Monday, December 28, 2009

Word Made Flesh

SJF • Christmas 1 2009 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
And the Word became flesh and lived among us.+

Merry Christmas! I say that because Christmas is not a single day — Christmas is that twelve-day-long season of the church year in which we are particularly reminded of a great invasion that took place long ago — when in fulfillment of the prophecies of old, God came to be with us as one of us, our Lord Emmanuel.

During the few years of his ministry recorded in the Gospels, Jesus taught and preached about why he came to us. He also told parables about himself as God’s emissary, God’s anointed one, the Messiah, God’s Son, sent from his Father’s throne on a mission to the world God loved so much. He told the parable about the king who sent his son to deal with those disreputable vineyard tenants, for example — a very pointed parable aimed in the direction of religious leaders who had turned the temple into a den of thieves. He told of the master of the household who came to check up on what the various servants were doing, especially in regard to how they treated each other — and that’s a very pointed parable that is a lesson to all of us! So it is that Jesus himself began a tradition of telling about his own mission among us through parables.

Last week, Brother James and I saw the new James Cameron film, Avatar. As you know from the news reports we were not the only people who went to the movies last weekend! The film has very nearly made up its very high price tag within the first weeks of its release. I promise that this sermon will contain no spoilers, for those who yet to see the film — I’ll stick to what has already been shown in the trailers and previews, which have been hard to avoid if you’ve wandered within five feet of a television during the last month or so.

The reason I think of this film at Christmas time is not only due to its having been released to coincide with Christmas — strange timing for what is really a summer blockbuster after all! It is because this film also deals with the theme of incarnation — and of what incarnation is for: sacrifice and justice and deliverance and healing. While it is far from matching up with Christian theology point by point, that film does capture the essence of a very vital and central element of the Christian faith — that God became one of us, and saved us.

As the evangelist John put it, “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” And as he would continue in a later chapter, the Son of God came into the world, “not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

So it is that the hero of the film, Jake Sully, is given a fleshy body like those of the people whose world he is going to inhabit. A body ten feet tall, with yellow eyes, and a long tail like a cat! It is also a body “not born of blood or of the will of the flesh,” though clearly at the devising and the will of man — the scientists grow the body for Jake in a giant test tube. More importantly for the theme of the film, Jake rejects and is rejected by “his own people” — us human beings — or at least the commercial exploiters of the peaceful planet and the military force set on displacing or eliminating the indigenous population.

I’ll let the comparison rest at that — both so as not to give away any more of the film, but also not to press my luck by drawing the analogy any closer than it already is. As with the parables themselves, it is a mistake to try to interpret most of them allegorically — that is, point by point — rather than drawing one major lesson from each of them.

And the major lesson I want to draw both from our Scripture and from that adventuresome movie is the same — that we have been rescued. And more than rescued: saved. We and our world have been saved by someone who is both one of us and yet who comes from beyond. God has come to us; the word which was at the beginning with God and was God, through whom all things came into being, and without whom not one thing that is came to be — this same Word and Son of God came to us as one of us, became human flesh and lived among us and allowed us for that brief time to see his glory.

And to do more than just to see. As Saint Paul wrote to the troublesome congregation in Galatia, through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we have also received adoption as children of God, brothers and sisters of God’s own son, who was born under the law, born of a woman as all of us were, in order to redeem us and set us free from the bondage of sin.

Jesus came to us as one of us to save us from the mess we’d gotten into by seeking ourselves instead of honoring God and our neighbors. Unlike the tall blue people of Pandora, who seem to be able to get along not only with each other but with their whole planet, we human beings have been at odds both with each other and our planet almost from the very beginning. (Another point made in Avatar is that the humans are invading the peaceful planet of Pandora because they’ve practically destroyed their home-world — our home-world, the Earth. And any decisions about global warming taken last week in Copenhagen notwithstanding, that part of the story may well turn out to be true, 150 years from now!)

Clearly, we human beings have a way of making a mess of things, both on a personal and a planetary scale. But the good news of Christmas, is that it doesn’t have to be that way, or stay that way. God himself came to us to offer us a way out of this mess. And it wasn’t with arrows and flying dragons, it wasn’t with machine guns and armaments. It wasn’t alien creatures 10 feet tall, or mechanical suits twice as tall as that armed to the teeth.

