December 20 – O Clavis David – ‘I Am the Gate for the Sheep’

The Advent Antiphons are said or sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers each evening of the week immediately prior to Christmas. Each one speaks of an aspect of the One who is to come, Israel’s hope and a Light to the Gentiles.

This set of reflections juxtaposes each of the Antiphons with one of the seven ‘I AM’ sayings of Jesus Christ, the embodied Hope of all Creation – the Word made flesh.

In this video, the Dominican brothers of Blackfriars Oxford sing the Magnificat Antiphon, O Clavis David

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel;
you open and no-one closes;
you close and no-one opens:
Come and deliver from the chains of prison
those who sit in darkness, and the shadow of death.
(Translation from Benedictine Daily Prayer: Liturgical Press)
Perhaps the most obscure of the seven ‘I Am’ sayings of Jesus is ‘I Am the gate for the sheep’ – the most obscure but in one sense perhaps the most clear in focussing us upon the very person of Jesus?
At the heart of the Christmas message is the category shattering pronouncement ‘and the Word became Flesh’. That which might to John’s Greek speaking listeners have been taken for the organisational principle of Reality, not merely ‘puts on’ flesh, but Becomes Flesh. This is the most powerful Move away from Abstraction, to the Concrete. And a very particular Concrete, that is the man Jesus of Nazareth.
We have spoken of the need to Contemplate – to Abide in Him. And that need remains as Life giving and urgent as ever, for we are wont to make of the gospel a set of principles, or a story, or a system of salvation, or a set of morals, veering as we do into a self referenced Deism, with plenty of room for us as the Centre of all things for apart from the concrete reality of Jesus, there is noThing to fill the void of ideas and principles.
The Word becomes flesh and invades our Space. And the language of The Gate moves us on from the Davidic gate keeper of the Antiphon. Jesus does not merely stand watch over the gate, He IS the Gate. We can only enter in and through Him in his concrete existence. Indeed any attempt to reduce Him to principles or morals, or words, (even ‘good’ words such as ‘Grace’) – marks us out as vagabonds and thieves, trying to steal in a different way – to take a course more suited to our own desires, rather than the way of the Cross, the Way into which we are baptised at the outset.
One of the perils of our age, which is beyond all that have gone before it ‘wordy‘ (and I am not unaware of the irony of pointing it out here), is that The Word becomes just that, a collection, a seemingly perpetually expanding collection of words, innumerable abstractions, propositions and principles. And so the Challenging Simplicity of faith in Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary, the eternally begotten Son of the Father, is lost. [Indeed all attempts to move away from the Trinitarian Name as our means of addressing God does just this]
Ours is a Sacramental Faith and necessarily so. Through the Water of Baptism, we enter the Jordan with Jesus in His baptism, we are immersed in the death of His Body, and raised to New Life. In our encounters with one another we are presented constantly with opportunities to Love Him. And in the Eucharist – we feed on Him, who is our Life.
Contemplation and Deep abiding in Him are Advent practices which focus on the person of Jesus of Nazareth – the one in whom all Ideas become Flesh and blood Reality. In whom there is No abstraction, and through whom we might enter and be saved, and through whom we may go in and out and find safe pasture.

December 19th – O Radix Jesse – ‘I Am the True Vine’

The Advent Antiphons are said or sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers each evening of the week immediately prior to Christmas. Each one speaks of an aspect of the One who is to come, Israel’s hope and a Light to the Gentiles.

This set of reflections juxtaposes each of the Antiphons with one of the seven ‘I AM’ sayings of Jesus Christ, the embodied Hope of all Creation – the Word made flesh.

In this video, the Dominican brothers of Blackfriars Oxford sing the Magnificat Antiphon, O Radix Jesse

