1st Sunday of Advent

Mark 13:24-37
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see ‘the Son of Humankind coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.  Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.  Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Parent.  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.  It is like a person going on a journey, when they leave home and puts their enslaved ones in charge, each with their work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the owner of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else they may find you asleep when they come suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

The Luminous Darkness

It is dark and getting darker. Times are as challenging as they have ever been.  As we wait and walk through Advent together, let us wrestle with the myths and metaphors that work to keep us locked in whiteness, and away from the gifts buried in the luminous darkness. Keep awake.

When God made the heavens and the earth, the light was not born as a correction to the darkness. The light was spoken into existence out of blackness, and there is no inherent evil attributed to the dark. The vast and nurturing embrace of blackness birthed the light.  I contend that the dark is where God begins God’s work with and in us.  It is but the inside of the chalice where the sacrament of communion with God occurs.

In 1965, Howard Thurman wrote a book entitled The Luminous Darkness.  A prolific writer, mystic, theologian, and pastor, Dr. Thurman reframed the definition of “darkness”.  In addition to his assertion that segregation, as a result of the maintenance of white supremacy, was sinful, he came to terms with the darkness of his own skin in the light of a society who vilified and dismissed him for his skin’s hue.  Thurman found beauty where many could not, as he did under the canopy of his favorite tree in the darkness of the night.  His Black skin was no trap, no burden—but a conduit to the welcome wisdom that God is also God in the dark. Black lives have always mattered.

As we stand in the darkness of Advent, stand in the liminal space that is the longing and waiting for the new thing God in covenant has promised, we are called to welcome the darkness.  This includes creating new myths of healing and wholeness that cannot admit blackness is beautiful. 

I write today as one born in the dark, who enjoys the sound of Blackness.  I speak as one who watched the beautiful, dark fingers of her grandmother weave magic in her love, in a pot of collard greens, making something out of nothing.  She was called “Black Beauty” as a youth because her skin was so dark, it reflected all the light around her.  Luminous darkness, indeed.  Because of her, I see well in the shadows, in dim circumstances, and I am not afraid of the dark. I am utterly convinced that God is up to something in the pitch black nights of our lives, in the womb of our own souls and being.  There is something gossamer and brilliant about the night in God, and in the promises that only come in the dark. We are being born!

This Advent season asks questions of us.  We are missing something when we spend our time longing for the light while missing the treasure in this darkness. Why do so many linger immobilized, counting down to the lighter days? Advent reminds us to value every state in which we find ourselves, especially as we stand waiting in the dark.

We are in a time in history where the suffering is great, where it seems the sun is less radiant, and the moon will not give its light; a time where day by day the very stars are falling from heaven, and the powers are shaken.  And yet, in the journey of Advent, because of the darkness, the sleeping are awakening, equity and wholeness is being required, by any means necessary.  Moments are pushed aside for movements, and the voices of the most vulnerable are rising.  We are recovering our moral selves.  I declare this is a result of the transforming creation of the dark that positions us to do what we often are unwilling to do in the light.

The gift of living into the darkness is self-love and preparation, of truth-telling while breaking the false images of God as the poster child of white supremacy.  So many are welcoming a new way of being.  In the dark, folk are disarmed, and cannot discern the kind of difference that leads to hate, vilification, and abuse.  In the dark, no one’s eyes can tell them who to profile and dismiss, and our senses become heightened.  Together, we reach out for hope and find strength with those others of us who dare to be in the dark night of our lives with purpose and vision. 

When we welcome this lived experience of welcoming the gifts of the dark in Advent, we become like writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston who understood the gift of her life to be immersed in luminous darkness.  She wrote in her book Their Eyes Were Watching God, “It is so easy to be hopeful in the daytime when you can see the things you wish on. But it was night, it stayed night. Night was striding across nothingness with the whole round world in [God’s] hands . . . They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against cruel walls and their souls asking if [God] meant to measure their puny might against [God’s]. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”

Let us watch and wait for God in this dark night.  May we refuse to rush through this time, filling our lives with distraction and artificial light—or we can use these long, dark nights to heal, to dream, to love, to imagine, to carve and create ourselves into a better likeness of who God created us to be.  This Advent season, be reconciled to the gift of the luminous darkness.  Blessed be.

Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown is the Lead Pastor of Plymouth Church United Church of Christ in downtown Seattle, Washington.  Kelle is a gifted creative artist, and thinker; a Womanist public theologian who is a curator of equity, justice, and adaptive change.

Dr. Brown earned her BA in Psychology from Atlanta’s Spelman College.  She attended  Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry, where she went on to receive a Master of Divinity. Kelle completed her Doctorate of Ministry from San Francisco Theological Seminary in 2018, focusing on eradicating homelessness through solidarity as discipleship.  She facilitates conversations on dismantling oppression and offers ways to transform  privilege, bias, prejudice and bigotry. Kelle had been a vocal presence for justice and equity in Seattle, faithfully standing with her Jewish and Muslim siblings;  raising her voice for Black lives; participating in the Poor People’s Campaign as a leader and theomusicologist; advocating for women’s empowerment on the 2019 Seattle Women’s March leadership team; and recently traveling to Tijuana, along with an interfaith contingent of Black and Brown women of color as a moral and faithful witness in the face of oppressive immigration legislation.  

Kelle desires to resist moments by participating in movements that shift the narrative toward freedom. She believes in people and that redemption and reconciliation is possible, and imagines in her lifetime, a world where all people are valued and extravagantly loved.  She invites those she meets to follow the advice of Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” 

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