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Nov 27, 2022

What Light Will Do

What Light Will Do

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: November 2022


Today's Sermon


"What Light Will Do"


First Reading
Isaiah 2:1-5

1The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2   In days to come
          the mountain of the Lord’s house
     shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
          and shall be raised above the hills;
     all the nations shall stream to it.
3        Many peoples shall come and say,
     “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
          to the house of the God of Jacob;
     that he may teach us his ways
          and that we may walk in his paths.”
     For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
          and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4   He shall judge between the nations,
          and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
     they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
          and their spears into pruning hooks;
     nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
          neither shall they learn war any more.
5   O house of Jacob,
          come, let us walk
          in the light of the LORD!Writing the Gospel

Second Reading
Romans 13:11-14

11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. 

What Light Will Do

            “The armor of light,” “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”…Those words stung when I encountered them again this week.  As you know, I do an initial round of planning well in advance.  When I returned to my notes to prepare for this sermon, this singular line jumped off the page: “Holy S---, I’m planning this on the morning after (5/25) the horrific shooting in Texas.”  Those 19 children killed were all in 4thgrade.[1]  My son is now a fourth grader.  When I dropped him off for school that day, I cried after he got out of the car, as did so many parents.  At my son’s school, the classrooms have reflective tinting on the windows.  I think the kids think this is to keep the sun out (but it’s so shooters can’t see in).  They do drills of what to do if “a deer makes it on to campus,” because it’s been shown that if you tell the truth about those drills, it traumatizes children. This week there was a shooting on the campus of the University of Virginia.  My mind went back to the shooting at Virginia Tech.  I still remember our intern Joe Chapman’s sermon about it, as he described lights from the cell phones shining visibly through the pants pockets of victims as loved ones frantically tried to call them.  Our own Jeff Shankle has personal stories from the tragedy that day.

            The first candle on the Advent Wreath is hope.  It’s okay to begin a conversation about hope with honesty about the realities which give rise to such a strong need for hope.  Hope is about meeting the truths of our experiences with a vision for a better world.  The texts we read today could easily be classified as about peace, which is next week’s theme.  We return to these texts each year because they remind us what it is we’re waiting and hoping for, like the way we return to long-held family decorations and stay connected to where we come from.  Advent isn’t a season to be bleary-eyed with obligation; it’s a season to get clear-eyed about what’s happening around us and within us, a time to let our yearnings rise up and lead us to the manger’s side, where we see God coming to meet us in our world.

            The prophet Isaiah dreams of what it looks like for God to enter the world, depicting a wide-spanning peace. He imagines peoples of the earth streaming to God’s house on the highest of mountains.  Nations are held accountable for how they treat one another, and we read, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares,and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4).  There are scarcely more beautiful verses in all of Scripture.  If you’re wondering why elsewhere in Scripture it seems to say the opposite, to beat plowshares into swords, that comes in the book of Joel, when God is goading the wicked who shroud their weakness through displays of bravado and might.  It’s clear God’s vision is the peaceable kingdom, and that’s the source of our hope and should be the subject of our work.

            Maybe work isn’t the right word, or the only word at least.  I have just started an interesting course on transformation led by my predecessor at my former congregation in Philadelphia, Patricia Pearce.[2]  The title of the first module is titled:  Transformation is a Natural Process.  It’s so simple, but I had never thought of it that way, which is why it’s profound.  Transformation is happening all the time.  We don’t have to manufacture it ex nihilo, out of nothing.  We just have to recognize and join in with it.  We tend to think of things as static and we have to work to change them.  While indeed we do have work to make certain changes, change is always happening.  In Octavia Butler’s stark book The Parable of the Sower, she writes, “All that you touch you Change.  All that you Change Changes you.  The only lasting truth is Change.  God is Change.”[3]That’s not what many of us were taught about God. 

            Things want to evolve, to shift, to move.  We may want to influence the direction of the shifting, for not all changes are positive, but we don’t have to do it all with our own energy.  For the person of faith, we trust there is something greater working for a good change, a source of strength, wisdom, and direction.  Therefore, bringing about a positive change is more like channeling the flow of something than it is like pushing a boulder up a hill.  Do you feel the difference?  I remember years ago when we were having trouble with flooding at our home, living on a hill.  Someone in the congregation said to me, “You just have to find a way to help get the water where it wants to go.  It wants to go down.”  It was such a different way of looking at it.  It wasn’t just about sealing everything and holding back the forces of nature, it was about working with nature to help the water move where it wants to go, which is not my basement, but to the nearest stream.

