Keep Awake

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + 1st Sunday of Advent + December 3, 2017

Readings: Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37

This Wednesday I felt like just about every conversation with other human beings started by jumping right into the particularly hot topic of current events right now: the ever-growing list of famous men who have been accused of sexual harassment. Their names came up while I talked with people waiting to see Jolene; they came up while a few of us got to know our new nursery attendant; they came up while we were gathering for our Worship Planning meeting. And then I got home, and a friend came over for dinner, and started the conversation with, “Did you hear about Garrison Keillor?” And I wanted to scream “Yes, I heard, and I know, but I’m hungry and I don’t want to think about all these guys anymore!”

And while some of the particular men being accused may surprise us, or some of the details of the stories of harassment may be particularly gross and shocking, most of the people I’ve spoken with — especially the women — have not been surprised by the high number of incidents or people involved. And that’s because we all already knew that harassment and abuse happen all the time. It’s a fact of life; it’s been a fact of life for pretty much ever, and unfortunately I think most women are used to just putting up with it. Until very, very recently, it was hard to imagine anything changing, even if we did speak up; it was hard to imagine even being taken seriously. For many of us, I bet it’s still hard to imagine any change happening in our own circles. And for those of us who took deeply to heart the childhood lessons to “not be rude” or “not cause a fuss,” it’s hard to imagine actually complaining or accusing, anyway.

In life in general when we feel “that’s the way it’s always been,” or “that’s just how it is,” it’s hard to imagine any change, and even harder to try to be the one doing the changing. And often we don’t even see the need for change, because we’ve only ever known things the way they are. It’s “the water we swim in”; we take it for granted; we don’t think about it. We just live in it.

But we are entering a Church season where we look towards radical, foundation-shaking change. Today is the first Sunday of Advent. This is the season of the church year that leads us to feel our deepest longings: longings for the “way things have always been” to change. Longings for God to send a prophet or messiah to break apart all that tells us “that’s just how it is” and to bring about real justice and real rightness and real peace. Longings for even Godself to disrupt our world: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!”

As we begin this season of praying that God would come and disrupt “the way it’s always been,” maybe it’s helpful for us to enter Advent acknowledging that we, as a whole, have such a strong tendency to let things go on the way they are going, to let things be “the way they have always been.” There are a huge range of reasons why we do this, from just not thinking about it, to believing we can’t change anything anyway, and all the way to recognizing that we benefit from the way things are and fighting to keep them this way. In any case, we tend to preserve the way things are, to “go with the flow,” even if it’s not good for others, sometimes even if it’s not good for ourselves.

So maybe it’s helpful for us that right now, as Advent begins, our news sources don’t go five minutes without reminding us that we have lived in the habit of overlooking or hiding harassment and assault all this time. Maybe that will help us to notice some of the other things we put up with or let keep on going that we shouldn’t, whether those are other society-wide things, or unhealthy patterns within your friends or family groups, or personal habits you’ve let slide for too long.

Advent is a time to remember that God wants change, that we need change. Things aren’t going to stay the way they are: God is coming, and God is going to shake things up.

In today’s gospel lesson we read of how Jesus told his disciples that the great day was approaching: the day when God’s messiah would come into the world and change everything, knocking away everything contrary to God’s will. Some of the images he used were disturbing: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light…” But at the heart of Jesus’s message here is a promise: God will gather God’s people together. Things seem awful and scattered and violent now, but God will make them okay. The messiah is coming, and he will make things good and right and just.

In the meantime, Jesus said, while you wait, do not go about business as usual. Do not fall into the patterns of the world as it is. “Beware, keep alert…keep awake– for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: keep awake.”

In this passage Jesus reminds me of a character in the Harry Potter series, Professor “Mad-Eye” Moody, and his catchphrase: “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!”

With Jesus it is the promise of God’s coming that calls us to constant vigilance: Keep awake, be on the lookout for the promise to come true. Watch — always watch — for the moment when God does “tear open the heavens and come down,” when God comes to change all the awful ways things “have always been”, when God establishes God’s perfect kingdom. We aren’t living for “the way things have always been” or for the way things are — we are living forward, towards that promise.

