In just a couple of days we will have reached the darkest day of the year for the Northern Hemisphere; daylight hours will quickly give way to a very dark night, indeed. This Advent I have been more aware of the connection between the lengthening hours of night and the darkness of the world in which we live. Likely, this new awareness comes from being more conscious of recent headlines coupled with hearing the personal stories of struggles and pain within my circle of friends. With suffering all around us, how do we muster up the courage to face new days? How do we love the world when we see the cruel ways humans treat one another and the planet where we live? The only answer I can find is to look to God’s Word: “For God so loved the world that God sent his only Son…” (John 3:16) Our God loves the world! Seems hard to fathom these days. But God has asked us to love the world, too, as God’s beloved children. The answer is in the Incarnation – God humbled himself to take on our likeness, to bring salvation and hope in the midst of the mess we’ve made of things. When I try to wrap my head around this, I am filled with gratitude.
But that’s not all. I am also filled with the awareness that I have a responsibility to do something with this gratitude. Listening to the news the other morning, I was reminded of the day being the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting. There was a discussion of the abduction and likely murder of 43 college students in Mexico earlier this fall. While on my travels to Atlanta to celebrate Christmas with my family, I saw the news Monday afternoon of a shooter in Pennsylvania and the hostage situation in Australia. Why them? Why not me? I don’t know that I’ve ever been more aware of being born in a privileged situation than I have been recently. I am reminded of a verse of Scripture – “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48). If we’re honest with ourselves, we each need to answer how we have used what we’ve been given. I know that the “E” word (evangelism) is not a word that most of us are comfortable using but, for us as Episcopalians, we know about the Incarnation; we know of God’s love for the world. Perhaps, the first thing we can do is share that knowledge with those around us that are not so sure of the hope we have in Christ. What a Christmas gift that would be!! In the midst of the darkness, we can share the light of Christ!!
Our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, wrote of the light of Christ in the Incarnation in her Christmas message this year:
The altar hanging at an English Advent service was made of midnight blue, with these words across its top: “We thank you that darkness reminds us of light.” Facing all who gathered there to give thanks were images of night creatures – a large moth, an owl, a badger, and a bat – cryptic and somewhat mysterious creatures that can only be encountered in the darkness.
As light ebbs from the days and the skies of fall, many in the Northern Hemisphere associate dark with the spooks and skeletons of secular Hallowe’en celebrations. That English church has reclaimed the connection between creator, creation, and the potential holiness of all that is. It is a fitting reorientation toward the coming of One who has altered those relationships toward new possibilities for healing and redemption.
Advent leads us into darkness and decreasing light. Our bodies slow imperceptibly with shorter days and longer nights, and the merriness and frantic activity around us are often merely signs of eager hunger for light and healing and wholeness.
The Incarnation, the coming of God among us in human flesh, happened in such a quiet and out of the way place that few noticed at first. Yet the impact on human existence has been like a bolt of lightning that continues to grow and generate new life and fire in all who share that hunger.
Jesus is among us like a flitting moth – will we notice his presence in the street-sleeper? He pierces the dark like a silent, streaking owl seeking food for hungry and defenseless nestlings. He will overturn this world’s unjust foundations like badgers undermining a crooked wall. Like the bat’s sonar, his call comes to each one uniquely – have we heard his urgent “come and follow”?
God is among us, and within us, and around us, encountering, nudging, loving, transforming the world and its creatures toward the glorious dream the shepherds announced so many years ago, toward the beloved community of prophetic dreams, and the nightwatch that proclaims “all is well, fear not, the Lord is here.”
May Christ be born anew in you this Christmastide. May his light burn in you, and may you labor to spread it in the darkness. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and it is the harbinger of peace for all creation.
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
The Nuts and Bolts Blog will be back after the New Year with more news of resolutions and opportunities to bring the light of Christ actively to our world. For now, I wish you a blessed time of reflection for the remaining days of Advent and a joyous celebration of the Incarnation!
~Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council