Advent, Day 20: When Joy calls

Today’s reading: John 1:6-8

He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. (v. 8)

Lately there’s been an incredibly sad story on my mind: the story of a man whose inner struggles overwhelmed him, and who came to a point–in a lonely hotel room, with a loaded weapon–where he could no longer stand.

Sadly, it’s not a completely unusual story; every day people in all walks of life find themselves unable or unwilling to continue to wrestle their emotional foes. This particular story was “news,” though, because this man happened to be the pastor of a large, vibrant, mission-oriented church. He was a long-time leader in his community, and a witness to people around the world of the love of God.

It’s an odd contrast to the thoughts of joy that swirl around us at Christmas time, and in this Advent week. But it’s the reality for many, many more people than we will ever realize: whether the outcome of untreated biological imbalances, painful consequences of poor choices, victimization at the hands of bullies or abusers, or soul-emptiness and abject apathy, there are people everywhere who find the struggle simply too much to bear.

The truth of such situations should cause us to reexamine what we really believe about who God is, and how God loves us and works through us.

Reading this text today (which is really just the very beginning of the full lectionary reading!) my first thought was “How interesting–John knew very clearly who he WASN’T.” We spend a lot of time as believers thinking and talking about who God has created and called us to be; but it occurs to me that we should also emphasize who we are not… that perhaps sometimes we blur the line between being Christ-like and trying to be the Unblemished One, and the Savior of the World.

Hear this good news: We are not The Light! We are neither called nor expected to be The Light!

I have a hunch that when we forget this, we begin to act as if a) we ought never make mistakes or bad choices, and b) if we do, we certainly can’t let anybody know it, because c) no one would keep us around if they knew we were flawed, and clearly d) the world simply cannot get along without us, and it’s even possible that e) they might think less of God too since we’re supposed to be representing him. So we have a responsibility to maintain an exterior that is scrubbed as clean as possible!

But maybe if we could get clear about who we are NOT, we could stop expecting perfection from other Christians–and maybe even from our pastors–and maybe then our testimony before the world could be more powerful and more joyful, because it could be more real.

And that testimony could be joined by voice upon voice; we would be a congregation of witnesses, all wounded, scarred, afflicted… but by God’s grace, made well…. and in our honesty, never alone.

When Joy calls us, let us answer as our own true selves; not as masquerade characters, but as beloved, broken, humble children, all pointing toward The Light–One who shines even in our darkest days and in our most deeply hidden vaults.

True Light,
show the way
to those lost in darkness.
Warm those
who are frozen in their isolation.

Enlighten us
to see ourselves as You see us:
both broken, and
Give us courage to let others
truly see us, too,
so that together
we may be witnesses
of Your grace–
to let You shine through.

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