            Pearce encourages us not to make transformation such an efforted egoic endeavor. You do work to overcome injustice; you just don’t do it alone.  You join a greater force, a greater wisdom, God or Spirit if you like, that wants to bring about a better way of being.  Advent is not about piling up all the things you are poised to do so you’re ready with an acceptable list of New Year’s resolutions by January 1. Rather it’s a way of getting settled and oriented so you can recognize the star that leads you to the Christ on December 25.  This means slowing down, and getting more in touch, so that you know you’re moving with the energy of the spirit not the ego.  As Pearce describes it, the ego wants to push judgment, push separation, put us over and against others, creating good guys and bad guys, having us overcome the other rather than recognizing kinship and our ultimately shared fate.  Thinking as Pearce would have us is precisely the mindset of the prophet who calls us to beat swords into plowshares.  As human population has now reached 8 billion, this is a shift necessary for our flourishing.

            With the prophet’s peaceful transformation in mind, it’s interesting Paul writes that we are to “Put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12).  That’s a mysterious image.  Light doesn’t appear to be much good for armor as we know it, precisely the point.  Paul is saying we have to abandon our old understandings of makes us safe.  Shift to a new realm. Get out of the arms race.  That’s how we protect our children and one another.  Interestingly, there was a documentary a few years ago—I appeared on a panel about it at the Sausalito Film Festival—called Armor of Lightthat explored the cozy relationship between facets of Christianity and the gun industry.  It exposes how some Christians had forgotten the substance and nature of their true armor.

            Paul wants us to turn to light, revelation, wakefulness.  Do not to belong to an age or a way that is asleep, not alert, unaware of what is happening, and engages in behavior that needs to be hidden by the cover of darkness.  The candles remind us to follow the light.  Often on 12thnight, Epiphany, I tell the ancient story The Revelationof the Magi, which is an account of a light that leads the magi from across the world to the site of Jesus’ birth where it enters the Christ child, light, this creative force that is at the source of all creation and cosmology. 

            Advent teaches us to follow the light wherever it goes and whatever it’s up to, and to be wary of where it is rebuked or avoided.  Paul contrasts the way of light to drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarreling and jealously (Rom 13:12).  This foster separation, violation or exploitation, a sort of forgetting of where one fits within the fabric of the larger kinship. These belong to the realm of darkness, and I want to be cautious about light/dark good/metaphors in our particular culture.  Think of the way of God versus the way of separation.  Think also of bringing things to light versus hiding them. 

            Almost every person who met with me last week brought up what happened in Mill Valley a couple of weeks ago when a larger gathering of young people, fueled by alcohol and under the cover of night, became destructive, even aggressive with the police.  I don’t know all the details of what transpired, and I’m not here to pile on minors as disturbing as their behavior may have been. The one piece that sticks with me, however, is the account of some jumping on top of a police car.  Somewhere in the thought process of the admittedly altered mind is the assurance that “I won’t be held accountable for this.”  In other words, I have an armor that will keep me safe, but it is not an armor of light.  What truly protects the future of those young people and our community is to bring to light what’s going on and how we can redirect and channel what is naturally trying to flow in the growing up process.  How do we build up the banks so things can move in a good direction, and not confuse permissiveness with love?

            What would it look like to allow what’s really happening around us and within us to surface that we might get a better look of what’s going on and where it’s heading?  What would it look like to make a safe place to do so. As sunny as a place as this is, because of the pressures, the resources, and the social competitiveness, this can be a place where there is a lot of hiding.  Again, that’s the egoic self—feeling separation, fearing judgment (understandably), and retreating into the shadows.  We should want to see things.

            I worry when we lose our sight of our seers.  This week, we lost the congregation’s last World War II veteran, Ralph Cole. Colonel Cole is all I ever called him, which gives you a sense of how much he carried the reality of that war with him.  He liberated the first concentration camp.  I foolishly asked him once what the survivors looked like, and he merely responded, “Survivors?”  I worry what will come of us when those who saw the worst of what we can be are all gone, as we experience an uptick in antisemitism, and in pitting black and Jewish people against one another.  We need to be a clear-eyed people.

            Our hope is in the light. Our hope is in illumination, clarity, seeing what is and allowing what could be to come forth, working with what is to take it in a good direction.  That’s one reason I don’t want our children hiding in the shadows at school.  I want them learning what has been, even the ugly parts, especially the ugly parts, for it is how we make way for the beautiful possibility to shine through.  I don’t want them cowering, I want them studying, I want us all studying, maybe learning about wars, but not learning war, as Isaiah puts it.  I want our path to be illuminated by the candle of hope and not fear, for as Paul says, in Christ the night is gone and the day is near. “Come” says the prophet, “let us walk in the light of the LORD!” (Is. 2:5).



[1]For an early accounting of that tragedy, see


[3]Octavia Butler, The Parable of the Sower.