Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
January 1, 2017
“I Greet You: Happy Terrifying New Year!”
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 – New Revised Standard Version
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Today is January 1st and everyone knows that means it is the first day of a new year. Happy New Year everyone! Welcome to 2017!
Except in Thailand. There the first day of the New Year is in April – either the 13th, 14th, or 15th. In Thailand we are in 2559, not 2017. Marked by the birth of the Buddha.
More than a billion people will celebrate Chinese New Year about a month from now. Depending on the lunar cycle, it’s always sometime between the middle of January and the middle of February. This year it is January 28th, marking the beginning of the year 4714.
This year, the Jewish New Year started on October 2 for the year that is 5777. Next year it starts on September 20. It kind of makes saying Happy New Year a little more complicated!
Christmas isn’t complicated. December 25th is Christmas. It’s always Christmas Day. Unless you’re an Orthodox Christian which means you will celebrate Christmas on January 7th. Why must something so simple be so complicated?
But at least everyone knows that Independence Day is ___ (July 4th,) unless you’re not an American, of course. Everyone knows the date for Mexican Independence Day, right? September 16.
We mark our lives by days. Days on an annual calendar, like Valentine’s Day ___ (2/14), income tax deadline day ___ (4/15). How about Sweetest Day? (October 21, 2017). We may not be so sure of that one. Lots of days are really just marketers hard at work.
How about June 4, July 26, July 28, and October 31st? The day I first met Art, the day we first spoke, the day we married, and the day, 8 years after that, our marriage was legal – conveniently placed on Halloween so we wouldn’t forget it. Those are the kind of ordinary days in everyone else’s lives that take on extraordinary meaning in our own. Birthdays, anniversaries of all kinds, ordinations, graduations… we all have those days when things seem happy and hopeful and all kinds of things are possible.
But there are also the days we remember because of their tragedy. The day our parent died. Or our spouse. Or our child. The date we first learned of our cancer. The date of our last chemo appointment. Some people can immediately tell you the date of Columbine. Sandy Hook. The Aurora Theatre. And of course 9/11, and now, 11/9. A day we woke up in a country we couldn’t imagine people would actually choose, as we hang on for the last 20 days or so of an adult in the White House.
Eventually some dates on the calendar are a mix of both. A birth and a death on the same day. Some days we’d really rather not combine. Though I’m not very superstitious, I wouldn’t want my child to be born on September 11th.
I’d rather have some days dedicated to happy and hopeful events and others neatly set aside just for sad memories.
If only “A time to seek, and a time to lose; A time to keep, and a time to throw away…” If only they were nicely separated into one day for this. One day for that.
But life is more complicated and so we learn how to combine both hope and memory – one informing the other. It’s bittersweet. But the process of mourning, the gift of mourning, is learning to live with both a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance. This is one of the best gifts of aging – how the best of life and the worst of it can happen simultaneously.
Just like, on one hand I greet you today by saying Happy New Year. On the other, I feel more like saying “Terrifying New Year!” It’s hard to say Happy! when there is little that feels hopeful. Some days I have to work harder than others to squeeze some optimism into my happy. If only 11/9 was a distant memory… something about which to reminisce rather than worry about.
Ecclesiastes ends its wisdom by saying:
There is a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
I wish the author would have said there is a time OF hate. A time OF war. Because that is a truthful statement. How can it be true that there is a time TO hate and a time FOR war?
Is this something to anticipate or ancient memory? Yet no matter the reason behind such wisdom, we are in it. We are living here in the middle of hope and memory, of something new and terrible. We are in the middle of throwing stones away and gathering them up. We are in the middle of breaking things down and building them back up. We are in the middle of a time of tearing apart and sewing back together. All at the same time. Perhaps the wisdom of the elders who have lived through this and much worse can help to keep us sane in a time of insanity.
This will be a hard year and certainly a time that will test our ability to keep faith. In reality, this “Terrifying New Year” is just the start of more terrifyingly hard years. This too shall come to an end but not before a lot of damage has been done and a lot of people have been hurt. That is the realistic truth about it.
