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