“Walk in the Light!” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! It is the first Sunday of Advent — we will have three more Advent Sundays before Christmas Day — and our theme for Advent this year is Simple Gifts. We live in a society which tries to define gifts in exclusively commercial ways, especially the weekend of Black Friday and in the month of December. So if I say “Simple Gifts” and you think of an Amazon gift card — we have a little re-orienting to do. Do you know what philosopher said, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store; maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more.” That was the Grinch in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I have nothing against Christmas gifts — I like to give them, I love to receive them — but the fastest way that Christmas gets stolen is when we get all wrapped up in the packaging and get so engrossed in playing with the box that we forget the gift. That gift is Jesus Christ and his grace and salvation. It is also the opportunity to walk in the light of Christ and to discover and use our own gifts in Christ’s name for the sake of our families, our congregation, our community, and the world.
We begin Advent, or preparation for the birth of Jesus, in the book of Isaiah. It’s a big sprawling collection of prose and poetry with several different authors, borrowing material from other folks, so it incorporates material from at least a 50 year time span, and probably much wider. Isaiah is not only the book with some of the most familiar prophecies about Jesus: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son — it was also one of two books from the Hebrew Bible which Jesus quoted the most. The New Testament is full of references to the book of Isaiah. The passage which Stephen read from Isaiah chapter 2 is one of the more hopeful ones. Isaiah chapter 1 doesn’t start on nearly so cheery a note. It begins with the Lord bringing a legal suit against his children — the people of Israel — for breach of contract. They have broken the covenant which God made with them in the law of Moses. It’s an ugly family dispute: the children are clearly guilty and the Lord is both the injured party and the judge. It is not looking good for the kids. And then comes chapter 2.
Chapter 2 begins, “In the days to come . . .” and that is a signal that this is not an actual time or place which Isaiah is prophesying about. It may be a true place and time, but it’s a true place which hasn’t actually happened yet. It a place when God’s house is established in the highest place of honor and respect, and people from all nations stream up to God’s mountain. On the way, they meet other people and say, “Come with us, let’s go up to the mountain of the Lord together!” God is there to arbitrate between the nations of the earth and there is peace and plenty among the people. We get this wonderful image of swords being turned into plowshares — weapons of war and destruction being turned into tools for agriculture and the common welfare. Isaiah describes this beautiful vision of shalom, peace and wholeness, and says, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” We are clearly not there yet. But how do we get there from here?
Last week I shared with you from a chapter of Tish Harrison Warren’s book, Liturgy of the Ordinary. She has a chapter on Passing the Peace and the Everyday Work of Shalom. Each chapter is named after everyday activities. This chapter is called “Fighting with My Husband.” You may not have a husband — or a wife — but I’m betting you have parents or children or relatives or co-workers or classmates; someone whom you fight with. Warren describes this so well, I’m going to share her words:
Most often what we’re arguing about — in this case a decision about our daughter’s schooling — isn’t really what we’re arguing about. What we are actually arguing about is our fears, anxieties, identities, and hopes. We were really arguing about how we love our daughter and feel a chasm — a terrifying chasm — between our responsibility for her and our ability to bear it well. We were grieving the reality of our limitedness and our inability to rescue our daughter from suffering in our broken world — and even in our broken family.
We start by talking about something casual. Then I fret aloud and he dismisses it — because I’ve fretted aloud so often that it is a pattern — and I say something sarcastic and it escalates from there until one or both of us yells then one or both of us leaves the room. . . We wait to see who will lay down their sword first. It takes a lot of bravery to lay down a sword — more bravery than either of us have at the moment. So we sit in stony silence.
I have never been a diplomat or an international negotiator; I don’t think I’d be very good at it. But I do not believe that the Bible or Jesus himself is calling us to broker international agreements. I do believe that we have opportunities to lay down our swords on an interpersonal level every day. Perhaps multiple times a day. If we can’t do this with the people in our families, or the people we work with, or the folks we go to church with, how are we ever going to figure out how to love our enemies as Jesus commanded? How are we ever going to walk in the light of the Lord?
First of all, we need to remember that it is the light of the Lord. We don’t create that light. We can close or eyes to it or try to block it from others, but we are not in charge of God’s light. If we are so convinced of our righteousness that we’d rather fight than switch, we could be hanging onto our sword for a long time. And that is a pretty dark place to be.
Second, walking in the light doesn’t necessarily mean great acts of heroism. We heard from a donkey this morning that war horses are big and flashy and they strut and intimidate. War horses are for armies. The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem is 90 miles. We don’t know how long it took Joseph and Mary to make that trip, the gospels don’t even tell us that they had a donkey with them. That trip took one step at a time, donkey or not. And if you have ever been nine months pregnant, you know that even a few steps can cost a lot of effort. The perseverance to keep going in small ways can take courage and fortitude. It’s difficult when we don’t know what lies ahead; it may be even more difficult when we do know what lies ahead. The gospels tell us that when Jesus rode into Jerusalem the week before his death and the crowds welcomed him with palms, he rode on a donkey. He could have had a war horse, but Jesus was a different kind of King. He had the power to force the armies of Rome to lay down their swords. He laid down his life, instead. Overcoming others by force — of our military, or our words, of our passive-aggressive behavior — may quiet things down for a while, but it doesn’t create peace.
Walking in the light is an act of faith. It was for the Jews who were the audience of Isaiah’s prophecy: Come to the mountain of the Lord! A place where God will rule with justice, and where people from all nations will lay down their swords and come together in peace. Walking in the light is an act of faith for us, nearly 3000 years later. The fulfillment of that prophecy, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, has come into the world to show us the way of grace and peace, but we aren’t there yet. We still have to keep walking in the light; we still have to believe in the power of laying down our swords; we still have to figure out how to do that every day — especially on the days when we are anxious and overwhelmed, and we fight with the people we spend our days with. Warren ends her chapter on shalom and the peace of Christ with these words:
We cannot seek peace out of our own strength . . . If we are ever peacemakers, it is not without a good deal of war within our hearts. But God reconciled us to himself, and he brings reconciliation and peace to every sphere of life. . . God is reforming us to be people who, through our ordinary moments, establish his kingdom of peace . . . it takes faith to believe that laying down my sword in my kitchen has anything to do with cosmic peace on earth. Sisters and brothers, we still have a long way to go. A long path to the mountain of the Lord, a long journey to Bethlehem. The promise is worth it: this journey is what we need in order to see the kingdom of God, and we are traveling to Bethlehem to find the Christ child. This is how we prepare ourselves to follow Jesus to Jerusalem. We have companions on the journey, we are led by stars and wonders along the way. May we find perseverance and peace as we walk in the light of the Lord. Emmanuel, God is with us on the Way. Amen.
 Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life. Intervarsity Press: Downer’s Grove, 2016, pp 74-75.
 Ibid, pp 86-87