Monday, December 31, 2012

Wake Up and Die Right!

Wake Up and Die Right!

My mother was a spitfire of a woman. She didn’t mince words. One of her favorite expressions was; “Wake up and die right!”. It was a salty and verbal way of whacking me upside my dense head. For my ancestors in Maine it was a way of reminding us that sailing along the rocky coast was a dangerous everyday necessity, and you better be awake or you will die all right. And when that glimmer of recognition, insight, and understanding came to me; she’d then say with a sardonic Downeast note; “Light dawns on Marblehead!”

Still she did her best and loved me in her own way. I will be forever grateful to her, for so many things, but primarily for giving me character and backbone. 

There was that one time in particular in Gloucester along that rocky coastline I love so much. I was out playing on an outcropping of rock. I was daring myself to go out further and further. Now, if you know anything about the seaweed and algae that grows along the surface of the rocks, you will know from the first moment you set foot on it, that it is as slippery as grease.

My mother called to me to go no further out. I was of a mindset to push the envelope on this particular day, so I hesitated, and then continued in disobedience further out toward the sea. She called again, this time adding a warning of dire consequences if I failed to heed her instructions. I glanced back but again forged on ahead pretending not to hear. Once more she called out, and then muttered a few choice words, enough to make me stop dead in my tracks. Still, I was at a good distance from her, and there was nothing she could do. So I pressed on. Unbeknownst to me, she was now making her way out toward me, when I my feet met a slippery patch of algae. In an instant I found myself on my back with the wind knocked out of my lungs. And in another instant she was there to rescue me, to hold me, to ask if I were ok. I recovered enough wind to say I was OK. I think I cried a little. She half carried me back to safer solid ground. What she did then, what she said then made the moment indelibly etched in my mind.

I think of this moment often when I think of the Incarnation. We know right from wrong. We know the rules. But we cannot help but push the envelope from time to time. We venture away from God thinking we know better. God calls us to return through his appointed messengers, through prophets and sages in every time. Again and again he calls us to return. Again and again we remove ourselves from God. In the fullness of time, the Word becomes Flesh and comes to us on the rocks, and is always there in a moment of distress especially when we find ourselves flat on our backs with the wind knocked out of our lungs. God embraces us, forgives us, and loves us. We may shed a tear or two, and God wipes those tears away. What God does then and says then indelibly marks us for life with a learning we’ll never forget.

This is Christmas. This is the Incarnation. This is the Word made Flesh. God is not a philosophical construct.  We have four clear snapshots of God’s appearance. Those snapshots are called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Through them we see Jesus, the eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.

This is Christmas. Love came down at Christmas. God runs out onto the rocks to save us from whatever disobedience we come up with. Then God turns around within us and asks us to go and do likewise.

Now that you’ve got your own act together, ha, at least to the extent that you’ve managed to accept any measure of salvation, go on and extend your arms to those others you love who are going out too far into their own rocky ways.

We pray with the Collect of the Day that the Light of God’s Incarnate Word may so shine forth in our lives, that we may have the courage and the imagination to embrace someone we care about in our lives with the loving embrace of God; with God’s love, God’s forgiveness and God’s reconciling power.

We live in a dark and dangerous world. When Isaiah spoke to the nation in today’s lesson, he was speaking to a people in exile and in the throes of oppression. Pick your darkness. Pick your danger. We live in a violent nation. We live in an economy where the haves have more and more and the rest of us have less and less. We are reaching a rather dim awareness of the use of fossil fuels and their role in global climate change.

The very ideas of Social Responsibility, Justice, Peace and the goodness of God are set aside for more selfish motivations. Much of the world of faith has forgotten that it was for the sake of sinners that Jesus lived and died. Those of us who believe in the unconditional love of God for all, the universal forgiveness of Christ’s gift on the Cross for everyone, and the presence of the Holy Spirit within every human heart are actually quite few in number.

Yet when prophet Isaiah spoke to the nation so beset with danger and darkness, he said; 
“Rejoice in the LORD,
          my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation.”
It is as though, living this way where God is God, Jesus is the Christ and the Holy Spirit is the Captain of my soul, I then radiate the light of The Triune Power of God with transforming Grace; Grace not just for me but for all those around me.

I want to waken to life.  This is what the Gospel teaches all who will listen. Wakefulness and preparation for the coming of God is based on our repentance; a willingness to turn to Jesus and keep our eyes fixed on him as we navigate our way through the craggy coastline of life. He is the true compass point. He teaches us right from wrong, that knowledge of the truth will set us free, and that as we live like Christ, we live with the kind of character that is built on the truth that lies within. 

This is why Episcopalians are not afraid of science. Science helps us mark the channels along the coast. Scientists are prophets who can tell us where the dangers are. Geologists can tell us of the dangers and the limits of carbon activity. Astronomers can tell us about the beginnings of the universe. Archeologists can tell us of the epochs of earth’s history. Naturalists can tell us of Evolution and the Origins of The Species. Many scientists have been priests. Darwin, himself, was a child of an Anglican Priest.

Scientific truth is no threat to faith. It is part and parcel of the chart and compass we need to find our way through the very real dangers we face in life.

Jesus was not afraid of the truth. It was he that said the truth will set us free. (John 8: 32) Jesus rejoiced in the truth. Living like Jesus is like living in the Light of God. To do so is to live a life of such joyous radiance that we cannot help but beam with the brightness of God. 

My mom still took me out on the rocks to play. I loved the beaches, the waves, the surf, the adventures of life. And I learned its rules. I learned that water, like fire, can be a dangerous and villainous foe, as well as a wonderful friend and companion. And now I know how to be there for others who have fallen, how to embrace them, comfort and guide them to the living Christ who will then wipe away all their tears. I also know how to respect the truth.

I’m sure you’ll know the apocryphal story of the arrogant Naval captain who saw a light in the fog and radioed this communication;
“Divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid collision.”
The reply; “You divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid collision”.
Captain: “This is a captain of a US Naval vessel; I repeat you divert your course.
Reply; “No, you divert your course”
Captain: “ Sir, I am the captain of one of the largest warships in the US Navy. Again, I say divert your course.”
Reply: “This is a lighthouse keeper, your call.”

“Wake up and die right”. What a curious expression. God knows where it comes from. But for now this I know; life comes and goes all too quickly; so while we have it, let us waken to God’s joy and shine with God’s brightness and be sober and watchful for the rocks.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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