Year B 1st Sunday of Christmas WEDNESDAY, 30 December 2020
Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Fearful Vision, Faithful Message”
Collect: 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; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
A Reading (Lesson) from Revelation 1:9-20
I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, "Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea." Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
Then each of them went home, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."
As I have recently preached on the woman caught in adultery, I will let my recent sermon stand on that. So this morning I wanted to focus on the frightening image of Jesus that John sees in our Revelation reading.
I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.
This vision of the right-hand-of-the-Father and Resurrected Lord is far different from the mild and meek Jesus who would not return a blow or stand up for himself amidst lies accusing him. Let’s look at each of these details from this portion of the vision and see what we might glean from them...
long robe and with a golden sash
Lordly, like a king, Jesus is dressed. So unlike his naked body hanging on the cross without a stitch to his name. Here we see him in his true form, the son of the Most High.
head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow
Cleansed, bleached pure and without blemish, Jesus’ hair is white, like snow. This goes along with the imagery of the lamb, also pure and white without blemish.
eyes were like a flame of fire
Without match, his glare is blazing and burns away anything that covers or hides. In his eyes, all will be revealed and the dross burnt away.
feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace
While not particularly clear, this is the only reference like this in all known ancient Greek literature. The word for bronze and the word for frankincense seem to be saying that the metal of his feet were glowing like in a furnace. Again, this purifying and burning away imagery comes to the surface.
voice was like the sound of many waters
In the Bible, waters raging are a symbol of power and might, and often Chaos. Uncontrollable, the words rushing forth will not be hindered. They come roaring out, and cannot be stopped.
his right hand he held seven stars
These are the seven churches being addressed, settled in the palm of Christ’s hand.
from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword
No matter how you cut it, pun intended, nothing will be held back. Christ’s words will do what needs to be done, coming or going. It cuts both ways.
his face was like the sun shining with full force
Once again, like in the light of noonday, nothing will be hidden; all will be revealed. Like the face of God in the Hebrew Scriptures, it is certain death if looked upon. If we stare at the sun we will go blind. Christ’s face shines bright, like Moses after receiving the 10 Commandments as he was in the presence of God.
Taken together we see what at first glance may be terrifying, but to the early church undergoing persecution, a mighty Christ is in control. And for those of us in our day, what is the word for us? Despite his appearance, listen to his words:
“Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.”
Fear Not. Despite the obvious and unabashed strength, he is still the same Christ we know and adore. He is not about Fear. He is not about revenge. He has paid the debt and the chains of death and eternal damnation he holds in his hand. Of what must we be afraid?
In a year when we have been driven to fear and fret, know that THIS Jesus is the one who has your back, and his words to John and to us? Fear not. Amen.