November 28, 2021
• Rev. Dr. Jevon Caldwell-Gross
Today we start a new sermon series called, The Light that never dims. In this series we are going to look at the story of Advent through a missional lens. Here is the question we are trying to answer, “In what ways does Christ’s presence in the world inspire us to look outward in order to be the hope, peace, joy and love for others? This will be different for some of us because society places us in the mind frame of being receivers during this time. What can we get? How can we be blessed? But maybe the story of Christ coming into the world has practical implications on we live out our faith for others. And today we are highlighting our continued commitment to our neighbors in work with Afghan relief.
Story to tell—So as we take a look at the light the never dims, I need your help settling an argument in my house. And for the record, there is a right and wrong answer. We may or may not be friends after you answer, but it’s a chance I’m willing to make. Now let me ask you a question. When is it an appropriate time to put up your lights and Christmas decorations. Is it A. Anytime after Thanksgiving. B. Anytime after Halloween. C. Whenever you darn well feel like it. D. All of the above. (slide) This is a really question. Now I’m not saying this a petty way of solving an argument in my own household, traditionally, it was after thanksgiving. AFTER, thanksgiving you could put up lights. You could decorate the outside of your home. After, Thanksgiving you could put up your lights and Christmas Tree. But every year it seems like the time frame gets pushed up. Some of you in this very room have hijacked the time frame and made it your own. I wont name names, but carved pumpkins were not part of the Christmas Story! But why do we do it? It’s not our love for shopping. It’s not our desire for the hustle and bustle. I think its our unconscious response to all the craziness in the world! It’s a rush to bring about a spirit of celebration even if we have to manufacture it . While I judge the early decorators, I get it. . The nights get longer. The weather gets colder. So we put up a few lights, a tree here, a fire there, music in the background because it feels like….light to a dark period.
Great Things can be born/seen in tough times.
This gives us some glimpse into our text as they too were in need of some good news. Our text in Matthew start with an interesting assertion that Jesus was born during the time of King Herod. (small phrase with a lot of implications) If there was ever a time that would raise the level of difficulty of anything good happening it would be during the reign of this particular King. King Herod was had the reputation of eliminating his own children. He was mean. He was insecure. He made sure that no one would even think of challenging his authority. Jesus could have been born when they were in a land flowing with milk and honey. Jesus could have been born under the reign of a mor compassionate King. But the statement really suggest that Jesus was born during a really hard time in their lives.
We are not strangers to dark days. We don’t need to travel back in time to witness this. We see it when we look at the news. We see when we read the newspaper. Read the stastics. Or read the comments section on social media. All around us…. I imagine that this is the same kind of darkness that one would feel when you one day you are told that you have to pack up everything in fear that you might lose your life. (start showing a few Aghan slides) I can not imagine waking up in the middle of the night and being told that an former regime was going to take over control and I had only days to my entirely family to a different country. I can’t imagine telling my daughters that that they could no longer go to school. I cant imagine getting on a plane heading to a country where I didn’t have a community and may not know how to speak the language. I cant imagine how dark it must feel knowing that your life is about to dramatically change literally overnight. No home. No School. No Job. No clothes. No money…That has to be a dark experience…..
That’s why the opening lines of Matthew are so important. Because it puts in tension the presence of Herod and the power of the savior. In all of his power, Herod could not stop something good from happening. Herod could control armies. Herod could order executions. He could decide where and what people could worship. Herod could wipe out an entire generation, but could not stop a 6 pond baby from coming into the world. This was one thing that Herod could not stop.
