Advent 3B 2017 Dec. 17,2017
Friday morning, I had seen a news alert on my phone from Channel 12 that on both Friday and Saturday evenings, the Space Station would be visible as it crossed over Richmond. I took a screen shot of the info and planned to go out Friday night and look.
Well, of course, I forgot. I didn’t remember until a good hour and a half past when it flew over on Friday. So, I set an alarm to go off on Saturday evening at 5:15, two minutes before the scheduled 5:17 flyover. Earlier in the day yesterday, I saw the icon on my phone that my alarm was set, and it took me a while. “Why is an alarm set?” When I looked, and saw when it was set for, and reminded myself “Oh, that’s right! The space station!”
So yesterday evening, as I was at my computer, trying to write this sermon, as a matter of fact, the alarm went off… and good thing, too, because, of course, I had forgotten again and certainly wasn’t paying attention to the time. So I grabbed my coat and out I went in front of my house., Happy that it was a clear evening.
But I live in an apartment on Monument Ave. downtown, and I was worried about ambient light. It was also still pretty light outside…. Just beginning to get twilight, and I worried about if I would see anything. My screen shot from Andrew Frieden said the fly over would rise in the NW at 5:17 and set in the East South East at 5:23 pm. So it would only be visible for 6 minutes, and that didn’t include the time it would be blocked by houses or trees.
So as I was twirling around on the sidewalk, looking up at the sky, trying to orient myself, a couple was walking down the street in my direction. They looked at me a little funny. (Imagine that!)
At first I just smiled and said hi, so they would perhaps be less inclined to think I was some crazy lady. Then, overcoming a fear of how I would be perceived, I told them what I was doing. “The space station is supposed to pass by, and we’re supposed to be able to see it!” So the three of us just started staring up at the sky. Turns out they were a couple from the West End, who make it a yearly custom to drive down Monument Avenue to see the lights, and this year, they decided to walk down the street instead.
I was actually a little nervous that my words had caused them to alter their immediate plans, because I had no guarantee of the outcome. I had no idea if we would actually see the shuttle.
A couple of years ago, if fact, I had heard the news that the space shuttle was supposed to be visible at 5:40 in the morning, the time I normally arrive at the YMCA for my morning workout … and so when I had gotten to the Y, I had told Vernon, the guy who mans the check-in desk, about the space station flying over, so he actually abandoned his post to come outside and watch with me….
But we never did see it. I don’t know if there was cloud cover, or I had missed the window of time, or what, but we saw no moving object in the sky. I had felt a little sheepish about my enthusiasm with nothing to show for it.
So, like I said, I didn’t know if I’d be disappointed myself, or end up disappointing these strangers I had ended up stopping with my news. But there we were. Standing on the sidewalk in front of my house, looking to the Northwest sky. Sure enough about 5:18, this brightly lit object, bigger and brighter than any star or planet I’d ever seen, came out from behind my house and started moving across the sky. Wow. 3 astronauts going 17,000 miles per hour, 5 miles a second. 200 miles over our heads. It was pretty cool.
Did any of the rest of you see it?
The couple was really happy I had told them. They wouldn’t have known otherwise. Seeing the light of the space station, and the wonder of all that is entailed in that, added to their Christmas light experience.
I guess it’s always good to point to the light, even if you aren’t sure how it’s going to turn out.
In our Gospel today, we have the John the evangelist sharing the story of John the Baptist. Here John the Baptist is clear. He says he is not the messiah, but he “came as a witness to testify to the Light… “
These words are found right at the beginning of John’s Gospel, in that beautiful prologue that begins like this:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
And this is where we get the first few verses of today’s reading:
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.”
It goes on….
“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
John testified to him and cried out, “‘This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”
And a three verses later, the Gospel picks up the rest of our reading this morning, with John the Baptist confronting the priests and Levites who question his authority, and he replies that there is one after him who is greater.
Like John the Baptist, you and I are called to testify to the light, to be witnesses to Light, to point others beyond ourselves to the one who is greater than we are, and that one is Jesus.
In the history of religious art, we often see John the Baptist with a finger raised, pointing to the sky, in other words, pointing beyond himself to Christ. Other works show John actually pointing to Jesus, who is also featured in the painting. The key message of John is, Prepare; Look to Jesus; The light who is Life is coming into the world, and the darkness will not overcome it.
This world needs the true light. This world needs the Good News of hope and Joy, and the Good News of God’s light especially when there is so much darkness.
Isaiah’s prophesy paints a picture of what God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom of light could look like in this world:
To bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
to comfort all who mourn;
God’s kingdom of light will be one where:
God’s people are known for their righteousness,
for how they restore what is ruined,
for helping to make things flourish and be fruitful.
One aspect of pointing to the light is simply being aware. Just like I had to set an alarm to remind myself to go out and look for the shuttle, we can benefit from setting a regular time each day to stop, pause and reflect on the light of Christ we have witnessed that day, or even to recognize places of darkness where we may be called to reflect God’s light. Maybe its part of our morning or evening prayer time, or journaling time, or taking our commuting time to reflect on where the light of Christ is shining and pointing. Otherwise, we get busy and become oblivious to God’s light in our lives.
Another part of pointing to the light is to be willing to be looked at a little askance when we proclaim and point to Jesus and to what a Kingdom of light could look like. We can get nervous about sharing the Good News of Jesus’ Light with others. How will we be perceived? Will others even see what we see?
Just as I was twirling around on the street, looking up for where the light of the shuttle was going to appear, and stopping passers-by with the announcement of the Good News of the phenomenon I hoped to catch, You and I can be brave enough to point to where we see God’s light breaking through the darkness in this world.. and to point to where it needs to break through the darkness, even when we are a little hesitant that people might look at us funny or think we are odd or disagree with us.
Because, the thing is:
When children in this country go to bed hungry or afraid of violence in their neighborhoods, we need light and the hope of restoration for our cities.
When our government threatens to ban common words from official documents, we need to be pointing to The Word made flesh whose light will not be overcome by darkness, the Word who brings freedom to the captive.
When the elderly are isolated and lonely, we need to point to the light of Christ that
Can give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
And by pointing to the light of Christ, we can make ourselves available to be used to reflect Christ’s light in the world.
I think part of pointing to the light can be even simpler, and that is by making it a practice to acknowledge how God is active in your own life. In the presence of your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers, and perhaps the occasional stranger, to be willing to point up and share Good News you have experienced, or the Good News you wait for in expectation.
Maybe you can point to how God has answered a prayer, or how God’s light is leading you to support some cause or help in some place of darkness. Maybe you can simply point out the ways God has blessed you, even when not everything is perfect.
Then, as the psalmist says, others will catch our enthusiasm and proclaim,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
And we will respond, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed.”
So, let’s raise our eyes to the sky, seek out and point to God’s light. Amen.