But faith will guide our way through it. And faith will save us. James Whitehead said “faith is the enduring ability to imagine life in a certain way.” Despite the crazy, despite grief and loss and death, faith holds on to the vision Jesus proclaimed of life in a certain way. Like, the upside down-ness of the Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor, the meek, the pure in heart. Blessed are those who mourn. And blessed are those who are persecuted for justice. And like the Magnificat – Mary’s Song that proclaimed, in the birth of Jesus, “the proud are scattered in the thoughts of their hearts and the humble are lifted up; the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away emptyhanded.”
In this and these four years to come, everything in us will be tested to believe this is true.
But as Jesus first proclaimed, his mission is to bring “Good news for the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” After he read this from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus said “Today this has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Today this has been fulfilled. And every new day ever since.
Including today, or any New Year’s Day – whether it is January 1st or 28th, April 13th, or any other day. Every day is new. And every day since the centuries long ago when those words were first spoken, that day it has been fulfilled. Some way, somehow, by someone who has kept faith – imaging life in that certain way. Of love, of justice, of compassion.
If you do it one day and I do it one day and she does it one day and he does it one day, we will fulfill the commands of our faith to love every day, no matter how happy or terrifying the times might be.
It’s not really that complicated. Guided by faith, I can simply greet you: Happy Terrifying New Year!
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
December 24, 2016
8:30 pm Christmas Eve
“The Power of Love Trumps the Love of Power”
Matthew 5: 39-41 – New Revised Standard Version
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.
Michael had always dreamed of having a cabin in the woods. One day he hit the lottery and all of a sudden he had enough money to buy some land and build a place. He went and bought the building supplies and had them delivered to his land. But when he drove up, he discovered they had been stacked exactly right on top of where he was going to build his cabin. He obviously hadn’t planned very well.
After college Margaret moved into her first apartment. The first morning she went into the kitchen to eat breakfast but her cupboards were empty. She’d never had to think about where her breakfast came from before.
One of my godchildren texted me late one night. I’m flying into Denver but I don’t have anyone to pick me up. Could I come and get him? I asked how he had planned to get to Colorado Springs in the middle of the night. He said he hadn’t thought about it.
We’ve all done these things too. But it’s frustrating to watch this happen and not want to either judge them or save them. Why didn’t you have a plan?
Like, why do I feel totally unprepared to respond every time someone says or does something totally and completely offensive? By now we should all be accustomed to all the racist and hateful rhetoric being spewed by people who feel liberated from political correctness – otherwise known as being a decent human being.
Why do I feel like I have nothing to say when someone says it’s not such a big deal that Mexicans or a slew of other are named as targets? Comments that range from “He doesn’t really mean it” to those who actually accost people walking down the street. Or like the South High School student standing in line at Starbucks who was told, “Your time here is coming to an end.” I hear this and I stammer and stutter and turn red in the face. I’m not prepared. I should be by now, but I still feel caught off guard every time. How about you? We should have a plan.
Jesus tried to prepare his followers for just such a time as this. The birth, life, ministry and teachings of Jesus took place within the context of a brutal, cruel and violent Roman occupation of their homeland. As scholars note, “Romans knew well how to hate, humiliate, and destroy their enemies” – and that was even before the time of Twitter!
Jesus was God’s plan. A plan that was disappointing for some. Like zealots who wanted a Messiah to lead them to a violent overthrow of their oppressors. God had other plans. And among them, some tactics for how to deal with Roman tyrants. Which might give us some ideas for now.
Jesus said 1) “turn the other cheek,” 2) “give your cloak as well,” and 3) “go an extra mile.” But let me assure you, these statements all had vastly different meanings for the original audience than we may imagine today. We may hear them and think of them as being passive and soft and weak (the ultimate offense). But these three things are actually subversive. And, quite literally, funny ways to engage with bullies.
Respected biblical scholar Walter Wink said that when Jesus told his followers “do not resist” the Greek means “Do not return evil for evil.” It’s more like, “Do not turn into the very thing you hate; don’t become what you oppose.” Last Sunday I said, the way in which we resist is as important as the will to oppose that which is coming. Do not resist isn’t mis-translated as much as it is under-translated. Susan Mettern describes it this way: Act in such a way as to show the absurdity of hatred. To love your enemies is not to let them walk all over you but to show them how absurd they are being.
