Most everyone who knows me is aware of my love affair with the book of Revelation. The shining Son of Man, the awe-inspiring glimpse of heaven, the Lamb standing for us, the Bride of Christ adorned for her husband, the vanquishing of the dragon, the drying of tears, the fruit of the New Jerusalem, and the running of living waters from the throne – the drama of it all!
Then there is Laodicea. Inscribed, there, among the seven churches, is the dis-spiriting
record of our drab, fitful, unrepentant and unreal lives. We tend to
dramatize evil as if it were something quick, fierce, exciting -- epic in
proportion. Like the poet
Milton, whose Satan in Paradise Lost has vitality (over against a
most pallid Jesus), most of us find that our pulses quicken when we
behold a villain, but we are bored at the prospect of sheer goodness.
Surely this is because our eyes are faulty.
For if we are truthful with ourselves, and look with sober
judgement at life, we must admit that it is the reprobate life that is
lackluster, the unbalanced and sinful life that devolves into greyness,
futility, and despondency. Have
you ever had the experience of turning off a gangster film because you
can’t work up enough interest in the major characters?
Their lives are so pathetic, so uninteresting, that you just
don’t care enough about what happens to them to sit through 2 more
hours—though you have the feeling you should, and though the film-maker
pulls out all the stops to engage you. In a similar vein, I once heard from an older friend, a
priest, that those who come to him for guidance need not worry that he
will be shocked by what they divulge—in fact, the repertoire of human
sin is rather limited, and human patterns of tawdry behaviour are
predictable, even, in a strange way, boring.
Left to ourselves, we are as C. S. Lewis put it “in the
Shadowlands,” with our eyes covered by the veil of illusion.
Enter the One who is Truth personified, “the
Amen,” the “faithful witness,”
the beginning of all that is real in God’s creation.
His light searches us.
Are we indeed rich?
Do we indeed see?
Are we indeed clothed?
No, says this one who is Truth incarnate.
We are more like a meal cooked too quickly, left half-done in the
centre, and abandoned on the kitchen counter to grow tepid.
Neither one thing nor the other, not passionate nor quiet, not hot
nor cold. We expect the Lord
to absolutely indict us, as with his word about salt that has lost its
savour—“you are fit for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled
But He doesn’t. Hear the tenderness of our Lord:
whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent.”
Can we hear these words
Or do we assume that the
word “love” is incompatible with reproof and chastening? For a long
time now, “love” has been devalued in our society to mean simply
Do we assume that “zeal” is for the unbalanced, the
unenlightened, the politically incorrect?
It is a long time since western Christians can agree with the
Psalmist and “rejoice in the judgements of the Lord!”
Do we pay only lip-service
to “repentance,” or relegate it to a first-step in Christianity, the
door gone through only once at the beginning of our entry into God’s
house? For far too long, our churches have substituted an “I’m okay,
you’re okay” message in the place of
confession, assuming that the kneeling position is unbecoming to
children of God.
But Jesus is here speaking
TO THE CHURCH. “Those
whom I love, I reprove.” He
begins this message to Laodicea by talking to the church as a group, and
then moves in up close and personal.
His marvelous words of invitation -- “Behold I stand at the door
and knock”-- have been visualized in our day by that ubiquitous and
rather sentiment print by Chicago artist Warner Sallman.
Moreover, they are frequently redirected towards evangelisation, so
that we lose the context of this passage.
Jesus is saying not to the unconverted, but to each member of the
CHURCH, “Behold, I stand at the door
and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to
that one and eat with him (or her), and he (or she) with me.”
Here is the astonishing reversal!
That those who have no status, no appropriate attire, and no grasp
on reality, are addressed, and indeed, are
VISITED by the One who is over all, who is clothed in glory, and who
himself created the eye, the instrument of sight.
And not only that….We are VISITED, each one of us, not for the
purpose of judgement only, but so that we may become intimate with him,
eating and drinking with the one who made all sustenance, who made all
homes, and who indeed made us, his creatures, and his intended guests.
He wants to be with us!
With you! With me!
It is from him that we receive knowledge that we are wretched,
pitiable, poor, blind and naked. It
is in him that we find our ark in the flood of judgement, our rescue from
death, our shelter of refuge in the storms of life. It is from him that we
receive the wealth that is real wealth—because he means to refine us, to
make us treasures in ourselves. It
is from him that we, stripped of our grimy sins, receive clothing—the
robe of righteousness that is substantial enough to cover our nakedness,
and, on top of that, the robe of glory that will, in the end, amaze us and
all who behold us. It is from
him that we receive ointment for our eyes, and the precious gift of sight.
What is it, no, who is it that we see with these new eyes?
Why, it is the new creation, all being made new for our sakes.
It is our newborn brothers and sisters who surprise us as they,
from time to time, shine with the glory that will be fully theirs.
And it is the Lord of Glory himself, in the centre of the whole
scene, that One who many of ancient days longed to see, and who many of
ages past longed to hear. He
is a feast for the new eyes that he is making within us.
As we see him, we are, ourselves, changed.
For as St. Paul puts tells the Corinthians,
For communion, for intimacy, to the hearing of his word, to the
table and to altar he calls us. In
the ordinary run of life, we present and receive the gifts of creation to
the Creator; in the ministry of the word, we open a book of pulp-fashioned
pages and hear Him speak; at the Lord’s supper, we present and receive
the poor creatures of bread and wine, and so feed inwardly upon the One
who gives us life. Ordinary and special times together conspire to mould
us, to transfigure us, with divine light and life. For this intimacy with
him, and with each other, into which we are called, provides a place in
which he can, and is, and will change us. Lovers gazing at each other
often become like each other. Here
is the difference in the divine love story.
Our beloved has already become like us, so that we might become
like Him. Even – can it
possibly be?— he will change us to the point that we become able to
“sit with him” and “rule.” Poor,
blind, pitiable, drab, he is pulling us out of the unreal shadowlands so
that we are bathed in glory-- glory that at this point makes us squint.
Then, with death’s dark shadows put to flight, we will sit there
as naturalized citizens of a new cosmos, in true wealth, with open faces,
in dignity and in colour, eating and drinking with the One who is the
author of it all. And I
promise you, we will not be bored!
Advent reminds us that while this is a future hope, it begins now.
It has begun by his strong actions, and it comes to those who
listen soberly to what Jesus has to say, and respond.
We may hate the medicine. We
may be uncomfortable, in this “mellow” culture, of the strong words.
We may feel fatigued at his call to ongoing repentance and pilgrimage. But
let those of us who have ears to hear, hear what the Spirit says to us
through the unambiguous words of the Son of Man:
“Those whom I love, I reprove and
chasten; so be zealous and repent.”