Sermon and Worship Service Archive

A Double-A Battery Kind of Advent

The Rev. Kit Lonergan
December 14, 2023

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Trinity Church Boston
Service of Hope and Healing/ Longest Night
December 14, 2023


My local Target store is sold out of holiday lights already. Actually, it was sold out a week ago when I went to look, haphazardly, for new Christmas lights, alongside picking up deodorant, soap and milk—somehow those lights ended up on my ‘weekly household essentials’ list, and in between the regularly scheduled errands, I found myself standing in the back corner of the store, Mariah Carey blaring, for several minutes, searching into the empty heart of the metal shelves for any kind of light which wouldn’t set my house or my family on fire. 


Orange lights were still there, carefully marked down for a quick sale, clearly leftover from Halloween. So were the purple lights. The lights which were over $70 were fully in stock, as no one in our area is willing to fork over that kind of money for a string of anything, myself included. 


I left lightless, having scoured the corners for a forgotten warm white LED box of Christmas joy in electrical form, only to come up emptyhanded. So right now, our house functions a bit like a lost tooth in the mouth of our neighborhood—when you drive by, we’re the dark gap, which you barely even notice due to the bright and merry lights, blow ups and front lawn reindeer around us. 


I’m a semi-seasoned church lady, and a long time lover of the season of Advent—that dark and quiet waiting, and watching and anticipation of the child Jesus into our midst. And yet, I found myself discovering an uncomfortable envy of those houses around me—window candles lit every evening, trees looking Instagram worthy (yes, I can see into those windows), the warm glow of merry making appearing to emanate from every crevice. No matter how well I knew the inhabitants of the houses in my neighborhood—sometimes too well—something about the lights of the holiday season made ours feel even darker. Smaller. Less joyful. 


Advent—this watchful, slower-paced season of the church—doesn’t stand a chance against all that we imagine bodes grace and joy. When the turkey sandwiches are finished and the November list of thanksgivings said and then placed carefully in the recycling bin, our cultural context in the United States usually points us to the next pot of joy in our dark season. We move from food to light with amazing speed. 


Which robs us of one of the harder human journeys we are all fated to make at one time or another—that of knowing how to be in the dark. Just as in Lent we are left in the wilderness, in Advent, we begin in the dark. The absence of clear signals and signposts tends to framework a sense of abandonment—that we are not *meant* to be in the dark; we are not *meant* to be in the wilderness; we are not *meant* to be where we find ourselves, because it’s not where we imagined we would be.


Maggie Smith is best known for her viral poem, ‘Good Bones’, but our first reading this afternoon—‘How Dark the Beginning’ is a particular favorite of mine. Light is what solves everything, protects everything, is the ‘good’ we believe we seek, she asserts. But we forget that light is a product of darkness. They are not in competition nor conflict, but we like to make them so: “We speak so much of light, please let me speak on behalf of the good dark,” she writes. “Let us talk more about how dark a beginning of a day is.”


Advent isn’t the dark of the middle of the night. Advent is the color of the dark transitioning to dawn. It would be that mixture of black, navy, orange, pink and purple, if we could find classy vestments to fit that spectrum. It is that moment when it is still so dark and yet it is not. It is the time when we can see the outline of a hand. We can discern the horizon, at least to the east. We enjoy that otherworldly glow, which isn’t light, which isn’t dark, but which appears to be both in the same moment. 


While Jesus would have zero interest in vestments, but probably a healthy sense of what dawn looks like, his own words to his disciples in the Gospel of John are echoes of the good dark: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Jesus doesn’t pretend that all will be well for his disciples—no promise of an unscathed, always-moored, life is part of his message. What he does say is that he does not give as the world gives—not in the sparkly, but in the burgeoning. Not in the glitter, but in the quiet. Not in the ways we might want, or expect, but in the way God gives and has always given—there is no eradication of the dark of night by God. There is only the promise of dawn. 


And until we get to that moment, let us sit for a moment in the good dark, even if it doesn’t feel so good right now. The dark which may compromise the neighborhood aesthetic, but which is true and authentic, and only allowing us to enter into truly believing that God will choose us—choose us who are broken and beautiful and messed up and whole and holy—to come and descend among. Not to the people who are always in the light. But to us, who are contemplating the holiness, if not levity, of every part of creation. 


A few days after that initial trip to Target, I returned, because, there is always something I forget. Instead of trying again to get the strings of lights and see if by a trucking miracle they had been replenished, I walked myself over to the other side of the store, to the ordinary and unpoetic battery operated candles. When the Grinches and Santas of the neighbors resurrect every afternoon as the sun sets, my five-dollar, double-AA battery powered candle turns on its gentle imperfect flicker as well, set into a window where I can see it every morning as I wake up in the dark. It is not for the neighbors, although I know that they, too, are peering in our windows as we all are wont to do during this season—it is for me, for us. It is not to let Santa know where to land, it is to hallow the dark which takes up most of the day this season. It is to remind me that at some point each morning, the dawn will overshadow its limited battery light, as dawn does, and that I won’t need that candle. 


Wherever you are this season, do not be afraid of the dark. You are not alone there. You are never lacking something because you are in it. You are at the beginning of something complicated and frightening and out of our own control, but you will never be alone in it. Dawn will come. Dark and complicated itself, it will show up if we too, ready ourselves to sit in the dark enough to see that faithful sun rise again.