Embracing the Darkness while Waiting for the Light – Advent 1

Scripture: Psalm 27

Sermon: Embracing the Darkness while Waiting for the Light

When I was in college, I participated in a spiritual practice one Lent that included fasting.

We fasted for 3 days

3 days!

I’m not one of those people who just “forgets to eat.” I love food.

But for 3 days, I fasted, and I prayed, and I experienced hunger and longing.

And I will tell you that the first meal I had, which was a simple salad with almonds and strawberries. I don’t think I will EVER forget that meal.

The strawberries were the sweetest strawberries I’d ever had. I’m not one who usually jumps for joy about spinach, but I remember closing my eyes and savoring every bite.

It was overwhelmingly good. Overwhelmingly rich and satisfying. All of my senses came to life in my experience of that simple salad.

How many of us woke up this morning and cried with joy that we could walk?

I can guarantee you that there ARE people who have suffered life-changing injuries and struggled for months, maybe years to learn to walk again, and I’m sure that now, they wake up, perhaps in tears of thanksgiving, saying “Thanks be to God that I can take a step today.”

Longing for something, experiencing the absence of something, whether that be food or comfort or security or companionship—when we DO experience those things again, they are that much more powerful and meaningful and full as a result of their absence in our lives.

Longing is a valuable part of our human experience as well as our spiritual experience.

And today’s Psalm talks a lot about longing. Longing for the light. Longing for God’s action and protection. Longing for God’s presence.

The Psalmist says that the ONE thing he longs for more than anything is to live in the house of God forever.

The Psalmist wants that sustenance, that sweet taste of security and safety and belonging.

And yet, without his moments of separation and pain and loss and darkness, it’s quite possible the Psalmist would never appreciate the light and connection he seeks.

Our God is not just a god of the light, but a God of the darkness as well.

In OUR mythology, our God, is first, a God of darkness.

In the beginning, God separated the light from the darkness and called them good.

And if you read the text carefully, the first day of creation begins with darkness.

The Jewish day begins at sundown.

God doesn’t just shine in the light of day. God begins the day after the sun has gone down.

And the darkness is good.

God called the DARKNESS GOOD.

Not just the creativity and quiet and spiritual moments that come with the night.

Those moments under the stars or around a campfire or around a table with friends.

God calls all darkness good.

And not just the darkness of night where we find creativity or spend time with friends around the campfire…

The darkness that William Hull described as that inward confusion when ignorance frustrates our ability to find the way ahead and we cry, “I’m in the dark!” It also describes that sinister environment in which foes lurk to do us hard under the cover of night. Ultimately, it comes to denote that doubt and despair we call ‘the dark night of the soul’ separating us from God.”

God calls THAT darkness good.

And that’s difficult for me to wrap my head and heart and faith around.

As upbeat and energetic as I seem most of the time, I HAVE experienced real darkness in my life.

And to think that those times were “good,” is something that’s difficult for me to accept.

Certainly, it’s not good in the sense of being pleasurable. Or good in the sense that it’s comfortable.

But as I struggled with this text, I came to the conclusion that darkness and longing and separation from God ARE good, in the sense that they are part of the cycle of life that connects us to ALL of who God is.

And the darkness and longing are good, because they lead us to appreciate the light.

Some religions ignore the darkness all together.

Some Christian churches do too.

<a note here from Barbara Brown Taylor about “solar” vs “lunar religion”>

It’s all happiness and upbeat and God is good and God offers blessings.

Christianity doesn’t just show up in the happy times.

Sometimes, the most glorious miracles happen when we’re at our lowest points.

And those dark times bring us deeper into appreciation and thanksgiving when the light returns.

And the light WILL return.

That’s difficult to believe sometimes when we’re in the midst of darkness, especially a long period of darkness.

<example of Saint Theresa of Avila, who experienced God as a burst of light, but then for 18 years, she didn’t feel connected to God at all. She was in the dark. She did pray. She offered spiritual direction. She ran a convent. But it wasn’t until 18 years later that she felt the presence of God return to her.>

The Bible is clear, the darkness will NOT last forever.

Where there is separation, there WILL be reconciliation.

Where there is pain, there will be relief.

Where there is uncertainty, there will be resolution.

God begins our days with darkness, but continues with the light.

And BECAUSE of the darkness, because of those times of separation and hardship and loss and betrayal, when we DO experience the sunrise, the joy will be overwhelming.

Our God is a god of the darkness first.

May we find God in the longing, in the waiting, and in the promise of light to come.

Advent Candle Lighting

(immediately after the sermon)

One: In these long nights of winter, we might find ourselves embracing the mysteries of God in the darkness: relishing the stillness of the night and the glimmer of stars, breathing into the spirit of creativity and emotion that thrives in the predawn hours of the morning, and enjoying all of the ways God’s creation comes alive in the moonlight.

Two: This Advent season, we may also experience darkness of a different kind – the emptiness of grief, the pain of separation, the fear of uncertainty, or the depths of despair.

One: Throughout this season of Advent, we light candles to remind us that whether the darkness we face is painful or whether it is life-giving–however we experience the darkness—God is there with us.

Two: Today, we light the first candle, the candle of hope: Hope for justice; Hope for healing; Hope for new life.

<lights candle now>

One: May we find comfort and assurance in the light of God’s hope.

Let us pray….

<Pastoral Prayer>