Sunday, December 16, 2007

first cousins, once removed

John came like Elijah through the wilderness, calling the people to turn away from falsehood, to turn back to their true allegiance, to Almighty God. He called them to repent: to start clean, to be washed in the waters of the Jordan as their spiritual forefathers had when first they walked into the land of the promise.

He called them. He was a “voice crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” He was the herald, the fore-runner: coming before, bearing glad tidings. The message he brought, to prepare the way of the Lord, is a message of impending – JOY.

And his joy is to be made complete in the coming of the Christ. “Are you the one we have been waiting for?” he asks Jesus; and the answer is YES! Look around you: see what is going on, what is happening. It is just beginning, but it is beginning to break through: the kingdom of heaven is at hand!

We look ahead this Sunday from the midst of Advent’s expectation to its fulfillment in the joy of Christmas. We light the pink candle. Today is “Gaudete Sunday”; “guadete” means REJOICE! Rejoice in the coming of the Savior. In the words of the 14th Century hymn:

Rejoice! Rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary: rejoice!

The time of grace has come for which we have prayed; let us devoutly sing songs of joy.

God is made man while nature wonders; the world is renewed by Christ the King.

Therefore let our assembly sing praises now; at this time of preparation, let it bless the Lord. Greetings to our King!

Rejoice! Rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary: rejoice!

And so we have a messenger who calls on us to prepare the way, to make room in our hearts and in our lives for the coming of the true King.

Let me read you a story. It is a story of some people, a boy and two girls, and some animals – beavers – who are traveling through a winter-bitten frozen landscape, running from the evil witch who has cast a spell on the land, where now it is “always winter and never Christmas!”

They run, and they hide, and they spend the night in a lonely cave, and even in their dreams they are pursued by the White Witch in her sledge drawn by tiny reindeer the color of snow.

They wake, and they do hear the bells of a sleigh. Mr. Beaver goes out to investigate. The children, and Mrs. Beaver, hear voices. They are alarmed. Is it the White Witch? Then comes Mr. Beaver’s reassuring voice:

[The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis, chapter 10]

And so you see Santa Claus came to Narnia. And he brought presents: TOOLS NOT TOYS – to equip the humans for the tasks ahead.

John the Baptist, as he called on people to prepare the way, provided a gift of a different sort: a clearing out, a ‘re-set’, and a readiness to start over and start fresh. Then the gifts become real. They become necessary – as the Savior comes.

Jesus, when he approached, began with the working of healing: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and this last: the poor are gladdened. They are glad because the Kingdom is coming, the reign of God on earth when all will be put to rights.

If you know your Narnia you know this is Aslan’s job: to overthrow the false reign of the White Witch, to set everything to rights, to release captives, to warm the frozen, to restore the lost, and to protect the innocent.

This is indeed the Day of the Lord that John proclaimed.

Son of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, John grew up as one set apart, with a duty to perform. He was the one to prepare the way: and to herald the coming of the Messiah.

And this is what Mary was expecting Jesus to do: in her magnificent song of expectation and of triumph, she proclaims the greatness of God, who looks with favor on his lowly servant, and who brings to her and through her – in the bearing of the Christ Child – the time of grace for which we have prayed.

Therefore let our assembly sing praises now at this time of preparation; let us bless the Lord: Greetings to our King!

Rejoice! Rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary; rejoice!


C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Macmillan, 1950) Chapter Ten: The Spell Begins to Break.

The Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols, edited by Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott (Oxford University Press, 1993), Carol 24, Gaudete!

David Adam, Clouds and Glory (SPCK, 2001) 3rd Sunday of Advent.

Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11, Canticle 15

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