Overheard in this morning’s children’s sermon:
Rev. Sarah: Everyone has God’s light in them and we have to let that light shine! You wouldn’t walk into a room with a light in it and not turn the light on, would you?
8 year old: Well, you don’t want to waste electricity.
Enjoy my sermon, friends!
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
The Darkness Will Not Win
I feel the need to preface what I am about to say by letting you all know that I do not have the best taste in television shows.
That being said, the past couple of weeks I have been fervently working my way through the old WB series, Angel. Angel – which came out in 1999 – was created by Josh Whedon and is a spin-off of another guilty pleasure of mine, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It is about a vampire cursed with a soul; in searching for his own redemption, Angel and some of his friends start a business in Los Angeles whose mission it is to help people with supernatural problems.
Bruce really is not a fan of this show. I have tried to convince him that there actually are some powerful story lines at play, but he always seems to walk in when some gross-looking demon is rising from some apocalyptically dark hole trying end the world for the umpteenth time and he just has not been able to engage with the plot yet.
One day this week I was folding laundry and had the show on as background noise and was suddenly struck by dialogue that poignantly reminded of the scriptures I would be preaching on today. I was only half paying attention to the show at that point, but the basic gist of what was going on was that some gross-looking demon was rising from some apocalyptically dark hole trying to end the world for the umpteenth time and Angel was rallying his team and preparing them to save the world.
The twist in the plot in this one episode was that the human characters would not be able to withstand the power of this particular gross-looking demon that was rising from some apocalyptically dark hole trying to end the world for the umpteenth time and Angel would have to fight it alone.
Here is the dialogue that made me think about this morning’s scriptures. It was between Angel and one of the other characters, Cordelia.
Cordelia: You’re not going to fight this thing by yourself.
Angel: There’s no choice.
Cordelia: There’s always a choice.
Angel: Not for me. I have to do this. You made a difference – each of you. Not just to me – but to the world. We’ve been push to the edge so many times; done things we’ve thought for sure couldn’t be forgiven. But we’re always there for each other when it counts. We’ve never let the darkness win. And it’s not because of the ‘powers that be’ or the ‘super strength’ or the ‘magical weapons’; it’s because we believe in each other. Not just as friends or lovers – but as champions. All of us – together.
The sentence that initially made me stop was Angel’s line, “We’ve never let the darkness win.”
This morning’s passage from the Old Testament comes to us from the prophet, Isaiah. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;” the prophet said. “Those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.”
This passage is one that we normally read on Christmas Eve. Though on Christmas Eve, we do not stop at the fourth verse; we go on to read Isaiah 9:6 – “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
In a way, this passage makes a lot more sense read in its entirety on Christmas Eve. It not only gives us the ‘what’ – that the people who had walked in darkness were seeing a great light – but also the ‘why’ – because Jesus had been born. The implication, of course, is that in an instant, Jesus brought that light into the world and fulfilled this prophesy.
But today – not reading it in the context of Christmas Eve and not going on to read that the child was born – we see it differently. We do not get to read that ‘why’ – we may not necessarily understand where the light is coming from. In fact, we may have to create the ‘why’ in our own lives.
When Isaiah spoke these words – like the characters in Angel who were facing some gross-looking demon rising from some apocalyptically dark hole trying to end the world for the umpteenth time – the people of Israel were extremely fearful of what the future might hold. They were living under oppressive military occupation and their land was desolate.
And yet – like when Angel said, “We’ve never let the darkness win” – Isaiah’s prophesy spoke boldly to the people of Israel, telling them that the darkness would not win, that God’s light would shine and that their burdens would be lifted.
Has darkness ever threatened to take over your life? Have you ever been extremely fearful of what the future might hold? Have you ever felt like giving up? Have you ever felt as though all hope was lost?
Please – do not let the darkness win.
Very often I hear people tell me that they do not like to read the Old Testament because of how much terror and violence and sadness that there is in it. In fact, I often shy away from teaching and preaching these texts. But I think that it is so important to remember that the terror and violence and sadness of the Old Testament does not necessarily represent the God experience; it represents the human experience. It represents an experience that many of us have today. It represents a reality of struggles, hopelessness, fear, anxiety and sadness that many of us live every single day.
And yet the Old Testament also reminds us that in the midst of the normal struggles of life – the struggles that Israel faced thousands of years and ago and the struggles that we all face today – God is present and that God’s light shines. We cannot let the darkness win; we have to put one foot in front of the other and journey forward.
And we have to do it together.
A few years ago the United Church of Christ launched a campaign using the slogan, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” I was reminded of that slogan when I read this passage because it made me think about our church community – and, really, any church community – and the different places that people come from when they gather.
We all come to church from completely different backgrounds – different religious backgrounds, different community backgrounds, different familial backgrounds and different educational backgrounds. Because of this we see and experience and react to things differently.
But despite these differences, everyone has struggles that they face; no one’s life is perfect; everyone finds themselves in the midst of darkness at one point in their life.
And that is why it is so important to gather as a community of faith.
Our second scripture reading was from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth and in it he wrote, “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”
Paul urged the Corinthian people to stand together, to be united in their faith. He reminded them that the Christian story often has more power when it is told in a united community rather than a divided one. In the same way, we are reminded today that when we let God’s light that shines within us be illuminated by the light that shines in the people around us, our light shines brighter. So we have to stick together.
As Angel was preparing his team for to fight gross-looking demon rising from some apocalyptically dark hole trying end the world for the umpteenth time, he also reminded them of this fact. He said, “We’ve never let the darkness win. And it’s not because of the ‘powers that be’ or the ‘super strength’ or the ‘magical weapons’; it’s because we believe in each other … All of us – together.”
Friends, we join together as a community of faith, not because it is the thing to do, but because it is something that we need to do. We need to come together to serve and to learn, but also to heal one another and to heal ourselves. We come together and through worship and song and prayer, we peel away the layers of the darkness that threaten to hide our light and we let our light shine.
Together, we will not let the darkness win. We may walk in darkness, but we will see a great light. We will be united in Christ and we will come together as a church to offer hope, redemption and salvation not only to ourselves and to one another, but to our community and to our world.
People will know we are Christians not by our words, but by the light we bring into the world – even in the midst of darkness.
So let us let it shine. Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!
One final note …
Do you remember how I said I was only half paying attention to this particular episode of Angel when I heard this dialogue and excitedly planned my entire sermon around it?
As it turned out, that dialogue happened in a dream and when Angel woke up, he lost his soul and ended up sort of helping the gross-looking demon that was rising from some apocalyptically dark hole trying to end the world for the umpteenth time.
And then the episode ended and I haven’t had time to watch another one to find out what happens.
But that’s actually the really interesting part of life. Every time we think we have it figured out and we think we are ready to conquer the darkness, we face a new obstacle.
But no obstacle can take away the light of God that shines within you. So do not let that darkness win. Tell the world – show the world – that darkness will not overcome God’s light. And let your light shine!
Thanks be to God!