Bringers of Light

December 14, 2014, Isaiah 42:1-9

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 

Oh really, you might say in response to this beautiful promise. Because all around us is evidence to the contrary. It has already been 2 years ago that shocking gun violence erupted in an elementary school in Sandyhook. And since then, we’ve seen little change in gun laws. The violence in schools and in other public locations continues with little fanfare and outrage really only from those who lose loved ones. The torture report has been released, questioning our actions and our morals as a country. Ebola continues to kill families and friends and communities in West Africa. Palestinians live in the reality of walls and random check points and the destruction of their personal property on a whim. Our country is grappling with racism and the fact that black men are suspect.

And we wait. It’s Advent, a season of waiting and this one in particular seems dark and chaotic with that litany I just read to you alive and well, not to mention the condition of our own messed up lives, our own dark hearts. Yes, we wait for the Savior of the world as we grieve and ache; as we say that everything is fine when we know it’s not; as we worry and stew; as we rush without ever stopping to let anything take hold, sink in. It’s just too much, isn’t it?

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 

The people that the prophet Isaiah is called to speak to know a thing or two about it all being too much. The Israelites have been conquered. They’ve watched as their holy temple, the very place where they believed God to live, was destroyed. They’ve been dragged from their homes, seeing loved ones killed. Their way of life is over as they know it. They are occupied. They are displaced. They are exiled. They’ve been made foreigners. They’ve been made “other.” Isaiah too is among them, having experienced the same thing as they have experienced. A suffering servant called to proclaim hope and light. Future. Life.

And do you hear how we too are called into this life, along with Isaiah, along with the Israelite people? We are swept up in this call, us too as suffering servants, through the language of covenant. We are given as a covenant. Now we know God establishes a covenant with Noah. A covenant, a promise to not destroy the world and to always love us and all of creation. I hold up the chalice of wine each and every week and say words that Jesus said, “this is the new covenant, the new promise, shed for you and for all people.” But here in today’s reading? I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.

Given as a covenant. Given as a promise. Given as a light.

We know that we’ve been called into God’s family. We celebrate it every week in worship. We come to this place to be loved like crazy so that we might have a shot at loving others, at loving ourselves. And today we get to surround Perci and promise to love her like crazy, and to welcome her into this family, into this life of being a light to the nations. The is the best embodiment of covenant we see and practice. Because through baptism, we get to witness God making a covenant with Perci, a promise to love her as a child of God for all of her – her life here, her life forever. And right at the end of the baptismal rite, a candle is lit and scripture is read to Perci to let her light so shine on her very life, so that when others see her they see light, they know it must come from God. Yes, we are part of God’s family. But more importantly, we are called into being part of God’s promise. We are part of God’s promise. To the nations. To the world. Sent as God’s living covenant.

Being a Christian isn’t about exclusive benefits and rights – it’s about being light. It’s about being sent as a covenant. It’s about being part of God’s promise to love the world like crazy!

So, let’s shine a little light on that shall we?

Some good friends of mine worked at Holden Village, a Lutheran camp in a remote mountain village in Washington state. In the winter months, they see about ½ hour of direct sunlight a day. All work and even play would stop as the sun would break into their deep mountain crevice, people simply standing in the direct light, their faces turned up toward the sun, taking it in. I know I did the same yesterday when the sun broke through the fog for a few glorious minutes.

Or how about this as light: My friend, Naomi, told me about being behind an older gentleman at the grocery store who was having to put things back on the shelf as he didn’t have enough money. While he was back in an isle, Naomi, being a good Norwegian, saw he was trying to buy lefse and that it had been put back in the pile of things to return. She discreetly slipped a $5 bill under it hoping she’d have her things checked out and be gone by the time the man got back. Well, one thing led to another and she ended up having to fess up as a manager was called over to check something and then stumbled across the $5 and looking accusingly at the dumbfounded and wordless young woman who was checking her out. Naomi was embarrassed. Naomi was light.
I asked for your stories of light – and they were all about how others have been a light to you.

A shoveled driveway by generous, loving neighbors. That’s light.

A fixed garage door by a friend. That’s light.

A hand extended to be held in the shock of loss. That’s light.

Joyous singing and grief-filled tears all at the same time in celebration of Keith Krommenhoek’s life. What a light he was and continues to be.

Dinner tables and respite for young college-age Ron Johnson and Sara Shorter. Not only food but belonging and love and family. That’s light.

For a family member taking in a troubled teenager that changed the rest of her life – that’s light.

For a friend with brown skin to shed light on their experience of life and of racism and shape a white-skinned person’s outlook, well that’s light too.

Holding the door open for someone, writing a thank you note, making a phone call, smiling at a stranger or a crabby co-worker- light, light, light. Asking God to help you forgive someone, that’s light.

We are in the midst of dark times. We need one another so badly. We need Jesus to break into this mess and be our light, the light of the world. And we know Jesus doesn’t come with big red bows and tinsel but instead in human flesh. Jesus enters our suffering and brings the promise of healing and wholeness, of reconciliation. And this is the promise of salvation. Saving us from this mess, from ourselves. Making us whole.

Your stories brought life to my life this week. They brought light to me in reading them, in thinking of my love for you and for people who have been light for you. You are light to me. I had another blast of light from a friend on facebook this past week, a fellow pastor also wringing his hands over how to preach in this midst of darkness and I share that light with you:

So I’m not sure how it all fits yet, but I’m wrestling with the fact that we gather in worship of Jesus — a middle-Eastern man who was extensively tortured by the most powerful empire in the world and ultimately executed in a most public way, spending his last moments on the cross not being able to breathe.

I’m not sure how it all fits yet, but I can’t help the nagging suspicion that my silence makes me complicit in the murder of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and that the beyond-evil torture of countless children of God indicts me as much as anyone.

I’m not sure how it all fits yet, but I’m sick to my stomach thinking about it. I have no idea how I can preach or teach with any integrity without speaking and naming this guilt and shame. So I’ll face today doing everything I can to make the world a kinder, more just, and humane place. But, damn, we have to do better.[i]

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you

When I don’t know what to do or when I swear the light has gone out, I take comfort in these words from Isaiah, I take comfort in the light that you bring to my life and to the world. And when you can’t see the light, know this: God reaches for you, takes your hand and keeps you. Now and forever. In darkness and in light.

Thanks be to God.


[i] Eric Clapp’s facebook post on December 10, 2014 at 5:11a · Clinton, IA