Out of the Comfort of Darkness

December 25, 2013

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

Christmas Day, Selection III – RCL

Isaiah 52:7-10. Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12), John 1:1-14

When my alarm went off at 6:15 this morning, after hitting the snooze-button a couple of times, it was a long Christmas Eve day, after all, I was lying in bed thinking about how comfortable that dark room and warm bed was – the comfort of darkness.

I realized how easy it is to go through life wanting to stay in those comfortable places when all that is familiar surrounds you. For me, and maybe for most of us, this instinct was automatic.
As a baby in the warmth of the womb, I didn’t seem interested in moving from that place. Even after 24 hours of labor endured by my mother, and with my twin sister by my side, I was still unwilling to leave the comfort of that safe place.

Perhaps it was an instinctive fear of leaving this darkness that caused my heart to quiver, literally. Yet, the heart irregularities prompted the doctor to perform a Caesaria-section – forcing me out of that darkness that had become a very comfortable place to be.

Even as an adult, I tended to navigate the “safe” path. Knowing I needed to find a job after college, I studied accounting instead of religion, which was my desire – go figure!

And on my career path in the banking industry, I moved through my career successfully, but no bold moves, staying with the same company for some twenty years. Yes, there’s something to be said for loyalty, but I think it has more to do with “safety”. Sticking with a boss I knew and worked well with, familiar systems and processes – you get the idea.

On the personal side, I spent a bit of time hiding who I was for fear of what others would say if they found out I was gay. What shame that might bring on my family, who has a prominent presence in Houston, where I lived.

Ultimately I realized that my hiding, was really more about me maintaining the status quo, because my parents, family and co-workers embraced me just as I am. I know everyone isn’t that fortunate…

But I’ve come to realize that when I find myself hesitant to share myself fully, or to take risks, I am falling back on my desire to stay in those warm bed-covers…

The comfort of darkness can be strong.

But even as I lay in my bed this morning, I realized that Christmas is about God breaking into our lives!

1526357_10201967188254045_506699131_nBy 6:15 on Christmas morning, as a child, no amount of warm blankets would have kept me and my four siblings in bed. NO WAY! We would wake up our parents, knowing we weren’t allowed to go into the den until they had checked to see if Santa had come.

The five of us would line the dark hallway, impatiently waiting to burst into the room filled with gifts and a fully lit Christmas tree!

Out of darkness, into light!

And, to make clear that opening gifts wasn’t ALL Christmas was about, Mom and Dad would get everyone dressed for church, and we’d head off to the Christmas morning church service… just like today.

Each year we relive the birth of Jesus into a world.

Today’s gospel from John says

“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.”

And why not?

Because Jesus was God’s way of breaking into our lives in unexpected ways… forcing us to get out of our comfortable darkness. Jesus spoke on behalf of the “have-nots.” He pointed out the people sleeping on the streets, on a frosty night with the hard concrete against their backbone and hips, while we sleep in our warm, cozy bed.

Jesus’ life was a life that spoke volumes – a voice and example that said and did things that made those around him uneasy.

rosa_parks_and_dr._martin_luther_king__jr.We have modern-day examples of this kind of voice – speaking truth so quietly and plainly that it stirs us to a new way of living. People like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., like Harvey Milk and Ellen DeGeneres, and like Oscar Romero and perhaps, if we’re lucky and he continues to push against culture for the purpose of helping the marginalized, perhaps even Pope Francis.

These are people that despite their cultural setting and the expectation of the world around them, they left the comfort of darkness, of the status quo, and spoke out – not only with their lips, but in their lives – and lived in the Light of truth.

And so, this Christmas and every day, we are invited to live into this light, too.

For me, this is my first year as a priest celebrating the Christmas season. I’ve experienced Christ’s light in new and exciting ways – through the joy of children; the kindness of this church community; and imparting an image of God, given through the Holy Spirit, that moves us to new life in the telling of the Christmas stories:

  • Joseph’s path to commitment;
  • Mary’s faithfulness and perseverance;
  • The Gospel of John’s version which takes us back to the beginning of all things!
From: theewordbecamefleshdotorg

From: theewordbecamefleshdotorg

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”

These opening verses tell us explicitly of the immediate and complete relationship between God and Jesus Christ.

As New Testament scholar, Luke Johnson said in a class I took last year, “John tells about the Is-ness of Jesus”. It says:

“In him was life, and the life was the light of ALL people.”

The very nature of Jesus Christ was life which creates a light that exposes the truth of things around us – the truth that the comfort of our bed isn’t where we are to live. We are called into the light, into enlightenment, where we are compelled to be an active voice on behalf of compassion.

To speak out against discrimination, prejudice, perpetuating hate, the marginalization of others, and to guard against elevating ourselves.

Once the light has been turned on, by the likes of prophetic voices, and Jesus’ example, we can’t return to the dark and call it good.

We have seen things in a new way, and there is no going back!

So how do we move from the comfort of darkness to the comfort in the light?

The good news is, God empowers us… the text says:

“But to all who received [the Word], who had faith 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.”

When we let go of our cultural, worldly will, we are able to embrace and receive God’s will for our life.

Yet even once we do this, the instinct to return to the comfort of darkness is strong.
It’s nice and warm under those covers.

I’ve experienced this impulse numerous times, even after taking the risk of leaving a 20 year career to pursue ordained ministry.

Even while on this journey, there were moments I could have chosen an easier path for preparation… yet I forced myself to walk toward the more difficult things – like studying the Gospel of John, the most trepidatious of the Gospels for me, or by choosing to do my Clinical Pastoral Education work at Grady Hospital.

You see, I knew that although these may have been harder things for me to tackle, they would be the things that would make me more useful in God’s work of ministry.

And after a while, you will find that you get used to walking toward the light… even seeking it out. It is Life-giving! Like bursting out of bed at 6:25 on Christmas morning and letting the Holy Spirit guide the words you will share in just a few hours time.

The birth of Christ anew in our lives serves as an annual reminder of an everyday truth…
God’s very nature is Life and Light; Truth over Falsehood.

Jesus Christ took on flesh and dwelt among us so that we might have a means of seeing what it looks like to live a life fully connected to God.

From the time of his birth, when he burst out of his mother’s womb, placed in the modest scraps of clothing; to a life of compassion and truth-telling; a death of suffering and humiliation; and an ultimate resurrection to life eternal at God’s right hand.

Yes, there are easier paths, but God was with Jesus, and God, Emmanuel, is with us. With God’s light at our feet, lighting our path, we can navigate any obstacle put before us, and overcome our self-limiting tendencies.

So let us walk in the Light of Christmas, this day, for the 12 days of the Christmas season, and all through the New Year!

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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