We Start in the Dark

When I take really long road trips, I like to start in the wee morning hours while it is still dark out, when I would drive from Texas back to the southeast, I would always leave around 3 or 4 in the morning so that I could easily fit the 15-hour drive into one day. Perhaps I picked this up from my father who, anytime we would make the holiday drive from our home in middle Tennessee to south Indianapolis where my grandparents lived, would wake me and my brother up while it was dark to get a portion of the drive behind him before the day drew near. As we drove, we seemed to leave the darkness behind as we made the journey; but no matter where we ended up, we always started in the dark.

It struck me this week as I prayed through the texts for today, that as we begin a new liturgical year, as Christians we very often start in the dark. We start in the dark of the empty tomb found on Easter morning, and as St. Paul describes here in the passage from Romans, we start in the dark because “the night is far gone, and the day is near.” The light of day-the light and hope of salvation- Paul tells the church at Rome, is near and in consideration of this we ought to continually be oriented to who we are when we are at our best; our lives should be shaped over and over again in light of our baptism. We should put off what draws us away from an ability to be aware and awake, always looking toward the hope of Christ; because we may start in the dark, but we are not called to stay there.

We may start in the dark, but my, friends, we are not to stay there. Paul encourages the congregation at Rome to wake up because they know what time it is; he encourages them to wake up because in a lot of ways, it is easier to stay asleep. It is easier to keep ourselves dull and inattentive to the difficulties of living a life of faith in a world that finds its joy and delight in things other than following Christ.

Like the church at Rome, we start today in the dark. As we enter Advent, we start in the dark, but with a reminder to wake up. A reminder to wake up and to watch for the light, as we wait for the advent of our Lord and the birth of the Christ child; yet we must keep our hearts and minds oriented toward the cross. And it might seem strange as we are all putting out our nativity scenes that we ought to look not toward the manager, but toward the cross. But what we see here is that the church at Rome was still quite young, and even though there was probably still first-hand knowledge of Christ’s death, this letter being written some 20 years after the cross, the sense of hope for these Roman Christians had begun to wane. Paul encourages them to wake up, to keep watch, because the salvation and the hope of Christ is very near.

There may not be many similarities between 21st century American Christians and 1st century Roman Christians, but I have no doubt that one of them is a sense of waning hope. The world outside is difficult, and the struggle to hold onto the hope that salvation is near is not a new experience. Wars and famines rage on and the hungry and the oppressed carry a heavier burden than those who benefit from their hunger and oppression. Some days the darkness seems too dark and the waiting too heavy and the hope too far off. How, then, are we supposed to wake up; how are we supposed to wake when we are so very worn out? How do we continue to press on, holding onto hope that the night is far gone and the day is near; that we may start in the dark, but aren’t destined to stay there.

The answer, I think, is found in the last part of our epistle text, we are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” And this isn’t just a vague metaphor for what it means to be a Christian, it is a direct reference to a baptismal practice at the time. When someone was baptized, they went into the body of water on one side, were baptized, and then came out on the other side and were immediately met with a white robe. This symbolic act signified that once baptized, we are no longer just ourselves, but that we have, quite literally, put on Jesus Christ.

But how do we wake up when we are worn out? How do we move out of the darkness into the light of day? Quite simply, we live into our baptized life, to put on Jesus. To wake up this Advent, I think we are going to have to lean on each other. In a somewhat counter-cultural move, we are going to have to ask each other for help when the darkness seems too deep. We are going to have to avoid the temptation that says to put on a good “almost Christmas” face and trust the Christian community to which we belong.

And we’re going to have to be honest with ourselves and with others; we’re going to have to be honest about where we are on the spectrum between night and day. Advent requires us to know where we are, to sit with it, and to be willing to resist the temptation to pretend that we are always happy, sunshine Christians. Perhaps this Advent, you need to share that you are more of a dark night of the soul Christian; to be honest that your faith may be wavering in the darkness of the night.

And yet with both of these things, I think we are called this Advent to nonetheless put our trust and hope in the light of Christ. To be willing to unapologetically lean upon each other, with vulnerability and willingness to be seen in a world that demands that we hide. To be sincerely honest with ourselves about our spiritual location, in a cultural landscape that often demands that we be perfunctorily glad as we wait for Christmas. To do these things is to live into Advent; it is to live into the life of watching and waiting to which God is calling us. To do these things is live into our baptized life, to put on our Lord Jesus Christ; to be willing to learn and grow together. To do these things is to live into the hope and light of the resurrection; trusting that God is present even if we start in the dark. This Advent, we are called to wake up; we are called to live into the unrelenting hope and light of Christ, even as we wait in darkness for that very hope to come, for the night is far gone, and the day is near.

A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY for Advent 1A, Romans 13: 11-14 on December 1, 2019. 

1 Comment

  1. Leland kello says:

    Thank you for posting this it means so much, love to all god bless and I am blessed

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