Happy New Year! No, I’m not a month plus ahead of schedule. This coming Sunday, November 27th is the first Sunday in Advent. Many of us know that the advent comes the Latin adventus or coming. “This season proclaims the coming of Christ in the birth of Jesus, in Word and Spirit, and in the final victory when God’s kingdom shall be complete” (Bishop Ruben Job, A Guide to Prayer and All Who Seek God, p. 20). It marks the beginning of the Christian year and calls us to a radical reorientation. In the setting gloom of winter it is a question that at times can haunt the best of us. The prophet Isaiah opens with simple descriptive phrase, which fits our times. “The people who walked in darkness” (Isaiah 9:2). There is a temptation in the darkness to believe that this is the worst of times. I remember in a history class years ago reading a description of society gone downhill. It detailed how morals were at low ebb and how a revival was needed. The professor paused in his reading and asked us to pick the year this description was written. We chimed up with suggestions. Most fell with a span of the previous ten years. Then quietly he share that the description of society sinking downward into the abyss was written in the late 14th century. Amazingly, we were all sure it had described out time. Later I read the story behind the professor’s question in a sermon book written by Pastor Mark Trotter. It is as follows: “Barbara Tuckman, the historian, has written extensively about the fourteenth century. She pointed out that it was a time in which people were certain that it was the end. They were certain that it was the time that apocalyptic literature was talking about, that the Book of Revelation was prophesying. It was a time, more than any other time in history, when the four horsemen of the apocalypse rode the earth. War, which was incessant; famine, which was endemic; pestilence, which decimated Europe in the form of the bubonic plague; and death, which was everywhere. She focused on 1397, that one year, and pointed out that in 1397, Gutenberg was born, whose printing press transformed the world. And shortly after that in the next century, Joan of Arc emerged, embodying a new spirit of nationalism. … And then came Columbus who opened up a new world. And after Columbus, there came Copernicus, who opened up a new heaven. And shortly after that came Michelangelo who focused human life on a new beauty, the beauty of creation. And by the end of that century, Martin Luther was born, who called all of humanity to a new understanding of God’s grace. I remind you that all of this occurred within one hundred years of that time when everyone thought it was the end” (Mark Trotter, “Long Live the Weeds,” First UMC San Diego, California). The more sage among us look at the prophet Isaiah speaking in the eighth century B.C., the Savior sharing the word of God in approximately 33 A.D., the unknown author of the 14th century, and our own pundits of today with the realism of divine guidance. Any age is a time of real darkness. So-called golden ages only exist in the glow of hindsight. Similarly, the greater national preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick shared the prophetic vision. “In 1942, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, pastor of the Riverside Church, N.Y. entitled a sermon ‘This is a Great Year for Christmas’. World War II was still going badly for America, and the world was in terrible shape. But Dr. Fosdick, like that exiled messenger of the Old Testament [Isaiah], believed that it is in the darkest hours that God’s good news is best heard. When the mountains of adversity and violence are looming before us the feet of the messenger upon those mountains are beautiful – beautiful in bringing good news of salvation. In our world of terrorism, war, threat of nuclear annihilation, the horrible mess of drugs, etc. ‘this is a great year for Christmas!’” (Pulpit Resource, Vol. 16, No. 4., Oct. Nov. Dec., 1988, p. 45). What is the Word of the Lord to us this day? Come to the light! Hear Jesus speaking directly to us – to me and to you. “Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (John 3:21). Jesus himself challenges us with a choice. “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (John 20-21). Don’t dismiss this lightly. We say to ourselves, “of course I come to the light. It is other people who refuse to.” But oh, oh it is so easy to wallow in the self-righteousness of darkness and live in the gloom of despair. The deeds of evil are greater than simply personal moral failure. They encompass injustice and indifference to the poor and oppressed. They include anger, judgmentalism and condemnation of those who are different. They involve our failure to really trust that God is in charge. Hear the Word of the Lord spoke to us, to me and to you. Amid the encircling struggle of modern life, amid the chaos of our times, in the snare of our grief, He asks us to trust him; to come to the light of His love that can redeem any person, any society, any age. Is there any hope? Ah, that great old preacher Fosdick is right. This is a great year for Christmas! The Light shines in the darkness, in our darkness. “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:4, 6-7). Ask yourself, how are we instructed to come to this time of the Savior’s birth? With joy and rejoicing, for “For the yoke of [our] burden, and the bar across [our] shoulders, the rod of [our] oppressor, [God has] broken. . . . For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:4, 6-7). The light shines in our darkness! Come to the light! Hear the Word of God that is set against our struggle; the headline that is not bannered in the newspaper but proclaimed in a star. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2). Let Christ speak again not only to your life personally but to our society as a whole. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).