The emphasis in our gospel lesson is on something big and final: that future event we call the Last Day or Judgment Day or the Apocalypse. But Jesus’s command here – “Keep awake!” — doesn’t have to be only about that one day.

Because as we are keeping our eyes peeled open for the messiah’s return, watching out for the signs that it’s finally happening, our constant vigilance will help us catch onto what God is already doing here and now. With our eyes wide open, we might see past “the way things have always been” to the way things could be, the way God wants them to be. We might see the ways God is already here, already pulling apart the things in our world that cause (or allow) suffering and injustice and evil.

God is at work in the testimony of those who are suffering (Listen.); in the efforts of those trying to change things for the better (Watch.); in the little voice in the back our heads that says, “This isn’t right; God wants things to be different than this. Better than this.” (Pay attention.) We need to keep awake, keep alert, so that God can pull us past our habit of accepting the way things are and into a future built on God’s promises, God’s vision for the world.


“Judgment Day” (painting), Aaron Douglas, 1939. Via Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s Art in the Christian Tradition

During Lent we often choose to give something up or take something on as a way to challenge ourselves for that season: to try and rid ourselves of a bad habit, or encourage a good one; to become more aware of others’ suffering or to make a bigger place for God in our lives.

As we begin Advent, let’s take Jesus’s words here — “Keep awake! Keep alert!” — as inspiration for an Advent practice. From now until Christmas, is there something you can give up that would help you be more aware the need for change in our world and more alert to God’s work around you? Is there a practice you could take on that would help you to know God more or to remember to look for God around you? In the midst of this busy time, full of planning and parties and buying presents and travelling, is there one thing you can do to keep God at the center, to keep yourself grounded in God’s work, to not get distracted or lulled by the ways of the world, but to keep alert for the promises of God?

Think and pray about it for a moment now.

Let us pray.

God for whom we wait and watch: keep our eyes open for moments when you break into our usual way of doing things, moments when you come bringing good news, healing, and salvation. Open our hearts to receive you and the Word you bring, whether it be a word of comfort or of challenge. Strengthen us for service in your mission, until your kingdom comes in full and your will is done on earth as it is in heaven. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.


The Longest Night

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + Advent Midweek Service + December 21, 2016

A reading from the Gospel according to Luke:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ (Luke 2:25-35, NRSV)

Tonight is the longest night of the year. Despite our efforts to harness the sun through the great trick of Daylight Saving’s Time, the darkness of night has taken over more and more of the morning time, and the sun has been setting earlier and earlier in the evening. I’m sure many of you feel like you hardly get to experience the sunlight at all, and it’s an even stronger feeling when those few hours of sun are clouded over. If we didn’t know better – if we hadn’t been through this before – it could seem like the darkness was slowly overtaking the light.

We might have that same feeling at other times that have nothing to do with the length of daylight. Shadows fall with illness or injury, loneliness or over-exertion, bad news or brain chemistry, and life just seems so dark.

Maybe Simeon and the others who longed for the coming of the Messiah felt that kind of heavy darkness. The Messiah was the hope people clung to in the darkest times: the fire that would burn away evil and suffering; the “sun of righteousness”; the dawning of a new day; the light that would brighten the future.

A few weeks ago the Monday Evening Bible Study group talked via Skype with Lois Tverberg, the author of the book we’d been reading, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus. It’s a book that taught us to better understand Jesus by studying the Jewish culture that he lived and breathed. We asked Lois about what Jewish people believed — and still believe — about the Messiah: what were they hoping for? What were they expecting? It’s a complicated question to answer in a few minutes, but she gave us a general picture of the wide spectrum of beliefs about the longed-for Messiah.

You are probably familiar with one common belief: that the Messiah would come as a warrior-king, conquering in the name of God, striking down the wicked, lifting up the righteous, and establishing the Kingdom of Heaven. Another school of thought said that the Messiah would only come after the world became what God wanted it to be: we would have to perfect ourselves and repair our world first, and then the Messiah would arrive. You might say that for those believers striving for righteousness was a way of “preparing the way of the Lord.” On either end of the spectrum, the coming of the Messiah was a sign of the perfection of the world.

