Exploring the Darkness

Advent Communion Sermon

by Lois Vetvick

The great writer, Isaiah, often used words that related to people's experiences throughout history. So, what I would like to speak to this morning is the message of Christmas that this text from Isaiah holds for me. I want to concentrate on verse two of chapter nine which says, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined." That message is light in our everyday darkness, that light is hope, hope for us individually and collectively.

I would like to look at three ways in which this text shines the light for me at Christmas time.

The first way has to do with what the psychiatrist, Carl Jung, refers to as the shadow side of our personalities — that side that we try to keep hidden, those parts of our personalities that are too exuberant, too aggressive, too gentle, or maybe even a little too scary. Jung says the shadow side of who we are exists in all of us. Maybe we fear our tendency toward gentleness, which might allow others to take advantage of us or not to take us seriously. Maybe we have an overt persona that is gentle, but maybe it is masking a deep rage that we fear may exhibit itself at inappropriate times or whatever it is that does not quite allow us to feel comfortable with ourselves.

It seems to me that it is in the acceptance of that shadow side, almost in the embracing of it, that we become more fully human, more fully accepting of ourselves and of others. Is it not in exploring that darkness, in facing the shame, in confronting that fear, and in facing alienation from ourselves and others that we come into the lights How then may that light be defined?

The Apostle Paul said in Romans 8, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor anything in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God," To believe that we are loved and accepted by God, no matter how we perform, what we accomplish, or what our shadow side is — that is the light.

The second way the light has shone for me is through a very kind and gentle man whom I will call Bill. Bill told his story to a friend of mine this past week. The story goes something like this. About fifty years ago, Bill was a foster child. (I imagine bring a foster child fifty years ago carried with it a stigma and a lack of social understanding. that one would have had to face.) One day Bill happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and he ended up being blamed for a fight. No one spoke for Bill. Nobody wanted him. The consequence of that fight was that the authorities put Bill in the state institution at Faribault, where he spent the next thirty-two years of his life, My friend asked Bill if he was bitter. His response was, "No, God was watching over me." For Bill, God was the light in a life filled with darkness.

The third way the God of our lesson has shone the light for me is in numerous experiences that I have had this past week. These experiences relate to the issue of the lack of affordable housing in this city, state, and nation. I feel overwhelmed every time I am reminded of these statistics. For example, in our city, a single person who is employed full time at minimum wage has a monthly income of $667. This person needs to spend $330 a month to get decent housing, but he or she can only afford $200 a month, or 30% of her or his income. A family with two children, whose parent is on AFDC and receives $532 a month, can only afford $160 a month — 30% of the family income. A decent unit for a family of three costs $550, which is 103% of that income. It is difficult to find the light in this darkness. But the light was there this past week.

I was at four meetings this week that were related to the issue of affordable housing. In each case these meetings were connected to the church. Having spent four years of my life in the public sector of housing, I was prepared for the worst. It did not happen. In each instance, the commitment to justice and a belief in the dignity of all human beings brought together a deep sense of hope for the future. Commitments were made, ideas were shared, feelings were expressed, and plans were executed.

When I attended the Neighborhood Board meeting Wednesday night, I was struck by the same degree of commitment, the ability to risk, to share not only our hopes but our fears as well, and to look to the larger church and say, we have the resources, we have the people, we have the ability to make a difference in this problem of affordable housing.

It was not just an exercise in raising money, it was a commitment to try to do what we can to confront this injustice in our society. It was, on an even larger scale, a summons to Plymouth Church to experience the joy of working together — to experience being personally involved with issues outside ourselves, which can change all of our lives.

This commitment is a call to community, a community of believers, a community that knows it can make a difference. At the meeting we came to understand some simple things, like realizing that there is a fundamental difference between church boards and other boards and that there is a commitment here that affects our actions. Because we come together knowing the connectedness between ourselves and the homeless, we know we truly are all God's children. All of these things brought every one of us closer to the light.

As we begin this Advent Season with communion, let us remember that we are the body of Christ. Through our actions we show the world what we believe. We show the world the source of our hope and our joy. So, let your light so shine before all people that they may see your good works and glorify God. May we all move just a bit closer to the light this Christmas.

Lois Vetvick is an Interim Pastor for the Minnesota-Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ.

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