St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401

Sermons

  • The Hope of a New Dawn – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    November 29, 2020

    A sermon preached to the online community of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston, NY on Advent I, November 29, 2020. Read today’s scripture here. Sorry, no audio recording today.

    God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life.

    What are these works of darkness that today’s collect refers to? Are they schemes developed by villains, like the greedy banker from the old movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”?  A man who owned half the town and cared nothing about the people who lived there, except how much money he could make from them. Or the death eaters from the Harry Potter books?  A group of wizards so deeply bigoted and prejudiced that they followed a murderer in order to keep their power above those they deemed unworthy.  The Star Wars stories all refer to the dark side of the force.

    Many movies and books are written with a clear dichotomy between good and bad, light and dark.  It’s usually easy to tell which is which when you’re reading or watching a work of fiction. Unfortunately, in the real world, I don’t think it’s always that easy to tell who is a villain and who isn’t, mostly because every human being has both things that are hidden in the shadows as well as bright, luminous glory inside of them.  No person is purely evil just as no person is always doing the right thing.

    Give us grace, the collect says, to cast away the works of darkness and protect ourselves with the light.

    But to live without darkness entirely, is a foolish notion and an unhealthy one.  For darkness is where we find what has been hidden from us. It is in the darkness of the womb that we begin our lives.  It is through darkness that we traverse every year during the shortest days, when the earth rests in the northern hemisphere.  It is across a dark sky that we can see the stars, which are hidden from our view in the brightness of the sun.

    When we take the time to be with the darkness in our lives, to find our way around inside of it, we realize that there is a whole world that is sometimes unexplored.  Things, experiences, memories, emotions that have not been dealt with or considered, that have been lying in the shadows so that we trip over them even in the brightest of daylight. And as we travel this dim land, we begin to learn that it’s not ease that we find in darkness, but a luminous wisdom, whose light grows from within the darkness itself.

    Each year during the season of Advent, as we light the Advent candles, we say these words from poet Jan Richardson, “This is the gift that God holds out to us in this season: to carry the light but also to see in the dark, and to find the shapes of things in the shadows.”

    It’s not the darkness itself, that we ask for grace to avoid, but the works of darkness.  The parts of us that, if we aren’t willing to investigate the darkness, can become controlled by our lesser angels.  The parts of ourselves that live in shame or fear, the pieces of our lives where things remain hidden and seem to trip us up.

    These notions can creep up on us, eviscerating hope from our lives and convincing us to believe lies about our own goodness and the goodness of others.  These are the works of darkness. When we refuse to forgive.  When we will not contribute to the world.  When we only let someone in when they’ve proven themselves to us. When we can no longer breathe.

    When hope has gone, the works of darkness have taken hold.

    Give us grace, the collect says, to cast away the works of darkness and protect ourselves with the light.

    Today’s image on the cover of the bulletin is a bright red painting by Marc Chagall, is called the Cockcrow.  A rendition of that stark and vivid experience of being woken from a deep sleep.

    Marc Chagall’s At Cockcrow

    Chagall was a Jewish artist born in Russia but who had moved to France so that by 1940, when the Nazi regime invaded France, Chagall was there to witness and live through the horror of the Holocaust.  When Chagall created this painting in 1944, the brilliant red dawn being heralded by the rooster, the Nazi regime was finally crumbling as Paris was liberated by the Allied forces in August.  Thus, this painting expresses the hope of a new dawn, announced by one of God’s creatures who cannot help but greet the breaking light with their voice. Some new Hope is coming.

    Mark’s Gospel also uses the cockcrow as a symbol for Hope, the announcement of a homecoming, a release from the captivity of our worst fears. This passage reminds us that the things that lurk in the shadows of our consciousness are, ultimately, of no consequence because we belong to God. Some new Hope is coming.

    “Keep awake,” Jesus tells us, the master of the house will most definitely return.

    But will we know God when they come to us?  Will we know Christ when he shows up on our doorstep in the rain without a place to sleep?  Or will we be so lost in our own needs that we refuse him or her entrance, seeing, instead, just another person who couldn’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps?

    This is the question before us today:  Can we continue to prepare our hearts to make room for the Love that is coming to us?  Will we be able to see the Love that is on the doorstep before us?

    You see, it is through our choice to reconcile ourselves with our own darkness, through our choice to stay awake rather than fall asleep to the more difficult parts of our lives, that we are finally able to come home to ourselves and come home to God.  The wisdom we receive comes because we have brought with us the light of Christ, the knowledge that we are loved and we are good and we are whole.  And nothing can change that truth.

    When we start to understand what our hang-ups are and why we feel like we always need to protect ourselves, we can start to see the shapes of things in the shadows.  And, instead of being controlled by them, we can make a different choice.  We can choose Love.  In the Light that is Christ, we can choose Love.

    And we can begin to follow Jesus’ teaching: When I was hungry you gave me something to eat.  When I was thirsty you gave me something to drink.  To respond to someone’s need, simply because they breathe.

    This is the hope of a new dawn, the coming of Light in the shadows of our soul.

    God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life.