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, you stand for an ensign of humankind,
before you kings shall keep silence,
and to you all nations shall have recourse.
Come save us and do not delay.
(Translation from Benedictine Daily Prayer: Liturgical Press)
One of the wonderful traditions of Advent is that of the Jesse tree. Like the Evangelists we too rehearse the Ancestral line of Jesus, patiently day by day and hour by hour rehearsing the story of his long awaited Coming.
But here, perhaps more clearly we might see that Advent has a different meaning for us. For we now await the One who has come as the fulfilment of the hope of Israel, and by Grace are found amongst those ‘least in the Kingdom of heaven’ [Matthew 11:11]
As the Life of God waited patiently in the world, down through so many generations, so in Christ this line of Kings reaches fulfilment. The fulfilment of the Hope of Israel, the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets.
But who, to our astonishment and perplexity, like a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies . . . to bear seed . . . how many fold?
He becomes the source of Life for all who believe in his name and the work He calls us to is that of ‘believing in him’ – the work of patient trust – of Abiding in Him, as He Abides in us. He calls us to the Waiting of Contemplation, like that of a farmer watching his crops.
This too us may well seem rather passive – like those who hear the word of Jesus telling them that ‘the work of God is to believe in the one he has sent’ – we have little time for contemplation. But thus we are easily uprooted from the vine, for we are then ‘free’ to be pulled hither and thither, this way and that. Prey to every Siren voice, we lose sight of the ‘dwelling place’ he has prepared for us in the throne room of His very heart.
Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
Over many years, the Word patiently waited, until the time was right. Down through the ages, through the line of Jesse, He Abided in his people. We too now are invited to Abide in Him, to in Contemplation behold His Face, that of the Father’s only begotten, and thus be transformed from one degree of glory to another.

December 18 – O Adonai – ‘I Am the Resurrection and the Life’

The Advent Antiphons are said or sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers each evening of the week immediately prior to Christmas. Each one speaks of an aspect of the One who is to come, Israel’s hope and a Light to the Gentiles.

This set of reflections juxtaposes each of the Antiphons with one of the seven ‘I AM’ sayings of Jesus Christ, the embodied Hope of all Creation – the Word made flesh.

In this video, the Dominican brothers of Blackfriars Oxford sing the Magnificat Antiphon, O Adonai

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel,
you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush,
and on Mount Sinai gave him your law:
Come, and with an outstretched arm redeem us
(Translation from Benedictine Daily Prayer: Liturgical Press)
To be in a Christian is to be in a War. As we are baptised into the life of Christ, the people of our new family, the church exhort us to

‘Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ against sin, the world and the devil, and remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life’ We had thought that being called into the body of the Church was to than discover ourselves emerging into a place of unadulterated peace, we discover we’ve been thrown into the front line of a conflict we never knew existed. We encounter Christ and find ourselves conscripted in His army and posted back to the place from which we came. We Die, and are made Alive in the same place.
We thought faith was no more than a set of ideas – we discover that it is a Life – moreover one in which the Reality of the World’s ongoing resistance to its Lord is revealed and not just ‘out there’, that it runs like a scarlet thread through every aspect of our own lives.
And so our new home community, the church blesses us with tools to engage in this ongoing War – not least that of the seasons of Lent and Advent. Over and again as we follow the church Calendar, we come to stations of refreshment, training camps along the way, where we sharpen those aspects of our faith walk which have become dulled. In Advent, we are called to Wake Up! We hadn’t realised that we were fallen asleep, but sin and death have worked their narcotic effect and we need rousing. And at once we realise the conflict – for Advent readings call us Awake in a season which the world has captured for its own, and filled with a myriad of distractions which simply MUST be obeyed. There is no gentle winsomeness in this call. It is Imperatival – Commanding and Imperious. Buy! Buy NOW! Rush! Hurry! Get Ready! Don’t forget all those traditions your family demands at this time of year! There is SO much to do!!
Yet this is the culture of Death – it is an overwhelming with thorns and weeds and we must ‘flee to the hills’, with the  Abbas and Ammas of old, roused from the sleep which sweeps us away, we make haste for the Desert. And Wait. Wait on that world that raises us from the dead, and that casts us back into the conflict in the strength of The Holy One of Israel.
In the days of Christendom,  the church having lost sense of its head Ruled with a rod of iron and prescribed the ‘How’ of Advent , under  Law, not under gentle yet infinitely winsome Grace. We were Told to Fast and Pray. Perhaps thus, cultural memory being the deep unconscious current which we often swim all too readily with, it is not surprising that we choose not to now, but if we are attentive to the Word, then we will gladly abandon All Things for Him, the Pearl Without Price. Seeking above all, indeed Only to hear His Voice, to See His Fire, to Desire His Life. That somewhat hidden under the mantle of coercion, there was a voice, the Voice of love, like that of many waters, calling us to fast and pray ‘that we enter not into temptation’.
The Voice which calls Lazarus from the grave, calls us too. The Fire which captivated Moses on Sinai seeks a home amongst His people. The Life known in and through ‘the glorious battle’ is held out to us all.
Let us abandon distractions. Let us Go with Him, Let us go too Him, the one who frees us from our many shroud like captivities. The One who sends us back into Egypt, back to the place of captivity that we might be His instruments of release for others.

