December 1, 2013: It’s about Presence, not just Presents

Posted on : Nov 26th, 2013 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving Day and if you have the courage to go out shopping this Black Friday, “Good Luck!”

This Sunday we begin the season of Advent.  Advent is the time in which we prepare ourselves to be open to Christ coming into our lives and world.  For us in the northern hemisphere – which is where the tradition of Advent began – Advent is the darkest time of the year.  We often refer to this time of year as the time when the days are “short.”  That’s not true.  The days are no shorter in December – it’s just the daylight that’s shorter.  In this time of year we spend more of our time in darkness than in summer.

Last week I was out in the desert planning our worship services for the next six months.  I had forgotten how dark it is in the desert!  Driving around and walking around at night is very different when you don’t have bright street lights and car lights illuminating the darkness.  Those of us who live in urban areas are more used to “lighted” night than those who live in non-urban areas.  In fact, in the city, we have so much reflected light that we can only see the brightest of stars in the night sky.  But when you go out into the desert, or up into the mountains, or to rural areas, you look up and all of a sudden you can see millions of stars in the sky.  Whenever I go into places where there is deep darkness, I have to remind myself that those stars are there all the time, it’s just that I can’t see them because there is so much reflective light in my world.

Faith is a lot like that.  Most of the time we want to focus on the light.  A lot of the time we can’t see God’s presence because of all the glare and “white-light” in our lives. And of course most of us are not all that comfortable sitting in the dark, looking for God, either.

The reality is, all of us go through dark periods in our lives and in our faith.  Relationships end.  Loved ones die.  We lose our job.  We have heated fights.  We or those we love face life-threatening illnesses.  Accidents happen.  We await test results or word about how a loved one is doing.  When we’re in the middle of these dark times, we often ask, “Where is God?” Or “What did I do to deserve this?”  Or “Why me?”  Or “Why the one I love?”

In a conversation I had with George Lynch (who wins the heretic-of-the-year award for comparing Christ the Sovereign Sunday with the debauchery of New Year’s Eve as he did in last week’s sermon!) we were talking about how we always want to rush through the dark times so we can quickly get to the light.  But that’s not the way life is.  There are a lot of dark times in our lives, and as I discovered last week, sometimes you can see and experience God more profoundly in the darkness, than in the light.

Elijah, of Old Testament fame, is one of the best examples of that.  Elijah is one of the strongest defenders of Israel’s God.  He is the epitome of a person of strong faith.  And then his life falls apart.  His friends abandon him, and he finally reaches the point of desperation where he just asks God to let him die.

He cries out to God, “ENOUGH!  ENOUGH!!!  Let me die!”  Elijah takes shelter in a cave and falls asleep, despondent and exhausted.  In his weakened state, an angel of God appears to him and, in good Jewish fashion, says, “Rise and eat a little something!”

After a little rest and food, the angel tells Elijah to go outside and listen for God.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks – but God was not in the whirlwind. After the wind there was an earthquake – but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire – but God was not in the fire.  And after the fire came “a still silence” and Elijah “heard” God.

I’ve come to believe that Elijah’s experience is not much different than our own.     It is often in the darkness that we see and in the stillness that we hear.  So we begin this Advent Season looking for God’s coming into our lives in our times of darkness.  And remember, “It’s about Presence, not just Presents.”

Blessings,

Dan

~ This Sunday’s Scriptures ~

I Kings 19:  9-20

Full of fear, Elijah fled for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his attendant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. He said to God, “I have had enough. Take my life; for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then Elijah lay down under the tree and fell asleep.

Suddenly an angel of God touched him and said, “Get up and eat.”

Elijah looked around, and there near his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate the bread and drank the water and then lay down again.

The angel of God came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So Elijah got up and ate and drank some more.

Strengthen by that food; Elijah traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

And the word of God came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replied, “I have been very zealous for you, O God. [But] the people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, broken down your altars, and put to death your prophets by sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

God said, “Go out and stand on the mountain, for I, your God, am about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks by God’s power – but God was not in the whirlwind. After the wind there was an earthquake – but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire – but God was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a soft-spoken voice.

When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah replied, “I have been very zealous for you, O God. [But] the people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, broken down your altars, and put to death your prophets by sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

God said to Elijah, “Go back the way you came, to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael as ruler of Aram. Also anoint Jehu as ruler over Israel, and anoint Elisha to succeed you as prophet.”

So Elijah went from there, and found Elisha. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. Elisha immediately left his oxen and ran after Elijah.

 

Psalm 139: 7-12

The Inescapable God

 

O God, where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

if I am buried in the ground, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning

and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light around me become night’,

even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

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