So Jesus gave three examples:
The first is, “if someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other also.” If I were to strike a blow, it would land on your left cheek. I could hit someone on the right cheek if I used a left hook, but you couldn't even gesture with your left hand in a Semitic society because the left hand was used only for unclean tasks. The only way to hit someone on the right cheek would be with the back of your hand.
But, that’s only symbolic. Using the back of the hand is not meant to hurt someone. It’s meant to put you in your place. So Jesus is saying, "When someone tries to humiliate you, to put you back into your inferior position… turn your other cheek." That will force them to recognize they are doing something unclean.
But it’s also silly because you wouldn’t backhand someone twice. It's like telling a joke a second time. If it doesn't work the first time, it’s failed. By turning the other cheek, you stand there defiantly saying, "I refuse to be humiliated by you." And you keep your dignity.
Now, it’s also possible they were simply overtaken by anger in the moment so to turn the other cheek forces them to choose to do it again. Will they realize they’ve just become a monster?
What would happen if you simply hit them back – eye for an eye? You would have become the very thing you hate. That’s a danger as we try to respond to friends on Facebook or family at Christmas dinner. Or that horrible woman in line at the JCPenny in Kentucky. Everyone stood silent as she bullied another shopper. What’s our plan? Because silence says you agree.
Jesus’ second example: "If anyone takes you to court and sues you for your outer garment, give them your undergarment as well." This is about collateral for a loan. And normally, when someone needed a loan, they would use their animals or their land as collateral. But Deuteronomy said the very poorest of the poor could turn over their outer garment. By day, it’s used as an overcoat, but it’s also what someone sleeps in at night. The creditor had to return this garment every night. But every morning he could come back and get it, trying to get him to repay his debt.
Jesus' audience is full of debtors. They know the law is on the side of the wealthy. They’re never going to win a case. So Jesus tells them, "Okay, so you’re not going to win. Take the law to the point of absurdity. When your creditor sues you for your outer garment, give him the only other clothing you have."
Since they didn't have underwear in those days that meant taking off everything and standing naked in front of the court. Then imagine the debtor walking onto the street. Everyone would ask, "What happened to you?" He’d point and say, "That creditor has all my clothes." Imagine everyone laughing at the absurdity of walking around naked. Jesus said, simply embarrass the powerful creditor. And it would probably be a very long time before another creditor took someone so poor, someone who has literally nothing else, to court.
Jesus' third example: if a Roman soldier forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two. Military law made it permissible for a soldier to grab a civilian and force them to carry their heavy pack, but only one mile. There were mile markers on every Roman road. If they forced you to carry their pack more than one mile, the soldier would be breaking military law. So Jesus is saying, "All right. The next time you’re forced to carry a pack, cooperate. Carry it. And when you come to the mile marker, keep going."
The soldier won't know why you’re still carrying it, but he does know that if his centurion finds out about it, he’ll be in deep trouble. Pretty soon word will get around and no soldier will try that again.
Jesus taught people how to take the initiative away from the powerful. How to reverse the actions of those who love power by articulating the power of love. A way of living in a violent world without violence by convincing people of the absurdity of their words or deeds. To not become that which we hate.
Now, some people will never be convinced. That’s why we need laws to protect the vulnerable, like that family from Nazareth who had no place to stay in Bethlehem. Who had to give birth in a barn. Who later became refugees to Egypt to escape the tyrant who went around in a paranoid hysteria killing every two year old boy in and around Bethlehem.
You know, if you think about it, maybe it would help if we built a big wall behind which we could keep all the homophobes and xenophobes and misogynists and white supremacists and hateful rhetoric spewing people who can’t be convinced of their absurdity. To protect everyone from their dangerous agenda to harm LGBT folks, immigrants, refugees, people of color, children, religious minorities, the poor, the sick… and the planet.
