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If you’ve ever hiked in the mountains, above where the trees won’t grow, you know that the sun can be very bright in the daytime, much brighter than in the lowlands.
The air is thinner above the tree line and it is easy to get sunburned.
But dusk high in the mountains, that is something all together different.
There is a place I go in the high Sierra. I’ve not been there in a few years, so mostly I go these days in my mind’s eye.
This place is on a high ridge in the heart of Yosemite. It takes about a half-day to hike up there. The ridge faces east, looking out across Tuolumne Meadows, and toward the sharp, glacially polished spires of the aptly named Cathedral peaks.
I like to sit on this ridge at dusk. As the sun sets behind me, it casts a reddish-orange glow, and the mountains begin to shimmer for a few minutes.
It’s called “alpenglow,” and there is no better place to experience the alpenglow than on this ridge high in the Sierra Nevada. The amazing thing about alpenglow is you can feel the warmth of the sun even as the coolness of the night begins to settle over the mountains. And if you can hold the alpenglow in your mind, its warmth will carry you to the dawn and the return of the sun.
Sometimes the bright lights of the Christmas season can be a little too intense. Religion itself can be like that. Religion can be too bright, too certain, too religious, and we can feel sunburned by it.
Sometimes all we need is the alpenglow. That is enough.
So tonight we will light a few candles, enough to give us the alpenglow.
As you sit in the alpenglow tonight, there is really only one thing I want you to know. I have only one sermon, really, and it is this: God loves you. God loves you, no matter what. God loves you no matter what you’ve done, or not done, where you’ve been, or haven’t been. God loves you in your triumphs and in your failings, and God’s love comes with no strings attached, no qualifying phrases that begin with “if” or “but.”
It doesn’t matter what you’ve believe or not believe. You are in God’s loving embrace. You’ve met God in the alpenglow every evening of your life, even when you didn’t see the glow.
Moses saw God in a burning bush, and maybe that was just too bright for the rest of us. That is why I believe the divine came to earth as a human being, the One who we know as Jesus, so that we might experience the alpenglow of the creator. That, really, is the point of Christmas, to celebrate the glow of the One who comes among us.
Yet I know that is not always easy to feel or to believe. So tonight, rest in the alpenglow, and know that is enough.
Maybe there is something weighing on you tonight, a burden you are carrying, or a problem that just won’t resolve, or a relationship that is complicated, or a situation that is difficult. Or you miss someone close who is far away or gone. Rest tonight in the alpenglow of God’s love.
Maybe there is something deep inside you that needs healing. Soon we will offer prayers for healing, prayers for you and prayers for the people you love. I would urge you to come forward, don’t be shy. Come be open to the prayers that are a gift to you tonight in the alpenglow. And then light a candle.
And then I would offer again the words of St. Paul, written long ago to a small isolated community of Christians who were just trying to figure out how to get from one day to the next. He might as well have written these words to us:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”