|UNITY OF VANCOUVER
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The Darkness Before the Dawn
Reverend Bernadette Voorhees
November 28, 2021
All Rights Reserved
Let us begin our time of prayer by giving thanks for the fellowship and love we share in the Christ presence. Not only at this time of the year, but every moment of every day, the Christ reigns in your heart. On this first Sunday of Advent, we quiet our thoughts, and we reflect on the meaning of Christmas. We journey back to a time, to the night when our way-shower was born. It is a clear and peaceful night. The sky is filled with stars, but there is one star shining more brightly than the others. We follow the light of this star to a stable and we see the newborn babe safely cradled in his mother's arms. We imagine the security and peace that he must have felt in that safe place. We feel the same sense of security now, knowing we are gently cradled in divine love. The wise men were wondrously guided by the light of a star to the baby. We too are divinely guided by a brilliant light, the indwelling Christ light. This light is our beacon of hope. We are on a path to wholeness. We bless all who are a part of our healing experience, our family, friends, and health care givers. They too are one with the Christ presence. The Christ is our inspiration, our help, our source of every need. As we pray, we picture the door to our good opening before us. With our thoughts at one with our indwelling Christ Mind, we are peaceful and secure, and we experience the joy of the Christ presence as we confidently walk through the open door. During this Advent Season we are peaceful in the knowledge that we are divinely guided and blessed. The light of God surrounds us; the love of God enfolds us; the power of God protects us. the presence of God watches over us. Wherever we are God is. Amen.
LIGHTING THE ADVENT WREATH CANDLE OF HOPE – 1st SUNDAY IN ADVENT
(Advent is celebrated on the 4 Sundays before Christmas. Instructions for setting up and lighting a traditional Advent Wreath follow the talk.)
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent isn’t a biblically based Christian tradition. It stems from old church dogma. It begins the first Sunday after St. Andrews Day and continues for the next four Sundays before Christmas. St. Andrews Day was chosen because Andrew, the brother of Peter was the first to become a disciple of Jesus. Each Sunday in Advent represents a quality. The first Sunday represents hope, the second peace, the third love, and the fourth Joy.
Scripture: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. -Hebrews 11:1
Advent Opening Prayer: Mother - Father God, I am open and receptive to the coming of the Christ as the birth of the Christ potential in and through me. I open my heart and mind to the activity of the Christ in every thought, word, decision, action, and interaction. In this consciousness, I bless all the gifts of time, talent, and treasure that I give during this holy season. I give thanks for the opportunity to bring forth my Christ light to bless the physical world and all life. I encourage everyone I meet who is seeking to discover their own inner light and learning how to let it shine for the glory of God. I give the gift of hope to everyone who crosses my path.
Light your Advent candle for Hope and speak the words of the Meditation of Faith.
I have all the faith I need to overcome any challenge. Centered in the Christ within, I am strong, confident, and clear. As I calmly make wise choices, greater good unfolds in my life. I look past outer appearances and release any worries or concerns. With God, all things are possible, and God is active within me now and always. I know that I am whole, worthy, and loved. There is nothing lacking or missing from the truth of who I am. Looking ahead to the celebration of Jesus’ birth, I eagerly anticipate the new possibilities being born in me. Faith is my constant companion, and I am grateful. Amen.
THE DARKNESS BEFORE THE DAWN
This morning we’ll journey into the darkness to find the Dawn.
Have you ever felt the darkness of this season tugging at your soul? Well, there’s a reason for this. Winter is the reflective time of our life cycle. We are to use it to visit parts of ourselves we’ve tucked away. We are to use it to get back into the habit of turning within and listening to the still small voice that often goes unheard when we’re caught up in the activities of spring, summer and fall. Our human nature resists the natural flow of nature. It’s afraid of the dark and we’ve developed an incredible arsenal to help us misunderstand and avoid the lessons of the season of darkness: the lights, the music, and the celebrations. Instead of gearing down most people go against nature and gear up for the holidays.
It’s taken me a long time to put down my own personal arsenal of defenses against the darkness, to find its message for my life and to overcome my own resistance to exploring the dark places in me; and I didn’t do it alone. I needed help, just as Ebenezer Scrooge in the story “A Christmas Carol”, couldn’t overcome his resistance to the dark alone. Like many people, Scrooge went about filling his life with external things like money and business, trying to fool himself into thinking that shinning silver guides as well as a shining star. It took three spirits dragging him kicking and screaming into the dark places of his life, for him to finally acknowledge the many hopes and dreams that had carried him along in life and the joys that he’d missed along the way.
Like Scrooge, the three magi probably had fairly comfortable lives. The inference is that because of their position, they were able to choose whether to trudge off into the darkness, unlike Mary and Joseph, who were forced by the Emperor’s census. It sounds as if they jumped at the chance to go and that’s what makes them wise men. But I seriously doubt it. Looking at other wise men in the Bible like, Moses, Saul, and David it’s more likely that they said, “You want us to go where? You must be kidding, it’s dark and dangerous out there.” Even Jesus resisted the darkness saying, if possible “Let this cup pass from me!”
