Sunday, November 28, 2021

1 Advent

 


November 28, 2021

 

Luke 21.25-36

+ So, recently I have had several people ask me about a recent series on Netflix called Midnight Mass.

 

It’s an interesting series—not one that I recommend to everyone.

 

If you like vampires, then I would recommend it.

 

But it’s a series that deals with a lot more than just vampires.

 

There’s whole lot going on in it.

 

Essentially the story is this:

 

There’s a Catholic Church on a small island off the coast of what may possibly be New England (though it was actually filmed off the coast of British Columbia).

 

A mysterious young priest comes to the church, and soon there are miracles being performed.

 

But also there are strange incidents of another sort.

 

Hundreds of dead cats wash up on the shore.

 

Well, as the series goes on, it becomes clear that the priest is actually some kind of vampire.

 

And that he is actually the old priest who had served the parish for decades, but who, while in the Holy Land, got bit by this demon-like vampire and became young again.

 

Are you still with me?

 

Anyway, he comes back and soon promises everyone in the village eternal life.

 

He does this as he presents the demon to them.

 

The demon by the way is wearing a chasuble.

 

Most of the people enthusiastically choose this supposed “eternal life” the priest offers.

 

But to have it they must drink from a chalice, which if full or rat poison.  

 

This causes them to die—briefly—but when they “resurrect” they are vampires who then feast on those who choose not to drink from the chalice.

 

While this is all going on, a few of the survivors go around the island and set fire to all the buildings and cut ropes to the boats, essentially trapping the vampires on the island.

 

Spoiler alert here.

 

The sun begins coming up, and the vampires all realize they have been trapped with nowhere to hide from the sun, which if course will kill them.

 

When they realize that there is nowhere to go to hide from this light, they suddenly start realizing what they have done.

 

They begin apologizing to each other.

 

They realize the choice they made was a wrong one.

 

They realize that they have, in their blood hunger, killed their own loved ones.

 

They despair over their choice of darkness.

 

And they know that they haven’t chosen immortality at all.

 

They have chosen eternal death.

 

And so, as they await in in a very literal hell, with flames of fire burning behind them with nowhere to go, they turn toward the horizon and wait.

 

As the sun starts rising, they stand around on the shore looking toward the dawning light, while singing “Near My God to Thee,” which is then cut off abruptly in mid-verse as the sun rises into the sky and the vampires all burn into ashes.

 

The end.

 

It’s a very bleak series.

 

It deals with faith and doubt and atheism and bad Christians.

 

The director Mike Flanagan actually wrote the series as a way to deal with his own upbringing as a Catholic and his later atheism.

 

But…

 

And here’s my take on it…

 

I think it also deal with the our society as it is right now.

 

People who purposely choose the darkness, clothed as Christianity, even when a demon in a chasuble stands before them.

 

They drink from the cup of the perverse, false, bastardized version of Christianity, and for a moment, feel powerful.

 

They have, for a moment, what they have been promised.

 

But it’s an empty promise.

 

In the dark it seems good,

 

But with the light, it is seen for what it is—darkness and evil.

 

And the exactly opposite of true Christianity.

 

Now, I take it one step further—being the priest I am.

 

The sun, for me, as a Christian, represents God and God's Light.

 

As a Christian I see that most uniquely in Christ, in God and creation coming together.

 

But, seen through the eyes of the Muslim sheriff and his son, who seen making their prostrations on the beach as the sun comes up, it is the Light of Allah.

 

It is the Light of God.

 

It is the Light of Divinity.

 

It is the Light of all that is good and true and beautiful.

 

It is this divine Light that shines on them in their vulnerability.

 

And they cannot escape this true Light.

 

And, although their darkness, their evil choice is destroyed in the process, they themselves are redeemed by the Light.

 

And to me, what seems like a bleak and horrible ending is actually one that is redemptive and weirdly glorious.

 

It is a microcosm of the paradox of Christianity.

 

And it is a microcosm of the choice so many of our fellow Christians have made in our recent history.

 

To me, even though this series takes place over Lent and Easter (appropriately enough), it also speaks loudly to us on this first Sunday of Advent.

 

Because Advent is all about that waiting.

 

It is all about that looking into the dark.

 

It is all about living in the dark.

 

It is about sometimes choosing the dark.

 

But realizing, as we do, that the Light is about dawn into our lives.

 

And that light will burn away not only the darkness of the world, but also the very darkness of our hearts and souls.

 

And that burning is, we know, oftentimes painful and brutal.

 

But ultimately it is purifying and redemptive.

 

In Advent, we recognize that darkness we all collectively live in without God.

