Monday, December 16, 2013

A Season of Advent - From Darkness to Light

Have you ever been surrounded by complete darkness? I know that is a metaphor that is often thrown around in our “spiritual conversations” and rightly so, because this metaphor is used over and over again in scripture. “Darkness,” as we know, means something more than the absence of a light bulb. “Darkness,” as it occurs in scripture, signifies those times in our lives when it is very difficult to see God.


There is a family that I know of today. Brad Morrow is a youth minister. I was his professor a few years ago at LCU. He and Taryn, his wife, were babysitters for our children when they were very young. This morning Brad, Taryn, and their infant son, Brock, are in Dallas Children’s Hospital. I’ve been watching all week long—the pictures of Brock on Facebook. Meet Brock Morrow…




Only, this morning, he doesn’t look like this. This morning, Brock looks like this…



Brock has bacterial meningitis. Both sides of his brain have been infected with this disease.If Brock lives, his life will be very different than what his parents expected only two weeks ago.

Some of you know firsthand what it is to be in darkness. As I look around this room, I see Demaris Moore, who has been so faithful by Joe’s side these many months as he’s battled cancer. I think of Sandy Fuller, who has been right there with her husband, David, until his passing last month. Many of you have lost parents and spouses and children. But darkness comes in other ways too; through failing businesses, bankruptcy, shattered friendships and divorce. Darkness surrounds us at those times in our lives when it is difficult to see God. We may know that God is there, but even the most faithful among us have difficulty finding the “light switch” sometimes, but our story is not a unique story.

A long time ago, there were some people who loved God, but they were surrounded by darkness. They were experiencing a kind of darkness that is difficult for us to understand. A foreign army came into their capital city and burned it to the ground. But that was only the beginning of their troubles. The invading army killed many of the older citizens of the city. Then, they chained some of the younger, stronger, and more educated folks, and they marched them hundreds of miles across the desert. Away from their families, away from everything that was familiar to them, and they relocated them to a new city, with a new language, new customs and new gods.

Can you imagine what that must have been like? A few days ago marked the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. That happened before most of us in this room were born. It is difficult for us to imagine what it would be like for a foreign army to come onto American soil and attack and win. What if that attack at Pearl Harbor had been followed by an invasion? What if the attacks on 9/11 had been followed by an invading army entering Washington DC, burning it to the ground and killing our leaders, desecrating our monuments and taking over? What if you woke up tomorrow and suddenly terrorist Muslims were in charge of this country and their version of Islam was the new official religion of America?

Sometimes we read these stories in the Bible and we distance ourselves to such an extent that the stories seem unreal to us. But brothers and sisters, these things really happened to real people. There was a time when Israel was invaded by Babylon. Jerusalem was burned to the ground. Many of its citizens were exiled to a foreign city. Evidence of YHWH was nowhere to be seen. They were in darkness.

From the midst of that darkness, the prophet Isaiah, wrote this…

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus  it shall blossom abundantly,
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the LORD,
    the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
    “Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
    He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
    He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
 then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
A highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
    but it shall be for God’s people;
    no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
    but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain joy and gladness,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Isaiah 35:1-7 NRSV

Can you see how relevant these images are for Isaiah at the time in which he wrote these words?

The people of Israel were in a wilderness, quite literally and symbolically, a desert, a dry place far from God. Yet, Isaiah looks forward to a day when a stream will run through that desert. The images he uses here are so vivid. Where there was once a grassy field, now there are reeds and bushes, the kind that accompany a lush lake. What was once a haunt of jackals (think arid, African, hard packed and cracking clay) now there is a swamp. Waters bursting forth in a dry wilderness! Light rushing in to replace darkness! Isaiah longed for the day when their darkness would be overcome with light! A day when the blind would see, a day when the deaf would hear, a day when the speechless would sing for joy and if Israel was familiar with Isaiah’s words here, then Jesus’ words in Luke 7 would have had added meaning. Just before John the Baptist was killed, he sent word to Jesus. He wanted to know: “Are you really Him? Am I dying for a worthy cause?”

And in response, Jesus sent this message:

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Luke 7:22-23 NRSV

In other words, “Go tell John the stream has surfaced in the wilderness.”

In other words, “Go tell John the Light has finally come to shine in the darkness.”

One of the many places we see this light/darkness metaphor is during Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It is there that Jesus not only claims to be Light Himself. He also calls us Light! You see the people of God are called to consistently return to the source of all Light with their torches. We are called to take a bit of light, return to the world, and extend the illumination of God further and further into creation.

So, what does that look like in our darkness? It means that we surround Demaris and Scot, Sandy and Dana as they sit in darkness. It means that we join with Brad and Taryn at Dallas Children’s Hospital and provide comfort, and when we do, the church becomes what God always intended for it to be.

Late this week, Brad, Brock’s father, wrote a few words about the impact of the church on their lives. I want you to hear those words:

Perspective. Last week, money and health insurance was of great concern for us since open enrollment ends on 12/15/13 for the 2014 year. This week, every conversation about how much this is going to cost us personally and our insurance just seems so trivial when we’re looking at a little superhero who is attached to 2 tubes, 3 IVs, and about 18 wires. Honestly, we really don’t care if we end up homeless and in a cardboard box for the rest of our lives, as long as Brock Jacob Morrow gets to come be in that box with us for as many years as we are. Perspective. Being a minister, the church is a source of hope in the Kingdom To Come and (surprise, surprise) often a great source of stress. Ask any minister or elder; this occupation follows you home, it can’t be left in an office or explained on a timesheet. At this point in our lives though, we would be in dust and ashes without our church family. I now understand why even atheists are beginning to start their own “churches”. I simply don’t want to think about where we would be without the spiritual support of our elders and church family at Grapevine. In addition, my childhood home church where my parents attend in Leander continues to send love and prayers our way. Our previous congregation in Baytown, Lakewood church of Christ, continues to show support and love through our journey. How can anyone walk down this road without the body of Christ reaching out with the hands and feet of Jesus Christ when we need it most? The Church is truly the masterpiece of the Creator. It is nothing but beautiful. It is nothing short of miraculous. I don’t care what it looks like from the outside (or inside), the Church is the Bride of Christ, and He makes it beautiful as he prepares to present Her to Himself. This is profoundly obvious to Taryn and I right now.

The very presence of God’s people in a dark world like ours brings light and the only reason that light is able to come into a world like ours is because around 2 millennia ago, God came to this place. He was born in a manger in Bethlehem and his arrival that day brought more than "happiness” for his mom and dad. His arrival brought with it Light…real Light! God has given us the privilege of shining that real Light to help people in this dark world see the things that matter most.

Now I also realize that some of you may be having a hard time seeing the Light of God yourselves. If you are, let me say first, that’s OK. It happens to all of us. But you don’t have to stay in darkness. Isaiah 35, which we have already read this morning, does not end in verse 7. It goes on to describe a great highway that leads out of darkness and back toward God. Isaiah has a great name for this highway, “The Holy Way”. If you feel far from God, hear these encouraging words from Isaiah:

A highway shall be there,
   and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it;
  but it shall be for God’s people;
  no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
 No lion shall be there,
  nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
  but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
  and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
  they shall obtain joy and gladness,
  and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
                  Isaiah 35:8-10 NRSV

Jesus has come into the world and He has blazed a path to God. His Light shines around that highway and it offers protection to God’s people…to you.






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