‘O Sapientia’ – ‘I Am the Way, the Truth, and The Life’

The Advent Antiphons are said or sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers each evening of the week immediately prior to Christmas. Each one speaks of an aspect of the One who is to come, Israel’s hope, and a Light to the Gentiles.

In this set of reflections each of the seven Antiphons is juxtaposed with one of the seven ‘I AM’ sayings of Jesus Christ, the embodied Hope of all Creation – the Word made flesh.

In this video, the Dominican brothers of Blackfriars Oxford sing the Antiphon,

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviter disponens que omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
and reaching from the beginning to end,
you ordered all things mightily and sweetly.
Come, and teach us the way of prudence.
(Translation from Benedictine Daily Prayer; Liturgical Press)
‘Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’
To be Christian is, as it were, to live in a state of contemplation – that is that our attention is, like that of Mary upon him, in amidst ‘the many things’ He fills our vision and thus we can only ‘see’ the world through Christ.
Advent offers us the gift of renewing that contemplation, of abandoning distractions. It is a reminder from the Church, to which we are ‘members’ through baptism, of the counsel of the writer to the Hebrews: that is, to ‘lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’
It is a commonplace that our age excels in distractions. Like the circuses of old, Distraction has become our way of life, so much so that we believe we are attentive not at all distracted. In so many ways we are surrounded by multiple media of distraction, each cleverly tuned to our attentive weakness. And when we are so entranced, so captivated – when ‘Distraction’ has become for us our way of being in the World . . .
At the root of much, if not all of our distraction is the Ancient distraction of Knowledge. Knowledge which promises that which we desire above all things, control of our own lives, that we ‘might be like God’. And so the alluring appeal of, for example, these words from Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia ‘Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet has free access to the sum of all human knowledge’. There are few if any of us, who can say in truth that we do not find the allure of such a situation somewhat attractive, that is, Distracting. For if together we knew everything, then we would all be ‘one people, . . . [having] one language; and this [would] only the beginning of what [we could] do; nothing that [we] propose to do [would] be impossible for [us]’ Gen 11:6
Thomas, Jesus’ disciple blindly grasps for this  knowledge. ‘Lord. We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Where is the map? What does the Way look like? Where are you going? Tell us these things and we shall be satisfied. And so he desires knowledge, apart from Jesus. Like so many of us today, understanding ‘faith’ in terms of ‘beliefs’ to which we may or may not assent, that we know for ourselves. Like the rich young man Jesus encounters, seeking an answer to the question ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Seeking to retain control through appropriate knowledge. Tell me and then I can go my own way.
Jesus in his answer to the young man, and in his answer to Thomas, shatters all our attempts to create eternal life on our own terms, to ‘make a life for ourselves’. ‘I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life’
And here there is a double move, from facts to relationship, and from impersonal to personal knowing. Not that eternal life is to know facts personally, but it is to Know The Person. The One in whom all things hold together, and by and through and for whom all things exist.The One who ‘came forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from the beginning to end, who ordered all things mightily and sweetly.’
This double move is that from Knowledge to Wisdom. From the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which leads us away from the Goodness of Life, to the Tree of Life, and the One who resides there.
St Paul says Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God.
Ancient Wisdom – which danced before the Lord before the beginning of Creation – in his Flesh reconciling all things to God.
‘Now this is eternal life, that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’
To be Christian is to live in a state of contemplation. He fills our vision and thus we can only ‘see’ the world through Christ.
Let us abandon distractions.
May the Wisdom of God be The the object of our Contemplation, both through this Advent, and to His Appearing

Sermon for Advent 3 – Year A – 2013

Sermon for Sunday December 15
Isaiah 35:1-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

It is said that when the Bhudda was on his deathbed, he told his followers not to remember him, but to remember his teaching. Given the number of statues one sees around the world of the Bhudda, it seems that perhaps that counsel was not heeded.

Jesus on the other hand was quite specific, that in the night before he died, he took bread and when he had blessed it, he broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take! Eat! This is my body which is given for you. Do this to remember me’ There is at once a teaching, a Command indeed – Jesus Commands us to take the bread and eat it – but the teaching has one purpose, ‘to remember Him’, which goes some way to explain the somewhat cryptic response that Jesus gives to John’s question “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”.

