Advent light

A sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2016, at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio.
Year A Advent 1:

When we have finished the act of Baptism with water, and sealed the baptized with the sign of the cross, it is our tradition to hand them a lighted candle, saying,

“Receive the light of Christ, a sign of the new life enkindled within you. Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.”

During Advent, each week we light another candle, working towards the center, the light made manifest in the world, the light of Christ.

Advent is a time for the church – for the assembly of the baptized –especially to shine as a light in the world.

So we begin with the words of Isaiah,

“Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

With Paul, we pray in our Collect,

“Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light.”

For you know what time it is. Time to awaken from sleep.

When this season draws to its close, on Christmas Eve, we will gather here in the dark, and as the last person receives the Sacrament, and our shufflings cease and our buzzing overhead lights are silences, we will light candles and sing of the night that fell, and the Light that came into the world to brighten it, to break open the darkness, to bring us within sight of God.

Shine as a light in the world

I’ve been reflecting, and praying, and wondering about what it means for us to be a light in the world. What is it that we think we are called to do; what is the grace that we are asking to exercise?

Isaiah speaks of the mountain of the Lord being established as the highest of hills, visible to all around.

During the nineteenth century, a Presbyterian minister by the name of John Rankin lived in a house atop a 300-foot hill on the banks of the Ohio River, in Ripley. An avid abolitionist, he used his elevation to signal with lights to refugee slaves when it was safe to cross the water, and come up the hill to his house for safe keeping, for rest and refuge, before the next stage of their journey north.

Your Vestry talked a week or so ago about what it means for us to hang a sign that says, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.” If we turn up our lights and signal to a weary world that we are a place of safety, of refuge, of rest, then we had better mean it. We had better be ready to receive those who come with nothing but their pain. We had better be ready to open our home to those who have been wandering, those who have been wondering if there is a place for them, a safe place left in this world. We had better be ready truly to welcome those whom we do not know or understand. We had better be ready to set a place at the table for each one who answers the call of our welcome sign, our light lit in the window of the house on the hill.

Incidentally, John Rankin had a neighbour, John Parker, who would go out with his boat to ferry people across the river. It is not necessarily enough to turn on the light and expect people to find their own way across the dark waters to find us. We might have to put ourselves out there.

Shine as a light in the world.

One of the few dates which stuck with me from my school history classes is 1588, the year of the Spanish Armada. Philip of Spain wanted to unseat Elizabeth I of England – for various reasons of personal pride and power, politics, and religion: he didn’t like the establishment of the Church of England separate and free from the influence of the Pope and the Catholic countries of Europe.

The south of England is a landscape of hills and downs, ancient sand dunes. As the Armada came into sight off the coast, fires were lit on the hilltops near the coast, and the message spread like lightning from hilltop to hilltop, all the way to London, warning, and calling the people to the defense of their land, and incidentally, their church. The beacons, those lights on the hilltops, were a sign of imminent danger.

Shine as a light in the world.

It is the work of the church not only to signal safety but to warn of imminent danger. St David’s Episcopal Church in Bean Blossom, Indiana, tagged with hateful homophobic slurs, swastikas, and slogans has let the graffiti stay, for now, to shine a light on the dangers that have arisen around us, raising spectres we had thought to put to rest. They have lit a beacon, warning of the dangers of capitulating to evil. They have staked their claim to welcome all of God’s children in the name of Christ.

Steve Bannon, named as chief strategist to the next White House administration, gave an interview to the Hollywood Reporter recently in which he praised the power of darkness.
“Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power,” he said admiringly.
As difficult as it may be to take Bannon’s words seriously, whose call it is but the church’s to light a beacon to warn against the strategies of Satan? The first question asked at our baptism, after all, is “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?” It is the duty of the church – the house on the hill – to light a beacon warning that we will not go over to the dark side; that the darkness cannot overcome the light of Christ.

Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

When we come together at the close of this season of Advent; when we gather in the darkness and light our candles to welcome the Christ child, the Light of Christ born into the world, let’s do so knowing that we have not spent the rest of the season hiding our light under a bushel. Let’s do so knowing that we have sought out safe passage for those needing to find their way to the light – the frightened, the fleeing. Let’s do so knowing that we have lit our beacons to warn of the dangers where we see them, not tolerating the works of darkness, but speaking out against Satan and sin, evil and intolerance, the opposition to God’s work of love, wherever we encounter it.

For you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Put on the armor of Christ. Shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God. Amen.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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