Sunday, December 28, 2014

The burden of being light

My sermon for this Christmas Eve/Day was based on John 1:1-18.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

Since I was a child, I have always been obsessed with owning a lightsaber.  Star Wars was the first movie I remember watching, and it left a mark, let's say.

As I grew older and studied physics, I came to realize that a lightsaber, at least with current technology, is an impossible creation.  It may never be possible.

That is because light is a funny thing.  To our perception, it does not seem to exist until it meets an obstacle, whether that obstacle be a wall, the ground, ourselves, or the light-sensing rods and cones in our eyes.

For example, my fiance and I have a laser pointer that we love to torment our cat with.  I know the laser pointer is projecting a beam because I can see the dot on the wall.  But I can't see any evidence that the light exists as it passes through the air between the pointer and the wall.  There is not, for example, a thin pencil of light coming out of the pointer that I can wave around like a lightsaber Jr.

More's the pity.

At any rate, it strikes me that faith is much like that.  It seems to require obstacles for it to come to fruition.  Far from being a life of ease and ignorance, a faith truly and honestly lived is full of obstacles, and our response to these obstacles will prove our mettle.

I think of any number of natural or man-made disasters.  In these cases, many atheists and skeptics gleefully ask the question, "And where was your God when THAT happened?", assuming in the most child-like way that God is or would be a puppet-master who makes every atom move along a predetermined flight path.

My response is that God was in the people who helped neighbours dig out, who helped friends off roofs, who provided food for people, who provided relief efforts, who sent money.

God was not in the people who left others stranded, who ignored the needs of their neighbours, who looted or stole, who ignored basic human needs in other parts of the world.

An obstacle like that is where you have a chance to shine the light of your faith and convictions.  It is a wall against which you can cast your light.

Or fail to, as the case may be.

Conversely, faith becomes "dead air", the space where light seems to not exist when it is not acted upon, when it has no cause or goal.

Faith without acts is truly dead.

There are a few people who acted in the Nativity Story.  Traditionally, the Nativity is cast as a story in which God plays out His greatest act, where he commits His greatest deed since Creation itself.  By that I mean the sending of the Christ into he world, the conception of that person who was, is, and (barring new information) probably will remain the closest approximation of what God is like.

But in reveling in this miraculous act as we are wont to do during the Advent and Christmas seasons, we often neglect to remember that there were real people in that story who went to great efforts, demonstrating characteristics that I think we would all do well to emulate in the coming year if we want the light of our faith to truly shine.

The first characteristic is knowledge.  This gift was demonstrated by the Three Wise Men, aka the Three Kings, aka the Three Magi.  Tradition tells us that these men were actually astrologers.  Astrology is not considered a science today, of course, but in those days anyone who was knowledgeable in the movement of the stars and planets and what that movement allegedly foretold was considered wise indeed.

The Three Wise Men plied their trade and came to meet the Christ-Child therefore through knowledge.  We draw nearer to Christ and exercise our faith as we learn more about any subject, but most of all when we learn more about ourselves, about others, about God's Creation and about our place in it.

The second characteristic is courage.  This gift was demonstrated by the shepherds.  The shepherds knew nothing about a star, knew nothing about this great event which was about to happen, knew nothing except sheep.  They were likely not educated at all.  Suddenly, not just one but a multitude of angels appear saying, "Go to this place and find the Christ".

Talk about scaring the bejesus out of you...literally.

But despite their fear, they go anyway.  They found Christ through courage.  We draw nearer to Christ and exercise our faith as we overcome fear by being courageous: by being courageous in the face of obstacles, in the face of disaster, in the face of failure.

The third characteristic is action.  Whatever else Mary was, she was a doer.  When Gabriel came to her and told her she could not only be part of this historic event, but be the reason it all happened, when she was told that God was going to submit to her, she basically said, "Let's do this".  She paused to ask one question: "How can this happen?", but after that, she jumped right in.

No amount of knowledge or courage will do us any good if we do not act, so in a way, action is the most important characteristic of all.

Faith, as I said, is not a passive, feel-good, live-in-my-bubble-of-awesomeness kind of thing.  Faith is active, realistic, gritty and sometimes deeply troubling.  Faith requires us to look on the evil in the world and to take responsibility for making it better.

This Advent season, we have been preparing, reflecting on how we can welcome Christ.  The traditional interpretation of the Nativity would have us believe that all we have to do is wait with open hearts and minds to for Jesus to arrive and enter in.

Taken from the perspective of the people who surrounded the manger that night 2000 years ago, perhaps we should consider going out to meet him.

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