For Jesus sends John’s disciples with the prophetic words of Isaiah ringing in their ears – and indeed with a demonstration of those words ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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.’ Note that Jesus does NOT tell them – go and tell him what you see me doing – rather go and tell him what is happening in my presence. Where Jesus turns up Creation is healed in the most dramatic way – this is happening all around him. These are the promised signs of God’s arrival, God’s Kingdom breaking in. They are SIGNS revealing the presence of the Kingdom . . . and then Jesus adds these words of his own – ‘and blessed is the one who takes no offense at me’ For it is in Jesus, the Messiah, that the Kingdom is breaking in – he is not so much the agent of the Kingdom, he is its very embodiment – that in Jesus these things are coming to pass. His Presence is healing and transformation. His actions reveal his Being.

And yet it seems the church, as God’s people in the past, often misses the point. That the focus of our faith is Not the miracles of Jesus, it is not the teaching of Jesus, it is Christ himself. That without him there are no healings, and without him his teaching becomes but another set of dust dry lifeless morals, or as the society in which we live puts it, Values.

Jesus Over and over again calls his disciples and those with ears to hear Not to put their faith in the miracles – but in Him. Not in his power to Heal, but in Him, not in his words, but in Him. We long for the healing that he brings, we long for a world where his teaching is obeyed – but we do not long for HIM. We ask Jesus to make his world perfect, FOR US. However much we may say otherwise, deep down We are the centre of our faith, and thus frail uncertain creatures that we are we doubt – for who would believe in Us?
And missing this we fall prey to lives not of faith, but of doubt. Lives indeed where in our hubristic superiority we elevate doubt to a moral virtue, and perversely for some a signifier of authentic faith, mistaking as we do the centre of our faith faith for mental assent to a set of propositions about reality, as opposed to the one through whom all things are created and in whom all things hold together. This is not to say that Jesus’ words and works are of no value – far from it, but without Him they are nothing! The transformation of the world will not come about, as some romantically suppose because the world will come to its senses and everyone will come to follow the teaching of Jesus – the world will only transformed through faith In Jesus Himself. But failing to recognise this we put our faith in ourselves and above all our immensely limited power of reason, the greatest thing known to us – that which we exalt far above all gods. And thus we doubt.

At the beginning of the C19 a German theologian by the name of Frederich Schleiermacher set out to try and make such a faith ‘reasonable’ to what were termed the cultured despisers of his age – those who elevated their own powers of reason above everything. But now it seems we live in an age when the cultured despisers are live and well within the church – demanding Doubt as the only genuine authentication of faith.

And John’s question is paraded about as an example of doubt – yet it is far from it, it is THE question of faith. Here he is – languishing in the depths of Herod’s prison – unknown to him only days from his death at an executioners sword for slighting Herodias, reminding the King that his marriage was unlawful. Those in authority rarely respond well to being confronted with unwanted truth. But John’s question has one and only one doubt, one which counter intuitively reveals his Deep and abiding faith. For his question reveals that he KNOWS that one Is to come who will redeem Israel – his question is, ‘Are you the one?’ It is the question of one who believes – If you’re not, then we shall go on as a people, patiently waiting, for we Know that God WILL redeem his people. Although it had been 400 years, there was no question in John’s mind that God Would send One to save his people – we have waited 400 years, if you are not the Messiah, then we have learned patience – we can wait, we will wait – He Will come..

He KNOWS that one IS to come – his only question is “Are you the one?” He like the disciples of Jesus remains unsure, but he is in NO doubt that God Will come and redeem his people. He is one of The great examples of the Advent posture towards the world – that resolutely, and quietly and with infinite patience Waits, for the one who IS to come – except he is just a shadow of the person of faith . . .

It is I must admit rather hard to imagine John as a shadowy character – isn’t he surely the most Full On individual we meet, Jesus aside in the whole of Scripture? With his powerful and merciless denunciations of the Pharisees and Sadducees, coming for Baptism for heavens sake!! – ‘you brood of Vipers!’ As always, fearfully trying to get it right – to get on the right side of God, and John lambasts them ‘Who warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come?!’ And Jesus indeed picks up on this theme as John’s disciples return with the Good News to their master – Jesus turns then to the crowds and vindicates John and his ministry.

