Thursday, January 15, 2015

Healing Light

Healing Light
Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:8-20[1]
This time of year is traditionally one of joyful celebration. We look forward to gathering with our families and sharing special times with those we love. It’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song says. But for many this is anything but the “most wonderful time of the year.” The losses of life can press in upon those among us who are struggling. And all the festivities and good cheer that so many seem to be enjoying during the holiday season only increases their sense of loss. They may wonder why they have to grieve or struggle while it seems like the rest of the world is happily celebrating. And yet, even those of us who have the joy of gathering with our families at this time of the year may have to admit that it can be exhausting and even stressful.
So what, if anything, is so great about this time of the year?  During the Sundays of Advent we’ve heard various Scriptures calling us to turn to God our savior to restore and renew us. The prophet Isaiah has challenged us to examine our lives, to confess where we’ve fallen short, and to repent of our hurtful ways. He has encouraged us with the promise that God would comfort us, coming to set things right and to set us free from everything that holds us in captivity. And the prophet has promised that God will one day make it possible for us all to find joy in living, and that he has begun to do just that in the birth of Jesus the Christ. Some of this is familiar to us, but I think some of it may seem strange to us. We’re so used to talking about how Jesus opens the way for us to go to heaven when we die that we may overlook what the Scriptures have to say about what God is doing in our lives here and now.
But as I have been reading the Scriptures from Isaiah for the Advent season, I have found myself hearing echoes of what Jesus had to say about that.  The prophet Isaiah called us to take a hard look at ourselves during the season of Advent. When we do that, if we’re honest with ourselves we have to admit that “we all” have fallen short. While that may sound depressing, Jesus said it this way, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:3). I think at least part of what Jesus was saying is that we have to know that we have fallen short in order to find it good news that we have been given the gift of God’s amazing grace. We have to know that we need a Savior for Jesus’ birth to be good news.
The prophet also promised that God would come to set all things right, and to bring comfort and relief to those who suffer. That may seem like a promise that is just too good to be true when you think about all the corruption and everything that seems wrong with our world. But I’m also reminded that Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt. 5:6). I don’t think Jesus was talking about people who want to be holy. I think he was talking about those who are weary from carrying their burdens and long for things to be made right somehow. I think he was talking about those who hunger for justice in the midst of injustice. And he promised that all who feel that hunger will be filled. God will set things right.
The prophet Isaiah also spoke of God’s coming to comfort those who were crushed by the burden of mourning. The people endured a harsh captivity, and after their release they returned to find their homeland in ruins. They must have thought that they were doomed to grieve forever, that they would mourn perpetually. But the prophet promised them that God himself would comfort them, like a shepherd tenderly caring for injured sheep. I hear in that promise an echo of Jesus saying, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” In some ways, that applies to all forms of mourning. But in a particular way, I think Jesus was trying to comfort those of us who look at the way our world seems to be coming apart at the seams and are grieved by what we see.
So, in answer to the question what those who suffer or struggle or mourn can celebrate at this time of year, I think the answer is the same as for the rest of us. We celebrate the gift of God’s unconditional and irrevocable love to us all in the child who was born in a barn and made his crib in a feed trough. As one of our readings puts it, we celebrate at this time of the year because, just when the days grow darkest, we have the promise that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isa. 9:2). Now, the prophet was talking about something other than the fact that we don’t get to enjoy a lot of sunlight at this time of year. He was talking about the other forms of darkness that have plagued the human family. But I do think we can take some comfort here. We light candles and our Christmas trees and our houses and yards because the light lifts our spirits.
So it is with the light of God’s love. The reminder that the child born in Bethlehem is the embodiment of God’s everlasting love for us all can bring light to brighten even the darkest of days. And he is the one who would grow up and promise new life, and comfort, and restoration to all those who were carrying heavy burdens. He would grow up and declare, “I am the light of the world.” Just as physicians use forms of light to heal illnesses, so Jesus our Savior shines healing light into the darkness that we can feel at times. And it’s a light that heals us by filling our hearts with hope, and joy, and peace, and love. I hope that, as you light your candles tonight and experience the warmth and glow of the light that fills this room, it will remind you that the healing light of God’s love always surrounds us all.

[1] ©2014 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 12/24/2014 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.


Gwen Brehm said...


Alan Brehm said...