Candles & Charades

Isaiah 9:1-4
But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
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.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
Pope Francis has recently said that Christmas, as we currently practice it, is a charade.  Lights and parties and excess and excess and excess— and the world is at war.  There will be food overflowing, and children starving.  There will be Nativity scenes set out, and there are modern refugees seeking shelter, and told the inn, the state, is full.  We’ll cut down trees for fun while our world aches in pain from environmental abuse.  We’ll honor one baby, and ignore millions.  We’ll light candles and house lights, and some haven’t enough oil to heat their home.  Christmas, as we currently practice it, is a charade.

Heavy words, for we who have begun to take out the family treasures and decorations.  Heart wrenching words, for we who have begun to count the Christmas trees on top of cars, going from the farm to the home.  Hurting words, for we who want to repair the world, and also find joy in the light of the sparkling tree and the arms of a love.
Cognitive Dissonance is the uncomfortable dis-ease when we hold beliefs and values that are in direct contradiction with each other.  It’s peppered all over our faith and our world and our lives, and we are in situations every day that produce cognitive dissonance.  It’s how you may have felt as I began to preach— holding the truth of how much the decor and delight of the season impact your innocent, childlike, love of Christmas, against the truth of a heart-hurting world that can always use more compassion.

There are a few ways to relieve cognitive dissonance, and some are more healthy and helpful than others:
—do something to change one of the dissenting thoughts, or talk ourself into justification,
—justify the dissonance by adding new options that make it seem okay,
—or, outright deny that it’s happening.

I’ve accessed all the strategies myself. I’ve seen them all accessed by people in this room and in this community.  Some work better than others.  So how do we go forward?  On one hand, the world around us swirls in tinsel and light and flashing sale signs, and on the other hand, people are protesting and dying, holding images before them that can’t be un-seen, and war rages, as the Pope said.  Is it all a charade?  Are we but moving though through the motions, closing our eyes to what is happening?

I really don’t think so.  I think we care so much it becomes overwhelming sometimes.  I think we start to turn the dissonance between—caring so much— versus —playing into the seasonal fervor—into coping skills to make and move sense of it all…

We who are living into the transformative and challenging life God wants for us, approach the dissonance with action.  We move towards faith and healing.  We reach to the stranger with love, we feed the hungry, we contribute our money and our time and our love and our energy towards places like this church, and beyond; each striving to make a difference in the world and make sense of this tension that we live in.

The charade comes crashing in when we choose to remain blind to the aches of the world— when we deny that this is happening.  When we choose to pretend that all is the quintessential New England “fine” when it’s not.  It’s not fine.  We’re a messy and a broken world, we don’t know what we’re doing most of the time, but we keep moving in faith that somehow, somehow, we’ll get a little closer… with the help of God.  We’re a people living in darkness.  We stretch towards lights, but miss the Light.  The seductive glow of the charade pulses from the horizon, and yet still the Light that is the Life of the World shines in the distance, a different call.

The season of advent holds this tension, of soon, soon. We’re not there yet.  Wait, my children, wait.  And while you wait, wonder.  What would this cognitive dissonance be like in the world God visions for us, together?  What would it be like with the lion and the lamb laying still; and the viper and asp and child together; the politician in the streets with the poor learning the needs of the people; the addict offered healing instead of prison; the queer youth who live on the streets brought into the homes of families with more space in their house and in their heart; the protestor and the police enjoying a meal and meeting heart-to-heart and being seen; the shopping mall becoming a shelter; the Jew and the Muslim and the Christian and the Pagan breaking bread and saying “we are, who we are, better, together”; the swords of war, beat to plowshares, spears into preening hooks, nation shall not rise up against nation, and oh! how light will come.  The wondering plays on the edges of God’s vision, letting us experience it where we are able, and removing the blindfold in the space between where we are and where we could be.

THIS is the advent message— hope.  Soon but not yet.  Wait in this tension . Wait, children of God. There will be a little more light— we who are in darkness, in dissonance, will find more light.

Because we could all use a little more light.  The Light that is the Life of the World awaits, but he’s not here, yet.  He’s in the tension, the places of discomfort, the cognitive dissonance.  He’s both reminding you that there is hurt in the world, and I think, encouraging you to find and shine light and Love regardless.

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Because you and I know that despite the want of the world for change, and the call of God to work towards a more peaceable kin-dom and the beloved community that stretches across all that we have set up to divide each other, the tension of living in the world, in this country, and in this community will not stop.  The dissonance of living into a Christian life and living into an American life will not stop.  We’ll be asked to choose, over and over, where our faith and values lie, and how to make sense of that odd choice.
The charade, as the pope has said, isn’t about Christmas celebration in general.  He said that the deep sadness of God and tears of Jesus fall for those whose sole purpose on this planet is to wage war, but who cynically deny that’s their intent.

It’s when we forget to acknowledge this cognitive dissonance, this tension of being a human in this part of the world, at this time of year… when we deny the real privileges that we carry… when we hold up our ignorance as a shield…. when we scoff when the real pain of our brothers and sisters and siblings in Christ which is brought into holy awareness— THAT is the charade.

So in this advent season, we are invited…  asked…. even demanded…. through scripture and through our faith today, to break the rod of the oppressor, and increase our joy.  Note the spaces of dissonance and still bring a little more light into the world.  Light the candles and usher in the hope of all that is to come.  And in the meantime, we work towards lessoning the dissonance of excess and not enough.  We reach out towards those in need, with non-judgement and welcome.  We see the places where we can do better and strive to move into our fullest version of self.  We sigh in awareness of a world at war, and pause to let the advent hymns and carols resound, anyway, knowing that God is here, too, even in the midst of all of this.  ​

Let us open our eyes, our hearts, and see and feel the world around us.  And yet still, light the candles.  Increase the joy.  Put up the tree.  Pull each other close.  And know that in the dissonance, in the advent waiting, in the darkness, here, too, is God.