Saturday, December 17, 2016

Sermon for Midweek Advent III (December 14, 2016)

Following Jesus with the Saints in Advent

“St. Lucy: Courage from the Light that Shines in the Darkness”

December 14, 2016


If you were raised with any Scandinavian traditions, you may have celebrated St. Lucy’s Day or Lucia (Loo-see-ah) as she would be called.  Her name means “light” taken from lux or lucis in Latin.  In the days when the Julian Calendar was used, December 13 was the shortest, hence the darkest, day of the year and Lucy the light-bearer became popular in the far north.  In homes, schools, and churches, a young girl is chosen to portray Lucy.  She wears a white robe with a red sash and a wreath with candles on her head, leading a procession of other children dressed in various costumes and singing songs.

Lucy was a courageous Christian virgin and martyr.  She reminds us of the struggle between light and darkness, even though some pagan traditions may have become mixed up with her festival.  The darkness was especially frightening to the ancient Swedes and Norsemen, with trolls and demons and the spirits of the dead that would be active outside.  But those old myths contain some truth, don’t they?  Demons are real.  The devil still does prowl around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

But no matter how cute or pretty the fair maiden is who gets to be Lucy for a day, the circumstances of her martyrdom were neither sweet nor cute.  Lucy was born to a wealthy family in Syracuse on the island of Sicily late in the 3rd century.  She had dedicated herself to serve Christ and never to marry.  Her desire was to give her dowry to the poor.  But Lucy’s widowed mother arranged for her to be married to a pagan man who did not want Lucy to give away her wealth, so he reported his betrothed to the governor.  The governor ordered Lucy to burn a sacrifice before an image of the Roman emperor, since the emperor was considered divine.  As a faithful Christian, this was something she could not do in good conscience.  Her sentence was to be sent to live in a brothel.  As the story goes, Lucy refused to go.  When the soldiers who were sent to take her away could not move her, they hitched her up to a team of oxen.  Even then, she could not be moved.  When they piled wood around her and attempted to burn her alive, the wood would not catch fire.  Finally, a soldier plunged a sword into her neck and she died.  One later tradition also states that before she was put to death, her eyes were gouged out.

As in the case of all the martyrs, the darkness seems to win.  The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, as Jesus said, and the violent take it by force.  Christ’s followers face opposition, they are persecuted, maimed, and killed.  Jesus foretold this.  If it happened to him, it would happen to us.

The opposition that we face today is not always violent.  But it is a daily reality for our brothers and sisters in Christ in other places.  Yet we certainly face opposition from the world around us.  Sometimes it may come from our fellow parishioners.  It also comes from our own sinful heart that wants nothing to do with God and his Word.       

Our eyes may be just fine, but Satan loves to blind us to the realities of living as a follower of Jesus.  He tries to blind us so that we don’t see what’s going on behind the scenes, so that we are only concerned with what we can see right in front of us.  When this happens, we refuse to take seriously the forces of evil at work.  We begin to doubt whether God is really present.  We don’t really trust that his Word is powerful.  We don’t really trust in the efficacy of the Sacraments.  We think that we need to spice things up a bit.  We despair when our church is not growing.  We are tempted to think that the Holy Spirit must not be working here.  We blame ourselves and ask, “What am I doing wrong?”  We doubt whether God really loves us when rotten things happen to us.

But Jesus came to bring sight to the blind.  Jesus came to bring light into this world darkened by sin, evil, and death.  He has come to bring sight and light to you. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” … “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” … or as Ambrose would have us sing:

              From the manger newborn light
Shines in glory through the night.
Darkness there no more resides;
In this light faith now abides.

            The light of Christ enables you to look at the Baby in the Manger and by faith know that this is God in the flesh.  The light of Christ enables you to look at that Man suffering and dying on the cross of Calvary and by faith know that this is God loving you to the bitter end, paying the price for your sins so that you could be forgiven and reconciled to God.  The light of Christ enables you now to see beyond your own nose and by faith recognize the heavenly realities all around you.  To see God at work in your life.  To see Jesus present and active through his Word.  To see his Body and Blood present for you in the Holy Supper.  To trust him for all your needs of body and soul.  To encourage you when we despair.  To give you courage in the face of all the forces of darkness and to boldly take a stand for truth like Lucy.  Because Christ has already conquered the forces of darkness at the cross and the empty tomb. 

            Even John the Baptist may have had some issues here, believing that Jesus was the promised Messiah.  He sent his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  But Jesus pointed John to the works that he had done, reminding him that the Messiah to come would do the exact things that Jesus was doing … giving sight to the blind, making the lame walk, cleansing lepers, making the deaf to hear, raising up the dead, preaching good news to the poor.  All these things that Jesus did in his First Advent point us toward his Second Advent, when all the dead will be raised, all the baptized will live forever, we will be in the very presence of the Light where there will be no more darkness.  And there will be new eyes for Lucy, new eyes for you, restored bodies for all of you, no more glasses, no more contacts, no more meds, no more dentures, no more scars, except for the scars on Jesus’ hands and feet that prove eternally that he is the one who earned a place in eternity for you.

            So be inspired today by the witness of Lucy the light-bearer.  Take courage from the light that shines in the darkness, Jesus your Savior.  Go and be a light-bearer wherever the Lord sends you.


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