What tonight’s story, what Simeon’s song and his prophecy tell us about Jesus the Messiah is much messier than that. This is a messiah born in the midst of darkness and brokenness, with more on the horizon.

In the Gospel of Luke, it is already obvious that this infant Messiah was born into the midst of an imperfect world. He was born into the midst of the global constants of our brokenness: wars, disease, poverty, greed…And the hurt of our world also surrounded Jesus’s own birth in specific ways: his mother had been forced to travel while heavily pregnant so that she and her husband could be placed on the registry of a far-away Emperor; and when it came time to deliver her child, she and Joseph could find no shelter. The Bible doesn’t even mention a stable; for all we know, our savior was born in the streets.

And now, a few weeks later, Mary and Joseph present the baby Jesus at the Temple. But the words that Simeon speaks over this little baby do not paint visions of a King who will easily conquer the world; instead, Simeon’s words to the young parents are haunting: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”

We, who know what happens in the rest of Jesus’s story, might hear in those words the foretelling of conflicts, ridicule, persecution, and crucifixion. And those things continue for Jesus’s disciples even after his resurrection.

And today, two-thousand years after the birth of the messiah, our world is still not perfect. In the midst of celebrating Christ’s birth, we are haunted by images from Aleppo; we are reminded of the hungry families in our own community; we mourn those who are not with us in our celebrations, and we grieve those we fear to lose. And so something about today, December 21, rings true: that in so many ways we are living in the longest night.

And yet we know that tomorrow – December 22 — there will be a little more light, and the next day a little more, and the next day, a little more.

And we know that a light shone in that manger 2,000 years ago. It was not the sudden, bright, light of a world made perfect; but it was the quiet light of a slow dawn: the gentler, humbler light of love — but with all the strength of divine love in action.

Because the message of the birth of the messiah —surprisingly — was not perfection. It was Emmanuel: God is with us. In the midst of our brokenness, our grief, our suffering, Emmanuel: God is with us. Even in the middle of our longest nights, Emmanuel: God is with us.

God cares for us — enough to take on flesh and dwell with us in this imperfect world. God grieves with us. God weeps with us. And God moves in us and around us to fight against that darkness and bring light into our world: God brings the light of love, through family and friends and even strangers sent to support us and help us to smile. God brings the light of joy through music and art that uplift us, through good memories, through the practice of thankfulness. God brings the light of hope for another dawn and a little more light. God brings the light of faith that Christ will come into our lives again, and again, and again — to “make our darkness bright.” We are not fighting the darkness alone. Emmanuel. God is with us.

Prisoners of Hope

Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin TN + Advent 1 + November 29, 2015

Readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

The dichotomy is irresolvable: knowledge of death and hope for life both have their claws in me. –Dorothee Soelle

Our Advent wreath stands right here before me, with that very first Advent candle burning brightly. Each of the candles in the wreath represents a different intention for our devotion during the season of Advent; each candle is a reminder of one of the gifts God promises to us, something to meditate on as we prepare our hearts and our lives for Christ to come into them, again and again. The first candle is for hope; the second for faith; the third for joy; and the last candle is for peace.

The candle we lit today is the hope candle, sometimes called the “Prophet’s Candle.” It reminds us that in the midst of all the dark, depressing, or just frustrating stuff of life, God gives us reason to hope. A devotion Pastor Lippard led for some groups here at church this week put it in even stronger words: we are prisoners of hope.

“Prisoners of Hope” comes from Zech. 9, in which God promises to send a king to restore Israel: “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double” (v. 12).

That phrase stuck with me. Something about calling myself a “prisoner of hope” felt like it hit on something stronger and more true than simply saying “we are hopeful people” or even “we are the people who never lose hope.” I think it’s because a lot of the time I am not a hopeful person.

Well, no, that’s not exactly right. I’ll force myself to be more honest. I try not to be a hopeful person. I am a very hopeful person. Sometimes too hopeful.  And that terrifies me. So one of my most automatic defense mechanisms is to try and stop myself from hoping too much.

