GiftsEden On The Bay

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

The Hidden and Revealed God - 12/13/2020

A couple of times this past week, Larry and I have taken evening walks on the Gateway Loop across the street from the church here. And since even early evening is past sunset now, these have been headlamp walks, obviously.

The first night we went in, headlamps blazing the way for us in the darkness. It’s not hard. The path is good and clear, and we are familiar with the trail. I think the dog knows it by heart, including where he would take shortcuts if only we’d let him off leash. Not happening, hound-doggie.

We made our way in on the trail and were around the first big curve where you really cannot see or hear the highway anymore. It’s kind of amazing. Only a few steps in from town, and you are surrounded by ancient and forested Lake Superior dunes, with a deep gully and creek carving its way through all of them. It was not a moon-bright night and there was a tiny bit of precipitation in the air and I wanted to see how dark it really was.

So, we turned our headlamps off and as soon as our eyes adjusted a little, I could see that there was still quite a bit of light even back there away from all the lights of town. Light has a way of bending and seeping in like that.

Once our eyes adjusted, it seemed like there was maybe enough light to walk without headlamps blazing. Certainly, if there had been snow on the ground or a big moon overhead it would have been light enough.

When I tried though, I didn’t last long. And I realized in that little experiment that it really wasn’t the position of the sun or the lack of moon that made the “darkness” a problem. It was the hills and gullies, the winding path and switchbacks trails, the trees that could obstruct big swaths of the path ahead I was trying to see.

If it weren’t for all of that – if all the hills were pressed flat and the gullies filled, the winding paths and switchbacks made unnecessary and the trees all thinned and managed like in the rest of town, you wouldn’t need a headlamp at all.

And if you think about all of that back there for just a moment with your headlamp off and your feet teasing out that path, you can hear John the Baptist: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1:23)

Have you ever taken a moment to visualize what John and Isaiah are saying here? We heard it directly from Isaiah last week:

“A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
   make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
   and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
   and the rough places a plain.” (Isa 40.3-4)

 

In other words, the holy spaces we prepare in our hearts and homes, our communities and vocations, for the presence Jesus, is done by removing all the obstructions we can between Jesus and anyone else, including ourselves.

And to what end? Well John and Isaiah tell us that too.

John says in our Good News reading that he is doing this “as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe though him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.” (John 1:7-8)

For John, clearing the way, making the path plain and easy to travel for anyone and at any time, was so that the light of Christ could come into all the darkest places of our hearts and homes, our communities and vocations.

And Isaiah says the reason for this great leveling of the ground between God and God’s people is that:
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
   and all people shall see it together,
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” (Isa 40.5)

It’s that word “revealed” that I’d like to pause on, because the word “reveal” is a more accurate understanding of what is often meant when light is used as a metaphor in scripture. It’s about revelation.

The Christ Light we often talk about in Advent is revelation of God’s love for you in the unstoppable and eternal presence of Jesus on earth.

The Star of Bethlehem reveals to us the Savior of the world born not into a family of power or wealth or religious status, but rather into a family dealing with homelessness, poverty, pregnancy outside of marriage and vulnerability.

The light that spills into the empty tomb where the body of Jesus laid after he was lynched on a Roman cross, that light reveals the resurrection of Jesus.

The flash of light that blinded the racist, privileged, murderous Roman official named Saul, and converted him to the apostle Paul revealed to us that nothing is impossible with God.

So, if light, like the light that John the Baptist is pointing us to, is revelation, how might we better understand darkness?

Well, if light is often about what is revealed, it follows that darkness is about what is hidden. In this Advent exercise of taking the word “darkness” out of the negative, one-dimensional, false connotation we often assign to it, I would argue understanding darkness in scripture as the hidden places of God, would be quite fruitful.

In some ways, God does seem to prefer to keep things hidden.

The birth of our Savior was hidden, and it needed to be because Herod was already scheming to get rid of threats to his power, even if that threat was a single unknown baby. He would just kill all the babies.

And the three days between the cross and the empty tomb was hidden too –  because that is where Jesus completed his fully human/fully divine mission. That is where he overcame the power of death and then rose from the dead. Jesus did what we could never do and all for our sake. The hiddenness of God in that case freed us from all the holds of sin so we could truly live the lives God intends for us instead of worrying all the time about whether we have repented enough, reformed enough – or whether someone else has repented enough, reformed enough.

In some ways, we are asked as God-fearing people to accept that when it comes to God, there is a lot hidden. Though we are made in the image of God, we are not God. We cannot open our perception wide enough to see the world the way God does. We cannot love humanity, let alone creation, as completely as God does. We could not bear it. Although much of God has been revealed – particularly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – much remains hidden.

Sometimes, though, God is not hidden because of the mystery of the Divine. Sometimes we cause the hiddenness, Sometimes we cause the darkness. And that is what John the Baptist is yelling about here, down by the river. The Messiah was coming, John was confident. He was preparing the way. He was driven to do everything he possibly could to make sure people knew there was nothing to keep them from receiving this coming Messiah – the one whose sandal he was not worthy to tie. All they needed to do was believe. After that, the path was clear. Believe, repent, worship only God, love one another as you love yourself, and it all makes the path quite clear and straight, although not necessarily easy.

This was not what the priests and Levites and Pharisees wanted to hear though. They were more interested in retaining their status and comfort, and not upsetting the Romans. The people might hear John and start to question their religious authority. They might question the law they interpreted and augmented to keep the Jewish people in God’s favor.

Or the people might believe this long-awaited Messiah was actually coming and stop paying their taxes. If any of that happened, these religious leaders could kiss their status and relative comfort goodbye.

And so, they built up hills and created deep gullies between God and God’s people. They made the way to God full of winding paths and switchback trails, with obstacles as big as giant trees that made it hard to see what was ahead. They made a different kind of hiddenness that John the Baptist, and then Jesus, and now Jesus’ disciples cannot abide by.

***

John calls out to us each season of Advent with this bold proclamation. And, as much as we may want to avoid it, I think we must put ourselves into the perspectives of the priest, the Levite, the Pharisee, and take a long hard look at the way we build up, carve out, and set obstructions between God’s people and Jesus.

Where does the law, our institutions, our churches, our national identity, well-meaning as they all may be, end up putting mountains between people and everything God created them to be? Where do prejudices and biases, known and unknown, create deep gullies between others and the light Jesus brings into the world at his birth? Where do we need to control things so much that we end up creating winding paths and switchback trails for people to traverse so we can be sure they deserve decent healthcare; a safe place to live; nutritious food in their bellies and a warm coat in the cold? Where do we behave as though we are giant trees, obstructing others’ view of the Savior come into the world?

What is hidden that should be revealed in our hearts, our homes, our communities and vocations? Because John has come again, my friends, readying us and challenging us for the coming Messiah.

Get your megaphones, people! “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” Get ready. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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