There are moments when we get so jaded that we don’t even expect that anything good can still happen! Are there areas in your life, where you’ve stopped looking for good things to happen? But the opening line says to both you and I, that good things can happen during rough times. (Slide)
Can I prove it?! Without even knowing it we assert this reality every day of our lives. Your life is a reflection that good things happen in tough time. Many of the things we use everyday were thought of or invented during really hard economic time. Historic fact, but theologically relevant. The next time you order a side of ketchup...remember good things can happen in tough time. The next time you order an Uber. Remember this the next time you eat a chocolate chip cookie. Remember the next time you order something off Groupon. Remember good things happen in tough time. WHen you are playing monopoly with your family this holiday season. When you are watching the christmas Day basketball games. When you order a Coors Beer. WHen you order a meal to go. WHen you are scoth tape to wrap a Christmas gift, you are living the reality of good things happening in very hard times.
That’s why, You can be blessed at a job in a job you hate. Its why great people can come from dysfunctional families. It’s why great ideas can arise from economic depressions. Its why good news can still be delivered in the worst of times. Saviors and Herods can live in the same city. The presence of darkness does not negate, cancel, stop, cancel, slow down, pause, deter, prevent, inhibit, or terminate God’s presence in our lives or the world. And heres the good news, the light will always overcome the darkness. We keep waiting for the absence of darkness instead of recognizing the presence of looking for the bright spots!
That’s why you have to look for the Bright Spots.
In the presence of darkness there arose a star that caught the attention of foreigners from the East. And some believe that this caravan of maji, wise men, or astrolgers, traveled for two whole years. Why? Because they found a Bright Spots. (slide) I think this is key to how we respond. This is a term I heard years ago. I heard the term in a book called Switch: How to change things, when change is hard (Picture of book) It was really about how to create change and one of the chapters is about seeing the “Bright Spots (signs or indicators that things are going well).” Our natural inclination to try and solve too much too soon. Most people get burned out trying to fix everything that’s going wrong. We spend most trying to figure out how to eradicate the darkness. They suggest, “If you’re trying to make a change at home or work, there are going to be bright spots in your vicinity, and if you can learn to recognize them and use them to your advantage, you can identify what you need to do differently and make the change that’s needed… Instead of asking, “What’s wrong and how do we fix instead ask this, What’s working and how do we do more of it?” (Slide)
Here’s how this plays out in real life.. When I was in undergrad at Kalamazoo College, I tutored at a nearby elementary school. This was not just your general assignment to a subject or class, but they wanted me to connect with a young second grader that could be quite the challenge. Sweet little guy, but when he got angry, he was hard to manage. One time they called me up the school because he got into a fight on the bus and they had to call the police. Remember he’s only in second grade. It makes a real difference how people see you, because they just would not give up in this kid either. They saw something good him. They tried to figure out ways they could support him. They tried counseling, one on one mentoring. But something changed one day when someone found a Bright Spot. They realized that best days was when he wasn’t asking for food form the teacher or the cafeteria. His best days was when he had adequate breakfast, lunch, and a snack. That’s a Bright Spot (sign that something is working). They couldn’t change his home situation. They couldn’t change the fact that he had 6 other siblings, but they committed to making sure that he started every day with a good breakfast, snack, and quality lunch every single day. It’s not trying to fix and entire system, but it’s about finding the expectation. Finding a sign that something is working. It’s about recognizing what’s working and asking, “how can we do more of that.”
This theme is going to be really important over the next few weeks, because the goal is not to solve all the problems of the world, but its to see the bright spots in our community, see them in our church and the willingness to more of what’s working. What working in our marriage and can we do more of that? Whats working to bring people together and how can we do more. We cant solve all of the problems in the middle east, but for these families looking to resettle how can we do more of what’s working? Where are the bright spots? Where are the signs of life? Where is God already moving?
When Christ showed up in the world it did not magically make everything thing all better. Herod was still Herod. Darkness was still apparent. But Instead of “how I can get rid of Herod” or How can I eradicate all of the darkness maybe its just asking how can I recognize what God is already doing and do more of that. How can we do more of what working? If a star is already shining. How can we give more light? The light doesn’t have to solve the problem of darkness. It does not have to figure out, how to hold the darkness back. It just has to exist. It’s mere existence stand in direct contradiction to the darkness. We don’t have problem with darkness we just more light.