It was as a child, born in a suburb of Jerusalem, during a time of confusion and injustice no less troubled than our own. And all who will receive him, who believe in his name, have power to become children of God, as he was and is. We can embrace that new identity received in him, clothe ourselves in his goodness, and set down both the swords we use against each other and the seemingly innocuous ploughshares with which we wound our weary planet. We can turn from using each other and our world only for what we can get out of it and each other, and instead seek to serve each other, to love each other and cherish each other as brothers and sisters should do, and to treat this earth, our island home, with greater reverence and care: it’s the only one we’ve got!

We have been given power to do this by God himself — God, who made us and this world of ours — for the Word became flesh and lived among us. We have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Through that grace and in that truth we can proclaim our salvation — that we have been rescued and saved, redeemed and restored, and empowered so that we might be all that God intends us to be: his children — so that it is true when we cry out, “Abba! Father!” And so to Christ our Savior, and to his Father and our Father, let us give thanks for this great gift, the greatest gift, the Word made flesh, our Lord, Emmanuel.+

Monday, December 21, 2009

One Room Hearts

SJF • Advent 4c 2009 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
You, O Bethlehem, are but one of the little clans of Judah... but from you shall come forth one who is to rule in Israel. (Micah 5:2)

THERE’S SOMETHING IN US ALL that loves to see the underdog finally get ahead; to see the little guy bring down the big bully; to share the joy of the little shopkeeper who wins the lottery, of the hard-working housekeeper who inherits a fortune. This is the stuff of fairy tales: of Cinderella, raised from the dust and ashes of the hearth to become a princess; of the Ugly Duckling turning out to be a swan; of the Little Engine Who Could, finally making it over that steep hill; or, in keeping with the season, of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, shunned at first because of his odd and shiny nose, later turning out to be just the one Santa needs to accomplish his Christmas Eve mission.

Yes, this is the stuff of fairy tales, but it is also the stuff of salvation. For once, long ago, just about exactly three thousand years ago, — yes, I’m counting correctly! — in a little suburb of Jerusalem, a little town belonging to the smallest clan in Judah, a little town called Bethlehem, an unlikely young man came to the forefront of everyone’s attention: and his name was David, son of Jesse — the shepherd-boy who would go on to knock down that towering Philistine giant Goliath with his slingshot, and later would go on to become the king of all Israel.

The prophet Micah, remembering this savior from his nation’s past — much the way we might remember Abraham Lincoln or George Washington — spoke to his people in their present turmoil to comfort them with the promise of another king who would arise from this little town of Bethlehem. From this little suburban village, one would come forth who would be great to the ends of the earth. He would “feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.”

Such stories, such promises, give hope. It is wonderful when the tables are overturned and the haughty mighty ones are toppled, especially when that toppling is done by poor, simple souls lifted up from where they’ve been downtrodden for so long. It is so wonderful that it’s worth singing about. That’s what Micah did, and that’s what Mary of Nazareth did, too.

In today’s Gospel, little Mary, the carpenter’s wife, you know, the housewife — she lived just down the street — the working-class mother-to-be; she was spending some time away from her home up in the hill country, visiting her cousin Elizabeth, also soon to become a mother. And as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, she felt the child leap in her womb, the yet unborn John the Baptist already sensing somehow and announcing with a kick the arrival of his Lord hidden in his mother’s womb. And Elizabeth too was urged to prophetic utterance, addressing Mary as blessèd, as the mother of the Lord, a Lord only just recently and miraculously conceived, and yet already announced by his unborn cousin.

And that’s when Mary sang. The song she sang has been repeated since in every language on earth, sung to many melodies, throughout the world sung every day as part of the evening worship of the church, a reminder before bedtime that our God is a mighty One who does great things, who lifts up the lowly, who afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted, who fills the hungry with good things, but sends the rich away empty; and who, above all, is faithful to his promises.

Mary’s song is the song of all the little people, of all the underdogs, of all the people who never got a fair shake finally winning their reward. In Mary’s Song is summed up all the history of God’s chosen people, loved by their faithful God even when they were unfaithful, chosen not because they were numerous or powerful, or great, but just because they were little and insignificant — as if God were saying, “I can work with anything. I’m going to take this lousy little tribe of people wandering around in the desert and from them will come the ruler of the universe...” whose coming we celebrate this week.

