me that I needed to get over myself and remember that this is God’s call and promise and that it was fair to call God out. But it seemed presumptuous to me to call out God. Over the next 3 weeks 2 more friends would echo the sentiment, unbidden. One even shared that when he was in similar circumstance he packed a bag and set it by the door then he got down on his knees and he prayed. He reminded God that he was ready to go and it was all up to God to tell him when and where. A short time later he received his call.

Author Ellie Wiesel writes in The Trial Of God about how three Jewish rabbi’s called God to trial over failed promises to Gods own people during the holocaust. It was written based on his real life experience. It was the most faithful response imaginable- to trust that God made promises and that we can look at God and recall the promises of God, too. Isaiah 64 does just that. Well my husband wanted a good book to read and I recommended the book to him even as I realized the significance of yet another reminder of holding God accountable. I had a lot of unfinished things in my life- unfinished art, unfinished projects around the house, even things we needed to do to prepare the rental to be returned. I finally got the message and after some prayer, I realized I was not ready. I spent the next month finishing things so that I could be ready to go, too. And daily I would hold God accountable and say, “See God? I am getting ready to go. Are you preparing my call? “ Within the week, I was in conversations with the call committee of Hope and the moment I read the congregational profile, I knew this was it. I had called God out and God had responded because while I am not always faithful and ready, God is.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us and we shall be saved.

Advent’s texts give us a voice for our brokenness and failure to be faithful as we wait. They also give us the promise of a savior. We are headed into a new year of texts now and Mark will be the Gospel we walk with. His words are full of apocalyptic visions just like Matthew, but the difference is that there is a strong mix of encouragement and hope among Mark’s words. Yes, he shares that the end times will be scary. But he also reminds us that we will see evidence of Christ and his promise all around us if we sit still and pay attention. He promises us that Christ is coming.   Layered with Pauls’ promises that we will be equipped and Isaiah’s reminder that God is faithful, we can know without a doubt that as we wait in the dark, God comes to us and remains with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

While we sit through Advent we are reminded that God is our light and is present not outside of us and our lives, but inside of us. Do not be afraid of the dark. It is a holy place. In the dark we are able to clearly see the light of Christ present with us. Salvation is at hand.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us and we shall be saved.

 

 

 

 

 

Author: mistressofdivinity

Pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Riverside, California; a congregation of the Pacifica Synod in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Even though the diploma reads "Master of Divinity," the learning continues. I lean into this pastoral role more each day, learning to balance vocation and family, life and passion, living and loving.

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