Waiting in the Dark

The First United Presbyterian Church
“Waiting in the Dark”
Rev. Amy Morgan
December 1, 2019

Joel 2:1-14
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near-- 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. 3 Fire devours in front of them, and behind them a flame burns. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, but after them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them. 4 They have the appearance of horses, and like war-horses they charge. 5 As with the rumbling of chariots, they leap on the tops of the mountains, like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring the stubble, like a powerful army drawn up for battle. 6 Before them peoples are in anguish, all faces grow pale. 7 Like warriors they charge, like soldiers they scale the wall. Each keeps to its own course, they do not swerve from their paths. 8 They do not jostle one another, each keeps to its own track; they burst through the weapons and are not halted. 9 They leap upon the city, they run upon the walls; they climb up into the houses, they enter through the windows like a thief. 10 The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. 11 The LORD utters his voice at the head of his army; how vast is his host! Numberless are those who obey his command. Truly the day of the LORD is great; terrible indeed-- who can endure it? 12 Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?

Matthew 25:36-44
36 "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,
 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.
 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.
 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.
 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.
 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Revelation 21:1-5; 22-26
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
 4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."
 5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."
22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.
 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.
 25 Its gates will never be shut by day-- and there will be no night there.
 26 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.

I had just shut the door to the microwave and was about to press the button that would warm up my soup. And suddenly, everything went dark.

This was a pretty common occurrence in our house in Michigan. The wires running through our neighborhood were tangled in some trees, and the transformers hadn’t been updated in decades.

I sighed and took my soup out of the microwave. So much for lunch. And then I opened up an app on my phone to report the outage to the power company. I knew that I could check back periodically or get text message updates about the status of the repair and when I could expect the power to come back on. I had information that would make the wait in the darkness tolerable and predictable.

Most of us remember a time when waiting in the darkness of a power outage was not so easy. No app would give you an estimate of how long you’d have to wait in the dark. No texts would assure you the power company was working on it. When the lights went out, the waiting began. And the waiting was indeterminate.

That is what the season of Advent is like. Through the darkest days of the year, we wait. In the darkness between Christ’s incarnation and Christ’s return, we wait. Surrounded by the darkness of sin and death, illness and grief, loneliness and anxiety, greed and deception and division, we wait.

And the waiting is indeterminate.

We begin the Christian year by anticipating the end of time. The prophet Joel described a “day of the Lord” that is “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness.” Just before the passage we read this morning from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that when he returns, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken.” We begin the Christian year, the Advent season, with darkness.

The end times that Jesus describes are not some distant events we rational, reasonable Christians need not bother about. Nor are they immanent crises that can be predicted by interpreting the signs and symbols and hidden codes in scripture. Jesus says that “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” and that all these things will come to pass before the generation he is speaking to has passed away. The end times have already been inaugurated. The darkness and gloom have settled in. In the coming of Christ into the world, the powers of heaven have already been shaken.

And now we wait, in the darkness, with no idea when the waiting will end.

And this can be terrifying. We have all sorts of negative connotations with darkness. Darkness is associated with ignorance and evil. In the darkness, our imaginations can construct limitless horrors that may be lurking, waiting to destroy us. In the darkness, we must come to terms with what we can’t see, can’t know, can’t control. And that is perhaps the most terrifying thing of all about the darkness. Our powerlessness. Our vulnerability. In the darkness, we are laid bare to our worst imaginings, about the world around us, and about ourselves.

And so it doesn’t seem comforting that all of these end-times depictions in scripture carry a strong element of judgment. Joel’s army of darkness and Jesus’ left behind images are meant to encourage some serious reflection on our readiness to live in the glorious reign of God. In the darkness of this season, our own darkness is inescapable, no matter how much we try to brighten it up with trips to neon shopping centers and flashy television commercials. Advent darkness reminds us that we are carrying darkness around inside us that matches the pitch of the night sky.

The physical darkness of time of year parallels the various sorts of spiritual, emotional, and psychological darkness we experience as we wait through the season of Advent. We wait in the darkness of illness, feeling our way through treatments we aren’t certain will work, staring into an unknown future for our bodies, our lives, our loved ones. We wait in the darkness of grief, unable to see a path through the blackness, uncertain which direction will lead us toward a glimmer of joy. We wait in the darkness of division, blind to the goodness of our fellow human beings and unwilling to move for fear of stumbling onto the wrong side. We wait in the darkness of greed, grasping at things we can’t even see just to give us the comfort of having more to hold onto in our fear. We wait in the darkness of loneliness and isolation, unable to recognize the community that waits in the darkness around us.

