Singing in the Dark, A Winter Solstice Sermon

We are soon approaching the winter solstice.  The shortest day of the year.  The longest night of the year.  The earth will tilt on its axis and those of us in the Northern Hemisphere will move further away from the sun.

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There are many people who are psychologically impacted by these darker days, making some a little down. We have come to believe that darkness is bad and light is good, and so we resist and try to escape the darkness, maybe by going south for the winter,  buying a sunlamp, investing in a stronger dose of vitamin D. There is a reason that we acknowledge that Jesus Christ, the light of the world, is born when the days are darkest, and not in July, when the days are the brightest. – As John writes “those in live in darkness have seen a great light, and that light is the light for all people.”

The world could use some light right now. This week the headlines were particularly ominous.  While we would prefer to not look upon suffering, especially during a holiday season when we just want to feel good, we cannot pretend that suffering does not exist, especially in light of what has been defined as a breakdown of all humanity.

This past Wednesday was National Human Rights Day.  In an address to the United Nations – Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein issued a global call to “Stand up for Someone’s Rights Today” said this—“Today’s events in the world make many among us anxious – even fearful. We see human beings in pain. Decent values under attack. Messages of hatred and intolerance – divisive visions of the world which drive increasing selfishness. Isolation. Scapegoating. Violence. And in this toxic tide of hatred which is slowly rising in many societies, some of the deepest, most essential principles which safeguard peaceful societies risk being swept away. We need to stop this. And I believe we can.  We – you and I – can draw the line.”

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This is not the first time such a prophetic message has been offered to a broken world. The passage we have been studying throughout Advent – the 40th chapter of Isaiah – is a similar call to action.  God instructs the Herald – the prophet to get up to a high mountain, to lift up his voice and say to those who are suffering, rest assured “here is your God.  He is right here, He has been here all along. You are not alone.”

These refugees, who have felt abandoned by God and forgotten by the world, are given a prophet, who  climbs a mountain and looks out over the mass of suffering people and says “here is your God.”

We are the prophets today. We are the ones called to get up on a high mountain and proclaim the presence of a loving, steadfast God.

This morning our choir is going to sing about this prophet and his vision for peace in our violent and dark world. The song, was commissioned by the Bach Choir of Pittsburg in memory of those who perished on September 11, 2001, “The Dream Isaiah Saw” refers to the prophet Isaiah’s vision of God’s creation restored to peace and harmony through the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1-5).  It is the panoramic view of the future Messianic Kingdom. The song comes from a poem by Thomas H. Troeger, “Lion and Oxen Will Sleep in the Hay”.  The composer Glenn L. Rudolph began to set this poem to music toward the end of July, 2001.  Nineteen days after September 11th, he completed this choral work.  It captures the contrast of the chaotic world we live in with Isaiah’s dream calling for us to “walk in the light of the Lord.”

Here is an excerpt of the poem:

Peace will pervade more than forest and field:
God will transfigure the Violence concealed
deep in the heart and in systems of gain,
ripe for the judgement the Lord will ordain.
Little child whose bed is straw,
take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
justice purifying law.
Nature reordered to match God’s intent,
nations obeying the call to repent,
all of creation completely restored,
filled with the knowledge and love of the Lord.

And that is why, while these dark days surround us, that today, we sing.

For this is the ultimate, defying, radical, even rebellious message of this season.

Love will prevail. 

For it is love that brings light into this dark world.

It is love that defies evil.

It is love that rules out.

We live in a dark world – a world so counter to the words like peace, joy, hope and love.  And yet, out of faith, out of conviction, and out of courage,

we defy this darkness

and in the dark we sing.

We celebrate an ancient story. It was long ago. It is difficult to imagine, difficult to believe. We are like the shepherds, like old Simeon whom everyone must have assumed was mad. We wait just as our mothers and fathers waited. We wait in the dark, we watch for the light. Each year, as the days grow short and the nights dark, as the years turn and turn again and though it strains our collective memory to do so, we remember. We remember that God came to us and lived among us, a peasant born to a Palestinian virgin, an itinerant preacher hated by the religious and executed by the powerful. We remember, and we wait for his return. And in the dark, we sing.

You who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”

And in the dark, we sing.  Amen.

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