Worship in Place | Awake in the Dark | Advent 2 | December 6

The video above includes the full service, except for the time for sharing.

Permission to podcast/stream the music in this service obtained through One License with license A-727859

Order of Worship | Awake in the Dark | Advent 2



Hymn | Holy Darkness | Martin Family, Tom Blosser, piano

Call to Worship

Peace Candle 

As we worship in place today, we light a Peace Candle in our home.

May this flame be a sign of our prayer for peace within us, among us, to the ends of the earth.

The flame joins us in spirit across distance, along with our sister church in Armenia, Colombia.


Hymn | Awake | written by Phil Hart, sung by many voices

Children’s Time 

Offering/Dedication Prayer  https://www.columbusmennonite.org/donateget-involved/donate

HWB 172 | O come, O come, Immanuel | Martin Family

Scripture | Isaiah 40:1-5; Mark 1:1-8

Sermon | Braving the Dark

Silent Reflection

HWB 183 | On Jordan’s banks the Baptist’s cry | Martin Family

Sharing of Joys and Concerns

Pastoral Prayer 

Extinguishing the Peace Candle 



Congregational Meeting | following worship

Baby Shower | following Congregational Meeting

Cookie Sunday | following Baby Shower

Thanks to everyone who helped lead today’s service

Sermon: Mark Rupp

Worship Leader: Jennifer Cartmel

Music coordination: Debra and Galen Martin

Children’s Time: Wyse Family

Peace Candle: Hoke Family

Scripture Reading: Maya Plessinger

Zoom Host: Gretchen Geyer


Sermon Text:

I can’t remember if I’ve shared this with you all yet, but I have a genetic condition known as Autosomal-Dominant Compelling Helioophthalmic Outburst Syndrome.  It affects somewhere between 18-35% of the population, so there’s a good chance that you or someone you love is affected as well.  But it’s probably a lot scarier than it sounds, especially when you realize that some scientist decided to call it that long string of big words mostly for the acronym, which spell out ACHOO.  It’s also sometimes referred to as photoptarmosis, or light sneezing.  

The completely unscientific way I like to describe it to people is that I am just a little bit allergic to the sun.  The much more scientific U.S. National Library of Medicine describes it as “an over-excitability of the visual cortex in response to light.”  Even if you’re not a little allergic to the sun, maybe you too can relate to sometimes feeling over-excitability at the presence of too much brightness.  

Maybe you too find that you thrive in spaces of softer lighter or, even, that darkness is just as much a friend as the light.  If so, this Advent theme, Awake in the Dark, is our time to shine…or I guess whatever the antithesis of shine might be.  If we can borrow Carolyn’s language from her sermon a few weeks ago, this is our time to endarken.  

Shortly after Joel told me that the Advent theme would be, I ran across a reference to a book by Barbara Brown Taylor called Learning to Walk in the Dark.  A quick perusal of the chapter titles and the back-cover blurb made me think this would be the perfect resource for helping me think about darkness in a new way. Now that I am almost finished with it, I can say that it has not been a disappointment.  

Brown Taylor set out to write the book to both better understand the reasons why our culture, especially religious culture, overwhelmingly associates darkness with negative things and to trouble those assumptions by exploring the treasure that darkness offers.  This redemption of darkness encompasses both literal and metaphorical darkness and all the ways they overlap.  

In the introduction, she sets up her project with a metaphor contrasting what she calls “solar spirituality” with “lunar spirituality.”  She describes the solar spirituality of her younger years by the way “it focuses on staying in the light of God around the clock, both absorbing and reflecting the sunny side of faith.  You can usually recognize a full solar church by its emphasis on the benefits of faith, which include a sure sense of God’s presence, certainty of belief, divine guidance in all things, and reliable answers to prayer.”  (7)  At the extremes of this kind of full solar spirituality, God is not found in the darkness and any darkness we might experience in our lives is ultimately our own fault.  

Maybe you, too, are finding that you are a little bit allergic to this kind of spirituality.  

In contrast, Brown Taylor describes “the gift of lunar spirituality, in which the divine light available to me waxes and wanes with the season.  When I go out on my porch at night, the moon never looks the same way twice.”  (9)  

What kind of freedom could we experience if we fully embraced the idea that our faith will look different with each passing night?  What grace might we come to know if we accept that the nights bathed in the fullness of divine moonlight are just as holy as those when the only lights to guide our way are distant stars?

I find this metaphor of lunar spirituality to be very compelling, and as an aside, if any of you would be interested in a short-term small group that would read this book and explore lunar spirituality more deeply, please let me know.  

Last week, we encountered the words of Jesus telling us to “stay awake.”  Through evening, midnight, cockcrow, and dawn, Jesus exhorted us to be awake in and through those darknesses.  Yet what do we do once we are awake in the dark?  What does our wokeness offer the world?

Maybe what keeps us awake are the kind of apocalyptic visions Jesus described in the scriptures from last Sunday, dreams which we can never quite tell whether they are portents of an approaching paradise or waking nightmares we can’t seem to blink away.  Jesus gets our attention with these images of skies being darkened and the earth shaking, and now we are awake.  But what then?  

