Thursday, December 11, 2014

An Advent Sermon Preached as the Character of Darkness

Learning to Welcome the Dark, Sermon Series, Part Two
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
December 7, 2014
Matthew 1:18-25

Watch the video of this sermon:

Some call me Nyx, the daughter of Chaos.  Some call me la noche, the night.  You may call me Darkness.  I am the bringer of sleep; I usher in the hush of slumber.  I was with God from the beginning, choshek, covering the face of the deep out of which God burst forth with all of Creation.  I was given equal time with my twin sibling Light.  In my body I hold the stars and moon.  Within me are the hidden places where life begins.  I am the keeper of sacred secrets.
I touch each of you every night with my soft caress, gently pulling you down to your pillow.  You may think that your brain shuts itself off when I pull the curtain over your eyes, but what I see is something very different.  I watch your neural cells clean away the toxins of all your thinking during the day.  I see your body healing itself, all the organs and systems realigning to the order set for them by God’s hand. 

And yet I am given so little time to do my work with you.  You chase me away more and more with your addiction to light.  How I long to embrace you and fill you with my life-giving, life-restoring power.  But every night you poke holes in me with the little red lights from your machines, the blinking dots by your bedside, the flickering screens that confuse your brain and damage your body’s ability to rest.   You pride yourself on your ability to fight me, to resist my pull over you.  But you only hurt yourself when you refuse the gift of sleep I offer you. 
You think you must push me away.  But what you do not realize is that I am the escort of God’s angels to you.  Angels are the messengers of God, and they work best when you sleep.  After your brain mops up all those stress chemicals in your brain, sweeping away the detritus of your mind, only then is there room and space for the dreams.  The angels bring you the dreams that contain God’s messages to you. 

I remember a night many moons ago when I was the angel’s escort to a man named Joseph.  This man had always fought against me.  He did not like darkness.  He slept with a candle lit in his room every night.  He preferred daylight when he could see to pick up his carpenter’s tools and work the wood of his trade.  He was a strong man with splintered and rough hands.  But his heart was gentle and kind, sanded down smooth by the love of his mother and father. 
All his life they had faithfully brought him to synagogue, taught him the Torah, and on the evenings of the Shabbat, when I have the joy of bringing the day of rest, they gathered as a family to keep this holy commandment.  God’s Law, God’s history with the people, the stories gathered and retold over centuries of God’s saving love for them – these are what shaped and refined the wood grain of Joseph’s character week by week, month by month, year by year.  His mind and his morals were as sturdy as the furniture he and his father fashioned in their shop, glistening with the fine oil they applied to the surface of the wood to make it shine.

It was this shine that caught the eye of the young girl who would one day become his betrothed.  Mary liked the sureness of Joseph, his dependability, his steadfastness.  She liked the idea of being married to a man who could provide for her and her children – not just the means to raise a family, but the faith in God that would keep them joined to their people and their history, as sure as the legs of the tables he made were fitted snug to the top, supporting it without fail.   
And Joseph was drawn to this young girl who seemed to have a wisdom from depths he could not fathom.  She thought deeply and looked at you with eyes that saw beyond your own thoughts.  Certainly she was unlike the other young women who were suggested to him as prospective mates.  Mary was a woman who welcomed me, invited me in willingly every night.  She needed no candle.  She made me her friend, shared her prayers with me in her under-the-blanket voice. 

It did not surprise me at all when I learned I was to escort an angel to her one night.  He came with the message that the Messiah was to be born to her, Mary.  The Hope of the world had found the one in whom he should incarnate.  I watched her closed eyes move rapidly beneath her lids as she spoke to the angel in her dream, wondering how she would conceive if she and Joseph were not yet married.  You may wonder the same thing.  All I can tell you is – I am the keeper of sacred secrets.  Within me are the hidden places where life begins.
She could have waited to tell Joseph until the roundness of her belly began to show, but she did not.  She could not.  She loved Joseph, trusted him with her secret as much as she trusted me. 

But Joseph does not like mystery.  He likes surety, security. This news was heart-rending for him.  Night after night I tried to bring sleep to Joseph, to soothe him.  But no sooner had he laid his head into my bosom did he bolt upright again, pace his room, murmur to himself, pray into my hands and ask for God’s mercy.  By day the dark circles under his eyes grew deeper.  His work in the shop became shoddy and he injured himself because of his tiredness.
He knew that by rights he could have dragged Mary into the street to have her stoned for carrying a child that was not his own.  But as I said, he was an honorable man.  He resolved to quietly end their betrothal and leave her to her parents who would certainly send her away, such was the shame she had brought to them.  It was that night after he had made that decision, when I brought the angel to Joseph.

He was so exhausted by then, he could no longer resist my pull on him, and he laid down to sleep after lighting his familiar candle.  I brought in the night breeze to extinguish it just before I escorted the angel to his bedside.  He came with the message that the child growing in Mary was the Messiah and that he should not be afraid to take her as his wife.  I watched Joseph’s closed eyes move rapidly beneath his lids as he spoke to the angel in his dream, wondering how he would withstand the shame, the ridicule of their neighbors.  You may wonder the same thing.  All I can tell you is - within me are the hidden places where life begins.  I am the keeper of sacred secrets.  And that night Joseph rested better than he had his whole life.  From that night on, Joseph and I became good friends.  He learned to trust me.  And I would bring the angel to him many more times with even more important messages.

I long to befriend you, too.  Every night, even as you try to diminish my power with your electric, artificial lights, I still wait to soothe you with sleep.  I will always be here, waiting for you to lay down into my arms.  I am patient to hear your prayers, catch them in my hands and bear them up to God.  And I wait at the edges of your room for you to turn off the blinking dots, extinguish the rectangular screens of flickering lights, and allow me to enfold you with my healing power.  I will stand guard over you, listening for your even breathing, your relaxing sighs.  I will wait steadfastly for you to let go of your need to be in control, to work your body and mind past the point of exhaustion.  I will never abandon my post of bringing in the Sabbath, and the restorative rest at the end of each day.  And you may find that one day I may bring an angel to your bedside with a holy message from our God.  How will this happen?  When?  Why?  You may wonder.  All I can tell you is - I am the keeper of sacred secrets.  Within me are the hidden places where life begins.

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