Dear RCL Preachers,

Here we are, back at the beginning of Year B again. (And again and again for some of us.) I often feel I preach the same sermon every year on Advent 1. No matter which texts I actually choose, I talk in some fashion about the deepening darkness in the Northern Hemisphere, and the ways we try to fend it off with shopping and parties and twinkling lights.

This year I’m particularly drawn to Mark and Psalm 80. You can find the texts here.

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:1-3, NRSV)

In Psalm 80, the people cry out to God, complaining that their prayers have gone unheeded. They feel abandoned by God. The psalmist names some of the sons of Jacob, the tribes of Israel. They understood themselves to be chosen as God’s particular people. Why would God abandon them in the desert? In the extreme darkness of a desert wilderness, they could imagine only one source of light: God’s face.

God will come in the darkness, not in our efforts to create an artificial light. Salvation enters our lives in the dark of a stable, in the arms of a young mother, in the silence of night.  We wait in the darkness of December for Christmas to come again, for Christ to enter our hearts, for a reminder of what the incarnation is all about.  “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven,” we read in Mark.  Then the one great light will come.

Fire roared through a Little Caesar’s restaurant on Monday night in Ferguson, Mo.Credit Tannen Maury/European Pressphoto Agency
Fire roared through a Little Caesar’s restaurant on Monday night in Ferguson, Mo.Credit Tannen Maury/European Pressphoto Agency

Some years it’s enough to talk about ordinary darkness, but other years events occur that describe our darkness with such potency that they are hard to preach. This is one of those years. Last night, fires lit the sky in Ferguson, Missouri, and an ironic and instantly iconic photograph showed police preparing to fend off protesters while standing beneath a lighted garland declaring “Season’s Greetings.”

There are three kinds of congregations this week, preachers. Some expect you to speak about this and want it. Some dread your speaking of it. Most of us preach somewhere in the middle; we want to talk about the darkness of racism and injustice, a system in which white 18-year-old boys go to college and get up to mischief and live to the tell the tale, while African-American 18-year-old boys go to the store and end up dying on the street, but we’re also afraid of the argument, afraid of the pushback – and the people in the congregation may feel the same way.

It’s dark outside, and it feels better to string those icicle lights or find the timers for the electric candles that sit on the windowsills. Will we name the darkness that may make others shift in their seats? Will we name the darkness that makes us uncomfortable, too?

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

7 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: Hope in the Dark

  1. This week I’m preaching at a friend’s church in inner-city Washington, DC. We’re coming off the heels of Ferguson, the death of Marion Barry (who was highly esteemed in the city, if vilified elsewhere in the country), and whatever else might be thrown at us the remainder of this week. This is a community that couldn’t be more in need of some serious light. I keep going back to verse 37 in Mark when Jesus says “Keep awake.” There are some troubling signs in our midst, but for the redeemed of the Lord, that can only mean good news.

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  2. I usually preach the gospel text, but this week – with Hanging of the Greens scheduled (our first attempt after the death of the Church Matriarch who organized this event for nearly 30 years) – I’m going with 1 Corinthians, and Paul’s plea for grace and peace.

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  3. Isaiah’s plaintive cry: ‘o that you would tear down the heavens and come down!’ – that is what is sitting with me as I ponder preaching on Sunday… thinking that we are not abandoned, that in the midst of darkness we cling to hope…that God, in Christ, has torn the curtain that separates us because he has come down. We watch. We wait. And soon we see, in incarnational mystery, the wonder of the God who *is* with us…who shines in the darkness and who can never be extinguished.
    I love the Advent / Christmas season

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    1. That’s the direction I’m going. With all that is going on in the world, I can’t find a more perfect text. I think I’ll use the Psalm for our Call to Worship.

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  4. We traditionally do Hanging of the Greens on the first Sunday of Advent, but this year the lady who oversees it was going out of town for Thanksgiving and asked if we could please NOT decorate on Saturday, so we begin Advent considering the symbolism with none of it present. So I’m talking about how the simplicity of our protestant churches comes from Zwingli, and then at how our decorations can point us to God as we remember what they represent. We’ll also look at Isaiah 64 and talk about the hopes of Israel then and our hopes now.

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