Let Christ's Light Shine in and Through Us

Let Christ's Light Shine in and Through Us

by the Rev. Sr. Diana Doncaster C.T., Assistant Priest, Christ Episcopal Church, Eureka; Sister of the Transfiguration

I had the privilege of attending an Advent Quiet Day sponsored by Bishop Beisner for the clergy of this diocese on Wednesday, December 2nd. While we were immersed in a profoundly moving time of brief, thoughtful reflections and extended opportunities for silence and prayer, the Bishop was informed of the shootings in San Bernardino and brought the news of this new, agonizingly familiar horror to us. Violence and hatred break in, again and again. We cried, we prayed, we tried yet again to comprehend how human beings – children of a loving God – can do such things to each other. In the end, all we could do was commit it to prayer – again – and listen with anguish and hope for the voice of God in the midst of this further terror.

I returned home to an e-mail from a treasured friend, a deacon who had also been at the Quiet Day. She invited me to think with her through how she could most helpfully respond to the fearful outcry in her small town about what more they can do to protect their children and themselves from random, hate-filled, senseless violence. She understands the desperate urge to protect our children at all costs – but how are Christians to respond? Do we have a better way?

A prayer we need as we absorb and try to respond to such senseless horrors leapt off the page of today’s reading from the Letter to the Christians in Philippi. Paul writes, “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best. . .”

In a way, this can sound a bit too pious. “Yeah, yeah, we need to pray. Knowledge and insight sound pretty good. But come on, this is the real world. There are real killers attacking real, innocent people. It could happen here. Love is fine, but sometimes we need common sense and action!” As one who is deeply committed to non-violence, I’ve been saddened and frightened to discover such thoughts in myself.

But is what Paul urges really too naively pious? Did he have a clue what our life would be like today? Oh yes. He lived and served Christ when it could cost your life to be a Christian. Persecutions, danger, fear – all of these were well known to him, yet he urged Jesus’ followers then and now to stand firm and act in the faith of Christ.

In other words, we can’t wait for good times, peaceful times, to live our Christian faith. We are called to BE active messengers of Christ, in the here and now. We are to be active witnesses to the reality of the faith we chose to live when we took on ourselves the truth and consequences of our baptismal covenant. Just two weeks ago, we stood together as a congregation and re-affirmed that commitment in the midst of a world where violence and violent responses can appear to be the norm.

Did we mean it? Do we mean it as we await the next time? And if we do, how are we to respond, as those who have chosen to follow Christ, to the senseless violence that comes closer and closer to our daily lives? How are we to respond to the kind of insanity of hatred and violence that took Jesus to the Cross, beat Fr. Eric Freed to death down the street from us less than two years ago, exploded in attacks in Beirut and Paris, killed hundreds on a Russian passenger plane and shot down fourteen more people in San Bernardino just this past week? How do we respond to the abuse and violence enacted behind closed doors of ordinary looking houses on ordinary looking streets? How do we respond to violence enacted against people who simply happen to have been born with darker skin or a different place on the sexuality spectrum?

As John responded to what must have seemed an outrageously impossible call, he drew wisdom and strength from the words of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah had also been told to proclaim the impossible – that we, ordinary people who want to serve God the best we can, are actually able to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” The Prophet Malachi also spoke of preparation. But what does that mean?

Malachi, Isaiah, John the Baptizer and Paul the Apostle all tell us that this preparation is hugely life changing and incredibly challenging. Malachi uses the images of refiner’s fire that melts away impurities from gold and silver. He speaks of fullers’ soap – essentially a powerful bleach. Paul uses the image of a harvest – when wheat is cut down, when vegetables and fruits are pulled from the ground and vines and trees. John quotes Isaiah about straightening paths, bringing down mountains and smoothing out rough places. If you’ve driven across to Redding on 299 recently, you’ve had glimpses of what that can mean in a literal sense, and it’s not comfortable.

We are in a season of special preparation. In this season of Advent we are to take seriously that the coming of Jesus whom we will welcome very shortly as a newly born baby is powerfully real – not merely the sentimental “holiday season” we also celebrate at this time of year.

In the Collect we prayed together a short time ago, we asked God to give us the grace we need to heed the warnings of the prophets and to forsake our sins. The warnings we hear urge us to take our responsibilities as God’s children seriously – to be the strong, loving presence of God in the midst of even the most frightening threats and attacks. I don’t know about you, but I need help to see and name such sins.

One of my Sisters responded to my struggles with this sermon by reminding me that the Light of Christ continues to shine even in the face of the most fearful events. She helped me to remember that it is our responsibility as Christians to be that light. She added “maybe even ISIS will catch a glimpse of that Light”. There! There is both the hope of an answer and needed truth about sin.

The sins I most need to resist in this time of terror are whatever leads me to surrender to fearfulness or to want to fight for what God never promised – a perfectly safe and comfortable life. Those are the sins that keep me from recognizing that the love of God is not just for nice people I like, but for every single human being on the face of this planet – including Syed and Tashfeen, the couple who slaughtered fourteen more people in San Bernardino last week. What if more Christians around them had lived in ways that revealed the Light of Christ to them?

In my gut, I am relieved that they will not hurt anyone else. But I dare not think of them or pray for them as anything other than two of God’s beloved children! If I do I am adding to the mountains of division and hatred, those horribly rough places that keep us from finding compassion and seeking ways of being God’s Light. Can we choose to be that Light, to respond in ways that give even the terrorists from ISIS a glimpse of truth and hope?

During the next three weeks, we will come together on Tuesday nights for a simple soup supper. We will pray together and explore these hard questions together. There are no easy answers. But because we are Christians – servants of the living God – followers of Christ the Prince of Peace – we must prayerfully, thoughtfully listen together for the wisdom and leading of the Spirit so that we become increasingly better able to let Christ’s Light shine in and through us to those who most need it.

We reaffirm the hope we have in Christ through the words of the centuries-old Nicene Creed. As we say those words, I invite each of us to ask in our deepest heart for God to teach us what those words really mean, in the choices we must make about how to respond as Christians to the violence and hatred that try to hide the Light of Christ.


2 comments (Add your own)

1. Rick Laughman wrote:
Diana, thank you for your thought-filled words, they touched my heart.

Thu, December 24, 2015 @ 8:41 AM

2. Cliff Haggenjos wrote:
Diana, thank you for allowing God to speak through your words. This is beautiful.

Wed, December 30, 2015 @ 3:24 PM

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