Grace to you and Peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
This week I sang that song to Renate Lowy, a member of this congregation who is struggling with dementia. She lives in a nursing home and only speaks to me in German. I do not speak German. But I can sing it. And so I did. I sang Silent Night to her, and she closed her eyes, and quietly, peacefully listened to the music in her childhood language.
Renate is not going to get better. She is God’s child, she is beloved. And she is trapped inside her own mind. It is a situation many of us dread. Some might call Renate’s situation hopeless. Some might be tempted to abandon her to the care of paid professionals. She doesn’t know who I am, she may not even recognize her children any more. She lives in the darkness of disease.
Darkness is all around. This is the time in our year, the rhythm of our lives as a church that we have descended into darkness. The days are shorter, the light eludes us. Our awareness of darkness all around is heightened, we see what is happening in Jerusalem and on our border and for the people in Yemen and war about to break out around the globe.
In the midst of this darkness, we find ourselves in the book of Habakkuk today. A book I am guessing most of you have never heard of. We are in the midst of our so-called “minor” prophets… prophets who are called by God to speak into the darkness. Prophets name the darkness, giving voice to the deep chasm between us and God. Putting words to the distance in our relationship to God. To our longing for spiritual vitality, to the longing we may not even recognize yet as longing. Prophets speak into darkness…into that deep darkness, where all might seem lost, Habakkuk points to the hope… he delivers the message that God will bring justice and a whole different kind of world than what we are living in now. God will bring us what we long for.
In Habakkuk’s world we find ourselves in a cinematic scene of destruction and despair. This is the Exile. The lives of the people in Habakkuk’s world have been turned upside down and torn apart. We stand with him at the end of an Armageddon movie, next to the man with his arms raised to the sky asking God, “Why?” We find ourselves in the flashing darkness of explosions and separation. Children torn from their parents arms. Tear gas spraying. Hospitals incapacitated. Starvation on the brink. Wars brewing.
In the midst of this, scene, there stands a man. Lamenting. Despairing. And Defiant. Demanding of God for help, for answers, for intervention, for hope.
This is how we enter Advent.
We stand with that man. The man of lament, despair, defiance.
You and Me. We are standing in the midst of that apocalypse, that end of everything, and we raise our hands to God above.
In the midst of this scene, I stand behind this table of bread and wine and offer it to you.
In the midst of this scene, you ask “Where is God?”
In the midst of this, we stand together. Stand defiantly in hope, in anticipation, with all expectation that the God we know shows up. That the God we know never abandons those who are in darkness. The God we know is present where we are overwhelmed. The God we know comes to feed the hungry with his very own body!
This Advent we stand in witness in this church as a light in the darkness. We stand in the dark and cold with scene those who need coats and visit Holy Trinity for the coat closet. We stand in the dark and cold with those who need clothes and seek a new place for Bethlehem’s closet. We stand in the darkest days of hunger and no heat and no rent and not enough food in the fridge and anyone who shows up at St. Vincent de Paul and we say in defiance… there IS ENOUGH. We stand with the guests at St. Luke’s who have no homes and say in defiance…there IS ENOUGH. We stand with the patients at Augusta Victoria hospital in East Jerusalem and say in defiance…there IS ENOUGH. We stand with the children in Yemen and on the border and around the world and say in defiance… there IS ENOUGH.
For the darkness is full of lies. Lies about resources. Lies about who we are. Lies about the threat of the stranger.
But we know the truth. We know there IS ENOUGH. We know that God shows up in the darkness. We know that God gives richly. We know that God gives everything to us, even his very body to feed us! For the darkness has an insatiable hunger, it devours “widows, orphans and strangers” and it is coming for us. But we stand in defiance and say… there IS ENOUGH. There is enough to clothe the naked. There is enough to shelter the homeless. There is enough to feed the hungry. There IS ENOUGH for us all.
We join Habakkuk first in lament, and then in defiance of the darkness. For this is the call on our lives that Habakkuk reveals. To live a life of faith. This is living an Advent faith, our time of longing. Longing for what God will do, living the life God has promised, defiantly claiming the hope that God gives us in the midst of darkness.
Renate’s daughter, Barbara, visits Renate every day, twice a day, in fact, to feed her. Renate eats best for Barbara, standing by her chair, lovingly suggesting this food and that. Barbara knows this will not take away the pain of Renate’s entrapment. It will not take away the pain for Renate or for Barbara. But Barbara, by the grace of God, is being a witness to Renate’s pain, and is being with her in it in the best way she knows how. This is the life of faith. By lovingly feeding her. Barbara gives her the bread of life. Food for the hungry. Barbara stands with her. I sang with her – representing you. We stand and sing together, simply as a witness to the love of God, in defiance of the disease. In defiance of the darkness we stand where we know God is already, in faith and hope for Renate’s future wholeness with God. We won’t get to see it in this life, and yet we witness to the defiant hope of it, together.
It is in this reality. In seeing the pain and struggle of the world, the unfairness and injustice of it all and still holding tightly to the truth that God has promised us more than this. God is in this pain and is working to transform it. And God uses us, God’s most amazing and flawed creation, in God’s work of transformation. Starting with us standing, in defiance of the darkness, feeding in defiance of the hunger, and in so doing…proclaiming the truth of God’s presence, movement and power.
So let us stand and sing today. For this is our defiant witness. Whether we sing quietly in the halls of a nursing home or shout our song in the halls of justice. This is the faith we live by. That, though we live in a mess of a world, this pain and destruction of our own making…it is God who will transform it.
Will you sing with me? We can sing in English this time. Hymn 723 in your Red Hymnal, Canticle of the Turning:
My heart will sing of the day you bring, let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near and the world is about to turn.