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Learning to walk in the dark

by davesandel on December 4th, 2021

Saturday, December 4, 2021                          (today’s lectionary)

Learning to walk in the dark

Freely you have received.

Yesterday. The breathless cool air, sweet low humidity, Austin traffic noontime quiet. We are trading in our share of Mom’s Thrivent insurance policy for money.

So why do I feel despondent? My emotions don’t make sense. They come and go with no particular connection to people, place or thing. I wonder if I am grieving for Mom, but when I think of her the emotions fade.

No more will you weep. The Lord is gracious when you cry out; as soon as he hears he will answer you. The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst.

I am still eating the hot pulled chicken soaked in sweet onion juice which the ladies of Faith Lutheran Church in Lincoln made us for the funeral meal on November 20. How can it last that long? How can it still taste so good? I carried it in a soft cooler across Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas, and I’m eating it still, enjoying its taste and suffering no consequences.

With your own eyes you shall see our Teacher. When you would turn right or left, from behind you will hear his Voice: “This is the way. Walk in it.”

Tomorrow is the second Sunday of Advent. I have begun reading Advent and Christmas sermons and stories by Fleming Rutledge, Walter Wangerin and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Ordinary Time has ended, and this is the beginning of another Church Year. It’s the season of darkness, cast out eventually by light, and it’s the right season for me. I sit in my own sadness, tossing ashes over my head beside the fire, tearing my sackcloth, feeling sorry for myself and knowing how Job was eventually called out by his Holy Maker, I know I’m not alone, I know God’s patience is laced with loving justice and reminders that all the others in his world suffer too.

On the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall, the light of the moon will be like that of the sun and the light of the sun will be seven times greater, like the light of seven days. But he will bind up the wounds and heal the bruises left by his blows.

Suffering and satisfaction must be two sides of the same coin, the coin of “presence,” God’s everlasting attendance, offering to each of us His own calm dignity to wear as our own, his mantle of holiness. Is it an invisibility cloak, will it protect us from the great slaughter? No promises there, but he WILL bind up our wounds. One way or another, we will be held and loved.

Winn Collier remembers the not-so-long-ago when Christmas decorations stayed in the attic until Christmas Day. Advent is long, dark, solemn, lit only by single white candles shining in neighborhood windows.

Advent fixes our fatigued, jaded, sad eyes on hope and joy, but first it requires us to reckon with our longing for what we lack, with our despair over all we’ve lost, with the fear, isolation, and heaviness weighing on the sagging shoulders of this weary world. Advent is where the Christian story begins. And Advent begins in the long, dark night.

Winn’s choice of photographs recalls Jimmy Stewart wandering over a snowy bridge, desperate and suicidal at the climax of It’s a Wonderful Life. But on the darkest day of the year the angel Clarence helps Jimmy see the light, and all things work together for the good.

Freely give.

 (Isaiah 30, Psalm 147, Isaiah 33, Matthew 9)

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