December 13, 2017 - St. Lucia
Song of Solomon 6:1-9; John 1:9-13
In the liturgical calendar debacle that is the Episcopal Church, today is officially a "nothing" day. It is Wednesday in the Second Week of Advent. Like every day in the year, it has its own readings for Morning and Evening Prayer. And, like the other days in Advent, it has its own Eucharistic lessons, too. The official liturgical calendars from the Book of Common Prayer and Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2009 have no entry for December 13, but the unofficial calendar, Great Cloud of Witnesses, which has been approved for optional use (whatever that means), like its now-defunct predecessor Holy Women, Holy Men, reserves this day for St. Lucy or Lucia, who is often called "the bringer of light." Typically, at St. John's, we don't bother with GCoW, but I've always liked Lucy, and I wanted to remember her witness to us.
Lucy was a Christian girl from Italy who lived in in third century. Like many Christians in that time, she had to practice her faith in secret for fear that she would be tortured or killed by the Roman authorities. Also, like many of her peers who were convinced that the horrific Diocletian Persecution surely meant that the Lord's return was imminent, she wanted to remain a virgin so that she could devote not only her life but her chastity to her Lord. Unfortunately, her parents weren't interested in having a virgin for a child, and they planned for her to marry a pagan. But Lucy, empowered by the Holy Spirit, succeeded in convincing her parents to let her escape the arranged marriage and give the dowry to the poor instead. Her husband-to-be, however, was not pleased at the arrangement, and, when he learned that her Christian faith had gotten in the way of his conquest, he turned her over to the Romans. They demanded that she recant and offer a sacrifice to a pagan god, but she refused, so they ordered her to be imprisoned in a brothel where her consecrated virginity would be defiled. Yet, as legend has it, when the guards came to carry her away, she was so firmly fixed to the spot that even with a team of oxen they could not move her. So they piled up firewood and set her ablaze on the spot. And, as the legend goes, despite the flames, her body would not catch on fire, so they beheaded her with the sword on the spot. She may not have survived this life long enough to meet the Lord at his coming, but her faith enabled her to meet him in the next life.
Do we have faith like Lucy? Do we celebrate the light that has come into the world? Does our faith in Jesus become a light that draws others to the true light?
John tells us that in the incarnation "the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world." But, as we know not only from John's prologue but also from our own lives, not everyone knew him. All through John's gospel account, the question of faith persists. Who sees Jesus for who he really is? Is he recognized as the Son of God, the light that has come into the world? Do people see his "signs" as more than works of power? Do they see that those signs point us to something bigger? Right here in the beginning of his account, John lets us know that those who believe in his name are given power to become children of God. Those who see that light and believe in it are transformed. Is that us?
The feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ comes on December 25--just twelve days from now. When the date was set, a few centuries after Jesus' birth, no one remembered exactly what time of year Jesus was born. The Annunciation had long been fixed in March since the spring seemed like a good time to celebrate the promise of new life. Nine months later is December, which made for a happy coincidence. Plus, the pagan celebration of the winter solstice was a well-observed habit that the newly Christian Roman emperors wanted to transition from a godless festival into a celebration worthy of the Christian faith. More than that, however, by fixing Christmas near the winter solstice, we are able to see the coming of Christ as the coming of light. The days will soon be getting longer. The darkest part of winter is almost over. You may not be able to see it all at once, but, if you look carefully enough, you may notice the coming of light right around the coming of Christmas.
Lucy is one who saw the light of Christ that came into the world and invited others to see it through her life. She believed in the power of that light to shine in the dark places of life so fully that she was willing to give up her life for it. She believed that the light of Christ meant more to her future than the comforts of a pagan life. Traditionally, Christians in northern Scandinavian countries celebrate this night by dressing a young girl up in a white dress and placing a ring of candles in her hair and inviting her to process into a banquet hall. It's a sign that the light of the world is about to be here. But seeing that light isn't always easy. And it doesn't always come naturally. Will we see it?
The light of Christ has come into the world. Those who believe in his name are given the power to become children of God. Do we see that the best hope for the world and for our lives is found in the light that shines on the darkest corners of the globe and in the darkest corners of our hearts, or would we rather claim the fleeting light of our own accomplishments? Which light is illuminating our lives--the light of Christ or the light of prosperity, the light of power, the light of greed? In whom will we put our faith? In whom will we believe? Beholding the light of Christ means recognizing what God is up to all around us even now. Believing in the one who brings that light means trusting that God's future is the only true hope that we have. That means allowing the lights we are more comfortable with--those of our own creation--to dim and even be extinguished. Sometimes the light of Christ shines dimly on our path--so dimly that one can hardly see it. It can be a scary thing to put down our own light and navigate only by the light of Christ. But there is only one light that will see us through to the end.