+ + +

There’s an advantage, you see, to being little! (I guess I should talk, right?) Little people can fit into places big people can’t. And I don’t just mean on the “D” train! Little people notice things that the big people are too busy to see, or too caught up in their own importance to notice; they keep their heads up. Little people know they need to keep their eyes open and look around. One Saint took this very seriously, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who was known as the “Little Flower.” She was a little lady, but because of that she knew she wasn’t cut out to be a great heroine of the faith, a martyr who would face death and torture rather than deny Christ, or a missionary called to go to far off lands. So she resolved to follow what she called “The Little Way”: to do every little daily task as if it were the most important thing in the world; to do the dishes as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar; to scrub the floors of the convent where she lived as if they were the paving stones of heaven; and to face all challenges and difficulties with the same sweet innocent smile, as she said, “We are too little to be able to rise above great difficulties; so then let us quite simply pass beneath them!”

Herein lies the great advantage that the humble and meek have over the rich and powerful: They pay attention to the little things, they listen, they keep their eyes open — they have to! They’ve learned to know how to avoid being stepped on; and it is no accident that when whatever it was that wiped out the dinosaurs wiped out the dinosaurs, the little mammals survived because they could slip through the cracks of disaster! The rich, the powerful who imagine themselves to be self-sufficient, fail to remember how dependent they are on others and on God, and so they lose their grip on what they have, and when the tables are turned, they slide from their thrones. It was precisely when Israel got fat and rich and comfortable and big that the people lost sight of God, and slid into exile or captivity. Only when reduced to the point that they could acknowledge their failings would they turn to God, their deliverer, in meekness and repentance.

The meek, unlike the proud, are receptive, open to God’s arrival. The great Episcopal preacher and bishop Phillips Brooks — who once stood in this very pulpit as he preached at the wedding of the third rector, Charles Tiffany — Phillips Brooks had that in mind when he wrote the words of that wonderful hymn we sang today, “where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.”

And what is it that Christ enters into? We find the answer in the collect for today: “Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself.” Or, as Brooks put it in the same hymn: “O Holy child of Bethlehem descend to us we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.” When we become little, when we become meek, God dwells among us, with us, and ultimately in us: truly Emmanuel: God-with-us.

God chose Mary to bear his Son as he chose Israel to be his people. It wasn’t because Mary was great, but because Mary was humble, meek and lowly, that God chose her. It was God who made her great, who did great things for her. It was God who lifted up his lowly handmaiden, and made her the mother of his Son.

That same meekness, that same humility is available to us. We can be like Mary — we can open our hearts to God and to each other, to welcome Christ, who is always willing to enter into a humble heart. If God — think about that — even God, could become so little, an infant lying in a manger, can not we too shrink ourselves? Can we not pare down our egos and our angers, engage in a fast of righteousness and shed the pounds of pride and resentment, freeing ourselves to run like happy naked children through the sprinklers of God’s abundant grace?

It is a challenge. It’s hard to become little when you’ve gotten used to living large — dieting and losing weight is hard! Israel learned that lesson, over and over again. And we stumble and fall, too. We’re so often told to act like grown-ups; that big is better; that maturity is judged by power instead of wisdom. But in God’s world, it is better, far better, to be like a child — didn’t he tell us that? It is far, far better to be like one of the blessed little ones who behold God’s face in everything they see.

So, brothers and sisters, let’s be little together. Let’s lose the weight of sin and selfishness. Remember, as the doctor said to the overweight businessman: “It’s either lose forty pounds now or lose two-hundred forty soon!” So let’s go on the diet of righteousness starting now! Let us sing Mary’s song, now, and on Christmas Day, and the day after that, and forever after. When we feel ourselves getting too big for our britches, let’s remember little Mary’s song. Let us join in the chorus of praise, the chorus of souls who magnify the Lord by acknowledging their own littleness, their voices echoing down the corridors of time and space. Let us watch with charity; and with faith hold open the door of grace. Let our hands help lift up the lowly, as we are lifted up ourselves; let our hands feed the hungry, as we are fed at the hands of God. Let us open our hearts, our simple, little, one-room hearts, which, by the grace of God, will become mansions prepared for his Son at his coming. “O come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel!”

