LPNI Devotion – January 2017


Light in Darkness: Hope in Sadness: Life in Ambiguity


Life often brings the juxtaposition of sometimes very different experiences and opportunities, making life a very ambiguous and mixed time.  For instance --


It takes about four hours, even in good Washington D.C. (USA) traffic, for me to navigate a trip to three different cemeteries in the area.  In these places of rest are the gravesites of many different relatives going back three generations.  Over time I have become the family graveside decorator, and at least two times a year I return to these sites as part of a now thirty-year tradition carried forward by an aunt who just died at 103½ a year and a half ago.  Since one of those times is around Christmas, give or take two weeks or so, once again while I was in D.C. for this past Christmas.  I went to the graves, decorating all of them and remembering, thankfully, sadly and hopefully, each person whose voice is now stilled.  On the other hand --

My spouse and I just returned from a wonderful Christmas celebration with one of our sons, his spouse and three of our grandchildren who live in a suburb of Washington, D.C., a town close to where I grew up. The time together was warm, exciting and loving.  Energy permeated the place as the enthusiasm of children ages 11, 9 and 6 built up to a crescendo on Christmas morning.  Christmas dinner was a grand time with close friends and family of our son and daughter-in-law, their two children, the visiting father, recently a widower of the husband of the visiting family and another couple who are long-time friends of ours.  Conversation was brisk and the food, frankly, out-of-this-world.


How do you view these two very different experiences juxtaposed with each other?  The voices of celebration alongside of the silence of voices of the past?  Loss of significant and important relationships alongside of excitement of ongoing and newly established relationships?  Light alongside that which is certainly more grey or even dark?  Sadness in the midst of hope?


Are these not some of the very basic ambiguities of human life?  It is for me, and perhaps for you as well. As you have closed a year, 2016, and opened a new one, 2017, please take a moment or moments to reflect upon these ambiguities, for this is the very nature of the human experience.  Grieve, rejoice, hope, cry, exalt, despair, rage, love!  These are some of the emotional realities of the frailness and ambiguities of the walk of us as human creatures through the days of our lives and the lives of others as well.


And with all this ambiguity and as we move into a new year, 2017, we celebrate a major Christian festival, Epiphany: When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herold, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is this newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to give him homage?’  … They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.  They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrhMatt. 2: 1-2, 10-11, NAB


But ambiguity still abounded, even during the wondrous time.  Warned about Herod, the magi return home a different way; the Holy Family almost immediately immigrates to Egypt, remaining there until the death of Herod; all the boys under two in Bethlehem are slaughtered.  Such a juxtaposition of different experiences and opportunities.  Such ambiguity of life!


Light and hope, however, continue to thrive and, in the life, death and resurrection of the newborn babe redemption of the world is won and light and hope triumph – but not yet totally for us.  As claimed-by-God followers of Jesus Christ, the light and hope of the world, we continue to live in this ambiguity of human experience.


There is a place where there is no ambiguity: the heart of God in Christ.  Only light and love for God’s beloved is there.  There is a place where there is no ambiguity: the eternal loving redemptive presence of Jesus Christ, the hope of the world.  There is a place where there is no ambiguity:  in the redemptive waters of baptism where human creatures become children of God.  There is a place where there is no ambiguity:  the bread and the wine given and shed for all.  There is a place where there is no ambiguity: you and I are held securely in the arms of our Lord and Savior Jesus.


The words of the Epiphany hymn resound:


“Manifest in making whole

Palsied limbs and fainting soul;

Manifest in valiant fight,

Quelling all the devil’s might;

Manifest in gracious will,

Ever bringing good from ill;

Anthems be to Thee addressed,

God in man made manifest.”  (Lutheran Service Book, 394, stanza 3)


Light triumphs, sadness is vanquished, ambiguity ceases:


“Sun and moon shall darkened be,

Stars shall fall, the heav’ns shall flee;

Christ will then like lightning shine,

All will see His glorious sign;

All will then the trumpet hear,

All will see the Judge appear;

Thou by all wilt be confessed,

God in man made manifest.”  (LSB, 394, stanza 4)


Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus, Practical Theology,

Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, USA