12th Dec, 2010

The Third Sunday of Advent

by Fr. Ian Elliott Davies

Isaiah 35:1-10
St. James 5:7-10
St. Matthew 11:2-11

Gaudate is the Latin for rejoice, hence the rose-pink flowers and vestments. This is not a period of lethargy taken during a long, arduous journey. It is rather more like a short stop to catch our breath at a scenic view, where we stand in awe of the spectacular panorama unfolding before us.
But today we are granted a preview of the fulfillment that lies in store for us.
This morning we have a hand-out from frontispiece of the Book of Kells, sometimes called the Book of S Columba, which was fashioned between the sixth and ninth centuries on vellum.
The invocation of saints, angels and God’s Holy Ones is one of the most ancient practices in religion. Monks, clergy, men and women and children have used images from the Book of Kells to inspire their faith, to warm their hearts in this chilly season as we approach the shortest day of the year.
Similar invocations can be found in myriad other cultures. A Jewish prayer before sleep invokes powerful angelic figures to watch, pray and protect: “In the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, may S Michael be at my right hand; S Gabriel at my left; S Uriel before me; S Raphael behind me; and the Shekhinah of God be above my head.” Here, the angels of God are invoked, and, in conclusion, the light and glory, the Shekinah cloud of God, the covering glory of God.
Night-time and its darkness is when we are particularly vulnerable, susceptible to the idea of something numinous, awe-inspiring and perhaps even unnerving.
Sometimes in the semi-light of the evening and night strange shapes and objects can take on intimidating powers. The angels of God are there to protect and to enlighten our path- and they are always there, or should I say they are always ‘here?’ With you, with your children, your partners, your friends.
When Christ speaks of St John the Baptist in today’s Gospel he ends with his reference to preaching, he is making an important point that he has made elsewhere. The words that he speaks are efficacious, they are performative: they liberate, they heal, and they forgive sin
In our Churches today, we often find that the Gospels or the Evangelarium are represented by the four angelic, mystical beasts, mentioned first in Ezekiel and finally in Revelation. S Matthew is represented by the human face, S Mark by the lion, S Luke by the ox, and S John by the eagle. You will see superb examples of Illuminated Manuscripts by Dr Mazzucchelli in the Lady Chapel.
The four living creatures, in the New and Old Testaments, are closely associated with the throne of God: they can communicate God’s very presence. They have profound insights — being “full of eyes,” in scriptural terms that suggests that the documents judge us, not we them.
We often observe in our catechism classes that faith is actually the turning around of our me-centered world. If you gaze and ponder the icon, the Book of Kells you will soon learn that it is not you who are observing the divine, the holy- rather it is God who holds you in His gaze and in His countenance.
Advent is a time that reminds us that even with little or shaken faith we can foster great hopes and plant those seeds that may blossom into a future that we, like St John the Baptist, may never see.
Drop down ye heavens from above,
And let the skies pour down righteousness.
Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people;
My salvation shall not tarry.
I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions.
Fear not, for I will save thee;
For I am the Lord thy God,
The holy one of Israel, thy redeemer.
Drop down ye heavens from above,
And let the skies pour down righteousness.

Symbols of the Four Evangelists from "The Book of Kells" produced between the sixth and ninth centuries. Pictured (clockwise from top left): St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. John, St. Luke


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