Each Sunday, very early in the service we pray a prayer that is just for that particular Sunday in the liturgical year. It’s called the Collect of the Day, and it ties to the themes we will be hearing in the readings from Scripture shortly thereafter.
The collect that we heard at the beginning of our service today mentions a line from the Epistle of Paul to the Romans: “cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” It is mentioned, of course, on this first Sunday of Advent, because the season of Advent is one in which we prepare for the coming of the light, Jesus Christ our Lord. We symbolize it in the Advent wreath, each Sunday lighting another candle, until all four of them brighten the dark days of winter as we greet Jesus, the Light of the World, on Christmas.
Why do we need the light? Certainly, in these winter months, light is a precious thing. The days are short. The shade of night falls so early each day that by 5 o’clock, all the streetlamps are on.
We need the light to warm our cold bones, to remind us that life awaits underneath the blanket of dry leaves, to fill our hearts with the sense of caring, of love, that we hope for in this season of waiting.
But we need light for something else as well.
Light feeds our psyches. Those who are particularly sensitive to the changing of the seasons, and the loss of light in wintertime, can become depressed. Science has a name for this: Seasonal Affective Disorder. It can manifest as just a feeling of the blues or a lack of energy, or it can be full-blown clinical depression. The cure? Not necessarily the standard drugs for depression, like Prozac.
Instead, relief may be found in a light box, a device that mimics the rays of the daylight, giving light to the eyes that reaches in to cure the soul.
It’s no surprise – we know that germinating plants stretch up to the sunlight to open and bloom, and we know that when we’ve gone outside on a sunny day for a walk or a run, we feel better, rosier, healthier. Light helps us thrive physically and emotionally.
It is also a deep need for spiritual health as well, and that’s what I’d like us to think about on this day. As we need light for physical and psychological health, we need the light of Christ for our spiritual health. Think again of that prayer I mentioned: “put on the armor of light.”
In Advent, we are working to clothe ourselves in that armor of light as we await the one who is the Light of the World. So, too, in the sacrament of baptism, which we will celebrate in a few minutes. After J and C [the candidates for baptism, an infant and a toddler] are washed in the water of baptism, something else happens. They will be made ready for their life as new Christians. In ancient days, baptism was referred to as “enlightenment” because the baptized person receives the light of Christ, and in some places the ceremony of baptism includes the presentation of a lighted candle …the newly baptized is now wrapped in that wonderful light. J and C will be clothed in that armor of light to ready them, with the help of their parents and godparents and all of us who have witnessed their baptism, to go out into the world as Christians..
We pray for this, not only because we want to welcome them into the Body of Christ, to be an integral part of this faith community, but also because being a Christian is not always easy. The works of darkness are all around us, tempting us to follow other paths than the one Christ bids us follow. And that is the reminder that we receive in the Gospel this morning – another one of those apocalyptic messages where Jesus talks about some of the difficult signs and events that will take place before he comes again. The gospel names a few of the works of darkness: drunkenness, dissipation and the worries of life. It’s hard to imagine J or C falling into those troubles at this point in their lives, but those of us who are adults can certainly understand how these, and other troubles, can get in the way of living our life in the light of Christ. There are challenges ahead, for J and C, and for the rest of us sitting here today. But the gospel exhorts us to “stand up and raise your heads, because redemption is drawing near.”
Don’t be afraid to stand up. Raise your heads. Like those germinating seeds, reaching for the light. Like proud people who are glad to be wrapped in the armor of light, standing for what we believe in. We are not only washed of our sins in the water of baptism, we are enlightened by the flame of love and grace given to us by Jesus Christ. And even in times when darkness surrounds us, that light will give us the courage to live God’s Word in our daily lives. Whether we are ten months old, or ten years old, or decades past those markers, we need to stand up, cloak ourselves in the armor of light, and go out and celebrate what we have been given by our generous and loving God.