This post was originally given as a sermon at Fairlawn Haven Chapel in Archbold, Ohio on Dec. 27, 2015.
A friend of mine tells the story of dining at what they call a dark restaurant, or a restaurant for the blind, in Berlin, Germany. The idea behind this restaurant is to give people the opportunity to experience what it is like to be blind.
To do this they take you underground into complete and utter darkness, more like blackness. There is not a smidgen of light for your eyes to adjust to.
He says that in this environment you begin to feel completely vulnerable. In the deep darkness, you feel claustrophobic from not being able to see and not being able to escape.
He says that with every group that visits the restaurant, there is always at least one person who can’t handle it and they begin to panic, but in order to leave they must be escorted to a special place where their eyes can slowly get used to the light again. I don’t know if your eyes would be damaged or if they would just hurt really badly, but one must slowly emerge from darkness to light.
Dinner, he said, began in awkward silence, as people grappled for their utensils and plates and as the blind wait staff went about doing their work.
But he also said as dinner progressed something happened: Normally the German people are quite private and reserved. They don’t talk to those they haven’t been introduced to and they don’t intermingle with others not in their own familiar group, but as the dinner progressed, the tables began to talk to each other.
A unique camaraderie was built from their shared experience of the dark. As they developed the capacity to navigate the dark place, they would share with one another their experiences and eventually the whole room was talking.
The lectionary text for this Christmas is Isaiah 9:1-7, and in it, the prophet Isaiah speaks of the day when the world will move from darkness to light.
Isaiah says there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.”
These days it’s kind of hard to read this passage as if Christ has already fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy.
All we have to do is read the news headlines to see that the world is still a broken, dark and lonely place. There are still so many who live in daily anguish and still more who live with great oppression, never truly feeling as though they have say in their lives.
How then does this word from Isaiah make sense?
For the angels foretold to the shepherds that this child, this babe that was to be found lying in the manger, was the good news, the great tidings of joy for all people—our Messiah, our Savior, our LORD!
It is this child who was to bring Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth.
But still we find no peace.
But the prophet Isaiah says: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
Praise the LORD!
This promise is for this time onward and yet we have such a hard time seeing it. It is hard for us to begin to fathom God’s justice and righteousness, for his ways aren’t our way.
We expect that on this day the fulfilling of this prophecy, and every other prophecy pertaining to the Christ child, means that God will turn on the light.
We expect that God, in all God’s infinite power and authority will come with great fanfare to the deepest, darkest place, which is our sad and broken world, and flip on the “light switch” and all war will stop. All oppression will be lifted. All tummies will be fed. All cold and wet will have shelter. And all the lonely will be befriended.
But brothers and sisters, God in all of his infinite power and authority did come in the form of a helpless vulnerable babe. He chose to go into the deepest, darkest place of all: born in a stable, in a country occupied by the corrupt Roman Empire and to the fanfare of simple shepherds and sheep.
God chose not to simply turn on the light for us so that we could find our dinner plates and begin stuffing our faces in convenience, but he chose to be blind as we are blind and to need help as we need help.
Because God wanted to show the world that it is possible to navigate the broken, deep dark places. God wanted us to see what humanity was capable of and be limited in all the ways that humans are limited.
God in Jesus chose to see only what we could see, fully knowing that there is a whole other world out there that our limited sight cannot even imagine.
In her poem, “The Word,” Helen Kromer says:
…Let me speak to my very small son
And the words mean nothing,
For he does not know my language.
So I must show him: “This is your foot,”
I say: “It is meant for walking.”
I help him up. “Here is the way to walk!”
And one day, “walking” shapes in his brain
With the word.
God had something to say to [us]
But the words meant nothing,
For we did not know [God’s] language.
And so we were shown: “Behold, the Man,”
[God] said. “This is the image, the thought
In my mind—[Humankind] as I mean [you],
Loving and serving.
I have put Him in flesh. Now the Word
Has shape and form and substance
To travel between us. Let Him show forth love
Till one day ‘loving’ shapes in your brain
With the WORD.
God would have done us no favor if God just came to earth and switched on the light, because then we would have no reason to change—we’d have all confidence and convenience, everything we already needed and we would forget we need God.
But rather God came and said, “Come, let me hold your hand and teach you how to walk in the dark. Come, let me hold your hand and show you how to see beyond what you think you already see. Come, let me hold your hand and show you how to hear beyond what you think you already know.”
Jesus says, “Come, let me teach you how to perceive the reality you cannot begin to comprehend. Let me teach you how to know where your brothers and sisters are simply by hearing them breathe.”
God did not simply turn on the light switch nor did God simply hand us a lantern or a flashlight.
God said, “You don’t need a flashlight. You have me, through my Son Jesus, and if you follow my son Jesus, you will never need a flashlight again, because you will become a light—just as he is a light. And everywhere you go you will help others see!”
Fellow Christians, we are called to be that light. We are called to give up all of the ways that we can conveniently go about life without care for our brothers and sisters or without care for our broken, dark, and despairing world. We are called to be light and we too are called like Christ to go into the darkness and show others the way.