The birth, life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus give us a better way to respond to all those “liberated” bullies out there. God’s plan, put into motion with the birth of Jesus to turn the other cheek, give your cloak also, and go an extra mile, is clearly meant as a way to subvert a dark and violent world.
Just look at how the plan started: Angels didn’t visit the powerful. Rather it was to dirty and undignified shepherds. And God chose a poor, unmarried young woman to carry Jesus – not a rich princess more befitting the long expected Messiah. And the whole idea of making a stable as the birthplace the Savior of the World… These things did not happen to those who love power. God’s plan in Jesus was to demonstrate how the power of love can trump the love of power.
That’s the Good News this Christmas Eve. Because, as Jimi Hendrix said, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."
 Susan Mattern, Rome and the Enemy, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999
 Walter Wink, “The Third Way,” 1993. See Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003
 For these three examples, I have quoted generously without sentence attribution from Walter Wink’s “The Third Way.”
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
December 24, 2016
4:30 pm Christmas Eve
Matthew 2: 1-11 – The Message, adapted
1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in the territory of Judah territory— during the time Herod was the king—some scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay respect to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”3-4 When word of this got to Herod, he was terrified someone was going to replace him. Herod immediately gathered all the high priests and religious scholars city together and asked, “Where do the prophets say the Messiah supposed to be born?”5-6 They told him, Micah said in “Bethlehem, in the territory of Judah. Herod then arranged a secret meeting with those travelling scholars from the East. Pretending that he wanted to worship the baby too, Herod got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. He said, “Go find this child. And as soon as you find him, send word and I’ll come right away to worship him too.” 9-10 Following the instructions of the king, they set off. The star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies, and it led them to the place where it hovered over the place of the child. They were so excited they could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! 11 They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.
There’s a joke that says,
Three Wise Women
would have asked directions,
arrived on time,
helped deliver the baby,
brought practical gifts
cleaned the stable,
made a casserole,
and there would be peace on earth.
In the Bible the Wise Men brought __________ (gold, frankincense and myrrh). It raises a good question. What gift would you have brought to the baby Jesus? Any ideas?
Here’s another story about gifts:
It’s called WISE WOMEN ALSO CAME By Jan Richardson
Wise women also came.
The fire burned in their wombs long before they saw the flaming star in the sky.
They walked in shadows, trusting the path would open under the light of the moon.
Wise women also came, seeking no directions, no permission from any king.
They came by their own authority, their own desire, their own longing.
They came quietly, spreading no rumors [to a paranoid king], sparking no fears [that would lead to the deaths of innocents, causing] their sister Rachel’s inconsolable lamentations.
Wise women also came, and they brought useful gifts:
water for labor’s washing,
fire for warm illumination,
a blanket for swaddling.
Wise women also came, at least three of them,
holding Mary in her labor,
crying out with Mary in her birth pangs,
breathing ancient blessings into her ear.
Wise women also came, and they went, as wise women always do, home by a different way.
I like their gifts: water for washing, fire for illumination (so you can see), and a blanket for warmth. Very thoughtful and useful gifts. Like socks for homeless people and a place for people to sleep when they don’t have a home. What gift would you have brought to Jesus?
Remember those things the wise men brought? What were they? _____ (gold, frankincense and myrrh.) Why those three things? Some say they were typical gifts for a new king, but of course for Jesus they had a bigger meaning: gold represents that Jesus would one day be a king, frankincense represents an oil Jesus would use in a priestly role on earth, and myrrh is a traditional perfume used at funerals during Biblical times, which signals his eventual death.
Some scholars say these gifts were practical because they could be used as medicine. I didn’t know this before but they used to use frankincense to treat arthritis – when you have pain in your bones and joints. Or at least they did where the Three Wise Men came from in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Other scholars agree that these were practical gifts. Mary and Joseph could have sold the gold, frankincense and myrrh to pay for shelter, food and other things that a baby needs which maybe they couldn’t afford.
Gifts can have all kinds of meanings. Like all gifts you unwrap tonight or tomorrow morning. But what about the gifts you wrapped to give away? Why did you pick out one particular gift for one person and another for someone else? What was the reason?
What I love about Jan Richardson’s story is how she added three more gifts. Not just water, fire, and a blanket,
What were they?
