Sunday, July 1, 2007

“On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples.. and his dwelling shall be glorious”
(Isaiah 11:10)

Year A Advent II
Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72
Matthew :1-12
Jan Robitscher
St. Mark’s Church
Berkeley, CA
December 10, 2006

Creator of the stars of light
Your peoples’ everlasting light;
O Christ, redeemer of us all,
We pray you hear us when we call.

We have entered the season of Advent, that time of preparation for the comings of Christ, yes, comings: past, present and future. But the image I had again as Advent began a week ago goes back long before Jesus’ birth. It goes back, back to the creation of the cosmos. Perhaps it is what the astronauts on the Shuttle see, or pictures from the Hubble Telescope. It is at once beautiful and terrifying. That’s why Advent would not really be Advent (at least for me) without singing “Creator of the stars of night”.[1] In order to prepare for our celebrations of Christmas we must hear the whole story from the very beginning if it is all going to make sense. That really happens only two times each Church Year: at our annual Festival of Lessons and Carols (next Sunday) and at the Great Vigil of Easter. In the meantime, this little evening hymn which dates from the ninth century[2], Conditor alme siderum, helps us do just that.

We don’t know much about darkness these days. Night is lit up like the day. We can’t even see the stars for the street lights. Even the candles of our Altar and Advent wreath are drowned by the electricity that lights this sacred space. And our nights are turned into days with the noise of Christmas commerce and days are turned to nights in the horrors of sickness, crime and war. So we have to imagine the real, silent darkness--of winter--of the cosmos.

What comes next in our hymn is the whole story of Salvation history in a verse:
In sorrow that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
You came, O Savior, to set free
Your own in glorious liberty.

A pristine universe and an earth with its creatures and people created in quiet harmony with God soon became a place of disobedience, shame and destruction--the story of Adam and Eve. And God, who called (and still calls) it all good, tried again and again to call God’s chosen people Israel back, producing kings, judges and prophets, great signs and miracles, love songs--anything to woo people back to life in God. Finally, God sent John the Baptist to announce the coming Kingdom and Jesus’ place in it:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven
has come near.” (Matt. 3:2)

God decided to risk taking on human flesh, to be born into our world, and so Jesus came to live and die to redeem us. All along, God knew that we needed a Savior.

Of course, we know the end of the story. We know that Advent, is about “Jesus’ glorious coming to complete his Easter work.”[3] So we celebrate not only Jesus’ birth but his earthly ministry, redeeming death and resurrection. As Martin Luther said, “The wood of the crib is the wood of the cross.” But we also celebrate his presence here. And we look for his second coming, which, says John the Baptist, does involve judgment:
“His winnowing fork is in his hand and he
will clear the threshing floor...” (Matt 3: 12)

Though, as Isaiah says,
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear:
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.

Not much has changed. We have ravaged our beautiful earth--our “fragile island home”[4] in the cosmos. We still long for what we already have--a Savior. Yet we live in hope for a time, the time Isaiah describes, when all creatures will again live in harmony with God. And we believe that when Jesus comes again he will bring the final restoration of all things. So our hymn says:
At your great Name, O Jesus, now
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
All things on earth with one accord,
Like those in heaven, shall call you Lord.

Which leaves us where we are: right here, at Evensong, at night, in approaching winter, at prayer. We are here to prepare ourselves--no, to ask God to help prepare us--for the celebration of the comings of Jesus.

And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name,
let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon
and the stars, and the Earth with its forests and mountains
and oceans--and all that lives and moves upon them... and all
that we quarrel about and all that we have misused--and to
save us from our own foolishness, from all our sins, He came
down to Earth and gave us himself.[5]

The Good News is that the comings of Jesus--all of them--tell us that we need no longer fear the darkness. The vision of the beautiful and terrifying, dark and silent cosmos with which I started is both the beginning and the end of the story of our salvation. Jesus came to free us from sickness, evil and death, and will bring us to that day where there will be no more cancer, crime or war, and no more darkness, but a restored world in a universe at peace in the glorious light of the Reign of God where the stars sing for joy. For this greatest gift of God’s redeeming love, we cannot help but sing:

To God the Father, God the Son
And God the Spirit, Three in One,
Praise, honor, might and glory be
From age to age eternally. Amen.

[1] from a quote of Chrysogonus Waddell, from An Advent Sourcebook, pp 2-3.
[2] The Hymnal 1982 Companion, Vol. Three A, pp. 113-115,
[3] from a quote of Charles K. Riepe, An Advent Sourcebook, p. 12.
[4] Eucharistic Prayer C, BCP, p. 369ff.
[5] Sigrid Undset

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