Just Before Dark
Homily for Lent II
March 13, 2022
Just Before Dark
Homily for Lent II
March 13, 2022
The Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 15:1-13, 17-18
In Isaac Asimov’s 1941 science fiction classic, Nightfall, the planet Lagash has not one but six suns, at least four of which are typically in the sky at any given time. Though the suns’ different sizes and distances from Lagash give Lagash varying amounts of light, the planet only experiences the darkness we call “night” once every 2049 years, when five of the suns “set,” and the sixth is eclipsed by a moon. Because of the suns, no one on Lagash has ever seen the stars. The setting of Nightfall is the 2049th year. As the last sun, Beta, begins to disappear behind the moon, the scientists in the observatory at the university become more and more terrified as they for the first time in their lives experience dark, until
With the slow fascination of fear, he [Theremon, the main character]… turned his eyes toward the blood-curdling blackness of the window. Through it shone the stars! Not earth’s feeble thirty-six hundred visible to the eye; Lagash was in the midst of a giant cluster. Thirty-thousand mighty suns shone down in a soul-searing splendor…
The “Stars – all the Stars,” cried Aton [the chief astronomer]. “We didn’t know at all…. We didn’t know, and we couldn’t know.”
The book of Genesis, from which this morning’s first reading comes, begins in darkness:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep (1:1-2).
The book of Genesis begins in darkness, and throughout its pages darkness occurs again and again. It was just before dark, in the evening, that the dove returned to Noah in the ark with an olive leaf in its beak (8:11). It was in the dark, “by night,” that Abram divided his forces and conquered King Chedorlaomer of Elam (14:15). It was just before dark, in the evening, that Isaac, while out wandering the fields, first glimpsed Rebekah, who would become his wife (24:63). It was in the dark that Jacob one night dreamed of angels ascending and descending from heaven (28:10ff). It was in the dark that Jacob wrestled the mysterious man on the banks of the river Jabbok (32:22ff). It was in “visions of the night” that God told Jacob to go with his family to Egypt to avoid famine (46:2). And, in this morning’s reading, it was “as the sun was going down” that a “deep and terrifying darkness” descended upon Abram and “a smoking fire pot and flaming torch” passed between the severed halves of the heifer and goat and the other animals.
We could look to each of these stories and notice how, always after darkness, God brings forth new life. From the “formless void and darkness” of Genesis chapter 1, for example, God created the heavens and the earth. When the dove returned with the olive leaf, Noah “knew that the water had receded.” It was after dividing his forces “by night” and conquering the four kings that Abram received a blessing from Melchizedek, the “priest of God most high” (14:18). Through Isaac and Rebekah, who met in the evening, God carried out God promise that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the dust (13:16). It was in Jacob’s dream by night that God reiterated God’s promise. After Jacob wrestled the stranger by night, God blessed Jacob (32:28). And by urging Jacob in “visions of the night” to take his family to Egypt, God “preserved life” (45:5) and saved Israel from famine.
We could look to each of these stories and notice how, always after darkness, God brings forth new life, which is true. And if we look back at our own times of “darkness,” we maybe can see how in them, always after darkness, God has brought new life. What today’s text from Genesis 15 adds to Genesis’ stories of darkness is that, were it not for the darkness, we might not be able to see the “stars.”
Today’s lesson takes place entirely in darkness. Even before the animals are severed and the “deep and terrifying darkness” descends on Abram, God brought Abram “outside and said, ‘Look toward the heavens and count the stars… So shall your descendants be.’” Were it not for the darkness, Abram would not have been able to see the stars. Though the darkness may have been “deep and terrifying,” it was only in darkness that God was able to show Abram the stars, how richly God would bless Abram.
Each of us has “darkness” in our lives, be it a darkness of disappointment, a darkness of grief, a darkness of past trauma, or a darkness of guilt or shame. Perhaps this Lent God is inviting us, as God invited Abram, to go into that darkness; and perhaps God is offering to be with us, as God was with Abram, in our “night.” As we go with God into our “darkness” and allow God to stand with us in our “night,” it is likely – as it always happened in Genesis – that new life will emerge. And not only new life, but today’s lesson suggests that, as we allow God to go with us into our “night,” we might even be able to see “the soul-searing splendor of the stars” – how richly God wants to bless us – stars, “blessings,” that “we didn’t know at all… We didn’t know, and we couldn’t know,” were it not for the dark.
And so this Lent I pray that we may be open to God bringing us, as God brought Abram, into whatever night there may be in our lives. And I pray, too, that we may be open to seeing the stars, the blessings, God wishes to give us there. Perhaps it will be that at Easter, when at the Vigil we stand outside in the darkness preparing to light our candles from the Paschal fire, we will see in those many “stars” something of the “soul-searing splendor” of Christ’s resurrection and know that he wants to bring that same light and power to bear in our own lives. For – as the first letter of Peter reminds us – we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” whom God has “called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).
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