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I’m going to begin with a bit of an embarassing confession: I’ve always
been afraid of the dark. It’s a bit of a joke within my family, my dislike of
walking through enclosed dark spaces, the nightime hallway of my childhood
home, the cavernous darkness of churches and school buildings afterhours,
and yes even the Creatures of the Night exhibit at the Henry Doorly Zoo – I
really only made it through that particular experience the first time clutching
my mother’s hand for dear life. And yes, if you do the math, I was well into
my 20s for that one. But it’s a fear that has thankfully decreased in severity
as I’ve grown older… and out of necessity, as I find myself more and more
often in the cavernous darkness of churches afterhours.

Out of doors, I’m totally fine. There are stars and heavenly bodies and
dancing fireflies to keep me company there…. but inside, with walls and a
roof to block out the night air, with extra shadows for unseen threats to lurk
within and the indoor kind of quiet that always preceeds the appearance of ax
murderers on horror movies, I confess to, on occasion, being a little skiddish
and to searching for the nearest light switch at the earliest possible moment,
breathing a quick sigh of relief when the light floods in to illuminate the
shadowy places.

I’m not alone in this, I know. Fear of the dark is one of the most
common of phobias, usually beginning around the age of 2, and diminishing
over time and through the development of rational thought. But in defense of
those of us who struggle with this particular fear, it’s not entirely our fault,
Throughout human history, this dichotomy of dark being bad and light being
preferred has been established for us over and over again through the
narratives that teach us how to live our lives. In grand epic and silly
children’s story alike, the presence of light is to be revered, while the absence
of it is to be feared. The walk through a deep dark woods to the witch’s
house. A heroine portrayed as being bathed in light and warmth, while the
villain is wearing a dark cloak, shrouding his identity from view. Darkness
signifies mystery, and not necessarily the fun kind. Moments of a
questionable nature. In our Bible, some of the most earth shaking moments
take place during the darkness of nighttime. Jacob wrestles with an angel all
night long, surviving the match and getting a blessing and a new name out of
the deal. The exodus happens at night, the Red Sea is parted at night, Jesus in
the garden of gethsemanie, etc. Darkness is a time of trial and mystery, while
Light is the aspiration and the saving grace when the darkness gets to be too
much. The hero moves ever forward into the light and all is right with the

Using this kind of either/or imagery is the way we as Christians tend to make
order of our world: good vs. evil. Innocent vs. sinister. Sacred and profane,
spirit and flesh, and yes, light vs. dark. The reading from today urges us to
put away the “works of darkness in favor of the armor of light.” In her book
Learning to walk in the dark, Barbara Brown Taylor talks about how these
pairs make order of the world by placing half of each pair closer to God and
the other half further away. Placing the world into two opposing categories
makes the task of navigating the journey of life a little more bearable, but it
also gives us a strong sense of purpose. It’s the classic struggle, and We get
battles of glory and righteousness, large and small, to engage in. In this
structure, the more we force darkness into submission, or the more we win
out over the world of the flesh, the closer we get to God. And the quicker
and less painful we make that move, the better. The discomfort of darkness is
something to be avoided at all costs.

But at our Advent planning party this year, we decided that it was
important for us at First Central to begin our journey into the light by wading
around through this darkness of our existence a bit. The best way to begin
any journey is to begin right where you are, and we as individuals and as a
family and community of faith have certainly had our share of darkness this
year. Many of us here in this space find ourselves engulfed in the darkness
of a grief journey on this holiday season: We have newly empty dinner table
chairs,… designated pew seats now left vacant to contend with. We have
family photos that feel incomplete, holiday traditions and rituals that we don’t
quite know what to do with anymore, favorite dishes that we no longer need
to make but feel weird not making. And let’s be real for just a moment: the
entirety of the darkness of grief is weird ….and awful and super awkward,
struggling to find the words to say to people experiencing it, and those
experiencing it struggling to find the words to say about it. And all the while
we are attempting to figure out how navigate this weird new world with a
human shaped void in the middle of it… and that’s hard enough without
having the overwhelming, permeating cheer of the approaching holiday to try
to put a smile on for.