It’s no good to be awake in the dark if all that means is that we spend sleepless nights immobilized by anxiety and fear.  

When you think of being awake in the dark, maybe you think of Christmas Eve, lying there unable to sleep because of anticipation.  Most other seasons, though, being awake in the dark is usually less of a pleasant experience.  Either way, what keeps us awake in the dark is often a response to our feelings toward the unknown.  

In another section of Learning to Walk in the Dark, Brown Taylor reflects on where our fear of the dark comes from.  She thinks back to when she was a child and would yell for her parents to come rescue her from the monsters and witches that were hiding under the bed and in the dark recesses of the closet.  They would come to switch on the light and examine the beds and closest, hoping to prove nonexistence with their brilliant line of reasoning.  The answer always seemed to be more light, but this made little difference once the lights were back off and her parents’ footsteps receded down the hallway.  

She wonders if her relationship to the dark may have been different if she had been encouraged to become more curious about the witches and monsters living in her imagination, if her parents had asked her what the monsters looked like or what the witches wanted from her.  I have a suspicion that this might not be the most profound parenting advice, but I think it can help those of us who still carry our own fear of darkness (in whatever form that takes) to learn to examine that fear and become curious about what lies beyond our comfortable bubbles of light.   

There are plenty of real things to be afraid of that lurk in the dark, but for most of us the nights we lie awake in the dark are because of monsters of a different kind.  

To befriend the dark we need to be more than just awake; we need to learn to be brave.  

Our scriptures for today do not contain overt references to darkness, but they both revolve around the idea of the wilderness.  In many ways, the wilderness parallels the darkness because they are both spaces of the unknown, spaces that lie just beyond where our senses can easily categorize and classify the world we encounter.  The wilderness is a place of transition, a place of longing, hungering, and wandering.  It is a place of survival that may find you relying on unfamiliar foods and uncomfortable clothing.  It is a place on the margins where you might hear strange voices crying out.  

And yet the wilderness, just like darkness, is a place that seems primed for encounters with the Divine.  

The author of Mark’s gospel felt so strongly about the sacredness of the wilderness that the very opening scene of this testament to the good news is placed there.  To set the stage, the author first looks back, making connection with those who have wandered the wilderness long before.  In the darkness we are likely to bump into the ghosts of stories of those who have wandered there before us.  

The quotation from Isaiah comes from a point in the story of the Israelites where a new thing is about to happen.  The prophet speaks to the people living in exile in Babylon who will soon be returning to their homeland.  His message is one of both comfort and preparation for the way ahead.  

Comfort, comfort, oh my people.  Prepare a way in the wilderness.  Level the uneven ground and make the rough places plain.  Set a straight course because the return home is long overdue and God is going to lead us through.

The most sensible path between Babylon and Jerusalem is a long one that winds up and around the fertile crescent.  A straight shot between them would mean braving the desert, and the prophet seems to be saying that once again God is going to make a way in this wilderness to return the people from their exile.  Regardless of what path the returners actually took, the new thing that God is doing at the edges of what we can easily see is about leveling and softening, bringing down the powerful and lifting up the lowly.  

Maybe this is the sort of thing God is always up to just beyond where we can easily see, and any time we are able to catch a glimpse of it means that we have stumbled onto holy ground.

A new thing may be happening, but it is still up to the people to take those steps into whatever wilderness is ahead of them.  Will the comfort of the known, even when what is known is a land of exile and captivity, will this comfort keep us from moving toward the freedom to which we are being called?  

The wilderness way will not be easy.  The call is not that the way has been prepared for us but the cry of the prophets both here and elsewhere is for all of us to prepare that way, one step at a time to make the way by walking.  And lest we think that leaves God out of the equation, let us remember that God is a constant companion who becomes most recognizable in the journeying, the struggles for liberation, and the breaking of bread along the way.

If we find the courage to step into the wilderness, we may be confronted with the realization that the call of liberation is a call to transformation.  The strange prophets that roam the wilderness help us to see that we must not leave without being changed.  Baptism is less about washing away sin and more about a sign of our willingness to walk bravely into the darkness, trusting that every time we do, God will meet us there to bring forth new life.  

The prophet Isaiah spoke to the people during a time of exile.  John cries out in this wilderness to a people suffering from occupation.  Today we face our own struggles with captivity and liberation.  

The invitation is to be more than just awake in these darknesses.  The invitation that echoes from the wilderness is to prepare, to work, to change, and to be brave.  The invitation is to allow ourselves to be transformed, and to celebrate each brave step we take, trusting that even greater things are on their way.  

And so, my hope for us, my friends, is:

  • That we would find ways to become curious about the dark, trusting that God will meet us there.

  • That no matter the season, we would always be preparing a way for the presence of the divine to be revealed in our lives.

  • And finally, that we would learn to be brave as we take those first steps into whatever wildernesses to which we are being called, knowing that even in the darkest times we never walk alone.