3rd Sunday in Advent (B)
John 1:6-8, 19-28
December 13, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel from St. John.
Here’s a little trivia for you. Did you know that the sun doesn’t rise in the town of Tromso in Norway from November to January? Located two hundred miles north of the Artic Circle, its residents have a surprisingly low rate of seasonal depression. I’m not sure I could live in a place like that; I really hate our short winter days. Compared to those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and must use special lamps, I’m doing okay. The lights used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder seem to be highly effective for people, but they won’t do a thing for a darkness that isn’t physical. The sun can shine on you 24 hours a day, and yet you may still feel enveloped by blackness. We know how to offset physical darkness; turn on a light, light a match, shine a flashlight and all is good. The other kind of darkness, which isn’t caused by the absence of light, is much harder to get rid of.
You’re familiar with this darkness, aren’t you? It takes so many forms. It can be the deep darkness of grief or the lighter darkness of disappointment. It can be the darkness of guilt, regret, or sins that plague you. It can pass over so quickly you hardly notice, or you might spend years wallowing in it. Spiritual and emotional darkness is much more powerful than any extended period of darkness. Even those in Tromso know that the sun is going to come up, those in spiritual darkness never know when, or if, the light will shine through.
The Covid related issues have certainly led many to become lost in the dark. A recent Gallup poll revealed that in every single demographic group, people ranked their mental health as worse than last year. While a substantial number still consider themselves as having excellent mental health, there’s a whole bunch who don’t. What is it that keeps so many people in the dark? The Covid virus plays a role, but I think it goes a lot further than a virus.
The future is the blackest black right now for many people, and maybe that includes you. The future is unpredictable and uncertain, and while this has always been the case it’s been worse in 2020. In addition to being uncertain, the future has become scary. While I think all workers are essential, those deemed non-essential by the government or their employers, worry about their jobs. It’s next to impossible to pay your bills if you’re quarantined or laid off. Lake View small business owners have to wonder if they’re ever going to recoup the income they lost this summer. And we haven’t even mentioned those in living in nursing homes and their families who haven’t had a decent visit or touched for months.
There’s no doubt that the children have been adversely affected. The kids are the ones who are the least in danger from the virus, and yet, they’ve suffered more than most. Their education and social interactions have taken huge hits. The teachers hate losing time with the kids, parents are frustrated by the homework they don’t understand or have time to help with, and the kids miss their friends and extracurricular activities. And then there are the high school and college graduates who are told to look to the future, it’s theirs for the taking. This isn’t helpful advice if the student has no idea what the future can possibly hold.
These dark times cause our minds to swirl with questions, possibilities and uncertainties. Should you get the vaccine? Do you go visit grandma or the family for Christmas or do you stay home alone so everyone stays healthy? Did I do the right thing cancelling the Sunday school Christmas program? Will Emmanuel recover from the drop in attendance? What does the future look like for our congregation? Job describes his situation this way: “Are not my days few? Then cease, and leave me alone, that I may find a little cheer before I go—and I shall not return – to the land of darkness and deep shadow, the land of gloom like thick darkness, like deep shadow without any order, where light is as thick darkness.” (Job 10:20-22)
We might say that the darkness is Chronophobia, the fear of the future, but’s more than that. Phobias are often irrational. Being worried about future events is very rational. But helpful? Not at all. So, what would help? I don’t think knowing the future will help, who wants to know the bad stuff that might awaits in the future. I don’t want to know all this.
What helps with the darkness of the future is the Light of today. John the Baptist comes to a nation which is in darkness and he points them to the Light that will soon be among them. The Apostle John writes, “[John] came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” John doesn’t just tell them the Light is coming, he’s a witness. He’s telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! And while there are a lot of differences between first century people and twenty-first century people, our fear of the darkness and the future is the same. So, John is telling you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth as well. Light will always scatter the darkness.
If you’re worried about the future, look to Jesus and see He’s the one who gives peace in the face of worries. Fear not, Jesus says. Why not? He knows the future! He’s not going to be surprised by it. Even though your future isn’t here yet, Jesus is there. He’s seen it and He has plans for how He’s going to use it for your benefit. As King David put it: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
As we’ll hear on from Isaiah on Christmas Day, those walking in darkness have seen a great light. All those frightened by the future, groping about in the dark, those who see no end to the darkness, you and me, have had the Light of Life come into our dark world. And it’s not like He’s just here, He’s here for you. You can trust Him. He says in Isaiah, “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you.” We can trust Him to lead us into the unknown, not by shining the light ahead so we know what’s coming, but by shining the light on Himself. What’s coming isn’t as important as who is with you. Jesus Christ is the Light of the world. He’s also the Light of the past, present, and future. We can see what He’s done in the past as the promise of what He’ll do in the future.
Everything we face, the darkness of depression, helplessness, and discouragement. The fear of the unknown, the fear of the future have been exposed by the Light of Christ. Saint John says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Darkness cannot overcome light. Well, it did once, sort of. For three hours, as the Light of the world hung on the cross, the earth went dark. Then for three days the Light of the world laid in a dark tomb, but even then, the darkness didn’t win. It simply delayed its inevitable destruction. If you go into the darkest cave and light a match, the darkness scatters. The brighter the light, the more the darkness disappears. Jesus is the Light of the world and when He appears the darkness doesn’t stand a chance. The Light of the world does something incredible, He extinguishes the darkness.
I wasn’t completely honest when I mentioned the Gallup survey earlier. There was one demographic group that reported a higher level of mental health than in 2019. Do you know who it is? It’s Christians who attend church services weekly. Are you surprised? I’m not. In dark and fearful times, with a dark and uncertain future, we sit here in the Light of Christ being soothed, encouraged, and trained to walk into the future trusting the Light to guide us into the unknown. The more time we spend in the Light, the less the dark will overwhelm us. The Light of the world has appeared and as Saint John says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Fear not, you have light and life in Christ Jesus.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen