Sunday December 16, 2012
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Spurlock
A Lesson from the Book of Revaluation
Back in the room where the clergy vest for services, we keep a calendar of all the readings for the weekday masses. On a recent weekday there was a typographical error: instead of a reading from the book of Revelation, the calendar appointed a reading from the book of Revaluation. Father Austin prepares that calendar for us and no doubt he was responsible for the typo. But I’m prepared to attribute to Father Austin what someone once said of Coverdale’s translation of the psalms: even his mistakes are inspired. You see, we could use some lessons from the book of revaluation.
When I was a kid, seven years old, there was a particular toy I really wanted for Christmas and I asked St. Nick to bring it to me, and you know what: I must have been good that year because he did. When I came downstairs Christmas morning the toy was not wrapped and it was already set up under the tree and I was over the moon with joy. My parents still remember how excited I was to receive that gift, but several years later, reminiscing about that Christmas, my Dad confessed to me that when he and my mom saw the toy all set up for the first time, they thought that it was such a piece of junk that someone had made a serious mistake and they were afraid I was going to be really disappointed. The toy was nothing more than two vinyl covered pieces of cardboard and a dozen or so brown plastic bits that were supposed to look like tree limbs and it made a little tree house play set. But I loved it and placed a high value on it. And you know where that play set is today? It’s probably taking up space in a landfill somewhere. Or, maybe, the vintage one that I found posted on eBay last week for $600 is my old one. I have a notion that we spend much of our lives struggling to tell the difference between trash and treasure because we have a valuation problem.
On the river Jordan, John the Baptist was met by a multitude of men and women coming down to be baptized by him. They were coming in response to his preaching. Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins. Turn away from the evil that you do, wash yourself in this water, turn your heart to God and all that sin will be forgiven. In his role as Baptist, John was pointing out to the people a way forward from bondage to freedom. This was an exodus; from captivity through the Jordan onto the banks of a promised land. And this new exodus came with its own warnings and its own destination.
Do not trust in yourselves saying we have Abraham as our father; if God wanted children of Abraham badly enough, then he could raise them from the stones at your feet. In other words, don’t place too high a value on your credentials; God has had enough of credentials already, he wants your heart. The judge is at the gate and he has come to test every heart and to place a right value on the good and a right value on the bad and each will be dealt with accordingly. Repentance is our own preparation for that judgment. We begin to sort through the devices and desires of our own hearts and revalue the good and devalue the bad. And when we come through that exodus, the land to which we have been traveling is to God’s kingdom. But, today, on this third and festive Sunday of Advent, we break from the call to repent and take up a call to rejoice because, our eyes have already seen a great light; the salvation that has come into the world through Jesus Christ.
But there is a problem: This Advent, more than any other, seems particularly awkward. I walk out of my home of a morning and out of our church of an evening and I see many scenes play out. Commuters, laborers, office workers, bustle to and fro going about their every day business, nothing dramatic there, just business as usual. Then I encounter many more tourists than is typical and they are caught up in the sights and sounds of our city set for the holidays. The lights, the shop windows, Christmas shows and concerts setting a backdrop of fantasy for revelers. I talk with people about their plans for the coming days and some are looking forward to time well spent with family and friends; some are looking for a bit of peace and quiet; while some just try to figure out how to get through the next little bit in one piece, physically, financially or spiritually.
And all the while I find the church trying to speak a word into that hustle and bustle and confusion saying wait, wait and don’t forget about your sins. The judge is at the gate. Repent; repent while you still have time. But then today, we take a break from exhorting you to repent and we say no, no, rejoice because the judge is at the gate. But you know what. I don’t feel like rejoicing. Because in the midst of business as usual, and fantasy, and celebrating, and working, and resting, and fretting; we are compelled to cope with suffering… and evil.
How can we forget the all the loss and confusion of those spending Christmas without adequate housing, food, work and money because of Hurricane Sandy? In this brief season already we have buried two of our own parishioners, mercifully, not unexpectedly. But we are diminished by their loss. And now there is this latest and horrific news from Connecticut. “Wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she cannot be consoled; because they are no more.” Rejoice? Really? Trash is treated like treasure and human beings: innocent children disposed of as if they were nothing. We need lessons from the book of revaluation.
Rejoice sounds just as surreal as repent. And it is difficult to make sense of it all. And just when I feel myself sinking into a funk of despair I do remember what this season and the one to come are all about. I think about the child, who was born without a home, an exile from birth; feared by kings; stalked by murderers; executed by his people. And I don’t say that suggesting that Jesus’ suffering makes all our suffering better or to diminish our suffering. What makes our suffering bearable is the life I see Christ living on the other side of his suffering; a resurrected life in a kingdom of his own in which we who are exiles here on earth might make our home. I see him reigning over all the kings of this earth and know that everyone of them must at some time bend their neck or be cast into outer darkness. They will be held accountable for the things they do. I see him bringing justice to the world: justice for its victims and against the brood of vipers that live among us. I see Jesus harrowing hell and casting the devil down into the pit like lightning falling from heaven. And I see him bursting his three day’s prison; death’s dark shadow takes flight at his bright return. It doesn’t make suffering hurt less; it gives assurance that there is still life on the other side of suffering, the suffering we experience in living and in dying.
Look at our Advent wreath. The light is growing brighter and brighter the closer we get to Christmas. But candles burn and give light at the cost of their own substance. Jesus knows we sometimes live through times of great darkness. He has spent his substance to bring light into a dark world. So yes, I find I can rejoice. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.