(Note: unfortunately the audio recorder cut off 2/3 through the sermon...)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Carrot or Stick?

SJF • Advent 3c 2009 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
If there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.+

WE COME TO THE three-quarters mark of Advent, the Sunday known as “Rejoice Sunday,” when we switch vestments from purple to rose for the day. This Sunday takes its name from our reading from Philippians, beginning with those famous words, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

We start with Zephaniah’s joyful command to the daughter of Zion to start singing in exultation, rejoicing that the Lord has granted full acquittal, rescued her from disaster, and restored her fortunes. Thus the tone is set for rejoicing right from the first reading. Then Paul continues the tone with that wonderful call to rejoice in the Lord always — it’s hard to hear those words without thinking of the wonderful bouncy setting that Händel wrote to portray the leaping joy of happy hearts.

Things seem to be running along in a happy mood indeed, and then suddenly the foot comes down on the brakes and we come to a screeching halt, as the scary figure of John the Baptist looms before us, holding out his hand and crying, “You brood of vipers!”

Just when we thought we were heading for a happy ending, here comes somebody talking about axes and fires and vipers and wrath. It’s as if we’d just settled down in the movie theater with the kids, ready to see Disney’s latest G-rated romp, but before the family fare can begin, the previews of coming attractions shock us with an R-rated sequel to Nightmare on Elm Street!

Why did those who chose our readings for this third Sunday of Advent change course in mid-stream, returning from rejoicing to the more common theme of Advent, violence and the coming day of the Lord? Well, one of the reasons is that they knew who they were dealing with— us! People who deal with people — whether politicians or managers or pastors — know that there are two sides to human nature. The upside is the willingness to be generous, to be truthful and honorable and worthy of praise. But the downside is always there — we live in a world beset by sin, and even the best person is far from perfect. And that downside of human nature includes selfishness, envy, pride, dishonesty, and all those other nasty things that hide under the paving-stones of even our best intentions. Yes, people may mean well, they may even do well much of the time, but none of us is so virtuous that we don’t need an incentive to move forward, and a corrective for our failings from time to time.

So we have, as it were, the carrot and the stick. There are other analogies: good cop, bad cop, for example. And what child hasn’t learned that if Mom says No, Dad may well say Yes, or vice versa! And so, in today’s readings, while Zephaniah and Paul hold out the carrot, John the Baptist swings the stick.

And if we look closely at what all three are saying, I think we can see that, while the messages at first seem to clash, deep down there is a single theme to their effort. Just as the carrot and the stick are both meant to get the donkey moving, just as the good cop and the bad cop are both working together to get the suspect to cooperate, just as Mom and Dad really both have the best interest of their child at heart, so too Zephaniah and Paul and John are all trying to move us in the same direction — Godward.

+ + +

Look closely at what John the Baptist is demanding, after all of those fiery and violent opening words. Is he asking those who come to hear him to walk barefoot over hot coals or perform difficult feats? No, in spite of his intensity, what he asks is not all that extraordinary or hard after all: that whoever has two coats should share one with someone who has none, that whoever has food should share it with the hungry. Now, that’s hardly terrifying, is it? It only seems natural.

And he goes on, telling the tax collectors to collect the tax — and no more; he tells the soldiers to be happy with their salary, and not to abuse or blackmail the citizens with threats or lies.

In short, all he’s doing is asking for the same kinds of things Paul does in his joyful letter to the folks in Philippi: be true, be honorable, be just, be fair. John is telling people to do the same things as Paul, and to do them in the same way — honorably, faithfully, and with respect. Though he wields the stick instead of dangling the carrot, his goal is the same, to move the people to be as good as they can be, to bring them to the spiritual place of justice, fairness, and unselfishness that we goes by the wonderful name, Righteousness.

The problem, of course, is that movement is needed! The donkey of human nature won’t budge, sometimes in spite of the carrot or the stick. In spite of all the encouragement to be good, to be true and fair and honorable, to be righteous, people still lie and cheat and steal.