If this sounds remotely familiar to you at this point in the year… well, it
does for me too. I got you. I lost my dad in May, shortly before I came here,
and to say that I’m not entirely looking forward to this first Holiday season
without him there is a major understatement. For those of us walking
through the nagging daily darkness of grief this Advent, it is a daily reality
that, despite our best efforts and the eggnog and the twinkly lights and garish
neighborhood holiday displays, we may not be ready to part completely with
yet. It’s harder to get to that place, where we can feel the joy in anywhere
near the same way we have in years past.

Surrounded by the light of joy and holiday cheer, I think the darkness
we experience can even get amplified a bit. it bumps up against the light and
happiness of the season, and our worries can seem steeper, our wounds can
seem deeper, our fears of the future become more visceral. When we
compare our grief or our sorrow or our disappointment, our anger, our
heartache, all that dark stuff, to the joy and light of the holiday, the shadows
in the darkness shifts slightly. Because again, grief is just weird and
awkward, and the most awkward part of the grief journey during the holidays
is how often the dark and the light, the sorrow and the joy, the anger and the
laughter, occupy the same space almost simultaneously.

I’ve thought about this a lot in the past few days, and I think one could
maybe argue that it’s in these moments in which we are grieving loss or
walking through darkness, bumping up against the light unbidden, that we are
at our most utterly human. To be human is to live in both the sunlight and the
moonlight, with both fear and delight, seeing the limits before us and pushing
through them, transcending them, falling to our knees and getting back up
again. I suppose to only seek half of those experiences, to validate only the
light part of them, is to only seek or validate half of a life, locking the other
half away so it won’t bother the “should be’s” and the “ought to be’s” of

But in truth, while we are busy dividing up our lives into light and dark,
either or, this or that, we are actually living in the grey areas. Where grief
and joy are only two sides of a multifaceted coin of existence.
And it seems only right to me personally, at this point in my life and in
the life of this congregation that Advent begins in the grey areas of humanity.
The ambiguity of simply existing in this world where such joy and such sorry
can exist simultaneously. Because as I sojourn through this particular
Advent, tinged with the darkness that grief provides, I find myself armoring
my being with this little glimpse of light: that within the greyest of grey
areas of our lives might just reside a hint, a whif, a tidbit of possibility.
Advent is a time of waiting and wishing, hoping and wondering, breath
holding and truth seeking, of both peril and possibility. A time of
remembering where we came from, the darkness and the light of what we’ve
experienced in the past year and before, and imagining what could come or
will come in the future. The hope part of Advent. These grey, murky,
shadowy places are often where the grandest journeys begin. And yes,
beginnings can be scary and dark or crazy and colorful, or whatever, but they
are actually always places of possibility. When you don’t quite know what is
coming at you, you are set free to imagine new ways of being, to remember
old ways and Christmases and holidays and years gone by. To listen for that
cry in the shadows, to look for a glimpse of light in the darkness, a spark that
helps us imagine ourselves living into that light after all, protects us from the
overwhelming darkness that threatens to take over everything.

I think that’s the kind of light armor this letter to the Romans today is
talking about. Advent is about waiting and watching and praying for
something new, some light shining in the darkness leading us ultimately…..
into hope. And that light of hope is not something we have to endeavor to
deserve – indeed, if light had to be earned, who could ever actually earn it –
but it’s just there. right there, waiting for us to lean into it a little bit. We
may indeed start in darkness, and if that’s where you’re at, I encourage you
(and me too) to be gentle with ourselves and take our time over the next few
weeks to roll around in that scary darkness for a little bit. The darkness we
feel is valid, and an inevitable part of being humans. but The cool thing
about our Advent journey is that we don’t make it alone. We are a
community of faith, after all. We walk together in the grey areas, for better
or for worse, in sickness and in health, and all that. If all else fails, if we find
ourselves failing, we can take each other by the hand and lean into the light
together. I think… I THINK…..That’s what Advent is all about


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First Central Congregational Church