When I entered the ministry in my twenties, I entered with the naive idea that I was going to be a guiding light so bright that I’d outshine any darkness. I thought the journey would be into the light and on into even brighter light. What I found once I put my foot upon the spiritual path, was that I was being called deeper into the darkness to explore what I so desperately wanted to run away from. The first-year ministerial students are asked to write their spiritual autobiography. I wrote mine six different times. During that process, my teacher assured me “You will discover a light that guides you, but you will not see it, or understand it, unless you search your own personal darkness.”
The struggles I felt as that process began are described well by Mary Oliver in her poem, “The Journey.” “One day you finally knew what you had to do and began though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice - though the whole house began to tremble, and you felt the old tug at your ankles. “Mend my life!” each voice cried. But you didn’t stop. You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations, though their melancholy was terrible. It was already late enough and a wild night and the road full of fallen branches and stones. But little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world… determined to do the only thing you could do…determined to save the only life you could save.”
Scrooge was pushed against his will into his own darkness by the three spirits, where he examined a lost childhood, lost loves, lost opportunities, and all the little dyings that happened throughout his life. All he wanted, as the spirits led him through the darkness, was to see just a little light. “Is this all there is,” he cried to the last spirit, “Is it all just misery and pain? Isn’t there anything you can show me that is hopeful?” What we find out later was that the spirits were leading him to hope the whole time. Ebenezer Scrooge had the spirits, the magi had the star, and I had a wonderful Unity minister as a Mentor. Back then, I was very attached to the idea that my life journey would be like a pleasant dream sequence. When I went to talk to the minister, I thought she’d listen to my life, pronounce me exceptionally sane, gently point out the turns in the road I’d missed and dole out a generous portion of hope. All on a love offering basis. What I found wasn’t like that at all.
I found someone who’d gently nudge me forward into the dark, comfort me as I went through the little dyings on route and always remind me of the light I had set out to find. “Dare to hope,” she’d tell me, “Dare to let go of the places where hope no longer remains.” That was important advise for me. In time, I came to see that as painful as the journey could be, there were as many birthings encountered on the way, as there were dyings. Like Scrooge, I needed someone to take those first steps with me and to help me accept the journey that was mine. Someone to remind me, of the light I would eventually come to, but only if I pressed on - through the darkness.
It didn’t happen overnight, but I did not turn back. I pressed on and parts of me died. Parts I’d been carrying out of habit rather than purpose: old expectations, old ways, old dreams, and old hopes that no longer worked. Ebenezer Scrooge also had a great deal of darkness to shed. He’d forged a long chain in his life - a link added for every time he refused to go into the darkness and as a result, he cast his own darkness upon others. He made the journey, but with tenacious resistance. Early on, I resolved to follow the Bible’s advice, “Resist not sayeth the Lord.” I discovered with less resistance to ‘what is’ and more faith in a God of good outcomes, everything worked out for good faster. I determined not to get in God’s way by resisting what God was trying to do in and through me and my life.
It’s said that when the magi arrived, they worshipped the Christ Child and presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I think this means that they realized how material things pale in comparison to the hope found in a child. The hope of witnessing a birth in the season of death. This is such an important point. They didn’t go out into the dark for Christ’s sake. They went for their own sake and for the birthing that took place within them as they arrived.
I’m going to conclude with some thoughts from that autobiography I wrote so many years ago that have carried me through so many dark nights of my life.
“In order to get out I must go through. There is no other way.
No other way? But there must be another way, an easier path, a well-lit road.
I cast about; I scan the horizon - No other way.
The only way out is the way through. And the way through is the hard way.
Pass one trial, meet another, leap one hurdle, and run against another.
No turning back, no detours - no other way.
Lord, how long?
As long as it takes to get me there.
No other way.
The only way out is through.”
As we journey through life there are times when we doubt the Path, we’re on, feel lost or regret that we aren’t someplace else, happier, healthier, and wealthier. We wish we’d chosen another Path or an easier path and look with envy at the Paths of others.
A friend gave me this poem when I first came to Unity. I read it every day, meditated on it, and realized, “I was where I was at that moment and every moment in my life by Divine Appointment.”
There was No Other Way for me to get from there to here.
This is how I came to peace with my Path and past. Today I give thanks for the twists and turns that brought me here to love you.
With love and blessings,
No Other Way by Martha Smock
Could we but see the pattern of our days,
We should discern how devious were the ways
By which we came to this, the present time,
This place in life, and we should see the climb
Our soul has made up through the years.
We should forget the hurts, the wanderings, the fears,
The wastelands of our life, and know
That we could come no other way or grow
Into our good without these steps our feet
Found hard to take, our faith found hard to meet.
The road of life winds on, and we like travelers go
From turn to turn until we come to know
The truth, that life is endless and that we
Forever are inhabitants of all eternity.
What do you think?
© Unity of Vancouver, 2004 All Rights Reserved.