In spite of being urged to share their food and clothing, there are still plenty of full closets and empty stomachs in this world of ours. In spite of urging those in authority to do their jobs justly and fairly, there is greed and corruption in the seats of power. All human beings, all of us, however good or wanting to be good, are, as the Collect for today says, “sorely hindered by our sins” — we desperately need God to “stir up his strength and come among us.” Our donkey cart has its wheels stuck in the ruts of a well-worn road — and we need more than a carrot or a stick or even both together.

And so there is more to John’s message, as there is to Paul’s. Both of them know that however big and tempting the carrot, however strong and threatening the stick, neither is powerful enough to accomplish what is needed. For that, not something but someone else is needed, someone whose coming John foretells and whose presence Paul preaches. John warns the people that Messiah is coming, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire: the ultimate carrot and stick! And Paul counsels the people to rest assured in the peace of Christ, placing their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. For it is Christ, the Messiah, who is the final cause of all rejoicing; it is Jesus of Nazareth who is the final goal of all our pilgrimage, with all of our ups and downs, all of our wrong turns and failures, all of our defeats and all of our victories — only he who can move us from our immobility.

He alone is the one who can push the donkey cart out of the ruts into which we have steered it, and he will do so with the same shoulder that bore the cross, and with his own wounded hands. He alone is the one who will bring us home, bring us home rejoicing, bring us home in peace. The good news of both Paul and John find their end and fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and after Paul and John have done their work as carrot and stick, to try to keep us moving in the right direction, it is Jesus Christ our Lord, and only he, who will stir up his power, and with great might come among us, bearing his bountiful grace and mercy in his own wounded hands, he will speedily help and deliver us, and finally bring us home. And so, to him alone who has the power to save us and deliver us, to him be the glory henceforth and for evermore.+

Mountains and Valleys

SJF • Advent 2c 2009 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
The Word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness… +

HAVE YOU EVER experienced a grief so deep, been plunged into the depths of a despair or sadness so dark and unrelieved that you thought you would never get out of it? Or have you ever faced a difficulty so massive, a problem so insoluble, so impossible to get around or to get over, that you simply felt immobilized and helpless? I’m sure that all of us here have had such moments in our lives, such experiences, such feelings. But I am also sure, precisely because we are here, that somehow we found the strength to overcome whatever it was that plunged us into gloom, or blocked our ability to get on with life. Something happened to each of us to bring us up out of the depths; something happened to remove the obstacle from our path. Someone brought us a message of hope, someone’s simple word or action suddenly put things in perspective, and helped us out of the pit of despair, or helped us over the obstacle.

This is the message of Advent. Into the darkness, a light has shined; every valley shall be filled, every mountain and hill made low, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. This was the message of John the Baptist, the Word of God that came to him long ago in a particular time and place, a time and place that the self-conscious historian Saint Luke is at such pains to pinpoint in our Gospel today.

What John was saying, and what Luke was saying, is that God acts. Things change — and not just because that’s the way of the world — but because God leads and guides and urges the world along, wooing us like a lover when we feel most unlovable, bringing us up from the valley of despair, helping us by taking our hand to lift us up over the mountainous obstacles we face, when we feel most helpless.

The reason John and Luke could be so confident that God acts is that they could look back over a whole long history of God at work in and with his chosen people, his chosen bride, Daughter Israel. John and Luke could look back to the prophet Isaiah, just as did the author of the book of Baruch. The prophecies in Isaiah encouraged Judah when the people were in captivity in Babylon, just as the prophecies in Baruch comforted the children of Israel when they were under the domination of the Greek Empire. Whatever the current state of things, these prophets promised, God would restore the fortunes of Zion. Jerusalem would put off her widow’s weeds, uncover her veiled head and put on the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting. Rather than being crushed by a mountain, she would climb it, stand upon the height and see her children coming home safe and sound.

God would set things right; God would act; things would change, as God had acted and things had changed before. Long before, God had moved the heart of Cyrus to end the captivity in Babylon, to allow the people to return from weeping by Babylon’s strand, to restore the fortunes of Zion, to rebuild the Temple. God had inspired the Maccabees to throw off the domination of Antiochus Epiphanes, that wicked man — to cleanse and rededicate that same Temple, and as a testimony to God’s presence with his people in those days, God had provided the miracle of the Hanukkah lights, oil enough to light the menorah in the Temple for eight days of rejoicing when it appeared there was only enough oil for one day.

