Monday, December 5, 2016


Isaiah 9:2, 6; Luke 2: 8-14
December 4, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Again today we hear scripture of prophecy and fulfillment. The prophet Isaiah assures the people that the light of God will break through the darkness of their time, and that the source of that inbreaking will be a child who is the light of the world. In the gospel reading, we hear the familiar story of the shepherds, living out in the fields with their sheep, whose dark night is illuminated by the appearance of an angel – a messenger from God. Of course, they were terrified. But the angel, as angels do, reminds them not to be afraid, because the message from God is a message of hope, of light in the darkness, of an event that will change everything, even the way we understand and interpret our past. Let’s listen for the good news of prophecy and fulfillment in Isaiah and Luke.

Isaiah 9: 2, 6
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. . . . For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders.

Luke 2: 8-14 (CEB)
Nearby, shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Remembrance of the past.
If you took a literature class in college, you’ll recall that one of the great works of literature was by Marcel Proust, “Remembrance of Things Past.” That is, it was called that until a new translation, about twenty years ago, called it “In Search of Lost Time.”

Remembrance of the past. 
 The contemporary poet Rebecca Hazelton begins her poem, “Book of Memory” with this: 
“In my seeing there was a blank and he filled that blank
with words, there were words for darkness which made it lift,
there were words for cover which ripped them off,
there were legs that crossed and hearts that crossed,
promises red and read, and the pluck of banjo had a name
for that twang, and the way he called the world into notice, 
that had a word, too.”[1]

Remembrance of the past.
It’s the very substance of history – taking a long hard look at the past, trying to make sense of it, to see what lessons can be learned from it. In the same way, only on a personal level, remembrance is the stuff that most traditional psychotherapy is made of – remembering what has happened to you, thinking about how it affected you, and reframing it to make sense in your life now. Therapy can be a bit scary – actually it can be downright terrifying. When I was a therapist I sometimes saw clients who quit coming rather than recall and confront the darkness of their past. They did not want to shine a light on it; they wanted to simply make it go away, or to make it something different, or to justify their behavior, or simply to forget. Because they were afraid of what they might see.

Sometimes, we think, we would prefer amnesia to the pain of memory. It will come as no surprise to you to hear that remembrance is central to our Christian faith, as well. In scripture, we are told repeatedly “Do not be afraid.” And we are also told repeatedly, “Do not forget. Remember.”

The Israelites were commanded to remember –
how God had made a covenant with them,
how God had delivered them from slavery,
how God had been faithful to them, even in their darkest hours.
Jesus commanded his disciples: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

But remembering can be painful and frightening. It certainly was for Scrooge. The Ghost of Christmas past appeared to him, a strange and changing spirit with a bright light that shone out from it, glimmering in the dark night. Scrooge did not have the luxury of relying on his own faulty memories, but was taken by the spirit to see once again exactly how his life had been. He had his heart broken again and again as he saw the visions of his past. He saw himself as a boy, “a solitary child, neglected by his friends.” Scrooge wept, then said to the spirit, “There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that's all."

The spirit showed Scrooge the joyful Christmas celebration given by his old boss, Mr. Fezziwig, who invited all his employees to a party, spending his own money on food, drink and dance for them. Although it was not a great expense, Scrooge observed regretfully,
“The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Observing Scrooge, the Ghost asks, “What is the matter?”
“Nothing particular," said Scrooge.
“Something, I think?" the Ghost insisted.
“No," said Scrooge, "No. I should like to be able to say a word or two
to my clerk [Bob Cratchit] just now! That's all."

Then Scrooge sees the woman he did not marry, the life he might have had. It is too much for him, too painful. The grief, the regret, the sorrow, and the shame of remembering overwhelm him. Begging the spirit to take him home, Scrooge struggles with the ghost, trying to cover up the light which emanates from it, pressing down on the spirit’s cap to cover the brightness. “But though Scrooge pressed it down with all his force, he could not hide the light: which streamed from under it.”

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. On them, a light has shined.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.
It is the light of hope.

It can be hard to find that hope, when we are sitting in the darkness. It can be hard to find hope when the candle of life is snuffed out by someone or something that has taken away our power and agency. It can be hard to find hope when we remember the sad truth of history, or look around us and see that people are not good, or kind, or loving. It can be hard to once again light a candle of hope when events make us feel hopeless about the present, or the future. Remembering can lead us to despair.

But remembrance has a significant place in the Christian faith, and particularly at the communion table. We say, “And so, in remembrance of your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.” It’s called “anamnesis,” in theological talk, and you may recognize the root word for “amnesia” in there. It is not just “not forgetting,” not even mere remembering, but in that moment of anamnesis, we bring the past into the present, as we participate in the holy mystery of the Eucharist.

In that moment, and as we come to the table, we come remembering the past, with all of its joys and sorrows. We bring those joys and those sorrows, our regrets and our pride, our whole selves, to this table, and in the light of Christ, all of them are redeemed.

As we come to this table, we come as a people of memory.
The light of the past shines not only in our remembrance, but in our presence.
As we come to this table, we come as a people of hope.
Circumstances beyond our control, events and their consequences,
humans and their inhumanity – all of these may extinguish our light.
But God’s love reignites the flame, and our small flickering candles are remembrances.

This season, this story, this table, remind us that no matter how bleak the past, no matter how dark the night, no matter how deep our distress, the light of hope still shines.
It shines in us, and in words of grace.
It shines in us, and in our acts of courage.
It shines in us, and in our songs of hope.
“Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people.
Your savior is born!”

The light shines. For you.
The miracle has just begun.
God Bless us Every One!”


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