Holding Mary as she’s giving birth,
Crying along with her in the pain of birth,
And breathing ancient blessings into her ear.
Obviously there is more to gift giving and getting than things you can unwrap. That’s why I like these: Holding someone who is hurting. Crying with someone who is in pain. And saying the words I love you to anyone we love. Those are really important.
And they made me think about gifts that the church gives to us. I thought of these three tonight.
1) The church is a gift of safety in a world filled with too much hate. You remember how the women held Mary and cried with her in her pain? The church is the gift of a community of safety and support when times are frightening and ugly. We can come here when we are hurting and in pain.
2) You know how the women breathed words of ancient blessings into Mary’s ear? One of the gifts our church gives is speaking words of hope – but not just empty words. It’s about having what we call a prophetic witness. So that means we take it seriously when the Bible commands us to love one another and seek justice for the poor. The real blessings of hope come from the truth spoken by ancient prophets like Isaiah and Micah and Jeremiah and of course Jesus. Words of truth so that when people act like bullies, and there’s a lot of bullies out there right now, as Christians we say stop. Before we can say “let’s all get along,” we have to tell bullies they are bullies and stop them from hurting any more people. That is the gift of real hope.
And gift 3)…You. You are the gift the church gives to all of us. So I want to say, “Thank you!” You being here tonight is the best gift I could receive today. That and Marlene Lederer’s homemade caramel rolls! And a hug on the way out the door.
What kind of gift would you have brought to Jesus? Why? And what could you give Jesus right now?
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
December 18, 2016
“No Matter How Dark the Times, Light Always Wins”
Isaiah 9: 2-9 – New Revised Standard Version
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
I have a story to tell, a true story, that does not take place at Christmas or among Christians, but it does occur during a holy season. This story takes place during the holy month of Ramadan among Muslims in the Sudan. If you remember, during Ramadan observant Muslims fast from all food and liquids during the day (including water).
This true story was told by a teacher in the capital city of Khartoum. Even though leaving the city was dangerous, so dangerous, in fact, that it required a permit to leave the city, he would occasionally take his class into the desert.
On this particular trip, he took 20 students, loaded onto the back of a flatbed truck, on a two-week excursion.
Since it was Ramadan and because they were supposed to arrive at their destination before dark, no one took any food or water because they fasted during the day and couldn’t eat until nighttime anyway.
They travelled through a section of desert that is not well marked. The shifting sands make it impossible to maintain roads. So the way is navigated by a handheld compass. There is no GPS, no OnStar, no cell phone coverage.
Having a compass is the only way to keep from getting lost or wandering aimlessly to your death.
But after a while in the back of the truck people began to wonder if the drive wasn’t taking longer than it should have. Rumors began to pass among them that they were lost, and when dusk fell, the driver finally admitted that they were indeed lost. But they must move on.
As they wander through the desert hour after hour, very little is said. When night falls and it is time to break the fast, there is no food or drink.
Each one of them knows the stories. Of people who got lost in the desert. Of people who died in the desert.
So they kept moving forward. The light of their headlights stretching out for miles into the empty desert.
When they were feeling most desperate, most hopeless, they hit a rock in the desert floor.
Some wires were torn and now the headlights no longer worked.
They now continued on – in complete and total darkness.
One person walked ahead of them leading the way and another stood in the bed of the truck looking over the cab. Scanning the short distance they could see ahead.
No one said anything but everyone in the vehicle was thinking about how people die when this happens to them. When there is no water. No food. No sense of direction. With each passing hour their small hope extinguished. Nothing. Wandering aimlessly in the dark.
And then the person standing in the back of the truck sees something. Maybe. A mirage?
Is that a light? It was only a hint, really, not real light. But on the horizon. The tiniest pinprick. Maybe.
They start moving toward it. The person in the back tells the person walking in front. Look for the light. Over there. No over there. And then to follow it.
But as they moved toward the “light,” it doesn’t get any bigger. Weird. But there’s something. Maybe. Hoping and praying it isn’t their imagination playing a trick.
