These oft quoted words come from a song at the end of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Like many dramas and stories it reminds us that often it is only after a time of uncertainty and growth that problems are resolved, and all ends well, At the time of writing this song Shakespeare worshipped at St. Saviour and S. Mary Overie, now our Cathedral Church. Thomas Morley the musician also worshipped there, and set these words perhaps even for a performance at the Globe. It is a song that assures us that love will overcome all our troubles. And that is the theme of the Scriptures this Sunday.
The prophet Isaiah looks beyond the inequality, injustice and corruption he sees in Jerusalem in his day to the time when all will be well. A King will come to bring in a reign of justice and peace. And we are about to celebrate the coming of that Shepherd King. In the life and teaching, the death and resurrection of Jesus people began to recognize that he was the coming King, His followers began to describe him as Alpha and Omega, the pioneer and perfecter of the human journey, the beginning and the end of all time. God himself has arrived in time to share all life’s ups and downs with us, and to hold our hand as we take our own journey forward. The psalm assures us-“ I am always with you- you hold me by my right hand,”
It is these first and last letters of the Greek Alphabet- Alpha and Omega that the priest marks on the Candle which stands at the font at the Easter Vigil, and from which Zara will receive her own candle later this morning. This Candle symbolizes the Risen, Victorious Jesus, and Zara is given a share today in his light and love, a light to carry forward in her growing and exploration of life,. He marks the candle with these words. “All times and seasons belong to him,” Our times and our seasons belong to him. Zara’s candle speaks of Gods; promise that he will stand by her, and hold her safely.
On Advent Sunday we light the first candle on the Advent Wreath, and we honour Abraham and Sarah, our Mother and Father in faith. Their faith took them on a journey from all that was familiar, leaving their homeland to discover the place God wanted them to be, This speaks to us of the journey we all must take from our first breath to our last.
It is fitting that this Sunday we support Zara and her family as she is baptized and enters the life of the Church, and then at the close of the Mass we will inter the ashes of our dear brother Alan Driedger, who after long and faithful service has been called home. We are encouraged to know that God holds our souls in life and in death, We are always with Him. We can travel securely and with hope.
But if we are honest then beginnings and putting one’s foot forward is also daunting. Maria Boulding, a contemplative nun, in a wonderful Advent book (The Coming of God) reminds us that the only realistic starting point for any journey is from the here and now, from where we really are, and not from where we would like to be. Whenever the people of God set out on a journey the scriptures are honest about their uncertainty. Whether it is Abraham and Sarah leaving their homeland, Israel leaving slavery in Egypt with no idea where the next meal is coming from, moaning to Moses about leaving the small securities of their hovels and allotments, or Isaiah living in hard times much as we are, marked by inequality, poverty and conflict. Sometimes it is hard to think and hope that better things lie ahead.
Whether it is Zara’s first steps into this muddled world, or Alan’s steps out into the next world, or our own following of Christ into a new year, a new year in the faith, we need reassurance, a reassurance that Jesus gives us. He is always with us, he holds us by our right hand. And we can rest assured that he understands our hesitancy and doubt. “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, he encourages us. Or as one translation puts it, ”Blessed are those who know their need of God.” If we are honest that’s why we are here this morning, because we know our need of God. We are aware that changes need to be made in us, and in our world, and we cannot bring them in alone.
That is something that St Paul is thinking about in his letter to the congregation in Rome, and something that Jesus is speaking about in todays Gospel. Paul uses the symbolism of putting on a new robe- Jesus Christ. It may be these words that began the tradition of dressing the newly baptized in white garments as they came up from the pool of baptism. We put on a new life of love and service, but it is a life lived with the over covering and support of Christ and his Spirit.
Jesus in the Gospel reminds us that many people cruise on in life, ignoring the pressing realities around them- Climate change, poverty and injustice, conflict and deception. He warns us that too often we neglect to do good, and by our ignorance, or self concern we do harm to others by default, and harm to our own souls health. Jesus uses the picture of the crowd who dismissed Noah’s warning that the Flood was on its way to tell us how woefully unaware of our need for help, our own need for God in our life can be.
But this morning we join with Zara’s parents and godparents in acknowledging that need, our own need, our worlds need, our society’s need for change, and we ask for the gifts of the Spirit so that together with Him we can do something about it.
In the Four Quartets the poet T.S. Eliot makes it plain that the further we travel on the road towards God the clearer we will see that his guiding hand has been there all through our lives, and that in fact he has been with us at every single moment, the God of all times and all places,. In the final ‘Quartet’, Little Gidding, Eliot writes,
“ We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time,” Finally, in his words, we will arrive at “ a condition of complete simplicity.” We will get there. But he is clear that this quest will stretch us. (In fact St Augustine calls this journey a ‘heart-stretching). Eliot. like Isaiah and Paul, and the Lord himself, ask us to be honest. The journey of life will have its moments. We start from a hard place, but we know that with Jesus as the way we are on the road to joy, serenity, and peace.
Eliot ends this last poem with someone else’s words of hope, Snippets from the visions and reflections of Dame Julian of Norwich, ( The Revelations of Divine Love, She too reassures us that our journeys end is in a lovers meeting- God has been our lover and companion on the way, and the one we will meet at life’s end.
“And all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Perhaps this Advent you might like to light a candle each evening with the family or for yourself when you get home and night falls, remember that we are a pilgrim people, but a people who travel hopefully, and secure. Whether it is Zara, taking her first steps into life, or Alan journeying onwards to his true home in heaven. we are held securely in the hands of God.
Lord Jesus, Light of the world, descended from the seed of Abraham, help us like those who prepared your way to travel in hope. May we be obedient to your call, and be ready and watchful to receive your Christ, who is a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path.