Because hoping is not passive or easy or safe. Sure, when I hear the word “hope”, the first images that pop into my head are always the cute, fluffy ones: someone daydreaming about the perfect career or the perfect love or the perfect afternoon and being filled with that warm, sunlit feeling that it will come to be. They go on about their day with a little bounce in their step, a little more patience, and a little more strength, because they have that hope lighting them up from the inside.

But that’s not how hope really works. Hope is so much more assertive, so much more demanding. Hope gives us a vision for the future. And then that vision gets inside of us; it becomes part of the way we imagine our lives; we start to make choices based on that hope we have for the future. We start to prepare for it. We make ourselves vulnerable to it.

And that’s what terrifies me. What if I put all this time and effort and emotional energy towards a hope that falls apart? What if that eight-year-old boy gets up early on a Saturday and reorganizes his tackle-box and digs up worms in the backyard, and then his dad can’t take him fishing after all? What if a woman turns down a leadership position on a big project at work so that she can focus on interviewing for a new, better job…and then doesn’t get the job? What if I spend time with these guys in jail, encouraging and mentoring and forming friendships, hoping that they start living better…and then I see them back in the jail again?

Hope makes so many decisions and sacrifices feel totally worth the risk, and it fills day-to-day life with a special energy; but crushed hopes make it all feel like a waste. When my hope is crushed, it makes me wonder what could have been, had I not pinned all my energy to that hope. Makes me question my ability to make good decisions. And crushed hope just plain hurts. That’s why I try to run from hope.

And yet I am a prisoner of hope. I can’t escape hoping. Not just because of my personality, but because of my faith. Christianity demands that we hope. Christianity demands that we hope, even when it’s hard to hope, even when it doesn’t make sense to hope, even when it’s dangerous to hope. In the face of overwhelming odds; when we are the weak little underdog; in the valley of the shadow of death, God demands that we hope.  God demands that we hope and that we act on that hope. That is a message I see over and over throughout the Bible, and it’s here in our readings today.

Our first reading comes from the book of Jeremiah, and the fact that Jeremiah is known as “the weeping prophet” ought to be a good reminder that his messages of hope come from a time when hope must have been nearly impossible. In fact, one of my Bibles introduces this book with the sentence, “The book of Jeremiah was written for people in the throes of suffering.”(1)

Jeremiah prophesied during one of the greatest historical tragedies of the Israelite people: the time when Babylon was taking over the nation of Judah, taking over the capital city, Jerusalem, taking over the government. He spoke the word of God in the midst of violent resistance and chaos as his country collapsed all around him, and as, eventually, its king, its leaders, and many of its people were taken away to exile in Babylon. God had promised to establish the Israelite people in their land, to protect them, to keep David’s decedents on the throne — but now all that seemed gone, destroyed. If ever there was a time that all hope was lost, this was it.

And yet in the middle of the book of Jeremiah are a few chapters that tell the people to keep hoping. Don’t give up on the promises of God. Don’t live your lives like the future you had been promised is gone. Don’t get used to the way things are. Live like you know that God will save you. God remains faithful to you. Stay faithful to your God.

The gospel reading also calls for hope in the midst of hopeless circumstances. At the time when Jesus gave this apocalyptic little speech, he had been in Jerusalem — the big city, the home of the Temple, the center of his religion — long enough to see what was going on there.

And this part of Jesus’s life reminds me of the time Martin Luther first visited Rome. The 2003 movie Luther starring Joseph Fiennes does a great job of portraying it. (Click here to watch the film scene.) The young idealistic monk makes a journey to the great holy city, takes a deep breath to prepare himself for the glorious enlightenment that awaits him there…and then finds himself surrounded by throngs of poor and needy people, sees clergy unabashedly taking part in prostitution, struggles to get away from those peddling things they claim to be holy relics, and, along with rushed crowds of others, pays the church so that he may do penance in behalf of souls in purgatory. When he gets home to Germany, he is disillusioned and angry: “Rome is a circus,” he says. “A running sewer.”

