Keeping the Light

Keeping the Light November 30, 2015

Normally, I’m a purist. Nothing green or sparkly goes up at my house until the first Sunday of Advent. Not a strain of Christmas music creeps over my airways until December 1. No shopping until I really HAVE to. And even then, my version of ‘shopping’ is pretty modest.

But this year? Somebody call the liturgical police—because I am like Buddy the Elf up in here. I finished most of my shopping online weeks ago. The minute I finished my turkey and mashed potatoes on Thursday, I cranked on the all-Xmas, all the time station. I could not haul the stockings out fast enough. And lights—I strung up every string i could find, until my house looked like a meager riff on Clark Griswold, and then I went to Target to buy more.

You guys, I went to Target. During the holiday season. On a SATURDAY. This is serious. I normally don’t leave my house—except to drive to church and the grocery—for the full 6 weeks between Nov 15 and Jan 1. I just can’t even deal.

But this year… I don’t know, this year, I need a little Christmas. right this very minute. I need sugar cookies and some sleigh bells. I may need some corny holiday movies. And I need lights —white or multi, still or flashing, big or small, doesn’t matter— maybe we are ready for all that twinkle because everything else lately has just felt kind of

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It’s not just me, is it? Friday’s incident in Colorado Springs just sealed the deal. There is too much terror, and threat of war; there is too much hatred of the other; too much greed and heartbreak and hunger and political polarizing and fear mongering. So many people we love, hurting or heartbroken. We are ready for the light to enter the world, and overcome the darkness.

Of course—that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Into that holy longing, God finds an empty space, a waiting place —to enter the world and do a new thing. To come into the world as a baby who will change everything.

Today is just the beginning. It’s the beginning of the Advent season—OFFICIALLY, and if you cheated and listened to Jingle Bell Rock last Tuesday, we don’t need a confessional. But it is also the beginning of the liturgical year. Through the rhythm of the church seasons, we can experience God’s stories over and over, in different seasons of our own lives—with fresh perspective on what they mean for us, at different points on our faith journey.  As we await Christ’s coming, we might hear the old story fresh this year, because of a present darkness in the world, or because of a certain hope that we hold for our family.

But wherever we are coming from, let this whole season is an exercise in mindfulness —remembering that the things we fill our time and our space with cannot really satisfy the longing of heart that drives us through these winter days. We can certainly enjoy all the festivity, to remind us of all the goodness that we are waiting for. But ultimately, we are not just called to a way of belief. We are called to a life of practice. 

A discipline of Holding hope, for those who have lost it.

Modelling peace, for a world that no longer believes it’s possible.

Being joyful, in the midst of a creeping winter darkness. 

Living love, whatever else the world might value more.

Vanessa Cantley is the owner of El Camino, a popular restaurant in a trendy area of Louisville, Kentucky. She said recently,“I was sitting in my living room watching the news in the wake of the Paris attacks and reading a lot of negative commentary and backlash surrounding the refugee crisis… and I was just getting so sad about all the things I was reading.  I knew that wasn’t the Louisville I live in and the Louisville I love.”

Her response was to invite all the refugees who have resettled in her city to share a meal at her restaurant, on Thanksgiving Day. So on Thursday, the place was filled with families from Syria, Iraq, Cuba, and elsewhere. In all, with the help of hundreds of volunteers over several days of preparation, they fed nearly 300 people.

The upstairs storage area of the restaurant is now filled with toys and clothing and household items to be distributed during the holidays.

Cantley says, “A week ago I was in tears in my living room for the wrong reasons.  And now I’m in tears for the right ones”

* * *

Jesus said to the Pharisees (and presumably, eavesdropping disciples) “I am the Light.” That’s the promise we hang onto through these long dark December days; through terror and threat of war; through illness and heartbreak and isolation. We trust that Jesus is the light, and wait for this new thing that God might do with our emptiness.

But Jesus also says: YOU are the light. You are the light of the world.

That is our call in every season, but especially in this one: we are light keepers. We are the voice of radical welcome and promised hope —knowing that the one we wait for is also a refugee, an ‘other,’ and one much feared by the rich and powerful.

How are you keeping the light? As your Advent discipline, pray that God might show you ways to provide hope, encouragement or sanctuary to someone in need. 

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