William N. Hoelzel, III
My wife, Mary, and I are blessed in the fact that we have two grandchildren – Thalia, age 4, and William, age 3. Currently, both live in Henderson NV, which means that we can get out there and be with them on a regular basis, watching them grow and mature and do all the things that three and four year olds do.
Because they are cousins, one born to our daughter and the other to one of our two sons, of course they share similarities, at the same time also being different, as to be expected. One of their similarities, which they share with countless other young people, is their discomfort with the dark. For a myriad of reasons, many children are fearful of darkness. And thus, Thalia sleeps with a table lamp on next to her bed; and, William sleeps with the light on in the bathroom across from his bedroom. As long as those lights burn throughout the night, they are at peace. They, along with other children, may not know the words, but intuitively, early in life, they sense light’s importance.
But, it isn’t just children who are anxious of the darkness, is it? For some of us, walking across a darkened mall parking lot provides us with enough anxiety to make us walk faster, glancing right and left as we go. For others of us it is walking into a darkened house when we forgot to leave a light burning. For still others of us it is walking down a city’s dark alleyway, when we fully know that we shouldn’t really be doing that, but we were late and wanted to take a short-cut.
Whatever darkness triggers our anxieties, they are real, real to us, just as real as to the youngsters in our lives.
And other kinds of darkness can be found in many different arenas. In times of personal upheaval, such as marital discord, or separation, or divorce. In times of unemployment when things get a little dicey. In times of profound illness, either in ourselves or in the life of one we love. In times of a challenging relationship. And, sometimes, the darkness can overwhelm us on a more national or international scale.
Right now I find a darkness hovering over Washington DC, fearing that gridlock, and sniping and name-calling will be ours for another two years, all the while as Americans continue to suffer and struggle.
We all are now experiencing the darkness that has settled over Tucson and our nation at the assassination attempt directed at a member of Congress, and the loss of lives there.
And, I find darkness hovering right now over the country of Sudan, as that poor, broken, besieged country finishes up a referendum about whether the southern part should become independent from the north. After a week of balloting, the voting concluded yesterday, and I find myself holding my breath to see whether violence, atrocities, darkness will once again descend upon Sudan.
Where do you find your own examples of darkness? And, with so many areas of darkness all around us, outside of ourselves and within, do you ever feel as if the darkness is closing in, and actually winning?
The season in which we find ourselves, Epiphany, has several interesting themes associated with it. And, one of them is the theme of light. That, God has manifested his love, his light, his very presence in the coming of his Son, Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed One, to our oftentimes darkened world.
As an example of this theme, have you ever noticed how many Christmas cards feature a bright star beaming a shaft of light down upon the manger? To me, that symbolizes the beginning of God’s inroad into our world of darkness.
You know, God could have undertaken another way in this battle between holy light and earthly darkness. One very effective way would have been for God to employ a celestial Neutron Bomb, killing off those creatures which tend to cause darkness, while preserving the rest of life here upon Earth.
But, God didn’t. Rather, God chose that shaft of light to be the beginning, an effort that continues on to this very day.
But, how does this approach work? Well, to be very concrete and very personal, it works through you and me.
It works kind of like this. At our baptism we could say that a spark, a photon of light, could we call it “Kingdom Light”?, is implanted in each one of us.
When our kids were young, we tent-camped a lot, and almost always had a campfire in the evening which, under the right conditions, we would bank. Our kids became very proficient at poking around that campfire in the morning, trying to find some hot, glowing embers, and nurturing them, kindling them back into a flame.
Well, that’s what God intends for you and me to do with that spark, that photon of “Kingdom Light”, implanted within our being. It’s not going to do us much good unless it is nurtured, kindled by Word and Sacrament and a holy Community of Faith, such as St. Michael’s, until it flares up in vigor and gives light to our spiritual and mental and emotional and physical lives.
I said earlier that one of the great themes of this season of Epiphany is that of light. Another theme is that of a missionary nature. A theme based upon the fact that Jesus wasn’t born just for the Jews, but he was sent to all the peoples of the Earth, a theme reflected first in the coming of the Magi, non-Jews, Gentiles, to worship Jesus. A theme that the early Church had to wrestle with for a long time before it got it right. Jesus isn’t just for a selected few; he is for everyone!
It is a theme also reflected in our Eucharistic Prayer this morning when it reminds us that “…(Jesus) yearned to draw all the world to himself”. And again as Jesus says to his trusted disciples in the Upper Room: “This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is poured out for you and for all”.
And this second theme of this wonderful season of The Epiphany provides us with a suggestive truth. This implanted ember, this photon of “Kingdom Light” given to us at our baptism isn’t meant just for us. That focus would simply be just too narrow. Rather, what has been born within us is meant not only to lead us back to God, the source of our “Kingdom Light”, but also it is meant for the world around us.
Do you remember today’s Gospel story, how John the Baptist pointed out to Andrew, one of his own disciples, that Jesus was “The One”? And, what did Andrew immediately do? He went off to find his brother, Peter, to tell him that he had found “The One” longed for down through the ages.
In essence, that is what you and I have been called to do as well. Like John the Baptist, like Andrew, and eventually like all the rest of the Apostles, and like so many Christians who have walked the Holy Road of Faith before us, we, too, have been called to be “pointers”. Having discovered the “Kingdom Light”, God-in-Christ within our own life, we are invited, called, urged to point to him and tell someone else who Jesus is for us, and how he can be “The One” for them as well. Called to point through the darkness of this world and say, “Do you see God at work there? Isn’t that amazing?”
And, when we can muster up the courage, because for the first few times it can be kind of scary, when we can begin to grow into our vocation to be “pointers”, then our “Kingdom Light” is shared, pushing back, just a little bit, the darkness in someone else’s life.
There is an awful lot of resistance to that vocation, especially among us Episcopalians, who tend to live our lives as if the “Kingdom Light” implanted within us is a private matter, meant to be used only for ourselves.
But this amazing season of Epiphany reminds us otherwise.
Light has been born into this darkened world. And, since God has rejected the Neutron Bomb approach, God means for us, God’s people, people who have been given the gift of “Kingdom Light”, to first nurture it into a strong flame, and then to share it.
This great season of Epiphany reminds us, once again, that we have been called to be partners with God in pushing back the margins of darkness.
You and me!
Isn’t that amazing?
In growing faith, because that’s what it takes, in growing faith let’s keep up, or maybe now begin, this holy work!