‘Tell John what you see’, Jesus tells John’s disciples – but then asks the crowds ‘What did you go out in the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind??’ It is hard to think of any less appropriate metaphor for John – you can see the smile on the faces of the crowds at Jesus’ joke. John’s ministry has been anything but like a frail reed moved around by the gentlest of breezes – rather he is utterly steely. His question of Jesus reveals that steel – even in the depths of the darkness of prison he is the same – interrogating Jesus – ‘Are you the one? Or do we wait for another?’
So quite clearly they haven’t gone to look at yet another reed flopping around in the wind. ‘What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes?’ Again the crowd enjoy the joke, the hair shirted baptist has probably never felt the softness of fine cloth, and his diet was hardly the cuisine of the wealthy. ‘Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.’ What then did you go out into the wilderness to see? A prophet?’ The crowd nod back at him –  there was no doubt in their minds about what John was – but Jesus now takes them further – ‘Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’’
John is more than a Prophet – he is THE prophet, the Prophet who is preparing the Way of the Lord – the Royal Highway  of which it was said – ‘it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.’ The one who prepares the way of the Redeemed, of the Ransomed of the Lord upon the heads of whom shall be everlasting joy, the ones who will know the departure of sin and sorrow. ‘If you are willing to accept it, if you have ears to hear’, Jesus says, ‘He is Elijah who is to come’ John is the prophet of the end of the age.

And the crowd must have been brought from knowing smiles to almost stunned silence by those words – into which Jesus speaks words which radically calls into question All that his hearers have understood about God’s plans for his people. Surely after all, who can be greater than the one who announces the culmination of the history of Israel . . .

Jesus said you are right, and you are wrong – ‘Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist’ – ‘John’, he tells the crowd, a crowd which at this point is all too ready to believe him, ‘John is the greatest man who has ever lived’ but then as he keeps on doing, he demolishes all our categories of understanding – ‘yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he’.

John is just a shadow of the person of faith – John belongs to the age that is passing away – and up to the coming of Jesus, No one is greater than John the Baptist, which in itself undoes some of our categories, in that this wild man of the wilderness is the greatest of those born amongst women – but let us not be deflected – John is the last of the age that is passing away – he is the herald of the age that is to come, and as John embodied the line of the Prophets, bringing it to an end, so, indeed more so, infinitely more so, Jesus Embodies the age that is to come. He IS the age that is to come.
In the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah, the age that is passing away comes under the judgement of God, and the age that is to come is revealed, and those who are In Christ are already beginning to participate in the fulness of the reign of God, something which even John could not do, ‘for as yet the Spirit had not been given, for Jesus had as yet not been glorified’

The Resurrection of Jesus releases the Life of God into the world – the Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of the risen one, making Christ present in all who welcome him, to all who believe in him . . . ‘But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.’

John, the shadow of the person of faith, yet what a shadow! For in his faith we see so much of what it means to be faithful people – resolutely and quietly with Infinite patience Waits in Advent Faith – Waiting for? Well waiting for God’s work in Jesus to come to fruition amongst his people – waiting for the Seed of the Life of the Risen one to bear fruit, 30? 60? 100 fold? However much fruit, waiting in faith for an Abundance of Fruit.

Just this week I was speaking with Andrew Scott as he spoke about this seed bearing fruit in Brockville, about how all of a sudden people are asking to become Christians, are seeking to be baptised – the Life of Jesus bursting forth, after 8 years of patient work and watching the field and waiting.

As James reminds us 7Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8You also must be patient.

And next week we turn our attention to Mary the Mother of God, who is the first to know this Life of Jesus within her and so who exemplifies for us the Waiting of those who belong to the age He has ushered in.

But for now, let us KNOW his presence amongst us – let us Take – let us Eat – let us Feed on Him, by faith and with Great Thanksgiving.

God walked in the garden in the cool of the day

Praying in the cool of the day, in a garden

God seeks a place in His Creation in which to pray

Jesus comes to the Temple and finds that place not empty and ready, but preoccupied

Therefore, He empties himself and becomes the place wherein once more God prays within Creation

He becomes the place wherein we may pray, and thus may ourselves become the Garden in which the Father may walk and bless and heal

In Advent, we prepare the garden of our hearts to receive the One who comes in great humility to Save us

Thus we Wait, for His prayer to be perfected in us