Turning the Lights on.
This is a sermon about An-ti-ci-----------pation.
“An-ti-ci----------pation” is a single word quote from the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Maybe the first sermon ever to quote that wonderful picture. There is another reference to the Rocky Horror Picture Show in the sermon. I trust you will find it. This is the only lighthearted moment in this sermon. Enjoy it.
We Christians are a people of Anticipation.
When we tell the story of the journey of the Magi to the place of Jesus’ birth we are telling a story of anticipation. The Magi were filled with anticipation, with a sense of wonder.
In our day living in that anticipation, in small ways, is a bit like being ready to turn on the lights. Remember what that’s like in a darkened room? Just the moment that you are about to switch on the lights there is a moment of anticipation. What will we see? Will we discover that the dogs did indeed get into the garbage and with quiet abandon scattered coffee grounds and vegie leavings all over the floor? Will we find that coffee left on last night is now a thick goo in the bottom of the coffee pot? Or more happily, will we discover that the kitchen feels warm and inviting, the dog was fine and the coffee ready to go. There is anticipation in those moments between when we rouse ourselves to be ready to deal with what the light reveals and when the light comes on. We could sit in the dark, of course, and delay the coming of light, but usually we are more eager than we are afraid of the light.
Turning the Light on is, well, like becoming free, free of the dark and things unknown, able to see and deal with the realities of the day.
God is known primarily when our anticipation is met with the Light. And that is the source of epiphanies, of moments of insights where we know God is at work in our lives.
I want to look at two texts, one from the first letter of John. The second is from a speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt
From 1 John 4:18 : “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with or leads to punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” The operant phrase here is, “perfect love casts out fear.”
And FDR in his 1941 State of the Union address the list of four freedoms:
Freedom of speech
Freedom of worship
Freedom from want
Freedom from fear
FDR said these words at a time of great peril, when Fascist and extreme nationalists were everywhere on the march, and where freedom of speech and worship were in great jeopardy, and where fear was rampant. These four freedoms stated much of our hopes in a time of shadows and darkness. The anticipation of the reestablishment of these freedoms for the whole world was part of the hope that led to the post war development of the UN.
We also live in anticipatory times: I believe we are pretty much in the dark, waiting with anticipation for the moment when we can turn the lights on and see clearly. And to do so we must be willing to throw the switch, light the candle, wait for the coming of dawn. We must do whatever it takes, including waiting, for what the hymn calls “the bright morning star arising in our hearts.”
While we are living in anticipation we are encouraged by the words, “Perfect love casts out fear,” and the vision of a world where there is freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear.
I have, however, become convinced that in these days, while we are waiting in anticipation, the four freedoms are under extreme attack and we are made to feel afraid of all sorts of enemies. And hate, the product of such fear, as become palpable. Freedoms are being limited, and fear drives those limitations. Perfect love, (and even imperfect love,) is mostly missing. Only hate remains as a constant.
So: what is to be done? I think the way is clear: Turn on the lights, open up the doors, bring the fears into the light. Take courage. “Be Just and Fear Not.”
Jonah, the reluctant prophet, and the psalmist who knows that God alone is the source of freedom from fear, and Paul who believes that time is short and anticipation high, and Jesus our Lord who says the time is fulfilled…. They all encourage us to turn the lights on.
There is a great word of encouragement also to be found in the poetry of Walt Whitman who wrote, “Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs ! ” I love those words. They urge us to break out from the dark and enclosed place of fear, they encourage us to new epiphanies. New experience of knowing God’s love, present in the world.
These are the things then that must be done: break down the walls, unscrew the doors from the jambs, practice the freedoms, live into perfect love, cast out fear.
There can be difficult consequences, I know.
Speaking can be costly, prayers will be troubling, overcoming fears will be itself fearful. Freedom? We will sometimes doubt its value when safety is at stake. Well, remember the words from the song “Me and Bobby MaGee.” “Freedom’s just another word for nothing less to lose, Freedom ain’t worth nothing but it’s Free.”
I have sometimes held back in these days in fear…fear that I might lose good friends or the respect or love from others, and God knows I need them all. Everyone here has been a major support during my times of weakness and illness, for which I am immensely thankful. I’d hate to lose the comfort that has come to me from friends in my dark times.
But here it is: It is time to speak up, speak out, and turn on the lights. It is time to be just and fear not.
I believe that fear mongering has become a national pastime, and its end will be our destruction as a people unless we collectively repent from living in fear and in the darkness.
Much of this is what the Women’s Marches are about – speaking up, speaking out, turning on the lights, living courageously, casting out fear. I say, let us join these women and the prophets who preach that Perfect Love casts out fear. I’m up for it, I hope you will too.
There is no question we have real problems. What those are and how we are to deal with them will require real epiphanies – real occasions for looking at them in the full light and working hard to solve them. But so long as we are driven by fear there will be no epiphanies, there will only be more to fear. Darkness produces only darkness. The fear mongering of these days is no help at all.
So, let us take heart, dear friends. There are forces that want us to be afraid, and that in our fear we will give up our freedoms for safety, that we will believe in the survival of the fittest, we will believe in the virtue of strength and wealth and power.
If we give in to such forces we will lose the Epiphany of knowing ourselves to be cast in the image of the One who came among us FREE of all earthly powers to reveal the power of God’s perfect love, and who cast out fear.
Better that we join the Magi in seeking the Light, the bright morning star arising. Better that we turn on the lights, and join the marches for freedom. Amen.