ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH January 21, 2018
Rev. Ed Musson
THE LIGHT HAS DAWNED
Jonah 3: 1 – 5, 10; Matthew 4: 12 -17
When I was a child, I had a unique way of positioning myself for sleep. I would lie on my stomach (and it was much easier to do that way back then, when my stomach was flat instead of round, as it is now). And I would make sure that no part my body not an arm or a leg or an elbow or a kneecap or a finger or even one little toe – was hanging over the edge of the bed. I did that to make sure that the monster that lived under my bed wouldn’t be able to grab me and pull me under the bed to his lair and eat me up. I KNEW that the monster was there. My Uncle Harvey TOLD me he was there, and he wouldn’t lie about something as terrible as that! Well — Some grownups seem to get a perverse sort of pleasure from scaring the daylights out of children. Have you ever known anyone like that? Uncle Harve had a lot of wonderful qualities and I loved him dearly, but that man could have given lessons on how to scare children! And he’s the one who convinced me that there was a monster who lived under my bed. But it wasn’t just MY bed – oh, no! That would have been too easy to get around! I could’ve just traded beds with Betty my sister and been out of danger. So my uncle convinced me that EVERY bed had a monster living beneath it, and any or all of them just loved to eat little children! To this day if I’m sleeping in a strange place, I sometimes catch myself subconsciously making sure no part of me is hanging over the edge of the bed? Isn’t that silly?
Monsters. Darkness. Closets – Closets (that’s where the trolls live – and I mean the mean ones from the fairy tales.) – another gift from my uncle). Things that go bump in the might. The wild, uncontrollable things. The scary things. A child’s fear of the dark is one of the most universal, consistent, persistent, and widely exploited fears of all. Because darkness is the place where the wild, scary things are just waiting for us to become vulnerable by lying down and falling asleep. And parents aren’t much help sometimes, even when we’re trying to be helpful. What’s the first night-time prayer we teach our children? “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should DIE before I wake…” What’s that all about? That “if I should die before I wake” business? What’s going to happen to keep me from waking up in the morning? The monster under the bed? The troll in the closet? And isn’t it odd that the places and situations that look innocent enough in the light of day should become places of terror in the darkness of night?
In the daytime, under the bed is where you stuff toys and shoes and chewing gum wrappers and dirty laundry, so your room looks cleaner than it really is and Mom won’t go nuclear on you. In the daytime, the closet is where you hang your clothes (sometimes) and store your stuff, right? But at night, it’s a doorway to an unknown, frightening kingdom where trolls rule and children are in danger. For most of us, becoming adults hasn’t necessarily cured us of our fear of the dark. Oh, we may have switched to waterbeds that nothing could possibly get underneath. And our closets may be a little bigger (although still not big enough) and they’re filled with business suits or work clothes instead of building blocks and athletic gear. But at night, when the lights are out and the children are safely tucked into bed to wrestle with THEIR fears, our own monsters come to life and torment us yet again. Am I am caring husband? Am I a loving wife? Do I really try to understand my spouse’s point of view? Are we raising our children the right way? What about my parents? Am I doing all I can to make their later years as pleasant as they made my early years? Can I be sure my children aren’t experimenting with drugs? When will I ever be able to slow down? When will I ever enough money? Why doesn’t someone invent a magic pill that will make all these excess pounds I’m carrying around disappear overnight, never to return again? Why do I never seem to be satisfied any more? Where is God in the middle of all this chaos in my life? Yes, in the light of day we function pretty well through this messy maze of life paying bills, – getting family schedules co-ordinated, even managing once in a while to eat those high-fibre, low-fat meals our doctors tell us we’re supposed to eat. And the fear of our unknowns, the scary stuff, is kept safely at arm’s length, barricaded securely behind our busy work schedules and microwave dinners. But when our world slows down a little, when darkness falls, the fears creep in. No they don’t – they RUSH into our lives, our hearts, our minds, our very souls, and the torture begins once again. Does it always have to be that way? Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Jesus said, “The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light, and to those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” And there’s something inside us that wants to believe that — if anything in this life is true, THIS is! — this is the only hope worth hanging on to, — that here is a way out of the fearful mess we’ve made of our lives. Somewhere, sometime, we believe that WE have seen that light. We remember seeing it, once upon a time, a long time ago. If only we could find it again – or if IT could find US – then maybe the darkness wouldn’t be quite so threatening and ominous.
