Sunday, December 4, 2011

2 Advent

Baptism of Madisyn de la Garza

December 4, 2011

Isaiah 40.1-11; Mark 1.1-8

+ I realized the other day that, although I have referenced many films and movies in my years here at St. Stephen’s, I have never mentioned one film in particular, The Rapture.

The Rapture is a strange, independent film I saw in the early 1990s. The film tells the story of Sharon, a young Los Angeles telephone operator. She is played by Mimi Rogers, the ex-wife of Tom Cruise. Now Sharon lives a somewhat immoral disolute life. She’s involved with a man who is involved in various sundry acts. However, while at work one day, she comes into contact with a group of people who tell her that they believe, through a ahsraed dream, the Rapture is imminent—the Rapture being the return of Christ.

Although she scoffs initially, she eventually comes to accept this belief herself and actually a born-again Christian. She begins a new, very pious lifestyle, eventually marrying a man named Randy (who is played by David Dukovny, in his pre- X-Files days) and together they have a daughter. However, her husband Randy is shot and killed by a dsiguntled ex-employee, and a result, she begins to question the goodness of God. Somehow, she becomes convinved that she must wait in the desert for the coming of the Rapture, but shile there she loses patience. At her daughter's urging, she decides to hasten her and her daughter's ascendance to heaven, so she kills her daughter, but finds that she is unable to take her own life because she’s afraid she'll be condemned for committing suicide. She turns against God and becomes angry at God, resufing to believe that God is anyway good for not retutning, for allowing her to kill her own daughter, for not doing what she believes God should be doing. She confesses to what she had done to a police officer who had been watching her and she is arrested and imprisoned.

Up to this point, it seems like the film is about wacky born-again cultist whose beliefs eventually lead to murder. However, at this point, something major happens. The Rapture does in fact take place. While Sharon is sitting in her prison cell, awaiting trial, a loud trumpet blows that is heard all over the world, signaling the start of the Rapture. We see it all. The bars falling off the jail door, the four horsemen of the apocolypse, people just heading toward the trumpet calls. Finally, Sharon herself disappears and is taken to a weird, kind of purgatory-like place, just within sight of heaven. Even here, within sight of heaven, she still refuses to renounce her anger at God for what she perceives to be God’s cruelty. Her young daughter (whom she murdered) appears to her and begs her to accept God back into her heart.

“Just say you love God,” the girl beg, so she can join her husband and daughter in Heaven.

But Sharon cannot.

“You know what this means?” the girl asks, as the light fades and the darkness encourches on Sharon.

And Sharon, fully aware of what she is doing, says, “Yes” as she is swallowed up in darkness.

(Sorry that I gave away the ending of the movie). Make sure you go out and rent this happy little film for this holiday season.

But the film actually haunted me in many ways, because it was one of those films that actually addresses in a straightforward way what we talk about in this Season of the Advent. The coming of the Lord. For us, we too are awaiting Christ’s presence in our lives. We longing for Christ to come to us. We know it will happen. We may realize it might not happen necessarily (for us anyway) in some final Rapture, but, in one way or the other, it will happen, as in the day on which we die.

But, as you hear me say, again and again here at St. Stephen’s, Christ’s coming among us, that we celebrate especially during the Christmas season, happens for us in a very intimate way every time we gather here. We experience, in a very unique and wonderful way, the Presence of Christ whenever we gather together at this altar and share these common and very simple and vital gifts of bread and wine.

No matter what you believe about how Jesus is present to us in the Eucharist, he is present. He does come to us and is present with us here. He does come to us here and we do feel him present—in the bread, in the wine, in our scripture readings, in the presence of those who gather with us and who kneel beside us at the rail.

Now, as you know, I make no secret of my belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I truly believe that Jesus is present here in a unique and beautiful way in the bread and the wine we share with each other. I also believe that Jesus is uniquely present even in the reserved sacrament we place here in the ambry.

