Advent 3, 20016 – St John the Evangelist, Sandymount, Dublin.
Fr Richard Peers SMMS
When I was growing up Saturday evenings were spent at my gran’s house. I am sure she varied the diet a little but in my head it was always toast on the coal fire, ham sandwiches, jelly with evaporated milk and television. I will forever associate the smell of burning coal with time travel and were I to own a tardis or some other time machine would happily travel back to the early 1970s to see my younger self watching Dr Who and burning the toast when the Doctor’s adventures became too exciting.
A time machine would be interesting in this church too, travelling back to see if that portrait of Fr Colqhuon is as good as it appears to be, or even further back to the late 1840s to see whether in fact foundations were just put under the walls and not under the whole building leading to the rather picturesque sagging we see today.
Sometimes people seem to treat the church’s liturgy as a sort of time travel. Holy Week and Lent with a sort of play acting as if we were the disciples fearful that the resurrection won’t happen, unknowing of the outcome of Jesus’ death. Living Advent as if Jesus hadn’t been born yet. Each year I get bored of those people who berate the putting up of Christmas trees too early, or cribs in public places.
Well, happily the church’s liturgy is not a reliving of past events, not a theatrical retelling but an entering into the mystery of Jesus and what he achieved for humanity. Happily, Jesus has been born once for all, he died once and is risen. A bit like the tenses in that response in the Eucharistic Prayer
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again.
We need to remember those tenses when we read the Scriptures too. When John sends his disciples to ask of Jesus “Are you the One who is to come?” we know the answer to that. Jesus is the one so long hoped for, Jesus is the one that John was hoping for and proclaimed to his own followers. I am always a little queasy about that theological or preaching stream in our own time which suggests that it is the questions that are really important, not the answers. That is simply not the Christian faith. It is Jesus who is the answer to all our questions, all our seeking all our yearning. Jesus has saved us. All our yearning, all our endless wandering, all our dissatisfaction will find its satisfaction in Jesus. Our restlessness is what leads us to search for Jesus.
On retreat at Glenstal Abbey this week one of the readings was the wonderful poem The Pulley, by George Herbert that puts this so well, having made the human, God speaks about the many gifts he has bestowed upon Adam
“Yet let him keep the rest” [God says]
“But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.”
We are all wearied at times in our lives, wearied by the world, by or work by difficulties in relationships. Wearied by our own restlessness. The wonderful thing is that there is an answer to that weariness, it was in our old prayer book Eucharistic rite in the comfortable words from St Matthew’s Gospel.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Says Jesus.
We all know that the name of this season, advent, comes from the Latin ad venire, to come.
Knowing that John’s question in today’s Gospel has been answered, yes, Jesus is the one who is to come. I want to turn the words of the last of the prophets round and ask them of each of you. I want us to imagine that John the Baptist is asking each of us this question:
Are you the one who is to come? To come to Jesus. To find rest. Are you the One who is weary? Are you the one who is heavy burdened. Are you labouring hard do you have many burdens to carry? Have you forgotten what it is to be light, to be child like, to marvel at toasting fire on hot coals, on the joy of evaporated milk, on watching Dr Who, or the smell of gran’s perfume?
The answer, my friends, is both simple and terrifying, it is to abandon ourselves to Jesus, to let ourselves go in God. To trust in Him.
There is only one place you can do this and it is in prayer. Some people can do this once in their lives in a moment of great clarity and often of crisis.
Most of us practice it daily, constantly returning in the weariness of our lives to Jesus and trying to turn it over to him.
Most of us have to learn to pray every day, to spend time with Jesus every day, to practice, to rehearse that trust in Him.
Advent: the God who comes.
We are an Easter people, St Augustine reminds us, but we are an Advent people too. We are the ones, you and me, each one of us who is called to come to Jesus, to rest in him, to find rest in him.
The first, the easiest gift God gives us in prayer is imagination. We post Enlightenment folk have become suspicious of imagination as if when we imagine a thing it is not true. What nonsense. It was only imagining going to the moon that enabled science to achieve it. It was only imagination that allowed Copernicus to realise that our little planet is not the centre of the universe.
So in your prayers this week, and in the days leading to Christmas, I’d like you to use your imaginations.
A good place to start is imagining the scenes painted for us by the sacred authors in Scripture. Today’s first reading would be a marvellous place to start.
Imagine the wilderness and the dry land exulting,
The wastelands rejoicing and blooming,
Imagine flowers in the desert.
Imagine weary hands being revived, trembling knees being steadied.
If your heart is faint imagine Jesus saying to you “Courage! Do not be afraid” Imagine him whispering “I know you are weary. I know your work is hard, I know that life is tough, Come to me and I will give you rest.”
God wants us to be happy, God wants us to find rest in Him, God wants us, each one of us to know his presence in our lives.
In your prayer really imagine Jesus. Not just pretend in your heads that he is with you, or act as if you really believed he exists. Use every power of your imagination, paint a picture with your mind.
How tall is Jesus? What is he wearing? What does he look like for you? Does he sit down with you? Does he smile? What is his voice like?
When you are certain about all of this imagine him speaking these words:
“Come to me,
I know you work hard,
That you are weary,
That you carry heavy burdens.
Come to me and I will give you rest.
Learn from me and find rest for your souls,
My yoke is easy,
My burden is light.”
On this Advent 3, John the Baptist doesn’t ask us to wear sheepskin clothing or to go and live in the desert. He asks me and you and every one of us,
“Are you the one who is to come, to Jesus?”
Immediately Jesus calls out: Come to me!
There is only one place to find the incredible lightness of being that is God’s desire for us. It is in trusting Jesus, abandoning our own need to control, to be in control. It is no accident that just before Jesus calls us to come to him, he reminds us (in Matthew 11:25) that the Father has revealed this mystery to little children. No doubt I have romanticised my childhood memories. But in my imagination that memory of total happiness, of evaporated milk, of toast and Dr Who is a place that I can return to, a place that reminds me that when I turn to Jesus I find rest for my soul, that the yoke of following Jesus is easy and his burden is light.
In the incredible lightness of that being
The eyes of the blind are opened
The ears of the deaf unsealed
The lame leap like deer
The tongues of the dumb sing for joy
The ransomed return
Then we will come to Zion shouting for joy
Joy and gladness will be with us
And sorrow and lament will be ended.