 

But we realize that darkness doesn’t hold sway.

 

Darkness is easily done away with what?

 

With light!

 

And so, in Advent, we are anticipating something more—we are all looking forward into the gloom.

 

And what do we see there? We see the first flickers of light.

 

And even with those first, faint glimmers of light, darkness already starts losing its strength.

 

We see the first glow of what awaits us—there, just ahead of us.

 

That light that is about to burst into our lives is, of course, for us God’s divine Light.

 

The Light that came to us—that is coming to us—is the sign that the Kingdom of God is drawing near, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel.

 

It is near.

 

Yes, we are, at times, stuck in the doom and gloom of this life.

 

Yes, sometimes we have actually chosen the darkness and gloom over the Light and Beauty of our faith.    

 

But, we can take comfort today in one thing: as frightening as our life may be, as terrible as life may seem some times and as uncertain as our future may be, what Advent shows us more than anything is this: we already know the end of the story.

 

We might not know what awaits us tomorrow or next week.

 

We might not know what setbacks or rewards will come to us in the weeks to come, but in the long run, we know how our story as followers of Jesus ends.

 

Jesus has told us that we might not know when it will happen, but the end will be a good ending for those of us who hope and expect it.

 

God has promised that, in the end, there will be joy and happiness and peace.

 

In this time of anticipation—in this time in which we are waiting and watching—we can take hope.

 

To watch means more than just to look around us.

 

It means to be attentive.

 

It means, we must pay attention.

 

It means waiting, with held breath, for that redemptive Light of God to break upon us.

 

So, yes, Advent is a time of waiting and it is this waiting—this expectant anticipation—that is so very important in our spiritual lives.

 

Advent is a time of hope and longing.

 

It is a time for us to wake up from our slumbering complacency.

 

It is a time to turn from the darkness.

 

It is a time to wake up and to watch.

 

The Light of God is close at hand.

 

And we should rejoice in that fact.

 

We, like those people in Midnight Mass, should be standing here, awaiting that Light.

 

Or as we hear Jesus tell us in today’s Gospel,

 

“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

 

We must stand up and raise our heads, even if we know what the reality of  that Light is.

 

Even if we know what the Light will do to us who sometimes live in darkness.  

 

It is near.

 

The Light of Christ is so close to breaking through to us that we can almost feel it ready to shatter into our lives.

 

So, in this anticipation, let us be prepared.

 

Let us watch.

 

Christ has come to us and is leading us forward.

 

This dazzling Light of God is burning away the fog of our tears and hunger and


violence and is showing us a way through the darkness that sometimes seems to encroach upon us.

 

This is the true message of Advent.

 

As hectic as this season is going to get, as you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the sensory overload we’ll all be experiencing through this season, remember, Watch.

 

Take time, be silent and just watch.

 

For this anticipation—this expectant and patient watching of ours—is merely a pathway on which the Divine Light can come among us as one of us.

 

This morning, instead of a final prayer I’m going to do something else.

 

Last Wednesday evening at our Thanksgiving Eve Mass Deacon John opened and closed his sermon with a hymn.

 

It was so beautiful!

 

Well, in honor of the series Midnight Mass, we too are going to close my sermon today with a hymn.

 

As we stand here, waiting either joyously or apprehensively for God's Light to dawn,  let us also sing, “Nearer My God to Thee.”

 

Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!
E'en though it be a cross that raiseth me,
still all my song shall be,
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

2 Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
yet in my dreams I'd be
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

3 There let the way appear, steps unto heaven;
all that thou sendest me, in mercy given;
angels to beckon me
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

4 Then, with my waking thoughts bright with thy praise,
out of my stony griefs Bethel I'll raise;
so by my woes to be
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

5 Or if, on joyful wing cleaving the sky,
sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly,
still all my song shall be,
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Christ the King


 November 21, 2021

 Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1.4b-8; John 18.33-37

 

+ In the name of God, Creator, Incarnate Word and Holy Spirit. Amen.  

I think I’ve shared this confession with you before.

If not, I’m sure it doesn’t come as a great surprise to any of you who know me.

I love horror movies.

And not just any horror movies.

I’m not fond of the slasher, violence-for-the-sake-of-violence kind of horror film.

(I’m vegan, after all).

My favorite kind of horror films are the apocalyptic ones.

You know the ones.

The ones like the M. Night Shyamalan film Signs, which deals with an Episcopal priest, played by Mel Gibson, who has lost his faith just before aliens invade the earth and attempt to wipe out the human race.

Or another Shyamalan’s film (which was universally panned by critics), The Happening, about a neurotoxin released by plants and carried by wind that caused people to commit suicide in mass numbers and in very gruesome ways.

