Turn to the Light
|Happy new year!
We begin with grace, not a bad place to start. The prayer offered yesterday for the first Sunday of Advent (printed above) launches a new year in the church calendar. It says right up front that our dependence on grace is the heart of the matter. We rely on God’s free gifts, on love from which we can’t be separated. If we can remember that each day of this coming year, I suspect we’ll be in pretty good spiritual shape. And that gift of grace is just the start, as I channel the wisdom of Anne Lamott who described the mystery of grace as meeting us where we are but refusing to leave us there.
Truth be told, I often almost instinctively resist the foundational nature of grace. I often default to my own teeth-gritting Christianity, the belief that I’m going to arrive at spiritual health the old-fashioned way: I’ll earn it, thank you very much. For too much of the time, I’m not entirely certain that I need to rely solely on grace. After all, God is kind of lucky to have me on the team. So why do we need to ask for grace? The rest of yesterday’s prayer helps us find an answer.
It asks for the grace to cast away works of darkness. We need grace to say no to those things that are drawing us from the love of God. They come at us all the time, from all directions.
One of the great starting points in church life is baptism, when the person being baptized renounces those things, says no to them. The person being baptized is asked to renounce the spiritual forces at work in the universe, a recognition that we contend with powers greater than ourselves. We need grace for that contest. We’re also asked to renounce evil forces in the world, which we witness every day in every news outlet. Then here’s the kicker. Those forces aren’t just out there somewhere. They take up residence in each of our hearts. When G.K.Chesterton was asked to name the source of the problems in the world, he simply said: “I am.” We’re asked to renounce those powers inside of us.
It’s a lot to contend with. We are invited to shed those works of darkness, just as in the early days of the church, a baptismal candidate took off his or her old clothing, went into the water buck naked and came out to be clothed in new, clean white garments. But it’s not just about that to which we say “no.” It’s also about what we affirm.
That’s described in yesterday’s collect as taking on the armor of light, again implying a contest with forces that would threaten to undo us, to steal a phrase from Martin Luther. In baptism, taking on the armor of light can be described in three affirmations. We’re asked to turn to Jesus, to put our whole trust in God’s grace and love, to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. Turn. Trust. Follow. Not a bad program for the new year. We ask for the grace to set out on that new path. And a new year, a new church year is an excellent time to launch out in that way.
Use the quiet of the contemplative season of Advent to do some spiritual inventory, asking for the grace to take that inventory. It can be challenging work. Think about what you need to cast off. What you need to say no to. And think about what you might take on, as you try that armor of light on for size.
I lost a good friend last year, a spiritual advisor with sharp wit, deep faith, and a keen sense of the power of grace. When I’d get all wound up about what was wrong with the world or with the church or with my soul, he would calmly say: Turn to the light. That’s what we all get to do in this beautiful season of Advent.