Sunday, November 26, 2006

This is an unusual Sunday. Most years, the First Sunday of Advent falls immediately after Thanksgiving weekend. This time the secular and sacred calendars aligned to give us one Sunday in between—a Sabbath day that is poised in the meantime. I can't help but think of today as a gift—an opportunity to reflect on the changing of the days; another chance to give thanks; a moment to anticipate the season of anticipation. Next week the sanctuary will begin a slow transformation through the weeks of Advent. We'll add more signs of Christmas each Sunday, as the days and our hearts grow closer to the arrival of the Christ child. But this week the sanctuary is still in a state of ordinary beauty. As our brother James proclaimed, every good and perfect gift cascades from the Father of Lights. And so today I thank God for the abundant gift of light that flows through the windows of this sacred space, and celebrate what the brilliance of this room reveals about the gospel.

This sanctuary is filled with light. Many worship spaces are dimly lit—and some wear their shadows well, giving worshipers the benefit of a solemn umbrella under which to pray. I prefer the radiance of sunlight, even if sometimes it means the rays reflecting from the cars in the lot blind me if we forget to close the door. For me, the gift of light is a great visual reminder of God, and God's creative power. The book of Genesis envisions that before God spoke anything else into being, God crafted the gift of light. The tall, transparent windows cut into the walls of this building invite natural beauty to surround us as we gather to worship. God is the Source and Creator of all light, and in this place, we can gather within his abundant and luminous grace.

Like many buildings designated for Christian worship, our space is blessed with beautiful stained glass. The four primary stained glass windows along the north and south walls depict the four gospel accounts from the New Testament. The Gospel of Matthew is symbolized on your right toward the front of the sanctuary; the artwork shows the Law of Moses and its New Testament fulfillment, the Sermon on the Mount. The Gospel of Mark is represented beside it, illustrating the cup of Christ's suffering. Directly across from Mark, on the South Side of the Sanctuary is the window signifying Luke's testimony to the good news. In that window, Jesus is depicted sharing his gifts of teaching and healing. Finally, in the window closest to the pulpit, is the window memorializing the Gospel according to John. It celebrates the victory and eternal life that is made real through the Word made Flesh.

What these four windows do is transform ordinary light into kaleidoscopes of the gospel. The light that streams through these windows is strikingly beautiful, rich with color. And though they shine with the same light that flows through the clear glass, the light that they capture is deeper, more focused. One of my favorite theologians describes Jesus Christ as a pure reflection of God, as if by looking at Jesus we see God in focus. These windows remind me of that lovely interpretation. The light from the stained glass is concentrated, just as the light and love of God is concentrated in Christ. And through these gospel windows, we recall the teaching, preaching, healing, suffering, and victory that God shared with creation through Jesus Christ.

Just as the wealth of clear light reminds me of the Creator and the stained glass gospel windows evoke the Christ, the lightly colored panels of glass along the sides of the sanctuary walls quietly stir the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. These windows are subtle, a far cry from the bold hues of the windows below. Yet they still transform the light into delicate shades of yellow and blue. To me, they proclaim our responsibility to look at the world through the lens of the gospel. They beckon us to celebrate that our lives are colored with grace and shaded by God's redeeming love.

And then there is another font of light in this room, a steady shine that is not refracted through the windows or cultivated in an electric bulb. It is the light that is reflected through those who have heeded the Psalmists' cry to worship the Lord with gladness and thanksgiving. It is the light of Christ that has found a home within the hearts of the faithful. When we gather as a congregation to lift our voices in praise of the Father of lights, our spirits shine like the sun. This image is doctrine in the Christian Quaker tradition, a group that I spent some time with before I found the Disciples of Christ. Quakers believe that there is a light within each child of God, a brilliant glow of spirit within our souls. It is the Spirit of God, harbored safely in our hearts.

I first saw this with the eyes of faith when I was a teenager at church camp. During the closing worship, each camper was given a candle to hold. As I looked around the campfire at each flickering light, I suddenly understood that these candles only mirrored the light that sparkled from within. I trusted that Christ dwelled as a light within the hearts of all who accepted the gift of his love.

As Christians, we are created and called to reflect God's grace with our lives. The faithfulness of one Christian multiplies the light of Christ more fully than all the stained glass windows in all the cathedrals of the world. Without a doubt, the most important reflection of God's light within this space is the one that emanates from the pews.

The philosopher Alexander Papaderos tells a story about how he came to know that he was called to reflect the divine light of God.

"When I was a small child during World War II, I found several broken pieces of mirror on the road where a soldier's motorcycle had been wrecked. I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine -- in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get the light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

I kept the little mirror, and as I went about growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. But, as I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child's game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. But light -- truth, understanding, knowledge -- is there, and it will only shine in dark places if I reflect it."

In the coming days, the daylight will wane. Nights will become longer, and days will shorten into the winter solstice. And yet even as the light fades, we will join with other Christians to celebrate the Advent of a light that does not change with the seasons. May we reflect this light today and always, multiplying it with our praise, our songs of joy, our acts of generosity, and our constant thanksgivings to the source of all goodness and mercy. Amen.

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