Lost in Transit
Notice when the maji show up they don’t come with plan to take out Herod. They don’t come with a plan to start a revolution. They leave Herod alone, but they do come with more light. Because that’s what brought people’s attention to Christ in their midst. They become a reflection of the light. It wasn’t the star it was the fact that these maji showed up at the door bearing gifts. The miracle is not the light that appeared in the sky but one that showed up at their doors.
The real miracle is that after all of this time they, the maji, the wisemen, the outsider, the foreigner, the gentile still had something offer. (slide) It’s the reality that after all of this time their light was still shining.
Here’s why this is so important….Everything about the scene is all wrong. Their arrival is the exception. It stands out. Matthew’s readers would have found this account to be somewhat out of place. These were not homegrown heroes with hometown values. These were not religious people. They were not from Bethlehem. They were from the wrong place. They were from the wrong background. They were from the wrong demographic. In fact, when we are introduced to them we have no idea who or what they believed in. To this highly religious audience, they would have been offended that these strangers would have the audacity to up to their city and worship their King. If not the perceptions of others, certainly, the distance of the journey certaintly could have have an impact. Naturally, we would assume and even expect that something would be lost in transit. They had to travel through hills, deserts, valleys, and rivers. They had to make it through days, months and even years of darkness Anyone of these things could have dimmed their light. Something should have been lost in transit.
It’s hints at our fear that something, especially the light will be lost it in transit. Youll see this played out a lot in the next few days. Let me prove it. Its why we track our packages. Does this image look familiar?familar sight in an Amazon age. (Slide) This image has either lowered or raised our anxiety. What is doing? Its simply tracking your package. Its letting you know where it’s at. What time it got there, where its going, and even when its on the truck heading to your destination. And it’s gotten so precise now, that some delivery companies will even take a picture of the location just to confirm it showed up at the right place. Why? Because It’s easy to lose something in transit.
This is a really that some people live out well beyond the holidays, but this time there are not notifications or updates, just constant fears that the light was lost in transit. Something was lost in between jobs. Lost in between careers. Lost in between relationships. Lost between the years. There will always be something that wants to dim your light. Maybe it’s the time, the distance, the journey, or the label, but we don’t think we can be the light.
That’s why the foreigners’ entry point into the story becomes a ‘Bright Spot. In a dark place, a caravan of outsiders and foreigners show up with something of value. And its not their gifts, but its their witness. They profess, “we” saw the star. But The star showed up where we live too! God didn’t just show up for you, God showed up for the world. (Small reminder..) We don’t have a monopoly on where the lights shines! The outsiders, the foreigners, And we showed up because have something to offer. Showed up shining. The value of what they brought has not decreased in value. Time did not dim the light. The darkness did not decrease their value. Their status as outsiders did not decrease it. Nothing had been lost in transit. The Bright Spot is that nothing diminished their ability to recognize what God was already do in the world and to moved to be the light for someone else. They were the bright spot.
I know that hard, because there will be times when the light seems to get really dark. (Dim Lights). But don’t look at the darkness, look the Bright Spots. Look for the places where God is already moving. Look for the places God is already present and just exist.
We don’t a monopoly on where it shines. Because heres the good news, If you are not a members, you can still see the light. If this your first time watching, you can still it. If you feel like you’ve been in a dark place. If you are tired. If you are grieving. If you are going through the toughest year of your life…nothing prevents us from seeing the light. You just have to find it. Nothing stops us from seeing the presence of God in our lives.
But our challenge during this advent seeing is just to see the Bright Spots, but to reflect them. Because some times people wont always here our words. They wont understand your faith. You want always have all the answers. Maybe they just need a bit more light….just a knock at the door by some strange foreigners that remind us of what God is doing in our own lives. They just need a bright spot. Matthew would later put it like this, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Keep shining…..