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Advent – Light In Darkness

December 12, 2008 Leave a comment

During the season of Advent waiting, I am confronted with the sinfulness of man and the goodness of God. When Isaiah says that the people living in darkness have seen a great light, we ask, “Why are they living in darkness?”

The writer of Proverbs tells us that the wicked stumble in the darkness and do not know what makes them stumble. The wicked deeds of man thrust him into the darkness. The darkness is the utter sinfulness of sin. What does that mean?

Sin is not simply a violation against God’s law as though God were some kind of ogre that creates rules and slaps us down when we fail. Sin is a violation of love, of relationship, of personhood. Sin violates other persons and in so doing, deforms our own person.

We were created in God’s image for a relationship of love. In this relationship there is an exchange of love between persons. Our very identity, our very essence of personhood is in the loving exchange with other persons. We were created to relate to God as person and to other humans as person.
In the story of Cain and Abel, we see sin corrupting relationship. Cain violates relationship with God and with Abel. He kills Abel, breaks relation with God and is cast into darkness. The violation of love damages him. He is a walking dead man, stumbling into the darkness. He gives birth to warring and violent people who hate, corrupt and ravage other human beings.

When we think of evil and darkness and villains, we point at the other guy: the one in the dark cloak who comes to suck the blood of innocents. The symbolism within the vampire is a symbol of sin and evil. The vampire cannot dwell in the light. The vampire takes life but does not give it. The vampire is threatened, destroyed by the light. But the vampire is not someone else: we are the vampires.

While some modern films may reinterpret the vampire symbol in a sympathetic way, I would suggest that is only because we may be trying to justify our own blood-sucking, life-stealing nature. We may feel sorry for the poor tragic vampire, trapped in a dark world. But this is like feeling sorry for the serial killer who victimized your own family. It is evil and perverse and ignorant.

And we are the evil ones in danger of destroying everything, everyone around us.

When ancient Israel falls under judgment, God gives her over to her sin. And it destroys her. Sin deforms, destroys, and darkens everything. Sin is not freedom but slavery to the worst possibilities within us. The trick is that it seems innocent and justifiable. But it is always destroying our capacity to love and be loved. And that means it always destroys everything in a world created for persons to love in both time and space.

Derrida is rightly the prophet who sees through the empty progress of the personless world of modernity. It is not a Hegelian spirit of progress that will move us to some great destiny. It is not the inevitable synthesis that Marx sees as a correction to the oppression of the worker. Our world of progress is rooted in sinful people who violate and are violated. Thus deconstruction is in inherent in the creation of all our systems, structures, and solutions.

Even as we admire the birth of the baby, we know that birth is but the first step in a journey to death. The complete deconstruction of the person. Living within this tragic cycle of human deconstruction, human corruption, human evil, how can we ever find hope?

Only when we can face the utter sinfulness of sin, can we begin to appreciate the light of Advent. In this Advent waiting, we enter into the story of Israel and discover our own story. When God’s chosen, God’s elect, God’s people are cast into outer darkness, we see the first glimmer of something that will ultimately change everything. Israel, God’s blessing for the world, enters into the dark, stumbling death of all humanity. They are suffering for their own sin, yet they are also a sign that God will not abandon all humanity in darkness.

He promises that a king will come to rescue them. And that king will rescue all people. The hope of Advent is the hope of a God who so deeply believes in relationship that he will join his fallen, corrupted, broken people in the darkness. He will bring light to those stumbling in their sins. Jesus comes as the Israel of God. Jesus, God with us, enters into Israel’s history, humanity’s history. He enters into the darkness of sin and suffering so completely, so perfectly that he dies. In his death, he carries all the suffering and struggling and corrupting of sin in himself.

The opposite of the vampire, Jesus is a life giver. Instead of sucking our blood, he bears our death and offers His blood, His life to us. In his resurrection, he overcomes the destructive and destroying power of sin.

During Advent, we celebrate this light that keeps shining out in darkness. Though we still sin, His light cannot be diminished. We trust that His light will ultimately shine out so completely that all things will be enveloped in His light. Darkness cannot resist, overcome, stand against His light.

So it makes perfect sense to celebrate during the darkest season of the year with lights and laughter and songs. If we struggle to find a voice for rejoicing, let us look beneath the snowmen and reindeers and Santas to the Savior. The snowmen and reindeers and Santas are little lights for children that help them to rejoice and play and sing.

But the fantasy, the dream, the magic they all point to is more real and more wonderful than any child could ever imagine, let alone any adult. Love does triumph. Relationships are restored. God has not and will not forsake us in the darkness of our sins.

So let us sing and play and delight ourselves in imaging and wondering and expecting. For though the day seems long and our own darkness seems so dark, it is not too dark for His light. During Advent, we are looking expectantly, hopefully, joyfully towards the spark of His light that will eventually be the full light of day.

