A Homily for a “Service of Remembrance and Hope”
(offered to those who mourn during this Advent and Christmas Season)
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; John 1:1-14
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.”
- Isaiah 9:2
As we draw close to the longest night of the year, I am deeply cognizant that for many, this year has been (as the prophet Isaiah says) like dwelling in a land of deep darkness. Many amongst us have lost someone over this past year and even after many years, others will still feel the loss of loved ones poignantly as the Christmas season approaches. The period of grief and mourning is often depicted metaphorically by our biblical authors as a period of dwelling or living in a land of darkness. Consider, for example, the words of that most beloved of psalms in which we find ourselves “walking through the valley of the shadow of death.” Shadows, darkness, deep darkness, and night. The darkness of grief is a darkness from which we wonder if we shall ever emerge. It is a darkness that no one else seems to understand, for we are surrounded by a festive season. Although the days have grown shorter, festive lights illumine night. Although our hearts may be saddened, we are surrounded by songs of joy. Although we long to be alone with our quiet thoughts we are dragged into the crowd to share in a cheer we can barely muster. One supposes we must come along for the ride, and yet, no matter how many carols are sung, no matter how many lights are strung, no many how many parties are attended, we still feel deeply lost in a land of deep darkness and wandering about in the shadow of death.
The truth is that the darkness never dissipates so quickly. Contrary to the expectation of our culture that we should be able shift gears, to “get over it”, to tune in to the season, the dawn comes slowly and gently. As I have related before, I like to rise early in the morning. Sometimes I look out the window and watch the sunrise. In my former life as a commuter, out the window of my train, I used to like to watch the sun come up and the sky gently illumined. First comes a faint glow, barely noticeable, then comes a soft light, perhaps some colour. The faints lights that shine like moments in the night, the stars, begin to fade, to be replaced by the rising sun, and even on the coldest morning, the warmth of its rays -- what a blessing the gentle sunrise is to us, and so different from the abrupt flick of the switch that brings about man-made light.
I suppose this is what the world expects of us when we are in our grief and we come into the Christmas season, that we should flick a switch and all shall be well with our broken hearts. But God does not ask this of us. God invites us to be present to our pain, sorrow and grief. God allows us to journey through the land of deep darkness, for is not the night God’s dominion as much as the day? And although the night feels cold and lonely, we are not alone, for as we journey through that land of darkness, through the valley of the shadow, God our shepherd is with us. We may not be able to always detect his presence, but we know his promise. And we know that the dawn comes gently.
The light does indeed shine in the darkness, but it is not the light of feigned happiness, nor is it the light of false festivity, rather, it is the faint sparkle of a star that reminds us that the darkness is never all-encompassing, or the glow on the horizon that says the day is coming, not just yet, but slowly, gently, warmly, tenderly. It is the warmth that is felt when we realize that we are not alone on the journey through the night but feel the presence of another who understands the journey we are making. It is in these things that the light shines through. For as the Christ is present will all those who make merry this season with song, and food and drink, and dance, so too is the Christ present with those who shed a tear and long once again for a warm and loving embrace. His light is the light of all people, those who dance and those who mourn. May you feel his warm embrace and catch a glimpse of his gentle dawning light this Advent and Christmastide.
c. 2009 The Rev. Daniel F. Graves