There is a reason we keep the sanctuary light lit before the aumbry. It reminds us that Jesus is present here in a special way. I love driving past St. Stephen’s at night and seeing the deep red glow of the sanctuary light shining through the windows. It is a very visible and meaningful reminder to me that Jesus is present here in a very real way.

I’m not a big stickler on explaining how Jesus is present in the bread and wine. All I know for certain is that each Sunday, when we gather here, we witness a mystery. We, together, participate in something that we might not understand and we might not fully appreciate. But it is, as we all realize, important and wonderful and beautiful.

In what we do here at the altar, we experience Jesus. We see Jesus, we feel Jesus, we taste Jesus. In a sense, what we do here is fulfillment of what the prophet Isaiah foresaw:

“He will feed his flock like a shepherds;
he with gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.”

So, in a very real way, the anxious waiting we are doing during this season of Advent is like the anxious waiting we should do when coming to this altar. It’s all about anticipation. It is all about our deepest hopes and desires being realized. And they are realized—in Christ. And because they are realized in Christ, we find them realized whenever we encounter Christ.

In our Gospel reading for today, we find John the Baptist appearing the wilderness. He, of course, is the person the prophet Isaiah speaks of in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures.

“Prepare the way of the Lord,” both Isaiah proclaims.

“Make his paths straight.”

To a large extent, that is what we are called to do in this Advent season and throughout all our lives in Christ. We are called to prepare the way of the Lord. We are called to prepare. We do this by living our lives with a certain integrity. We do this by being aware that God is always present with us, always loving us, always accepting us. And we do this by realizing that, at any moment, we will be called to live out that life of love and acceptance to others. We realize that, in our lives as followers of Jesus, we have been transformed.

By the very fact that we were baptized, we have been transformed. When we rose out of those waters—and in a few moments when Madisyn is baptized and rises out of those waters—we were transformed and born anew.

Whenever we meet Christ, we emerge transformed. We are not the same people were before our baptisms and, each week when we encounter Jesus in the Eucharist and in each other, we realize that we are not the same people we were before Communion. We are a people challenged to then go out and share our Baptismal lives and this Communion with others in whatever way we can. What we are longing for in this season is not something vague and distant.

It is not something so mysterious that we can’t fathom it. Rather, what we long for is, truly, fulfillment. It is the fulfillment of all that seems to be missing in us. It is the fulfillment of our anxieties and our frustrations and our depressions and our hopelessness.

In the Eucharist, in this bread and wine, in this aumbry, in this unique and real Presence of Jesus that we experience here, we find truly that God’s glory is not out there somewhere—in some distant heaven.

Rather, God in Jesus, has come to us and remains among us in a very real and tangible way. In this Eucharist and in our lives as followers of Jesus, God’s glory truly does dwell with us. In God’s Presence among us, we realize, if we truly open ourselves to this experience, that our frustrations, our depressions, all of our spiritual and psychological pains have been healed and our longings have been realized. We don’t need to look anywhere else than right here.

Yes, there might be a Rapture one day. Yes, there that Day might be amazing and powerful with trumpets sounding and cars falling from jail cells. And yes, even when it happens, there will be people saying that they cannot heed the invitation to join in that glorious day. But for us, as followers of Jesus, for us reborn in the waters of the baptism and prepared in a special way for the coming of Christ into our midst, whatever might happen on that day will only be a fulfillment of what we have bee doing along, here at this altar.

What we do here then at the altar is important. It is vital to our understanding of ourselves as Christians. It is a wonderful and glorious mystery that we shouldn’t try to pin down and analyze too deeply. We should rather accept it and delight in it and let it fill us and fulfill us.

In these days of Advent, as we prepare to remember Jesus’ first coming among us, our time at the altar should take on special meaning and precedence for us.We should give true and deep thanks for the opportunity to have Jesus come to us in such a unique and wonderful way. And as we come to the altar, with our joy bubbling up from within us, with our anxieties and fears and depressions soothed by the healing balm of this bread and wine, of the healing Presence of our God, we too are able to proclaim, the prophet Isaiah, with honesty and truth,

The glory of the Lord has truly been revealed to us…Here is our God!

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