Monday, January 2, 2012

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent 2011

“Let it shine!”
John 1:6-8, 19-28
The Reverend Patricia M. Grace
December 11, 2011                St. Mark’s Episcopal Church

My dad used to love to tell this old joke.
There was a guy on a work crew in a factory
who just kind of lost it one day. 
Instead of doing his work,
he hung upside down from the ceiling,
with his arms, radiating out around his head –
 just hung there in silence for a long while.

Of course, the foreman noticed this and said,  
 “buddy, just what in tarnation do you think you’re doing?”

The man replied, “I’m not your buddy…
I am the light in this work area.”

The foreman argued with him, went back and forth a bit,
then, finally told the man in no uncertain terms,
to get down, get out and don’t come back.
The man complied–
climbed right down and walked out the door.

Immediately, the other crew members stopped working
and started packing up to leave. 
The foreman, clearly exasperated by now,
“now what’s the matter with you guys?”

One of them answered,  
“Gee whiz, boss – how can you expect us to work without any light?”

A ridiculous joke – I know – apologies all around!

But it seemed a good way to get into our topic for today –
that is, that we’re called to be witnesses to Jesus, the light of the world. 
Like John the Baptist,
we are not to be the light,
but are called to testify to Christ, the light. 
In fact, we’re called to embody His light –
And to shine that light on a world that needs it badly
if it’s going to do its best work.
We’re called to embody the light of Jesus
for a world full of people who often feel like they’re living in the dark –
And we’re called to share that light
with people who are confused
about who and what is the true light of the world.
So, just what does this mean –
how might we think about  
this call to embody the light of Christ?
I want to borrow some images
from a common gospel song we all know 
to illustrate my point.
I’m talking about that old camp song –
This little light of mine
my guess is that most of us have heard it and sung it at least once
that song has been front and center
at most of the Vacation Bible School programs
I’ve been at…
and also shows up frequently at Scout camps,
family reunions, revivals and the like. 
The song is often identified – incorrectly –
as an African American Spiritual
because it was appropriated by activist,
Fannie Lou Hamer,
for use by the Civil Rights Movement
in the 1950’s and 60’s.

The tune was actually composed in 1920,
by Harry Dixon Loes
of the Moody Bible Institute –
who asked his colleague, Mrs. Avis Christiansen,
to write some lyrics  
that would make it a good children’s hymn.
Her lyrics have been augmented over the years,
and several of her verses stand out for us today –
helpful in answering this question,
what is embodying the light of Christ, all about?

The line that’s most often repeated – the chorus, tells us a lot.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

In case we might miss the significance of that word, let,
someone later wrote a verse to emphasize the theological point being made:
[I’m] not gonna make it shine, I’m gonna let it shine.

The way that each of us embodies the light of Christ,
the way that we testify and witness to that light, is uniquely ours –
but is not of own making.
Both the call and the ability to embody the Light comes to us as a gift –
a gift of Christ’s Holy Spirit
…our ability to respond is dependent
on God’s action, God’s power working through us.
So, we cannot make the Light shine,
we literally gotta let it shine.

That means we have to be willing to give ourselves over
to being empowered by God…
We have to open ourselves up to being a conduit,
or vessel, for the light of Christ…
which means we have to move some other things in us aside –
things like our egos
and our need to be in total control.

How we do it – how we let that light shine –
the manner, the place, the time, the form…
well, that’s all based on the spiritual and temporal gifts we’re given.

Some of us, like me,
will exercise those gifts primarily within the church.
Others, most everyone else, in fact,
will implement their gifts in the world.
We’ll use them as we work at being teachers, business leaders,
artists, nurses, and carpet workers,
mothers, administrators, politicians, 
counselors, cheerleaders,
lawyers, accountants, poets,
office volunteers, and basketball players,
well, there are as many ways to use our gifts
to let our light shine
as there are unique personalities in the world.

The most important thing is that we do use them, our gifts –
that we do let our light shine …
As the second verse of our gospel song always says, and quite emphatically…
hide those lights under a bushel – no! 
We gotta let ‘em shine…

But even if we get real good at knowing and using our gifts,
            that’s not the whole story.
A later verse cautions,
Don’t let Satan “blow” it out…
A warning that the light that’s been given to us to bear
can be dimmed or even extinguished
by a lot of things in this world.
Whether we believe in the personified bearer of evil, Satan,
or something quite different,
we cannot deny that there are powerful forces in the world
at work against God’s people and creation,
powers that seek to thwart the ultimate purposes of God.
Some of these are easy to identify:
            Hatred, prejudice, anger, pride, greed, envy,
                        …our propensity to harm, even murder to get what we want,
                                    …the human desire to dominate and control

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