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, his experience was similar. But Jesus was not so idealistic; he was already weeping over the city as he approached, even referencing Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet” (Lk. 19:41-44; Jer. 6). Then he visited the Temple, saw how that holy place had become a place of profane buying and selling, and drove the people out (Lk. 19:45-46). He saw the priests and other religious leaders living richly while the poor widows who had nothing else to live on gave all they had to the Temple (Lk. 20:45-21:4). His disciples looked around and admired the huge, beautiful Temple, but Jesus said: No. It will all be torn down (Lk. 21:5-6). And then he went on to say the words we read earlier this morning: conflict and wars will continue; his followers will be persecuted; nature itself will show signs of suffering. Soon after this speech — in the very next chapter, in the book of Luke (22:39 and on) — Jesus is betrayed by a friend, handed over to the Temple authorities, then handed over to Rome, and then handed over to Death. Maybe Jesus sees all this coming, too (Lk. 18:31-34).

But, again, like in the book of Jeremiah: in the midst of all this betrayal of religion and faith, in the midst of the chaos as a city and culture are crashing down, and even in the midst of personal persecution, Jesus gave a message of hope. And he gave it as a command to his disciples: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

This is not easy hope. This is demanding hope. There will be violence and war, but stand up and raise your heads. Nature will fail, but stand up and raise your heads. You will be persecuted, but stand up and raise your heads. Be faithful. Keep pressing on. Live in the way of Jesus, for your redemption is drawing near.

Jesus’s faithful hope that God would redeem the world from this never-ending cycle of injustice and violence demanded that he live according to that hope. It demanded that he be arrested and crucified rather than give in to that cycle by becoming part of the violence or by being a passive observer to it. From his disciples that hope demanded hard work and travel and sacrifice and persecution and death.

And when these words were written in the Gospel of Luke, they were written for a people who knew what this hope demanded. Living some 50 years or so after Jesus had died, they had seen the Roman governors stomp on the faith and the customs of the Jewish people. They had seen the people of Israel revolt against Rome. They had seen Rome besiege Jerusalem, starving its people. They had seen the Temple go down. Maybe they had suffered themselves, and probably they faced persecution for their faith in Christ. This was no easy time to hope in a savior who had been crucified, who some claimed had been resurrected, but who was so slow to return and set things right.

And yet the Gospel of Luke encouraged those people to hope. To actively hope. It told them to stand up and raise their heads. It told them to live according to the teachings of Jesus even in those dangerous times: to care not only for themselves, but for the people who were most vulnerable to need and suffering. To dare to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them. To be willing to sacrifice and to take risks. It told them to have faith in the God revealed in Jesus Christ. In short, the Gospel commanded them to commit daring acts of hope — hope that the Kingdom of God had indeed drawn near, and would one day come in full.

And the gospel continues to demand that we hope — and that we act on that hope.  So, in this first week of Advent, this season of preparing our hearts and our lives for the coming of Christ and the fulfillment of all God’s promises, I ask you to ask yourself: What does our Christian hope demand from us? What sort of world does God promise for us, and how do we act as if we believe that world is truly coming to be? How do we prepare the way for God’s kingdom?

Female Teen Hands Holding Burning Candle

Image from

Dorothee Soelle is quoted in Deanna Thompson’s Crossing the Divide: Luther, Feminism, and the Cross, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), pp. 139.

  1. O’Connor, Kathleen M., “Jeremiah: Introduction,”The Access Bible, ed. Gail R. O’Day and David Petersen, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 963.

A Light Shines in the Darkness

Text: Ruth 2-3

Shared December 10, 2014 at St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN

I’ve read the story of Ruth a few times before, but this is the first time I’ve tried to imagine it as a Disney movie. Roll with me on this. The section we read today is basically a Cinderella story: a young woman’s life is torn apart by the death of her father-in­-law and her husband, and she must toil her days away to take care of her family. Okay, so we’re
missing the evil step­mother – Naomi seems pretty great, actually – but I’m sure we could create another villain. Maybe a big scary Philistine or something. Anyway, Ruth and her awesome mother-­in­-law find themselves a prince charming – Boaz the rich relative – and hatch a plan to marry him to Ruth. Throw in a talking sheep who follows Ruth around the fields, and we’ve got ourselves a heartwarming family movie.

