Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. DeeAnne Lowman, Associate Pastor

 

 

 

Shadows of Advent

Friday, December 21, 2007

 

 

 Dee
Dee Lowman

 

Prayer

Move over the face of my deep, my darkness,

My endless restless chaos,

And create, O God;

Trouble me, comfort me, stir me up, and calm me,

But do not cease to breathe your Spirit into my wakening soul.[i]

 

 

In astronomy, the winter solstice is the moment when the earth is at a point in its orbit where one hemisphere is most inclined away from the sun.

 

For us in the northern hemisphere, that happens annually in December between the 20th and the 23rd of the month.  The word solstice derives from Latin sol (Sun) and sistere (stand still), Winter Solstice meaning Sun stand still in winter. The solstice is the time of year when the day has the shortest length of sunshine and the night with the longest period of darkness. This year for us here, the solstice occurs tomorrow morning - at 1:08AM on December 22nd to be exact.

 

For some, this is a day of celebration.  Many cultures revere this day and night as the time when the days will begin to grow longer, leaning the community toward the time of planting and growth.  But for many of us, the long darkness does not bring celebration. Today and tonight may feel like the sun stood still.  Other days might have felt that way, too. That day when he breathed his last breath; when her boss told her that her last day was Friday; when there was too much month left at the end of the money; when he wanted to call his parents and tell them about his new love, but knew that they would never acknowledge the relationship; when she couldn’t pull herself out of her bed because of her depression; when the doctor came into the room and told him they were out of options and he would die soon.  The sun stands still at times like these, leaving us deep in the shadows. It is as if all the light in the world is directed toward the other side of the globe. We are tired, weary, sad, empty, even cold from the lack of light.  The sun may be standing still in our world tonight; we know it is shining brightly somewhere else.  We may want the world to turn and the light to shine on us, but we don’t wish the shadows to fall on anyone else. We know what being afraid of the darkness is about.

I grew up with night-light in my bedroom because I was afraid of what the dark night would bring. As a child, I remember the streetlights from my neighborhood creating frightening shapes on my bedroom walls as the light shown through the enormous pine tree in my backyard. When the light was shut off in my room, I could see nothing but the scary shadows, swaying and reaching out to grab me. My mother would remind me that the shadows weren’t shadows without light – they were because of light.  There is always light within the darkness, she would tell me. Sometimes I could remember that; other times the fear and anxiety I felt overwhelmed the reassurance of my mother’s words.

But when we are in the shadows and darkness, our eyes and lives begin to adjust to the night.  We can see the empty side of the bed, the shirt that is not our own left flung over the chair, the checkbook left open on the desk.  These things do not vanish in the night, but rather they remain and oftentimes we wish they would just go away. This is the pain and fear that the night and shadows can bring. Sometimes we think by retreating into the night we can obscure our vision of the thing that pains us.  But our eyes adjust and there they are.

 

Jan Richardson in her book Night Visions says that many of us find ourselves in the dark – “good or evil or in between, of our own or another’s making.  Our work is to name the darkness for what it is and to find what it asks of us.”[ii] For some of us here tonight, the darkness and shadows have offered us a place out of the limelight – a place where we can rest and recuperate and pay attention to our own needs and wounds.  While we are there, in the dark night, our eyes do adjust, and we begin to see among the shadows a truth about ourselves or our relationships or our losses that we couldn’t see in the glare of the day.  For some, the darkness provides for us a place where the seed of our existence can begin to grow again when we never thought that would be possible. The night affords us the nourishment we need to begin to gently crack open the new possibilities for our living – a living that might not have seemed possible upon the death of our loved ones, the loss of our jobs, the economic hardships we’ve faced, the diagnosis we’ve received.  We begin to grow toward something, toward what we aren’t sure right yet. But there is a sense that we are moving, even if it is simply movement toward getting ourselves to come to church on a cold December night to begin to try and sense the presence of light in the world.

 

So we come here tonight, perhaps in an attempt to name what is real for us in our own shadows and dark nights.  What has become clear to us while we are in the shadows?  How have we cared for ourselves in the dark night?  Have there been others who have companioned us?  What can we take from the shadows of our loss and disappointment that will help us to live into the life we desire – that God desires – for us?  Have any of us begun to emerge into the light? We know that as we emerge from the night and shadows, our eyes and hearts may not be entirely ready for the glare of the day. 

 

Some of us aren’t ready to see the light of day right now.  It may be too bright for us to take.  We know from the prophet Isaiah that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.”[iii] The light is already there – shining on us.  We don’t have to see it to know that it’s there.  That is the promise that God offers.  That is God’s covenant with us:  on us light has shined and will continue to shine and will be there when we are ready to see it and receive what it brings.  The promise of this season – one filled with waiting, watching, wanting – is the presence of God and the light of hope, even when we can’t see it or feel it. We may not be able to sense God at all, that in the dark shadows we feel alone.  We may not be able to see God’s presence among the other shadows of this long night.  The hope of the story – the story of Christmas – is that even when the night is dark and scary and lonely, God bursts into the world and helps us all to see.  The star in the East that hovered over the stable on that night so long ago can help us lean away from our grief and fear and doubt and pain and lean into a world filled with newness and life. The light that God provided on that day was a bright star, light that marked the beginning of a new time, a different era of justice, peace and love. The light from the star lingered for some time, perhaps as long as two years after the birth of Jesus – all while the Wiseman were searching and searching for a promised king.

 

Remember that the solstice is, in fact, not a day or a night, but a moment. This year - 1:08 Eastern Standard Time December 22nd to be exact.  Our pain or grief or loss or illness may linger much, much longer that an instant. God offers us a bit of night vision so that we can see in the shadows. God companions us while we are there, even when we don’t know it or sense it. God is also the one who helps us to live with the hope of light in the midst of our shadowy living right now, helping us to know that the God who loves us surrounds us, shines on us, waits with us, grieves with us.  May this promise of God’s presence and companionship comfort all this night and every night. 

 

 

                 

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[i] Richardson, Jan L., Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas, p. 3.

[ii] Richardson, p. 5.

[iii] Isaiah 9:2 New Revised Standard Version