The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
YEAH, RIGHT! What do these lessons take me for? San Marco Square in Venice is under water. Impeachment hearings roil Washington. Favorite candidates for president are dropping
out of the race. Homeless people are camped almost on the doorstep of the church.
And you expect me to buy this story of wonderful peace? Let’s get real. We talk about Advent being a “season of expectation,” but if you listen to the songs played in the grocery stores (and everywhere else!) it sounds more like an “Elf on the Shelf” who will stick you with coal if you aren’t nice enough or don’t buy enough. And it will never be “enough.”
The part of Christianity in which I grew up taught me that this mystical reality of eternal peace would happen, that Christ would come again, when enough people were converted to
our sort of faith. Unfortunately, no one could tell me how many “enough” was. It seemed to my young mind that it would always be one more that we had converted. It didn’t matter how many people I asked “Have you met Jesus” that I’d never ask the n+1th person, and what’s worse, I wouldn’t be able to get them to say the words that would get Jesus into their heart.
The part of Christianity to which we belong doesn’t seem to help us much. We often hear, attributed to Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, Yours are the eyes through which is to look out Christ’s compassion to the world; Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; Yours are the hands with which he is to bless humanity now.
My. oh. my. I’ve fallen from the frying pan into the fire. I used to just have to get people to say “I accept Jesus as my personal savior.” Now I have to do something much harder: do enough Christ-like work, giving, studying, feeding the poor, preaching, you name it—anything and everything—so well that it will make lions chew grass and lie down with calves. I simply want to give up, not even to try. And at my ordination to the priesthood, the sermon was “Pray harder, Work harder, Love harder.” Just what my type-A self-competitive personality needs. All I’ll get from Jesus at the Last Judgement will be “You didn’t work hard enough. Off you go with
Well, St. Teresa didn’t actually say the “no hands quote,” but what she did say was: Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything. Whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.
God alone suffices.
God alone suffices.
God alone is going to do what it takes to make the wolf live with the lamb. All the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. Do you believe that? Do you want to believe that?
We have a part to play in bringing in this new world, but it is not to make it happen by our good works, because they will never be enough. The needs of our world are infinite, and
they require an infinite solution. GOD ALONE SUFFICES.
God alone suffices. In that, not in our own work, is hope rather than despair. Paul, the patron of this house, wrote at the end of his marvelous (and confusing) letter to the Christians
in Rome: “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by single mindedness and by the strengthening of the scriptures we might have hope.” Hope is
God’s own gift to us.
The collect for this morning carries, I think, the key. It’s a little clearer when we hear it the way Bishop Cosin wrote it for the 1662 Prayer Book. But before I read it, let me give you a
“translation note.” When Cosin says “ministers and stewards” don’t hear that as a reference to clergy (like “priests and deacons”) but rather a reference to the two ways of Christian life. Stewards are contemplative, ministers are active:
O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee: Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight.
Cosin connects us to the key figure in our Gospel this morning: John the Baptist. John does not bring in the Kingdom of God. John doesn’t train wild animals to sleep together or build superhighways for the Messiah. He proclaims so that people would be ready when God’s kingdom breaks through in the ministry of Jesus, God’s own Son.
John points to Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold the one who takes away the sin of the world.” This is where my growing-up tradition got it right: our “job” as Christians in the
world is to point toward the breaking dawn of the Kingdom. It’s not to proselytize other people into our religious sect, but rather to share the wonder of the first light of the new age of a
renewed heaven and a renewed earth.
He will come like last leaf's fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud's folding.
And that judgement that Cosin calls out in his collect: “that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight” is not a settling of divine
The second coming makes everything visible,
the second coming is when all the hungry are fed,
the second coming is when the mighty are cast down,
and the second coming is the lowly are lifted up.
So why do we feed the poor, why do we engage in political action, why do we do all these good things? All that work will never be enough to change the universe. Rather it is the proclamation of the good news: the Kingdom is breaking through in the parish hall at St. Paul’s. It is the Fatted Calf Café,
but with more food,
with even better food,
with lots more people,
and when we wash the dishes at the end,
all sadness, all hurt, all sickness, and all sin, evil, and death is rinsed down the drain, never to return.
We help the poor and the homeless so that we too can sing Mary’s Magnificat! What is that judgement at the end? It is, in the words of the version of the collect we prayed this morning: “that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.” As Paul puts it: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may
abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We proclaim, we greet, we exult. Paul, at the end of the letter that comes after Romans writes “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until
he comes.” And to proclaim Christ’s death is to proclaim Christ’s resurrection, to proclaim his coming reign, to proclaim the new heavens and the new earth.
When we celebrate this Eucharist, we do it not just for ourselves but for the life of the world. We proclaim a world in which there are no divisions, no strife, no hunger, and we claim
that such a world is right here, on that table, in that bread, as we drink that cup. Heaven has come to earth.
God’s kingdom is here:
the blind receive their sight,
the lame walk,
the lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have good news brought to them.
In this bread and in this wine, the second coming is already happening. The end is not just near,
it is here. It is not just here, it is coming:
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.
He is here. He is coming. He is bread and wine. Come with lions and lambs, wolves and calves, and all the whole creation. Come and eat.
(poem: Rowan Williams, “Advent Calendar”, in Poems, Perpetua Press, 2005.)