So it was that John the Baptist could proclaim the old words of Isaiah with confidence, words whose significance would not escape his hearers: Israel had been liberated from Babylon, she had been freed from the domination of the Syrian Greeks; and she would be freed from the domination of the Romans, too.

+ + +

But John meant more than this. Those who saw John the Baptist only as a political zealot, proclaiming rebellion against Rome, would have missed the greater part of his message. He was not talking about the liberation of Palestine from Roman rule, the return of the scattered exiles. He was talking about far more: for he said, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

John was not simply testifying to a coming political settlement, even a restoration of the Jewish monarchy, as so many Zealots hoped. Nor is this what Luke is getting at by reeling off all the names of rulers from Rome to the tetrarchies of Palestine. On the contrary, Luke is setting firmly in place one end of the great arch that will run through his Gospel and end in his account of the Acts of the Apostles, a great arch of triumph that begins in Palestine but ends in Rome; an arch of triumph that begins among the Jewish people, but ends among the Gentiles; an arch of triumph for the anointed one, the Messiah, to enter through and into historical fact, announcing the good news of salvation not just for the Jewish people, but to Jew and Gentile alike from one end of the known world to the other, so that all flesh would see it together.

This is the great good news of the first Advent: God is about to be revealed in human form, as a human being among human beings. God is about to appear as a particular Jewish child born in a particular Palestinian place, and we glimpse him today in the Gospel, grown to manhood some thirty years later about to be recognized and affirmed by John the Baptist, the herald of his coming, and all flesh — Jew and Gentile alike, slave and free, rich and poor — shall see the salvation of our God, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

+ + +

No, Luke is not just talking politics. Nor, harking back to the questions with which I began this sermon, am I simply talking about God as the answer to deep depression or despair, to feelings of helplessness or inertia, as if God was simply the latest anti-depressant! I, too, am talking about the salvation of God, the healing grace of God who not only anoints our wounded hearts and lifts our wearied spirits, who not only fills us with joy when all we can see is sadness, but who appears as a light in the darkness, glowing first as a tiny candle, that sends out rays that pierce the gloom, and illuminate the night of sin with celestial brightness, so that all humanity can and will one day finally see the salvation and grace of God that have come among us. God lifts our spirits not simply to the level of earthly comfort, but to heavenly joy, lifting us from the death of sin to eternal life.

For John’s proclamation, after all, was to a world caught up in sin, enslaved by sin; to which John offered a baptism of repentance and forgiveness. The human condition since the fall of Adam and Eve was such that everything had become an obstacle: life was a succession of deep, dangerous valleys and high, hazardous hills, unnatural boundaries that kept people separated from each other and from God. For that is what sin is: that which separates us from God and each other. And the church’s mission, proclaimed by John and begun by Christ, is to heal that separation.

John the Baptist echoed Isaiah and Baruch, crying out that one was coming who would level the mountains and fill in the valleys with their bulk. The very obstacles would thus become the means to movement. The mountains too high to cross would be torn down to fill in the chasms too wide to leap. The stones of the wall that people constructed to keep people separate from each other, would be reconstructed into a bridge to help them cross and enter in.

+ + +

This is the message of Advent. The salvation of God is coming, and all flesh shall see it together. We who have already seen, know and can tell who that salvation is; it is Jesus who is the bridge, the healer of the breach, the restorer of all that is broken. Jesus levels the mountain whose mighty bulk fills the valley of the shadow of death, making the way plain and level so that all might cross over. His own body, whose members we are, is the means of reunion, return and restoration. He is himself the healing of the wound inflicted when Adam and Eve first tried to separate themselves from God by becoming gods themselves.

For it is in Christ, that we find our true identity as brothers and sisters. It is in Christ that the valley of despair is filled and the mountain of resistance leveled. It is in Christ that the old divisions are overcome, in whom, as Paul said, there is no more slave or free, Jew or Greek, male and female. It is in Christ that the healing of salvation is begun and continued, in and through him.

As we traverse this Advent season, let us embrace the spirit of repentance that invites our Lord into our hearts, where he can work to remove the mountains and fill the valleys of our lives through the power of his love and the healing of his grace; that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer, to whom be all glory, now and for ever.+