Lent & Advent

Advent 2021: A Season Of Healing And Hope – December 22

Allison Tanner

December 22, 2021

Returning Light

Allison Tanner
(Rev. Dr. Allison Tanner is Pastor for Public Witness, Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, Oakland, CA)

46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

We have survived the longest night of the year. Starting today, each new day will bring with it a little more light, a few more moments of sun (even if occasionally obscured by clouds). The amounts will be small, a few minutes a day, and will likely not even be noticeable, but the light is returning. I invite you to take heart, today, that the darkest day of the year is behind us; as the light returns, so, too, may our joy and delight for what lies ahead.

We live in times of transition, and all the tension that comes with them. The world around us is changing, even as it’s uncovering some very dark realities. Our country is grappling yet again with its foundational sins, and we are given the opportunity to move in the direction of repair. Our beloved Oakland has seen way too much death and devastation, and we are called to provide comfort and community. Even our personal lives have borne the weight of isolation, stress and struggle in ways that continue to weigh on us, yet we are invited to keep hoping, to keep leaning on one another, and to keep finding our way together. We are invited to open ourselves to the returning light and let it guide us into what is yet to come.

Mary, a pregnant young woman navigating political occupation and economic hardship, offers profound hope for times of transition. In the face of impossible realities that will forever change her life, her song of praise rings forth: the Mighty One is with us, abounding in mercy; the One who has brought salvation to our ancestors is with us today, and God’s promises continue to ring out: the lowly have been lifted up and the hungry filled with good things, the proud have been scattered and the powerful brought down. In the midst of tremendous transition, Mary sings of a day when God’s ancient promises have already been fulfilled. Even as she lifts up the truths of previous generations, she claims them for herself and her oppressed community. In so doing she reminds us that even during the darkest of times, the Light of the unborn Christ-child shines forth.

Darkness is a time of potential; it is a liminal space where the harshness of life and the ugliness of humanity are concentrated, as well as the space where creation comes forth, new life begins, and opportunities abound for renewal, realignment and re-creation. Mary’s song testifies to what we cannot see yet know so deeply no amount of human strife can challenge. The promises Mary claims amid the uncertainties of her life have been articulated well in our times by Sikh activist and faith leader Valerie Kaur. On New Year’s Eve of 2016, when the country was bracing for the transition to a very different (and difficult) government administration, she pondered, “what if the darkness of this moment is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb.” Within Mary’s womb was the Resurrected One, unborn yet still offering light. May we find comfort today, as light is slowly returning, that even in the darkest of days, God is at work making all things new.