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Why Do I Like Welsh Poetry?

June 27, 2008 Leave a comment

I can’t even read Welsh, so I end up reading poetry written in Welsh and translated into English. (Hopefully, I will eventually read it in Welsh.) So why does it strike me and move me so deeply? As I meander back through Bobi Jones Selected Poems (translated by Joseph P. Clancy), I ask myself, “Why?”

My family has Welsh roots and a second cousin has actually met with distant relatives who still live in Wales. But in al truth, I am an American. I don’t know any other reality. Despite my Celtic dreams, I am an American through and through. This is the only world I’ve ever known.

As an American, I read poems originally written in Welsh about Welsh places and Welsh people and Welsh struggles. I these poems through the eyes of a translator (a great Welsh translator and poet in his own right). In spite of the disconnect, these poems move me. They vibrate through the inner recesses of my soul.

As I think about their struggle to preserve a language, a memory, a particular history and a particular people, I connect with their rugged persistence in the face of (seemingly) unstoppable winds of change. They won’t let go. When the fight to keep speaking and writing in Welsh borders on futility, they keep holding on.

I don’t know what it’s like to fear losing a language. I don’t know what it’s like to fight to preserve a nation. But I do know the dark seas of hopeless chaos that sometimes tower when God seems to hide the grace of His presence. In smothering black nights of hopelessness, something deeper than my intellect continued to hold out for hope.

Something deeper than sheer willpower seemed to persistently grip the glimmers of fading rays when all effort seemed futile. Something deeper than me kept holding on. The very one who seems to elude me, who seems to hide from me, who seems to have abandoned me, continues to hold me, to draw me, to sustain me.

Even though dark waters have pounded my soul and the undercurrent of chaos has pulled me down to an airless pit, the Spirit never stopped hovering, blowing, creating and recreating me.

And I think this is why I love the Welsh poets.

Somehow in their relentless struggle to hold onto hope, I’ve come to find a home among fellow travelers who’ve tasted the sweet light of grace in the midst of the night.

Advent – The Longest Night

December 13, 2007 Leave a comment

In the older Julian calendar, tonight would be the longest night of the year, as the light of day gave way to an engulfing dark expanse. The church responded to this bleak time by celebrating St. Lucy, a young woman martyred for her faith in the 3rd century.

While little is known about Lucy, her name means “light,” so Lucy’s Day became a way of reminding the church of God’s light upon His people in the midst of dark seasons. According to one legend, her eyes were gouged out before her death, yet she could still see.

Today many Norwegians, Swedes and Danes still celebrate the feast of St. Lucy. Some young girls will memorialize Lucy by dressing in white and wearing a crown of candlelight.

When the sun fades from our horizon and twilight gives way to encroaching dark, shadows may seem more real than the fading glories of day. The fear that seemed so weak and foolish just hours ago, now looms large in our imaginations. In spite of our fast-talking, clever minded mockery of darkness, no one can escape the struggles of the human soul.

We learn to manage our schedules, but we cannot manage out the pain of broken relationships. Our intelligence, our wit, our technology cannot save us from disappointments, tragedies, offenses, and misunderstandings. We’ve learned to treat a multitude of sicknesses and physical problems, yet our bodies are not immune to sickness and death.

The Christian faith doesn’t hide from this darkness or deny its existence, but it looks beyond the darkness to a God of light and hope and love. Some people scorn this faith as blindness or pollyanish piety, and they are free to do so.

In the midst of their sneers, we will continue to look into the darkness of a starless night with eyes to see the Uncreated Light of love. Isaiah looked out upon a crumbling kingdom. He saw the impending demise of a once great hope descending rapidly into darkness. Morality was fading and the enemies came crouching: ready to descend upon the prey of God’s forgetful people.

He saw the darkness. Yet he also saw the light. He saw the lion lay down with the lamb. He saw a little child playing in the midst of snakes. He saw men turning weapons of war into tool for planting and harvesting. He saw beyond the horizon of man’s wisdom to a God will reveals a peaceable kingdom in the midst of a world that appears to be lost for good.

His words continue to inspire and stir of world of believers…and unbelievers. No matter how deep the darkness. Now matter how loud and how long the scorners scorn. The people of God are called to look beyond the arm of human flesh to the Creator who dwells in unapproachable light.

Trusting in the goodness of God revealed in Jesus Christ, we look toward the light of His unchanging love. As we look out in hope, we see His light shining and revealing lights all around us. We see the uncountable multitudes of people like Lucy who quietly trust the Lord in the midst of a world bent on destruction.

And as we behold the unveiling of God’s light in darkness, we walk toward His light, revealing the reconciling power of His love in and through our frail and failing lives.

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