Whither Though Goest, Sandy Freckleton Gagon (oil on canvas)

Whither Though Goest, Sandy Freckleton Gagon (oil on canvas)

Of course, today’s reading left us in the middle of the story – we’re still waiting for a happily­-ever­-after. And so are Ruth and Naomi: they’re waiting, hoping, striving for a happy ending to their suffering. I can imagine the morning after Ruth and Boaz spend the night on the threshing­ floor: Ruth labors in the fields, sweating in the heat, her little talking sheep in tow, both of them wondering whether Boaz will bring back good news. Both of them dreaming of a wedding and a better life for Ruth and Naomi. A song plays over them as they work the fields:

There’s a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away
With a worn heart whose better days are o’er.
Though her voice would be merry, ‘tis sighing all the day,
Oh! Hard times come again no more.

Maybe some of you recognize the tune: it’s an old American song by Stephen Foster (“Hard Times Come Again No More”), the same guy who brought us “Oh Susannah” and “Camptown ladies sing this song, doo dah, doo dah…” I learned it in college with a choir, and it’s stuck with me ever since. But I heard this familiar piece in a new way this week, too. I heard it as an Advent song.

It feels kind of strange to stick “Hard Times Come Again No More” in with the hymns our congregation is singing this Advent: they have titles like “Prepare the Royal Highway” and “All Earth is Hopeful.” It feels even stranger to fit it into the holiday music we’re hearing all over the place. It’s not an easy transition from the last excited strains of “Joy to the World” to the first lines of Foster’s song: “Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears, while we all sup sorrow with the poor…” But let me explain why I’ve added it to my own Advent playlist.

Advent is a time to reflect on an essential part of living as Christians: that we are living in “a time between times.” Jesus has come, but we are waiting for him to come again. Jesus is with us, but not in the way he will be with us. We live in a time when we are still “preparing the way of the Lord.” We live in the “hard times.” Even though we know that “unto us a Savior is born,” we also know that there are many in need of saving: from hunger, from cruelty, from slavery. We know that we all still need to be saved daily from sin. Even though we find joy in gathering together with family to celebrate Christmas, many of us find that the celebrations only bring back our grief over the ones we love who cannot be with us. Like Ruth and Naomi – and Cinderella – we long for a real end to these “hard times,” and Advent is a perfect season to let loose our longing, to express our deep desire for the Messiah to come and bring us a happy ending. And so I sing the old Stephen Foster song as an Advent prayer:

‘Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard times, hard times, come again no more.
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door.
Oh! Hard times come again no more.

But this song is missing the most important part of Advent: hope. Ruth and Naomi have hope: they have seen that Prince Charming – I mean Boaz – is a good man, and he has promised them that he will care for them. And we have an even greater hope than the hope for our own Prince Charming; we have the hope of Emmanuel, “God with us.” We hope for our happy ending when the Messiah returns. But we also have hope for right now. We have hope that even in the hard times, God will grant us peace. God will surround us with love. God will be the embrace that sustains us. Because God is with us.

In a few minutes we will recite a verse from the gospel of John: “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). This is how I see the “Advent” part of the Christian life. “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Baptism brings this verse to life – especially if we can imagine being baptized as an adult, full-immersion style. Imagine walking down five stone steps into deep, chilly water. You renounce the devil and the ways of sin. You profess your faith. The pastor puts one arm behind your back. You cross your arms over your chest, like a body laid in a casket, and the pastor takes hold of your wrist. Suddenly you are underwater. The world is gone. You can’t see. You can’t breathe. You can’t get up on your own. Your heart pounds in your chest, certain that it is having a near­-death experience.

The Baptism, Christina Ramos (Acrylic on Canvas)

And then you are out of the water. You take in a big gulp of air and stand in the sunshine on your own two feet – resurrection. You have died with Christ, and you have been raised with him. With Christ you went into the darkness, and you were not overcome.

A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

That light is Christ. That light is in us. Even in the hard times, that light burns in us, warms us, and gives light to the world. And the darkness can never overcome it.