The Word Became FleshJohn 1:1-5 (NRSV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Happy New Year everyone! I’m sure that many of you may think that I’ve lost my mind, but today we actually begin a new year in the church calendar. The church year always begins with the season of Advent, and though we have sunlight beaming through our windows this morning, Advent comes in the darkest time of the year.
Just think about the time of year we are in, between autumn and winter. Because of the positioning of the earth’s orbit and the fact that at this time of the year the sun stays below the North Pole horizon, we have late sunrises and early sunsets, short days and long nights. And just twenty days from today, on Dec 21st, we will have the longest night of the year, the day of the most darkness.
It is often said that the season of Advent begins in darkness, which is appropriate because the world we live in can be a pretty dark place, too. But the good news is that the Gospel of John today assures us that everything is going to be okay. Because even though we are sometimes surrounded by darkness and difficulty and struggle, John assures us that there is light coming. As we heard this morning, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” If we had read a little more of the book of John this morning, we would have heard Jesus say, “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” (John 12:46)
Friends, I wonder, have you ever driven by the church at night when all the candles are lit in the windows? It makes you smile doesn’t it? The light feels good. It brings a sense of warmth, comfort, and hope. Or have you ever sat here in the sanctuary on Christmas Eve as we all hold candles and sing silent night? It’s like the veil of heaven is lifted and we are all in a sacred space, filled with an awe-inspiring sense of calm assurance and hope.
Well, another one of the traditions that we celebrate here in Oldtown during the season of Advent is the lighting of our Advent wreath. As we prepare and get ready for Christmas, each week we light a candle to symbolize Jesus’ light breaking into the darkness. And that good news and celebration of light coming into the world continues throughout the season of Epiphany.
Now quite fittingly, the first candle we light is the light of hope. One solitary flicker. It may not look very impressive, but because of that one solitary flicker, darkness is no longer all-consuming. And though it may not seem like very much, the hope that the candle represents points us to something much greater to come.
As Christians, we have great hope in Jesus, and we celebrate, that hope, not only at Christmas but all year long. As Christians and as followers of Jesus, we are called not only to have that hope but to share that hope with others. This time of year, many people turn their thoughts toward giving. People think about sharing joy and love with others, sending cards, giving gifts, and sharing with those less fortunate. But did you realize that much of our giving—whether it be a sharing of our time or our money or our talent or any other sacrifice—is an investment in hope? To give is to take a step forward into a future that is more just, more beautiful, and more certain than the world we know.
The giving that I’m talking about doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to cost anything at all, really, besides a little time and a caring, compassionate heart. Because hope provides the certainty needed to inspire positive action. Anne Lamott, a famous American writer says, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work. You never give up.” It’s kind of like a seed that is planted in the darkness and then grows, eventually emerging from the soil to reach towards the light.
Well, because our actions are so important to our understanding of hope, in Household Huddle today each of our “Huddlers” received a manger and a bag of paper hay, and they are being sent out into the world for the next twenty-five days to do acts of kindness as they share the light of Christ with the world. Each time they share an act of kindness, they get to place a piece of hay in their manger. It’s our hope that by Christmas when Jesus is born, he will have a soft manger of hay to lay in. So in addition to sharing the light of Christ with others, our Huddlers will be preparing a warm and welcoming place for Jesus.
I would encourage all of you, during this season of Advent, to think about ways that you can reach out to others with kindness, so that together through our actions, we can prepare a soft, warm and welcoming place for Jesus to be born.
But the truth is, Advent isn’t the only time that we are called to reach out to others with kindness. And we shouldn’t only think about hope when we light the candle of hope because one of the ways that we live out our faith every day is by sharing hope with others.
I took a few moments this week to think about the things that we have done as a congregation in the last year to reach out with kindness and to share the light of hope with the world. And I was overwhelmed to realize what we have done together. To begin, we support one another like family, even though we don’t always see eye to eye. We pray for those in need through our Prayer list.
Through our Food Forward Program, we have raised over $1,000 this year, which has been used to help support the Kids Café in the summer, homeless shelters in the winter, and food pantries at different times throughout the year. Our annual giving to Food and Friends’ Kitchens through the Attleboro Interfaith Collaborative, (formerly known as the Attleboro Area Council of Churches) has helped to feed hungry families in our area. We fed families through the Souper Bowl of Caring, and through collections of canned goods and money for the North Attleboro Schools’ food pantry and Lenore’s Pantry.
Through our Missions collections, we collected items for those in need, including underwear and socks, personal hygiene items, toiletries, baby items, kids craft supplies, pet food and supplies, and coats, hats, and mittens.
With Leah Moynihan’s help and her work in Rwanda with the International Organization for Women and Development, we helped send a child to school and paid for a family’s much needed health insurance and donated soap, clothing and other needed supplies.
Through our SERRV sales, we helped to support and encourage women’s small businesses around the world. We donated to Hurricane Relief after hurricane Dorian and shared Prayer Shawls with people of all ages who were sick or struggling. We share our schoolhouse and vestry space with AA groups. We supported Pastor Amie, giving her a chance to learn more about ministry and to get some practice before heading out to serve a church of her own. We offered inspiration on Sunday mornings. We help families during times of loss to celebrate their loved ones. We offer a time of fellowship on Tuesday’s for everyone to share coffee and conversation together. We purchase Christmas gifts from the Angel Tree tags for needy families. And through our Coffeehouse, not only do we offer a safe space for area teens to gather and share their gifts of leadership, music, and poetry, but we also teach them the importance of giving, through the charities that they support each year. Not too bad for a small church!
Last Saturday, we had a funeral here in Oldtown, and just as I’ve heard many times before, as the funeral director walked into the sanctuary, the sunlight was beaming through the windows and he commented on how much light there is here in Oldtown. I just smiled and said, “I know.”
Friends, we have an amazing gift here in Oldtown, a gift that helps us share the light, the love, and the hope of Jesus with the world, but it’s always our choice. We can choose to stumble around in the darkness. We can listen to the stories of sadness and struggle in our community and simply go on with our day, or we can carry the light of hope out into the world.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, it’s my hope that you choose to carry the light of Oldtown with you. Don’t be afraid to bring it out into the darkness, and look for ways to share acts of kindness and hope as together we get ready for Christmas as we prepare for coming of the Christ Child.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!