Dearly Beloved, Grace and peace to you.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
The coming of the dawn is not linear or constant. The darkness ebbs, then returns. Evil has its days. Sometimes the voice of hate and bigotry rallies its minions, and their cheers evoke dread in my soul. I see mean-spiritedness at work and my heart wrinkles up like a dried fruit. I went to bed last night wondering, “What can I say?” I awoke early, in darkness, unable to sleep. Despair lay on me, palpable as my blankets. I got up in the dark and lit my prayer candle.
In my Bible reading I’m currently making my way through 2 Chronicles and Hebrews, and always, a couple of Psalms a day. This morning in the dark I read by candlelight: “O grant us help against the foe, for human strength is worthless” (Ps. 108.12). “Do not fear or be dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chron. 20.15). “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11.1). I prayed till the sun came up. Then I went for my morning walk in the woods.
The sun stretched itself, climbed into lower branches and sat there. Migrating ducks and geese chatted on the pond. Upper branches began to light up like candelabras. Somewhere, beyond my seeing, the Milky Way spun silently, elegantly. And somewhere beyond my seeing, good people were kind and courageous for justice.
When I despair for the world I am looking at it from a human point of view: I see the evil we are capable of, and I am afraid for us. I am like Job, asking. “Why is there evil?” And God invites me, like Job, to see it from God’s point of view. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38.4). Our suffering and our evil—even the seething mass of all the deepest evil in the world—is a tiny speck in God’s wonderful Creation. God is not weak or far away: this world exists entirely within God, in God’s heart. God’s goodness infinitely outweighs and overpowers the forces of evil. I just can’t see it, like the Milky Way I’m part of.
But if I look with the eyes of faith, I will see signs. The dawn comes for me when I remember that there is more at work than meets the eye, especially the eye of fear. The dawn from on high breaks upon me when I remember, in the words of Tutu’s African Prayer Book, “Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through the One who loves us.”
It is into darkness that God sends light. Christ is coming into the world. God’s dawn from on high breaks upon us—but it is not a disembodied light. The way the dawn comes is that God sends people into the darkness—people like Jesus, like us—who shine with God’s light. It rises in us. We embody it. Our simple acts of love and courage, every act of kindness, every witness for justice, every prayer for another, no matter how feeble, no matter how doubtful or conflicted, every tear shed for the world, no matter how fragile, is light that transforms the darkness, that gives light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and guides our feet into the way of peace.
I walked home from the woods this morning warm with hope and shining with a Presence I had not expected. I hear geese above my house. I pray that the light of Advent may dawn in your heart as well.
Deep blessings, Pastor Steve
____________________ Steve Garnaas-Holmes Unfolding Light www.unfoldinglight.net
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