Sermon 11-22-20 Rev Jen Van Zandt
Ex 10:21-29, Ps 11
21 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was dense darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. 23 People could not see one another, and for three days they could not move from where they were; but all the Israelites had light where they lived. 24 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses, and said, “Go, worship the Lord. Only your flocks and your herds shall remain behind. Even your children may go with you.” 25 But Moses said, “You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings to sacrifice to the Lord our God. 26 Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must choose some of them for the worship of the Lord our God, and we will not know what to use to worship the Lord until we arrive there.” 27 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was unwilling to let them go. 28 Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me! Take care that you do not see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” 29 Moses said, “Just as you say! I will never see your face again.”
When I think back on this Sunday a year ago, our worries were significantly different; we were scrambling to determine who was and was not coming for thanksgiving, how large of a turkey to get, how and when to travel to/fro, frantically trying to find the beloved-but now missing-recipe for grandma’s favorite dish, excitement and/or dread of those we would see at thanksgiving, the joy of family all huddled in the kitchen on Wednesday eve for making the pies and the prep, watching the Macy’s day parade in person or on the TV, football games and post turkey coma on the couch, the Friday shopping plans or dragging out the Christmas decorations from the attic or basement, and a lovely day off from work.
Now, here we are with little of those things possible, unclear not only about Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas but also an unclear future of when wellness and our lives will be restored.
It seems to me that we too are experiencing the darkness like the Egyptians. As Terrence Fretheim says, “[The plague] darkness was far more than ordinary darkness, but a darkness that was palpable; which could be touched and felt; where all human movement could be described as ‘groping’. Like a winter whiteout where all you can do is stay indoors for the duration of the storm. This blackout had no light whatsoever.”
Darkness in this text signifies chaos; a reversal of all light a reversal of the 1stact of creation in Genesis 1. This Egyptians must have been terrified!
The Israelites? Less so. They had light and ‘normal day/night rhythms, but just when Pharaoh gave them permission to go and worship Yahweh, it also came with conditions. They were not allowed to take their livestock, which they needed in order to make pleasing sacrifices to God. Here we are again. We too and all the faithful in every faith tradition are also unable to offer their praises, prayers and offerings in the way God intends because of the darkness we are in.
BUT…for those who have eyes to see, ears to hear and open hearts, this time of chaos and darkness can lead us to a deeper understanding of God’s activity. The liberation of Israel (and us) is the primary focus of divine activity. God’s deepest desire is: deliverance from bondage and suffering. The story of Israel doesn’t end in being prevented from worshipping, living in captivity enslaved by a tyrant. Don’t forget in the ensuing chapters Israel was drivenout of Egypt, the first Passover was instituted (because of Yahweh’s protection) and they were able to escape because God parted the waters of the Red Sea. Again, Fretheim says “the deliverance of Israel is not only for Israel, for all of creation, so that God’s name is know throughout the entire earth.”
So, what do we do while we are waiting for deliverance? How do we find our way through the dark, while being captives to all that is? Take refuge in God. The call to us in Psalm 11 is to STAND FIRM. The call is to live and act as righteous believers remembering that God is in charge. Allow God to gaze upon your hearts, your thoughts, your fears, your prayers. Psalms Scholar James Mays entitles Psalm 11 “Flight or Faith?” He writes: When the righteous are threatened by the power of the wicked [or any evil] what course will our conduct take?” Ps 11 is a song of trust that answers that question.
We have the gift of free will to decide how to conduct ourselves. In this time of darkness, we can shut down, become fearful and bitter or we can decide to be a people of Shalom(peace) and light. Darkness and light have a helpful balance, each offering blessings. It’s only in darkness that we can see the stars and the moon. It’s only in darkness that we can hear the wisdom of the owl. Only in darkness can we get good sleep, best enjoy the flames of a fire in a fireplace or candlelight. Imagine coming to our Christmas eve service during the day-the luminaries that light our sidewalks and stairs can only be glorious at night!
Psychologists have been offering up ways to help us be uplifted through this time of darkness. They suggest a variety of things including putting up your Christmas lights early and/or add extra lights and candles. Make a fire in your fireplace or pit. Get up earlier to watch the sunrise and take time to watch the sunset (as early as it is). I think these are all good ideas.
Most importantly though is to stay connected to God and one another through scripture. I want to read to you portions of Nan Merrill’s translation of Psalm 11:
‘In the Beloved do I make my retreat. How can you say to me ’flee like a bird to the mountain; [where] the unloving bend the bow, fitting their arrow to the string; they aim to destroy what s god. The Beloved dwells in the Holy Temple and within the sacred altar within our hearts. God offers the opportunity to grow and become whole…Those who walk in the ego’s illusions will live in fear and doubt; ignorance will be their guide…Those who walk in the light will behold the Beloved’s face in everyone they meet.”
May you make the effort to seek the light. May you create light for others who have lost their way. May we all trust in the light that seeks to dispel all fear and descend upon us as we begin Advent.