They finally arrive at the source of the light. It’s a candle. At a small Bedouin encampment. Just a few tents.
But one of the Bedouins who couldn’t sleep, had come out of his tent, propped a crate on its side, and dripped some wax on it to hold a candle upright.
It was that one single candle that led this lost group of travelers through miles of desert. One candle. The tiniest of tiny, little lights.
If there had been any other light at all, if there had been a moon, stars, in fact, if they had not lost their headlights, they never would have seen that pinprick in the far distance.
When they arrived everyone scrambled out of the truck, everyone silent for a minute.Then they cheered and yelled.
They arrived at this small Bedouin camp just before dawn. Just in time. Any later and they would have had to wait another day before they could drink. If they had ever eventually arrived anywhere at all.
They owed their lives to a stranger who couldn’t sleep. And his one small candle.
Sometimes that’s all there is.
Only a slight hint of light.
Yet, no matter how small, darkness cannot overwhelm it. Light will always win.
For some people, Christmas this year is pretty dark.
If you are alone for your first Christmas
Or afraid this might be your last Christmas
If you are on shaky grounds at work or with your spouse or a friend
Or your kids are failing in school
If you can’t stand fake holiday cheer
Or can’t provide the kind of Christmas other people seem to be able to afford
Remember, no matter how small the light, darkness cannot take it away. Light will always win.
If you are frightened for the planet
If you are under threat of deportation
If you are uncertain about your health insurance
If you are terrified of any encounter with the police
If you wonder if your social security check will drop
If you are scared what may happen to your marriage, no longer protected as equal
If you can’t get past the idea that white supremacists are seated in the halls of power
Or that war may break out over a tweet…
If you sit here this morning with more uncertainty than hope, more fear than confidence, more disgust for your fellow citizens than love, terrified for our democracy…
Remember, light, no matter how small, always wins over darkness.
The prophet Isaiah said
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness
— on them light has shined.”
Light always wins. But right now, I’m not so sure. My faith is still being tested. Maybe yours too. Here we are, it feels, in a dark desert of bigotry and bullying and vandalism and threats of violence – you know. You watch the news and it is rarely hopeful. The prophet Isaiah said, to his people – in their lowest and most helpless state – light has shined. Light has shined. As in, already shined. Not will. Sometime in the future.
Does that mean the world is already an open, inclusive, just and compassionate place? That we are simply wandering now?
If so, what will get us through? What is our compass in times like these? The answer, the word for this fourth Sunday of Advent, is Love. Love is compass, love is the light that will guide us so that we don’t spend the next 4, 8, 12, 16 years wandering aimlessly in darkness without meaning, purpose, or worth.
Love is not only our compass. It is our Christian commandment. And so despite the tricks and games and deceptions our leaders will play, we must remain focused on the commandment to love God’s most vulnerable people and keep a light burning in the darkness for them – and us. However, I’m not talking about a feeling of love.
My concern is not for a loving world that can sing Kumbaya, My Lord around a campfire but the kind of love that walks around in public. The kind of love which ensures that hatred is constrained by law and bigotry is restrained by statute, where dignity and equality is maintained by decree… The kind of love that says “I don’t care if you don’t like me, just make sure no one is allowed to harm me.” The kind of love that walks around in public, also known as justice.
Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important.”
But Dr. King also reminded us that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And therefore, the means of our resistance matters as much as our will to oppose.
The Kingdom of God is about the now and the not yet. Already here and still coming. God has already lit the candle. Christ calls us to keep it lit for all whom he loves – for all whom this Christmas is lonely and frightful. All we need to do is to stay together and keep the vigil going, and to remember that no matter how dark it get; If not already, how ugly, hateful or desperate the times will get (and I believe the escalating danger of the craziest of the crazy is still to come) yet, even so, light will always win over darkness. I have faith in that.
So, just keep the candle lit. Just keep your candle lit. The light has already won because no matter how dark the times get because darkness cannot win over light. Just keep your candle lit and for all to make it safely in.
 Story adapted from “A Great Light” by Rev. Angela C. Menke at Second Congregational Church, Beverly, MA, December 24, 2005
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Traveling around the world