Lights & Caves

A Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent

Texts: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; St. John 1:6-8, 19-28

Grace and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Light of the World. Amen.

I am, generally speaking, not scared of the dark.

But there was one time.

My high school youth group went on a retreat to the mountains of southeastern Tennessee, doing all the things you normally do on such excursions: white water rafting the Ocoee River, high and low ropes courses, rappelling down the face of a 100 foot cliff…and caving. Mind you, not a leisurely stroll through a large cave with handrails and a paved path, like at Carlsbad Caverns, but a get-on-your-hands-and-knees, wade-through-waste-high-water, crawl-through-mud, filthy sort of caving. We entered the cave in grungy clothes but otherwise clean with helmet-mounted lamps and emerged an hour later, covered head to toe in miry clay.

About midway through the excursion, God only knows how far underground, the guide instructed us to do the unthinkable: turn off our lamps. Every single one. In the span of about five seconds, some fifteen lanterns clicked off and we transitioned – dropped, more like it – from an illuminated chamber to pitch black.

And it.



It’s not the difference between night and day or light and dark  but between existence and emptiness, as though we had been plunged into a void, as though the world around us had suddenly ceased to be. It was so all-encompassing as to be dizzying – a subtle tilt of the head was enough to make it feel like I was tumbling,




and down

and down,

while my feet were still planted firmly on the rocky floor.

And in those few moments, every conceivable fear rushed into my head:
What if the lights didn’t come back on?
What if I get lost down here?
What if some primordial monster comes out of the abyss and drags me into the nothingness?

Of course, the lights did come back on, and I’m happy to report the entire group made our way over the rough places (again, on our hands and knees) back into the daylight before swimming in a nearby river to wash away the sediment caked all over our clothes. (The dirt and mud we carried on our clothes into the creek turned the water from clear to a disgusting, opaque shade of brown for something like a hundred yards downstream.) I’ve never been happier to see the blue sky and feel the sun on my face than on that day, to bask in the warmth of its light.

We are not the light.

In the void of a cave or the sinful abyss of this fallen world, we cannot illuminate our own path or find our own way. It is only because, by God’s grace, forerunners have come before to show us the way that we can hope to see the Sun. It is because prophets and evangelists have handed down the word of the Lord and born it forth into the world that we can hope to follow. It is because Elijah and Isaiah and John the Baptist have testified to the light that we can hope to travail through the darkness.

We are not the light – but we are called to testify to the light. Recall those words from Christ recorded in Matthew’s Gospel that we repeat at Baptism:

Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

In the waters of Baptism, God not only washed away your sin like mud swept away in the current, not only claimed you as his own, not only grafted you into the Body of Christ and promised you new life – not only did God do all of that – BUT ALSO! enlightened you with the gift of the Holy Spirit. At the font, having been washed in the water, you were also anointed with oil and marked with the sign of the cross.

 In that moment, “the spirit of the Lord God” came upon you, the Lord anointed you “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim [liberation] to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…to comfort all who mourn….”

You have been sent into the world like John the Baptist to be a forerunner of Christ, testifying to his illustrious majesty, a herald of our returning King. You are one taking the light of Christ into the inky void of this world.

The abyss of sin and death are terrifying because at any moment we may be ripped away into the nothingness.

 Make no mistake: sin and death still reign for a time. We are still stuck in the cave-like darkness of the tomb for a time. But the light of the world is coming, piercing the chasm even now.

Christ, the One Who Was, and Is, and Ever Shall Be, makes haste to save us. Jesus, the Light of the World, is illuminating the darkness. He is rescuing us from the void and ushering us into the warmth of the Sun, where we shall join him in everlasting life. Let us joyfully go, then, as ones rescued, testifying to the light and spreading this good news.


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