Dark and Light

Psalm 78:1-7

Matthew 25:1-13

Well we have made it through week one after the Daylight Savings Time change. I’m not sure about you, but this daylight savings thing always messes me up a little bit. Growing up in northern Ohio, the time change felt more like a complete reversal of the earth rather than simply a one hour time change. One day we were celebrating autumn; the next, we were living in a world of darkness and cold.

This year is no different. I literally need a moment to re-focus my train of thought each day to wrap my head around the fact that yes, the sun has set, but, no, it is not time to go to bed; it is only 5PM after all. Yes Jeff, you DO have enough energy to go to the gym; nothing has changed. No Jeff, you do not need to hibernate. In fact, you need just as much sleep as you did before.

What is inevitable is that over the next two months the darkness will grow with each day, until it finally culminates with the winter solstice; the official beginning of the winter season. I always appreciate that we as a society have found ways to subconsciously combat such a descent into the darkness with the ‘illumination’ of the holiday season. What better way to fight the darkness than with dancing elves, extra flashing house lights, and good old fashioned American consumerism and non-stop holiday music blaring from our speakers as the days to Christmas count down!

However, for some the darkness takes on a more serious tone. The darkness becomes disorienting, as one’s driving schedule now includes night driving. For others, a general malaise may accompany such time of the year, when energy levels sag, and with it, one’s positive mindset. Still for others, the darkness brings with it an unknown fear and uncertainty. In extreme cases, some will even experience thoughts of self-harm, substance abuse, and general anxiety.

And while we love to have a scapegoat to complain about (thank you, Daylight Savings Time), the fact of the matter is that the days and seasons change no matter how we appoint the time of day or calendar year. We are entering a new season. Some may choose to ignore such things as they continue on in their busy lives, but I actually welcome the changing of the seasons. I used to live in Florida before moving here, and one of the first things I missed the most was the lack of definitive seasons like that of my childhood in Ohio, or here in beautiful Virginia. Seasons are good for us. They bring rhythm, patterns, and change. So as we enter into this next season, let us go in mindful and open to how God may move in our lives.

As I was looking over the lectionary text for this Sunday, I was interested in a shared theme between the writings of the Psalmist, and that of Matthew—this theme of dark and light. Now, one way to think about dark and light is to over simplify it: dark is bad; light is good. In fact, many movies, stories, and cultures have made such oversimplifications, which have led to some unhealthy and even dangerous consequences. However, I would like for us to approach today’s Scripture verses with openness in mind and spirit to how we understand dark and light. This may be a little beyond a traditional understanding of our scripture texts this morning, but I think there is something new to think about.

Today’s Hebrew Scripture comes from the book of Psalms, number 78. Here we have a Psalm of gratitude and joy, as the Psalmist shares the story of God’s faithfulness to the future generations. However, what struck me when reading through this poetry is found in verse 2:

2   I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
The Psalmist goes on to tell us how the Word of God, the history of God, the ways of God will be communicated from the oldest and darkest of days, so that today’s generations may celebrate God today:

4   We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, 

 We see this image of ‘darkness’ from the olden times, to the understood ‘light’ of the world today; of what is known and in the open.

What I love about this passage is how the Psalmist understands the responsibility and the privilege of sharing those ancient stories; those truths that seem to go back to the very beginning of time, when the world was, mysterious, dark and formless at the dawn of Creation itself. God was there, even in the darkness.

Now, if we were to read Matthew’s parable strictly on its own, we may not arrive at a conclusion that is similar to that of the Psalm. In fact, there are a few initial themes that come up when reading this text:

  • patience
  • readiness, or preparedness
  • and even judgment

To better understand this parable in its context, it is good to know a little bit more about where we are in Matthew’s story about Jesus. Here we have Jesus in Jerusalem, being challenged by the religious authorities, those Pharisees and Sadducees. If we read the previous chapter, 24, we read many similar stories and parables, and Jesus seems to be not only challenging the authorities, but warning them and others of the days to come, as Jesus begins to understand his role in the coming days as he will ultimately be arrested and executed for his teachings. He challenges us to think about how we are living our lives: are we living as faithful followers, or are we misguided in our understanding of the ways of God?

Here in the beginning of chapter 25 we understand the ‘darkness’ to be a time of waiting and uncertainty, and the ‘light’ to be needed to welcome the bridegroom, Christ, home to the banquet that has been prepared. In the middle of the night the bridegroom arrives, and some who were adequately prepared were ready to receive him, while others missed out on the celebration because of their lack of preparation.

This parable speaks so well to the people of that time and place because of the realities of the time. These wedding practices of course were very active during this time period. The darkness was also a very real thing; there were no street lights illuminating the way in biblical Israel. In many ways, the dark roads were dangerous and unknown. And yes, the people of the time were often discussing the coming of the Messiah. Just imagine if CNN and Fox News were there, how much coverage, and how many talking heads would be debating when the ‘Son of Man’ will arrive.

The surface level teaching of the parable is a good lesson for us to take home this morning: we need to have our lives and spirits in order so that we may readily embrace and welcome the coming of Christ into the world, and our own lives. But I want us to go a little deeper this morning as well.

Sometimes we need to go deeper into the darkness…

There is a story, now a book entitled ‘Touching the Void’ of a hiker named Joe Simpson who was enjoying a beautiful climb with his partner in the mountains and glaciers of the Peruvian Andes. With one disastrous mis-step, he found himself falling hundreds of feet to the bottom of a crevasse: a small canyon created within a fracture in the ice. Now alone, injured, and hundreds of feet from the top of the crevasse where he saw glimpses of daylight, he decided the only chance at survival was to go deeper into the darkness, and see if maybe there was a way out from this icy grave.

This hiker miraculously went deeper into this gigantic crack in the crevasse until eventually he saw light once again. After days in the darkness and cold with broken bones and no food or drink, he found his way to the light, and to life.

So often we are told to resist and fear the dark.

But I believe there is another lesson to be learned about the dark. The dark is an opportunity for us to delve deeper into the mystery of the Divine.

As we go deeper into the dark, we are confronted with those hidden parts of our lives that we have either forgotten, avoided, or even intentionally hid away. God is there.

As we go deeper into the dark, we have more questions than answers about our futures, our hopes and dreams, and even what we believe and value. God is there.

As we go deeper into the dark, we realize just how vulnerable we really are, and how we need a savior. God is there. And God is that savior.

Should we be waiting and prepared? Yes. Should we keep our lamps trimmed, and our oil ready? Yes. But we should also be reminded today that in that darkness that we look out into, God is there.

What would it be like for us, in the midst of those dark times in our lives, to not wait in the safety of surroundings, but to go deeper into the darkness to encounter Christ? What would it be like for us to embrace the mystery of the Divine in the darkest, scariest, and unknown parts of the world? What would it be like for us encounter others in the darkness, and for us to grab their hands and say ‘God is here, and I am here with you also.’?

Today we celebrate God who is preparing a Kingdom already here, and not yet fully realized here on earth. And as long as we live here in this broken place, there will be darkness, and dark points in our lives. But the Good News is that Christ is in even those darkest places.

Christ entered those dark places as he offered himself for the world. In his resurrection, Christ conquered death once and for all. Today we celebrate that God is present in both light and dark, and the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, is how we share our faith story.

Let us be so challenged this morning to go into those dark places, those sometimes scary and unknown places in our lives, and encounter the living God. God is there.

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