Friends, my heart is heavy today.
Kelly Loving (age 40), Derrick Rump (age 38), Ashley Paugh (age 35), Daniel Aston (age 28),
Raymond Green Vance (age 22). I was late in hearing the news about the shooting at Club Q in
Colorado last weekend. And it felt like barely a second later, six more were dead in Virginia. To
be honest, I mostly feel numb when I hear about yet another mass shooting. But sometimes I do
feel the weight, when the tragedy touches close to my life.
That selective sympathy probably isn’t the most holy reaction on my part, though I suspect I’m
not alone in responding this way. I think for many of us the overwhelming reality of violence in
this country just lurks in the background until it hits so close to home that we can’t ignore it
anymore. But the Colorado news hit me hard: five queer lives snuffed out while they gathered to
mark the Trans Day of Remembrance in the middle of the night.
Night is a complicated thing. For queer people, nighttime has actually historically been a refuge
where we can be ourselves and love who we love. But as these murders in Colorado Springs
demonstrate, the darkness of night is a fickle sort of safety. Frankly, looking out on the world
today, the creepy line from the series Game of Thrones resonates: “The night is dark and full of
In Advent—the season of the Church year that starts today—the theme of night, with all its
baggage, really comes to the fore, like with Jesus in today’s gospel talking about thieves coming
in the middle of the night. Here in the northern hemisphere, at least, days are growing shorter;
the nights are growing longer. And even as cheery Christmas music plays in stores, the tone of
the readings here in church starts to shift to strange and gloomy and uncomfortable themes of
death, judgment, and the end times.
We might have little stomach for this stuff now, but these “last things” have always been a big
part of Advent. The prayers and readings and symbols of the season invite us to take stock of
the world in which we live, the broken world in which we cry, “Come quickly, Lord; come
quickly.” as we look for the light of Christ’s coming—his advent.
That inventory of the reality we live in is actually why I love Advent so much myself. Because
the world is broken. Nation does lift up sword against nation. The world does revel in division
and jealousy. The fragile sanctuary of a gay club at night is threatened and destroyed by hatred
and violence. However much the darkness of night might recede into the background in our day-
to-day lives, the weight of the brokenness lingers around us and with us and inside us.
And while none of us can look that darkness right in the face every day of our lives, it’s
important that we take time to acknowledge and name and honor and mourn the places, ways,
and times that things are not as they should be. So Advent calls us to reckon with the
brokenness. It gives us a space to look around us and say, “You know what? The night is kind
of dark and full of terrors.”
But Advent doesn’t leave us there. It doesn’t leave us to stare our pain in the face without
comfort or help. Because this season reminds us that even in the midst of this mortal life—this
night with its real darkness and terrors—God’s promise is alive and present with us. Yes, “the
night is dark and full of terrors.” But, as Paul reminds us, our salvation is also at hand: “The
night is far gone; the day is near.”
“Where? How? When?” we might reasonably ask. If the day is near, why is the world still
broken? Jesus’ talk of workers vanishing in the fields might make us think of the Left Behind
series and those strands of theology that try to read the end times like a blueprint. These
approaches calculate dates and concoct systems of tribulation and rapture, grasping at some
secret certainty that only the chosen few are privy to.
But Jesus isn’t laying out a game plan for the end of the world here. Instead, by drawing on
vivid, dramatic imagery, Jesus is highlighting the unexpectedness of salvation—the absurd
unlikeliness of God’s demonstration of love; the joyous catastrophe of the world being made
Jesus is calling us out from under the leaden weight of night. He’s beckoning us to cast away a
life that’s enamored with the night and the quarreling and jealousy and hatred it revels in; to cast
away the complacency that makes us sleep while others endure the terrors of the darkness of
the world. Jesus is calling us to be alert and to watch for the coming of the light of Christ and the
reign of God; for God’s action at unexpected times, in unexpected ways, and in unexpected
places. Jesus is calling us to live in anticipation that despite the darkness that surrounds us,
salvation—new life—is indeed nearer to us now than when we first believed.
God doesn’t give us a blueprint for the unfolding of salvation. We don’t get a timetable for the
healing of wounds, or the righting of wrongs, or the planting of justice. Christianity isn’t about
escape or an easy way out ignores the pain of the world. It’s about God acting in and through
us, in and through the world, to bring about new life—new wholeness. So in Advent, as we face
the darkest nights of the year, God doesn’t pluck us of the brokenness or wall us off from the
But God does give us hope and the promise of God’s enduring presence. God does give us light
in the midst of the darkness. God does give us Christ—the eternal Word who enters into the
brokenness. In Jesus—God’s light dwelling in our midst—we glimpse God’s salvation unfolding.
This is the season in which we learn to say, “The night is dark, but it is far gone. The light of
Christ is breaking through into the brokenness where we least expect it.”
That’s why Paul urges us to “put on the armor of light.” It’s a call to put on Christ himself.
Because for Paul, this armor of light is love—God’s unflinchingly welcoming love—dwelling
among us in the Incarnation, in Emmanuel, God with us.
It’s an armor that doesn’t hunker down hiding or lash out seeking vengeance. It’s an armor that
beats swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks. It’s an armor that is neither numb
nor crushed under the weight of a broken world. Because clothed in this armor—clothed in
love—we can face the darkness of the night and name the world’s brokenness with confidence,
knowing that Christ’s light is coming into the world.
Today we begin a season focused on this reckoning and expectation: “The night is dark and full
of terrors.” But “the night is far gone, and the day is near.” “For in the tender compassion of our
God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us; to shine on those who dwell in darkness and
the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”