We fear the inner darkness just as much, and probably more, than any apocalyptic darkness. The inner darkness is one we can feel, here and now. We know its real. We don’t have to believe in it. The inner darkness, like outer darkness, makes us come to terms with our lack of control, our deficit of knowledge. We fear what we can’t know or control, and we run from it or fight with it.

But Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, offers us another option. Rather than fearing the dark, initiating that fight-or-flight response, what if we learned to befriend it? Throughout the Advent season, we’ll be discussing Taylor’s book after worship. But in the texts we’re exploring in worship, we will also explore new ways of experiencing darkness, making peace with it, even finding a kinship with it.

But before we can take the first step on this walk in the dark, we must wait. We must sit with the darkness and get to know it. Let our eyes adjust to it. Get familiar with a new way of seeing.

As much as our imagination can create horrors that lurk in the darkness, it also has the capacity to construct hope. Instead of gazing into the darkness with fear and foreboding, we have the option to get curious in the darkness. Wonder is the path to kinship with the darkness. Wonder is the mechanism for revelation.

And so it happened, in a dark time, that a man named John wondered in the dark. About what judgment looked like for a God who endured judgment for our sake. His wonder led to the revelation of an end to the cosmic dualism of darkness and light. Though the world began with the creation of light, of sun, moon and stars, he saw it ending with the termination of created light altogether. The new creation will be illuminated by divine light, eliminating the darkness of night, the darkness of death and mourning and pain, and attracting all other light to it.

This is a beautiful revelation, a hopeful revelation.

But when John saw this, he was not basking in the glory of that divine light. He was sitting in the dark. In a cave. Alone. Wondering. Waiting. This beautiful image of divine light comes only after 21 chapters of hardship, struggle, darkness. It isn’t the light we get from flipping a switch. It is a long, difficult time in coming. It is seen only from the perspective of one sitting in the darkness.

As faithful followers of Christ, we are not called to bask in divine light. We are people who wait in the dark. The wait is long, and indeterminate. The wait can be difficult, filled with struggle and doubt.

Fear may threaten to overwhelm us while we wait in this present darkness. But Jesus does not call us to be courageous in the dark. He admonishes us to keep alert. To pay attention. To be curious. Because the antidote to fear is not courage. It is curiosity. Wonder.

In her book Rising Strong, Brene Brown writes that “choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty.” We wait in the dark by surrendering to uncertainty. We do not know when Christ will return, no one does. But we can get curious about the darkness that is part of the process of God’s redemption. The hope, the revelation, that results from wonder and curiosity can only come through embracing the vulnerability that comes with darkness, the unknowing and powerlessness.

So, whatever form your darkness may take this season, remember this: in this darkness is the seed of hope. In this darkness is the path to revelation. Through this darkness comes eternal light.

And so, we don’t go looking for an app or a switch to quickly and artificially and easily terminate the darkness. We wait, with wonder, for as long as it takes.

But we do not wait alone. No one waits in the darkness alone. The God who created sun and moon and stars entered the darkness of this world, Jesus the Messiah entered the darkness of this world, the Spirit who brooded over the darkness before creation still sweeps through the darkness of this world. So that no one waits in the darkness alone.

And this community embodies that fact by waiting in the darkness together. We are present in one another’s darkness as a testimony to God’s presence with us in the darkness. Much as we might want to, we can’t easily flip a switch to illuminate someone else’s darkness. But we can wait with them. We can get curious and wonder with them. We can wait until our eyes adjust to the darkness, until we can see hope and new revelations together.

This week, I encourage you to wait in the darkness together in a very specific way. The folks in our congregation who have been involved in Together Colorado have been waiting in the darkness with our neighbors experiencing homelessness. They’ve been working tirelessly over the past several months to organize an event where we can be powerfully present for them. At the community forum this Thursday at 7pm at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, our presence, combined with the presence of scores of others in our Loveland faith community, will testify that we are those people who know that there are not easy answers and quick fixes to the challenges contributing to homelessness. But we are willing to wait in the dark, for as long as it takes. We are willing to get curious, to wonder, if there are ways of doing things in our community that will change the lives of our neighbors living on the streets or in their cars through these dark, cold days. Showing up on Thursday is part of how we can wait in the dark together, testifying to God’s presence among us, testifying to the movement of the Spirit in the darkness, testifying to the Messiah who came to be in the darkness with us, testifying that no one waits in the darkness alone.

So, I encourage you, in this season of waiting in the darkness, to be attentive to, alert to, and curious about your own darkness. But also, be watchful for others who are waiting in the dark. Be willing to wait with them.  

As we wait together, may wonder and curiosity transform the darkness from a tomb of terror to the womb of revelation. May we wait together until our eyes can see the hope that permeates the darkness. Amen.


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