Illumination — The Teacher Draweth Nigh — Salvation Dawns

Saturday Advent 1 – December 8, 2012

Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26
Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ … He will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and grain, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. On that day your cattle will graze in broad pastures; and the oxen and donkeys that till the ground will eat silage, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork. On every lofty mountain and every high hill there will be brooks running with water—on a day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall.  Moreover, the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, like the light of seven days, on the day when the Lord binds up the injuries of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.

Psalm 147
1 Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3 He heals the broken-hearted,
and binds up their wounds.
4 He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
6 The Lord lifts up the downtrodden;
he casts the wicked to the ground.
7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.
8 He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He gives to the animals their food,
and to the young ravens when they cry.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;*
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
12 Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!

 Matthew 9.35-38 — 10.1, 5-8
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity … These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay.

There are two images side by side in today’s readings. Learning and nourishment. Of course, they are related. Of course, learning is nourishing. Learning, properly applied, leads to prosperity and we feast on the fruit of that prosperity with gladness.

But I am not drawn to taking those associations further.

The image that stays with me is the person who languishes in the darkness of ignorance of “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and the adversity it brings. The ignorance leads to adversity and the adversity leads to deeper ignorance. A downward spiral without an intervention. Without a light that begins to shine in the darkness (see Isaiah 9.1-7 and Matthew 4.12-16).

The teacher and the student; or, perhaps the master and the disciple; or the nation and its need for a wise and just leader who will lead them in the way. All of them are used in the Old and New Testaments.

I can’t help noting the oft’ used saying that does not originate in the Judeo-Christian tradition but the Buddhist:  “When the disciple is ready, the master will appear.” But, in reality, the Isaiah reading for today basically says exactly the same thing: “When the adversity of ignorance has served its purpose, the teacher/master will appear, for at that point, the student/disciple will be ready to listen, learn, and live a changed life. No longer will he or she desire to lean on their own understanding but, will instead, yearn to be taught.” (see Proverbs 3.1-8) So, although, the Buddhist saying does say what it says and what it says is true, I don’t have to resort to it for my inspiration. Buddha is not my yearned for teacher because he cannot lead me in the way that is ultimate truth and offers the fullness of life. For that, I need Jesus and my fellow students/disciples. Together we form a school for saints (see the Prologue to The Rule of St. Benedict).

That this should be the image that sticks with me today should not surprise me. I am, at my very core, a student. I love learning. I love sharing knowledge and insight. I love the struggle to take the fruit of the “lecture hall” into the “lab” and learn how to do in life what I know in my head. I have known competent and incompetent teachers. The difference between them is whether or not they can actually help me live what I have learned and in doing so have actually taught me something. And, it must be said, the student who has truly learned (lives the knowledge) is destined to struggle to become the teacher for some yearning student. Perhaps that is the hardest part of learning – teaching what I have/am learned(ing) and attempting to live on a practical basis. The Lord does, we hear in the Gospel reading, send out the twelve (the word Apostle means “sent out” and thus, the Bishop is THE guardian and teacher of the faith – the Apostle – in the midst of the faithful that represents the apostolic calling in which we all have a share). This challenge makes living what I have learned seem simply in comparison. Passing on what I have received (see 1 and 2 Timothy and other passages in St. Paul’s letters to his students/fellow disciples). Therein lies the rub ! !

There is a profound “rightness” in the Judeo-Christian tradition of the day beginning at sundown not at dawn. The tradition reminds me that I began my journey not with the light but with the darkness. It was into that darkness that the light comes (shines) and ushered me into the light to live in the light. In the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican traditions, Evening Prayer begins, most traditionally, in the darkened sanctuary. The “Phos Hilaron,” the earliest Christian hymn recorded outside of the Bible that is still in use today, is sung at the lighting of the lights that heralds the advent of the teacher/master who will enlighten us (save us).

O Gentle Light of the holy glory of the immortal, heavenly, holy, blessed Father, O Jesus Christ: Having come to the setting of the sun, having beheld the evening light, we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: God. Meet it is for Thee at all times to be hymned with reverent voices, O Son of God, Giver of life. Wherefore, the world doth glorify Thee

Later, some form of prayer for the light and the identification of Christ Jesus as the light Who meets us in the darkness and leads us into the Light is recited.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

St. Columbanus (540 – 615), the Irish abbot, not to be confused with St. Columba, knew what it was like to be a learner and sought after teacher/master, in his “Instructions” gives us a glimpse into his inner life and his yearning for learning and teaching:

How blessed, how fortunate, are those servants whom the Lord will find watchful when he comes. Blessed is the time of waiting when we stay awake for the Lord, the Creator of the universe, who fills all things and transcends all things.

How I wish he would awaken me, his humble servant, from the sleep of slothfulness, even though I am of little worth. How I wish he would enkindle me with that fire of divine love. The flames of his love burn beyond the stars; the longing for his overwhelming delights and the divine fire ever burn within me!

How I wish I might deserve to have my lantern always burning at night in the temple of my Lord, to give light to all who enter the house of my God. Give me, I pray you, Lord, in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son and my God, that love that does not fail so that my lantern, burning within me and giving light to others, may be always lighted and never extinguished.

Jesus, our most loving Savior, be pleased to light our lanterns, so that they might burn for ever in your temple, receiving eternal light from you, the eternal light, to lighten our darkness and to ward off from us the darkness of the world.

Give your light to my lantern, I beg you, my Jesus, so that by its light I may see that holy of holies which receives you as the eternal priest entering among the columns of your great temple. May I ever see you only, look on you, long for you; may I gaze with love on you alone, and have my lantern shining and burning always in your presence.

Loving Savior, be pleased to show yourself to us who knock, so that in knowing you we may love only you, love you alone, desire you alone, contemplate only you day and night, and always think of you. Inspire in us the depth of love that is fitting for you to receive as God. So may your love pervade our whole being, possess us completely, and fill all our senses, that we may know no other love but love for you who are everlasting. May our love be so great that the many waters of sky, land and sea cannot extinguish it in us: many waters could not extinguish love. (Source:  Celebrating the Seasons , pg. 12-13, Canterbury Press, 1999)

May this saying be fulfilled in us also, at least in part by your gift, Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I come away from these readings being reminded of:

  • the adversity of ignorance and the darkness it spawns in my own life and the life of others.
  • the joy of literally (not figuratively) hearing the knock on my door, opening the door, and having the person standing before me say, “I am here.”
  • the responsibility to maintain a dynamic and consistent relationship with my Spiritual Father the Lord has provided that is, by His grace, the “voice of Christ” in my life in concert with the voice of Christ in my life.
  • the joy of learning and I know the joy of teaching.
  • the sometime necessary adversity of ignorance that I must, painfully, walk in so that my pride can be killed and the ever-present struggle that learning involves that give substance to the joy of learning and teaching – of experiencing the truth and walking in the way it proclaims and the life that is Christ Jesus.

Lord, thank you for your Word to me… Come Lord Jesus – teacher and master – Lord and God.

“Lighten our darkness we beseech Thee, O Lord”

Fr. Thomas


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