Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon
The Fourth Sunday in Advent, 2010
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, West Lebanon

 

Let us pray: O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send the 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 acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

 

   Remember the old fashioned road map? Actually, they're not so old fashioned after all. We all know what they look like. Some of us even know how to fold them correctly. But the traditional multi-fold road map is falling out of use. These maps are cumbersome and even dangerous. They were the original hand held device that some of us attempted to use while trying to find our way in a foreign country or in that unfamiliar city just next door. Perhaps, in an era of Mapquest, GPS and Garmin they will be quietly retired. Perhaps in a few years' time, we will see them displayed in museums alongside the ancient maps of the “new world” with all the inaccuracies in full view. Perhaps children and grandchildren will point at them in amazement and ask: “what was that funny-looking map for, the one with all the creases in it?” Parents and grandparents will carefully explain that, at one time, many years before, nearly every car had these maps. The patriarch of the family will be asked for his interpretation. “Tell us about the maps, grandpa.” “Well,” he will say, “those maps took a great deal of patience and skill. Using them required the ability to fold with one hand, drive with another and learn to decipher microscopic print while going seventy-five miles an hour.” The youngsters would stare, open-mouthed at this tale of derring-do and say that it sounded very dangerous. “Well,” Grandpa would say, “it was dangerous. One time, a map blew into my face; I couldn't see the road and I nearly wrecked my Pontiac.” This would, of course, prompt another question: “Grandpa, what's a Pontiac?”

   Maps help us find our way. So too do things like Mapquest and GPS systems. The newer inventions are much more accurate; their precision often amazes me. Though I still have the old maps, I rarely use them. There are better ways of getting where I need to go.

 

   During Advent, we have a directional system, too. This directional system is composed of the four gospels. The three Synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, emphasize the humanity of Jesus. They tell a very similar story, which is why they are termed synoptics. The Fourth Gospel, John's gospel, gives us a very different perspective entirely. John's gospel emphasizes the divinity of Jesus. Put them together and we have the true picture of Jesus the Christ, perfect God and perfect man.

   The gospels for Advent provide us with a very old but very reliable map. This map is a little different from the ones we use to find our way around the temporal world. They often seem inaccurate or confusing. Scholars drive themselves to distraction trying to determine who Jesus was as a historical figure. Then, they must ask themselves who Jesus is as the Christ of faith. But, when in doubt, they – and we – should follow the map.

 

   John begins his gospel with a restatement of the creation story. And he concludes his summary with these remarkable words: and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father; full of grace and truth. John's gospel, his map of the story of Jesus, begins at the destination. God is God and is with us. John's map doesn't provide  any normal chronological order. You cannot follow this map in any way from beginning to end because the beginning and end are one and the same. God is with us. Now. Right where we are.

   If our cars were equipped with a particular GPS device that could access John's gospel, we might try this. We punch in our present position, then we type in this: “destination: God.” Imagine our surprise when the global positioning device clearly indicates that our starting point and our ending goal are precisely the same.

   The Pharisees in today's gospel didn't have a particularly good set of maps. If they did, they couldn't read them very well. So they visited John the Baptist and asked him a series of probing questions. John gave very precise answers to their questions, but they went away, still not knowing which way to turn.

   At this time of year, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our saviour, Jesus Christ, we are mindful of the journey made to Bethlehem by a very particular family. They carry with them the hope of the world. We are also mindful of another group of travelers on their way to Bethlehem as well. These three individuals, ones we will celebrate on the feast of the Epiphany, have studied their own unique directional systems and have set out in the midst of Winter. We know very little about them. Legend and tradition has given us a good deal of material about them, some of it no doubt mythical. Some call them wise men, kings or astrologers. Who really knows who they were. But we do know that they traveled a long way, they studied the heavens and they charted a precise course to a remote corner of the world.

   For all their unknown calculations, their antique and imprecise maps, their lack of modern GPS equipment, they found their way. They found their way because they wanted and needed God. They found their way because they knew with a certainty that transcended their simple tools for measuring the earth's geography. They found their way because they looked to heaven for guidance. So did John the Baptist. And so should we.

   We, too, will find our way to Bethlehem this year. We will find our way when we look to heaven as our guide and open our hearts to the love that will come among us this Christmastide; a love that has been with us from the beginning of time.

 

Let us pray: Almighty God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word; Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.