I also really love zombie films (I LOVE The Walking Dead).

I have a whole theological system of thought worked out regarding the zombie genre.

 I won’t inflict that on you today, but I really believe these zombie films and give voice to the fear we all have inherently of death.

 All of these deal with the issue of (as the old R.E.M. song proclaimed) it’s-the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it kind of situation.

 These films took on greater meaning for me during the pandemic than they ever did at any other time in my life.

 In fact, some of you might remember, in the midst of the darkest days of the pandemic, that R.E.M. song I just references, “it’s the end of the world” was actually being played quite a bit.

 Because it kind of felt like it.

 And it was weird.

 And it was nothing at all like these films.

 I was expecting zombies and aliens.

 Instead I got weeks and weeks of quarantine.

 Now, for me, I know, that my love of this genre has its roots firmly in my faith life as a Christian.

 I know that sounds weird, but…

 In the secular world, these films and books are called apocalyptic, or post-nuclear, or whatever.

 But we Christians have a term for this kind of genre as well.

 It’s a wonderful Greek word, eschatology.

 Eschatology, to quote my trusty old Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, is defined as: the study of the “last things” or the end of the world.

 It goes on to further define it in this way: Eschatology means “Theological dimensions including the second coming of Jesus Christ and the last judgment.”

 These films, seen, for me, through the lens of my being a Christian and as a priest, are very eschatological.

 But for others they might not seem so.

 At first glance, there is a bleakness to them—a hopelessness to them.

 For the most part, these films and movies show a kind of evilness—whether it be supernatural evilness or natural evilness, or even extraterrestrial evilness—as prevailing.

 In most of the films that deal with these issues, the perspective is almost always from a seemingly non-Christian perspective.

 This world of bleakness and purposelessness it seems, on the surface anyway, wholly void of God or Christ.

 Which actually makes them even more bleak and horrendous.

 But for me, I don’t see it as clearly.

 For me, I love them because they jar me.

 They jolt me out of my comfort zone and make me imagine—for a few hours anyway—what the end of the world might be like.

 These films also make me ponder and think about God’s place in these situations.

 For most of us here this morning, we feel fear and shock over situations that have actually happened—in our own lives, in our collective lives.

 For those of us who never gave eschatology a second thought, we found ourselves at times in our lives wondering, even for a moment, if this might actually be the end of the world.

 I’m sure many of us felt this way at times during the pandemic.

 Certainly we, in the Church, get our glimpses of the end of the world in our liturgical year.

 As you probably have guessed, I always love preaching about beginnings.

 Beginnings are always a time of hope and joy.

 They hold such promise for everything that can possibly happen.

 But occasionally, we all must face the fact that, in the Church and in our lives, we also must confront the ending.

 Now for most people, the ending is a time to despair.

 Certainly that is where I think so much of the darkness in those zombie films come from.

 That is where we are when really horrible, bad things happen in our lives.

 Despair reigns.

 And when despair reigns, it is a bleak time.

 The ending is a time to dig in one’s heels and resist the inevitable.

 But for us—for Christians—we don’t have that option.

 For us, the ending is not the ending at all.

 It is, in fact, the beginning.

 For us, what seems like dusk to others, is actually dawn, though we—and they— sometimes can’t recognize it. 

 Today is an ending as well, in our Church calendar,


Today, of course, is Christ the King Sunday.

It is the last Sunday in that very long, green season of Pentecost.

Last Wednesday, after Mass, I hung up the beautiful green chasuble Jean Sando made and my green stole with a bit of sadness.

It will be a while before I wear them again. 

But, it’s not so bad.

Next week, Deacon John and I get to wear the Sarum blue (which I really enjoy wearing).

Today, for the Church, it is New Year’s Eve.

The old church year of Sundays ends today.

The new church year begins next Sunday, on the First Sunday of Advent.

So, what seems like an ending today is renewed next week, with the coming of Advent, in that revived sense of longing and expectation that we experience in Advent.

So even then, at that beginning, we are still forced to look ahead.

We are forced to face the fact that the future does hold an ending that will also become our beginning—a beginning that will never end.

And as we face that future, we do so on a Sunday in which we proclaim Christ to be King.

That is very important!

But this feast, strangely, is not an ancient feast by any sense of the word.

This past week Nadia Bloz-Weber, one of the great contemporary Christian writers, posted this on her Twitter account:

 

 

And that is very important to us on this Sunday for those of us who stand up and speak out against fascism again and again.

 Because what do we hear Jesus say to us in our Gospel reading for today?

