One morning, just as I was beginning to wake up, words of prayer were forming in my mind. I quickly wrote them down so I wouldn’t forget them and this week, as I was preparing for the first Sunday of Advent, I came across those words and I offer them to you as we begin this time of reflection.
You sometimes come to us as an unexpected visitor,
a stranger that we meet,
a child whose eyes fill with wonder at the simplest pleasures.
In this Advent season,
open our hearts to your persistent love
which weaves it’s way into our lives
slowly and surely, moment by moment
and day by day.
Do any of you remember the Where In The World Is Waldo books? They were popular with my daughters when they were children. Each page of the books is busy with illustrations, every bit crammed with pictures. The challenge is to find a boy named Waldo who is “hidden” somewhere in the picture. I sometimes think it’s like finding God in our lives, hiding in plain sight, and seeing Christ in those we meet in the mundane experiences of our lives. What we are looking for is there but we need to be able to attune our vision to see the holy in the ordinary occurrences of daily living. When we begin to be alert and watch for God’s presence everywhere we will begin to see and to feel God’s presence more often in our lives. We also may be able to see Christ’s presence in the guise of a stranger or friend. This becomes easier as we develop the skills of faith-filled vision.
During Advent, we are encouraged to “prepare the way” and open our hearts to the miracle of God’s love manifest in our lives and in our world. It is a time to intentionally be watchful for signs of God’s presence and grace. Advent is a time when we prepare our hearts to receive the blessing of Christ and to rededicate our own lives and gifts in his name. The hope and promise is that God is always present and that Christ came, and is with us still, as a tangible sign of God’s love and presence in the world. This is the stubborn, and persistent hope, that has inspired and sustained Christians throughout the ages.
The Gospel of John does not include a birth narrative for Jesus. Instead, as you heard this morning, John explains that God’s Word became flesh and lived among us giving light to those who walk in darkness. It seems that for John it was enough to know that “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” and that the “light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it”.
The image of light in the darkness is a powerful theme found in many places in the Bible. For example, the prophet Isaiah says, “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.” (Isaiah 9:2a) The Gospel of Luke says, “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.” (Luke 1:78-79) And, later on in the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus say, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
With these references in mind, and with the fact that in the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year the hours of darkness are longer than the daylight, it is not surprising that rituals involving light came into being. One such ritual, in the Christian tradition, is the lighting of candles during the season of Advent. Each week, as another candle is lit, the light grows brighter until on Christmas Eve a central candle representing Christ, the light of the world, is lit.
Most of us have had experiences when we’ve been in darkness, literally or metaphorically, and have known the comfort of a guiding light in our lives. Two such experiences, in my own life, come to mind. The first is a memory of camping with Jody when we were first married. We didn’t have a lot of money at that time so our camping equipment was very rudimentary. We didn’t have a lantern to illuminate our whole campsite but we did have a candle in a holder that we could carry. The candle provided just enough light to guide our steps and to see what was immediately in front of us. Enough light to meet the needs of the present moment. The second example is a memory of the light of faith that shone within me during a particularly difficult time in my life. My father had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and was receiving palliative care. It was Christmas Eve and one of the readings was the passage from Luke’s Gospel that I quoted earlier, “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.” (Luke 1:78-79) In that time of great need I heard those words as if for the first time and I took them to heart. They are words of comfort and hope that I have turned to often in the past and that I turn to now as my mother faces her own health crisis.
As people of faith, I believe we are people who live in the light of God’s loving presence. When I pray for someone, whose needs and concerns I feel keenly, I very often picture that person in my mind surrounded by light; the light of God’s presence. I have found this practice to be very reassuring and comforting.
As we worship together week by week in this Advent season may we be aware of, and grateful for, every time the light of God’s loving presence breaks into our shadowed lives. And, may we intentionally prepare and make room in our hearts and lives for the light of Christ’s presence in our world.
I pray this may be so. Amen