Once upon a time…it was a dark and stormy night

This week’s sermon. We are working through a worship series in Advent titled “On Earth as it is in Heaven”

You can follow this link to Good Shepherd’s website where the audio is posted.

Isaiah 11:1-10 • Matthew 3:1-12 • December 5, 2010

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This passage in Isaiah is one of my favorites. It paints a picture with some of my deepest hopes and dreams for the world and communities in which we live. Even though Isaiah’s vision is probably not the reality in which most of us live. We long for a world in which the wolf can live in harmony with the lamb; the cow and the bear graze peacefully together in the meadow; an infant is playfully hanging out with one of the most deadly snakes know to humankind – simply enjoying each others’ company. A cast of natural enemies that no longer see themselves as enemies at all.
Isaiah’s time is full of extreme unrest and war. Just when things seem to appear completely lost and the future holds little hope of anything good ever existing again, this prophet comes along and offer a promise from God that includes someone being sent who will rule with justice toward all, and with mercy toward the most vulnerable. We hear of this one rising like the branch that grows from the root of the stump of a tree. The stump of the tree that looks dead and lifeless with no meaning and no hope for anything in the future. And out of this desolation new life comes.
It’s difficult to think of the desolation that Isaiah speaks of at this time of the year. We are bombarded with one happy Christmas scene after another. There seems to be an endless stream of Christmas movies and songs. I actually stopped long enough to watch one of my favorites Christmas movies the other day. A Charlie Brown Christmas. As I was watching this movie and thinking about our worship together today, I remembered a different Charlie Brown movie – one that has this great scene where the wonderful theologian Snoopy is working feverishly on a new novel. He begins his story in the same way he begins every story he writes, “It was a dark and stormy night…” Lucy happens to walk into the scene and takes one look at what Snoopy has written and goes crazy about the ridiculous way his story is beginning. She shouts back at Snoopy, “Don’t you know that all good stories start with, “Once upon a time…”
So our wise theologian Snoopy starts his story again. He writes, “Once upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night…”
Don’t you just feel like that some times? No matter how you try to begin your story with “once upon a time,” it often begins with, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Isaiah gives us a picture of a “once upon a time” world that is nothing like the “dark and stormy night” world in which he lives. The gospel writer of Matthew introduces us very quickly to the “Once upon a time…” story of Jesus birth – in a few short verses at the beginning of his gospel – and quickly transports the story to the “it was a dark and stormy night” world in which the wild and crazy preacher and baptizer John the Baptist was living.
One of my favorite pastors and theologians is Henri Nouwen. Nouwen once wrote, “The small child of Bethlehem, the unknown young man of Nazareth, the rejected preacher, the naked man on the cross, HE asks for my full attention. The work of our salvation takes place in the midst of a world that continues to shout, scream, and overwhelm us with it claims and promises. But the promise is hidden in the shoot that sprouts from the stump, a shoot that hardly anyone notices.”
Our faith does not just challenge us with what we see right in front of us. It challenges our very identity as living creatures in the world. It challenges us to believe in something that we do not yet see. At least, something that we do not think we see. It takes faith to believe that God is really at work in this broken world, making it right, shedding a little “once upon a time…” into our stories when all we seem to see before us are stories that begin with “it was a dark and stormy night.”
Advent sheds light on the new hope of God’s activity in our lives. God’s coming to us in Jesus breaks through every “dark and stormy night…” that may cause thoughts or deeds or actions to separate us from each other and from God. John the Baptist may sound a little excited and crazy and even a bit angry and out of control. God coming to us in Jesus is a big deal. It should cause us to scream and shout just a little bit. With the arrival of Jesus that John is proclaiming, newness has come into the world that radically changes everything forever. New life that emerges from the stump of a tree that nobody noticed before as anything but a dead tree. I think Snoopy was on to something.
We live today as a congregation celebrating the “once upon a time, it was a dark and story night…” stories that we share in the second of our three 50th Anniversary celebrations today. Jesus’ presence among us as a community of faith has caused our story to change a time or two along the way. The stories that we share have at times begun with “It was a dark and stormy night.” But we also celebrate the many “once upon a time” stories when the wolf has lain down with the lamb and the cow and the bear have shared a meal together. There are countless times when Jesus’ presence in our congregation has caused unexpected and amazing things to happen, just like a shoot growing from a stump that we thought was dead.
During Advent, we wait and hope and pray for the one to come who will change us forever and restore peace and justice to this world. My hope is that we don’t forget how the story begins and just how incredible that beginning was, how incredible that beginning is for the world in which we live today, and how incredible that beginning will be for the world that is to come. The Apostle Paul in the book of Romans writes, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” As people of faith, we confidently live believing that our “once upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night” stories are always filled with the hope and light, and justice and peace, of the coming Savior – on Earth as it is in Heaven. Amen.


About Bishop Craig Schweitzer

The Rev. Craig Schweitzer, of Bismarck, was elected as bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod on July 17, 2020, in the first-ever digital Synod Assembly. A historic event, Schweitzer is the first bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to be elected in an online assembly. Bishop Craig Schweitzer began serving the Western North Dakota Synod-ELCA on September 1, 2020. He has always seen himself as an easy-going person who seeks to daily discover anew how God is present in his life and the world in which he lives and serves. Prior to service in the Office of Bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod, Bishop Craig served at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bismarck, ND as Music and Worship Minister (lay staff from 2002-2010), Associate Pastor (2010-2014), and Senior Pastor (2014-2020). Beyond his service in the church, he has an eclectic background that is a diverse collection of musical, educational, and business experiences ranging from live concert production and promotion to recording studios and live performance to music education. Throughout all of his professional and personal experiences, the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Rome have been a guiding light that has kept him grounded in whatever work God was calling him into – “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7) Bishop Craig is a graduate of the University of Mary in Bismarck with a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education and a Master of Science in Strategic Leadership. He also holds a certificate degree in Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, CA. He was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament on September 16, 2010. Outside of his life as Bishop, Bishop Craig enjoys reading, all music, a little golf, a cold beverage with friends, and intentional times of quiet. And, of course, spending time with his wife Wendy and their adult twin daughters Ilia and Taegan. View all posts by Bishop Craig Schweitzer

2 responses to “Once upon a time…it was a dark and stormy night

  • Gail Hagerty

    Maybe in Jesus’ book, the dark and stormy night is to be valued for all its opportunity and challenge. I’m in the middle of some storms, and I believe maybe my assumptions about the way the world ought to be are the product of human planning and attempts at control. That control thing gets me everytime.


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