That’s what we need, isn’t it – light? Remember we said that in the light of day our lives don’t really look all that bad. We can manage. We’ll be okay. It’s only when darkness closes in around us – As when — a loved one dies, — or our spouse says, “I don’t love you any more,” – or a child says “Sure I smoke pot. Everybody else is doing it. I don’t care what you think.” And we become afraid all over again, just like when we were children. Only now it’s not the monster under the bed or the troll in the closet, it’s life itself that we’re afraid of. The darkness takes so many different forms now, and the light seems harder to find than before. Unless you know where to look. Unless you know where to look.
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” And we wonder, “Is he talking about me? It COULD be me he’s talking about, couldn’t it?” And we begin to search for this light, hoping against hope that it will turn out to be more than a flickering candle that looks pretty as the flame dances about, but then gets snuffed out by the first strong breeze that comes along. Jesus’ first mission was to let us know that the light God brought into the world in Him was the only true light, the only light that could not be overcome by the darkness or snuffed out by the winds of change that constantly blow through our lives. And in our encounter with this light we meet God and begin to understand the depth of God’s love for us. It’s as if you were sitting on the beach early in the morning. The only colours you see are the dark blues and blacks of the water and the sky, and the faint, silvery glow of the whitecaps on the breaking waves. You sit in the same place, not moving. Yet suddenly the colours begin to lighten on the water. Your eyes are drawn to the horizon, where the sky is changing hues right in front of you. First crimson, then pink, then finally pale yellow appears above the horizon. Then almost without warning the sun bursts into the sky! Color and light invade the shadowy world you were sitting in, the hazy shapes of darkness give way to clear impressions, and right there, before your wondering eyes, a new day is born.
Don’t you know that the light of Jesus Christ – which is the LOVE of Jesus Christ – is every bit as real as a sunrise? Hear the good news again: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.” And like new, green plants which grow instinctively toward the sun, our exposure to the true light of Jesus calls us to grow toward him, to live in the warmth of his love, to learn who we are and how to use the gifts and talents God has given us to “catch people,” to begin the transformation of our world by transforming ourselves into the person God wants us to be No longer do we have to remain in the darkness of our fears, our faults, our failures.
I remember once when I was spending the night at my grandparents’ house, sleeping in a strange bed and being especially careful not to let any part of me hang over the edge. I was awakened in the middle of the night by an unknown noise, and I lay there, very still for what seemed an eternity, listening for any sounds of life or movement. The door to my room was closed, so the only light coming into the room was the moonlight streaming through the window, and moonlight can be a spooky kind of light to a child. I lay there for the longest time, waiting for the sound of my grandparents getting out of bed and moving around the house. At the breakfast table I told them about my sleepless night (but not about my fear of the monster under the bed).
And my grandfather smiled and looked at me and said, “Eddy, you didn’t have to lay in there afraid of the dark all that time. You could have come into the living room and sat with me. I woke up early and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I got up and came in here to read. All you had to do was open the door and you would have seen the light.” All you had to do was open the door and you would of seen the light. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” And the writer of the Gospel of John says that the darkness could not overcome the light.
Here’s the Thing Friends – There is no darkness in your life today that the true light, Jesus Christ, cannot overcome. Do you have that light in your life? Is it shining as brightly as when you first saw it? If not, let me assure you that it’s not because the light got dimmer. Maybe you just moved away from it, or you allowed something or someone to come between you and the light. The light of Christ still burns brightly, waiting to illumine even the darkest corners of your life, even the places where the scary things live. All you have to do is open the door and let in the light. AMEN