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.




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!


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