There is a story told by Robert Lewis Stevenson about his life as a child growing up in Scotland around the turn of the century. He lived on a hillside outside of a small town and each evening he would sit in his family’s kitchen looking down on the town and watching the lamp lighter ignite each of the town’s street lamps. The man would make his way through the town lighting each lamp and Stevenson was always amazed how the lamp lighter’s work could transform his neighborhood from a place of darkness into a place of light. One evening he remembered saying – “Look, mother, there is a man down there who punched holes in the darkness.” (Quoted from H. King Oehmig)
If you were to ask – “tell me one thing that defines what it is we are supposed to do as Christians, one thing that defines what it means to be a disciples of Christ,” I could find no better answer than to say – you are supposed to be someone who punches holes in the darkness. Christians are supposed to be those who wear the armor of light as St. Paul says. We are supposed to be those who live to make the world a brighter place. We are supposed to be those who go into the darkness for the very purpose of bringing light to the world.
The gospels are full of light images and Advent and Christmas are the seasons when we hear these images used most often. John proclaims in the prologue to his gospel that Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness, the true light that has come into the world. Matthew quotes Isaiah when referring to Jesus declaring – “the people who have sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region of the shadow of death light has dawned.” Jesus refers to himself as, “the light of the world” and says, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” As disciples, we are those whose job it is to be like Christ in the world – “to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life” – as our collect says.
And yet, we are often those who produce very little light and the light we do emit is light we use for ourselves. We come to church to have our batteries charged so that we can make it through another week. When in fact we are called to get our batteries charged so that we might be a bright light so that we might shine for others. Being doers of the word and not hearers only can be translated into don’t hide your lamp under a bushel, go forth into the darkness and by your life punch holes into it.
Advent is the season when we are called to examine our lives, to clean out and clean up in order to make room for Christ when he comes on Christmas day. In Normandy during Advent, it is said that French farmers still employ children to run with lighted torches through the fields and orchards setting fire to bundles of straw. This is done to drive out vermin so that the Christ child might have a clean bed when he comes. (Quoted from Donald S. Armentrout) Advent is our time to drive out of our lives all those works of darkness that St. Paul talks about so that we might be prepared to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
As I reflect on the state of my own soul this Advent, I realize that Thanksgiving Day in this church was a wake up call for me. Before that day I must admit that I have been rather self absorbed. I have been glued to the television listening to reports of the war, to stories about the presence of anthrax, to endless discussions about the possible threats of terrorism still to come. I have been focused on myself because I have been worried about my life and the life of my family. I have been worried about the future of my children and the future of our nation. Perhaps you can relate to this kind of self-referential thinking. But when I saw all that food come into this church on Thanksgiving Day, 3000 pounds of food for the hungry and needy of our community, I was awakened from my slumbers and confronted by the great need that is all around me. The world goes on. September 11th and its aftermath are still fresh in my mind but all those bags of food reminded me that I cannot lose sight of the pressing need of my community because of my larger fears. I have to burn out the vermin of my fear. The world may seem so dark at times that it frightens us but that should not divert us from our jobs as Christians to carry our lights into our little world, to light our lamps, to punch holes in the darkness that is right here, right now, in this place, in this city.
When tragedy strikes, when our way of life is threatened it is normal to want to pull back, to want to cling tightly to all that we posses because we feel that it has been threatened. But we cannot stay that way. The longer we turn inward the less prepared we are to be like Christ. The more we turn inward the dimmer our light becomes. There are two fundamental ways to approach life. We can approach life with the attitude of scarcity or with the attitude of abundance. The first way says that there is not enough time, there is not enough money, there is not enough energy – our resources are very limited and we only have enough for our family and our immediate responsibilities. When we believe that the resources of life are scarce then we cling tightly to what we have, wasting our energy pursuing ways to hold onto what is already ours. The second way is to say that life is given in greater abundance than we ever realize. There is more than enough to go around, there is more than enough time, energy and resources if we only let go of them and give.
My challenge to you this advent, my challenge to myself, is to live these days out of abundance and not scarcity. Not the kind of abundance that means buying more relatively meaningless, trivial presents for people who then feel obligated to give you the same in return. Rather to live the days of Advent out of abundance means to give back to your family, your community, your city in ways that are cleansing and unselfish, through behaviors that allow you to punch just a little hole in the darkness. I don’t mean trivial acts that only serve to make us feel better like the tinkle of the quarter as it falls into the red Salvation Army pot. Rather, I mean selfless acts of giving aimed only at improving the life of another. Have you written the letter or made the phone call to the person who needs to hear from you, to the person who needs to hear you say – I’m sorry or I forgive you or I love you. Have you signed up for the Giving tree, to help provide Christmas for families who have very little? Have you thought about taking food to the food bank on a regular basis? Will you sign up to help with Caritas so that we can provide adequate food and shelter for people who live on the streets of our city?
There is so much to do. Now is the time to wake from sleep to look around us and live what we profess. Now is the time to rekindle our lamps and hold them high for all to see. Christ is coming. Are we ready? Amen.