He says,

For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice

Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

Well, in an age when we are told that truth doesn’t matter, when facts don’t matter, when truth can be manipulated, and when facts are twisted to suit conspiracy theories and fascist agendas, when people believe that JFK jr, is going to return and become our new Vice President,when someone can short 3 people and say it was self-defense while claiming to be an EMT,  then yes, these words speak loudly to us on this Sunday.


When we are told that we must put one nation first over all other nations, we are ignoring who our King is.

We are ignoring where our loyalties lie.

Because what we know and celebrate on this Christ the King Sunday is that, yes, Christ is  King.

 

And his Kingdom—that Kingdom that we, as his followers and children of his God, are citizens of before any other nation, what we are called to bring forth into this world, is not a kingdom of the privileged.

 

It is not a Kingdom of those in power—of those who use power and abuse power.

 

It is not a Kingdom ruled by people who have purposely deceived themselves, who have deliberately wanted to believe lies rather than the truth, because the lies fit their own agendas.

 

Christ’s Kingdom is a Kingdom of real truth. 

 

Christ himself is the Way, the TRUTH and the Life

 

It is, in fact,  a kingdom of the outcasts, the marginalized, the downtrodden.

 

It is a kingdom of those people, uplifted by their King.

 

It is a celebration of not only who Jesus was, but who Jesus is and will be.

 

It is a celebration of the fact that, although it seems, at times, as though this Kingdom of God is not triumphant, at times it seems, in fact, to have failed miserably, we know that ultimately, in all that we do, in our ministries, it does break through into this world again and again.


Which causes me to return to those horror moves I love so much.

I said earlier that it seems they are absent of God.

But that isn’t entirely true.

In many of those films, there always comes a moment of grace.

There is always a moment when it seems evil prevails—when darkness has encroached on the earth and human kind is about to be obliterated.

In the case of the zombie films, it is more profound.

It seems as though death—symbolized by these walking “living dead”—has prevailed over life itself

 It is in that moment, that there is a turning point.

 The heroes of these films, at this point, usually recollect themselves.

 They find an inner strength.

 They find some kind of renewed hope that motivates them to rise up and to fight back.

 And, in the end, they are able to push back—or, at the very least, hold at bay—the forces of darkness, death and evil.

 For us with eyes that see and ears that hear, that hope is very Christ-like.

 For those of us who are afraid or despairing, we find Christ in those rays of hope that break through into our lives.

 It is very similar to the hope we are clinging to in this moment as we enter Advent—that time in which the light of Christ is seen breaking into the encroaching darkness of our existence.

 

At moments it seems that the Majesty of God is over and done with.

 

But, as we know, in our ending is our beginning.

 

And the Kingdom of God always triumphs, again and again.  

 

Goodness always prevails over evil and darkness.

Always!

 

We—the inheritors of that Majesty—are the ones who, in turn, birth that Majesty.

 

We bring that Kingdom into our midst whenever we love radically, we welcome radically, when we accept radically, when we serve radically in the Name of Jesus.

 

We do so when we become the conduits of hope.

 

 

That’s why we celebrate this incredible day on this last Sunday before Advent begins.

 

Advent, after all, is that time for us to look toward the future, and to hope, even if that future might seem bleak.

 

It is a time for us to gaze into the dark and the haze and all that lies before us and to see that it is not all bleak, it is not all frightening and scary, but that, in the midst of that darkness, there is a glimmer of light.

 

This Sunday and the season we are about to enter, is all about the future and hope.

 

We, on this Christ the King Sunday, are looking forward into the darkness of the future and eternity,  and we are seeing the rays of light shining through to us.

 

For us, as followers of Jesus the King, as inheritors of the Kingdom of Jesus’ God, it is a hope.

 

It is a time to remind ourselves that we must continue bringing about that Kingdom of God into our midst.

 

So, let us rejoice on this Christ in Majesty Sunday.

 

Let us move forward into our future together.

 

Let go together into that future with confidence and joy and gladness at all the blessings we have been given and that we are able to give to others.

 

And let us to do all that we do, as Paul tells us today in his letter to the Colossians, “made strong with all the strength that comes from [God’s] glorious power…”

 

Let us pray.

 

God of majesty, we rejoice today in your Kingdom, which is about to dawn upon us. You who rule our hearts, who reign over our souls, give us hope and a true and living joy for the future. Even as lies and half-truths and conspiracy theories overwhelm us at times, help us to see the truth in all things, and help us to live into the truth required of us to be followers of Jesus your Son, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  May your Light break into our midst and, by doing so, break the powers of darkness that encroach upon us and let us live, now and always, in that Light in which you live and reign, through Jesus our King. Amen.