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The Story of a Monastery

Third Sunday in Advent

Isaiah61:1-8 Thessalonians 5: 16-24 John 1:6-8, 19-28

The Charles Dickens novel, A Christmas Carol is often dramatised around this time of year. The timeless character of Ebenezer Scrooge demonstrates the selfish, self-centred, and unloving qualities of human kind. Whether we read this famous story in a leather bound book or we watch it on TV, it is a timelessness tale that reminds us of our own need for repentance, and it shows us the love and joy that follow when we are forgiven. The Good News of Dickens’ story is that after years in a selfish and miserly existence, a life without faith or friendship or love, his repentance brings forgiveness and he is able to love, and once again enjoy his life.

Advent talks to us very clearly about repentance and rejoicing. In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah invites us to “to be glad and rejoice in what God is creating.” Paul in the second reading calls us to: “Rejoice always!”

Just nine shopping days left until Christmas.are Repentance and Rejoicing on your list?

John says “Make straight the way of the Lord.”

In the Roman Empire, if the emperor himself could not be present at an imperial function, his image was escorted in with great pomp and ceremony, with heralds shouting out to the crowd: “Make way for the image of the emperor. Make way for the image of the emperor.”

A Rabbi was describing this elaborate ceremony to his congregation and then he said “Before every human being there is an invisible army of angels shouting: “Make way for the image of the image of God. Make way for the image of the image of God.”

This is you and me, of course. We are the image of the image of God. That is astounding, but it is true also of the person ahead of us at the checkout in Sainsbury’s and of the homeless person at the street corner; it is true of the mentally ill man, the nurse, the single parent and the addict. . . you are getting the picture. It is true of everybody, saint and sinner, long ago, now, and as far as we can see into the future.

We are the Images of God. How can we understand this?

A certain monastery was going through a crisis. Some of the monks had left, there were no new candidates joining, and people were no longer coming for prayer and spiritual direction as they used to. The few monks that remained were becoming old, bitter, and depressed. The relationships between them were becoming stressed and unkind. The Abbot had heard about a holy man, a hermit, living alone in the woods and decided to consult with him regarding their problem. The Abbot told the hermit how the monastery had dwindled and diminished and now looked like a skeleton of what it used to be. Only seven old monks remained. The hermit told the Abbott that he had a secret for him. He informed the Abbott that one of the monks now living in his monastery was actually the Messiah, but he was living in such a way that no one could recognize him. With this revelation, the Abbott went back to his monastery, summoned a community meeting and told them what the holy hermit had said.

The aging monks looked at each other in unbelief, trying to work out who among them could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time, but has a “Holier-than-thou” attitude? Could it be Brother Joseph who is always willing to help? But then he is always eating and drinking and can’t fast.

The Abbott reminded them that the Messiah might have adopted some of their bad habits to hide his real identity. This only made them more confused and they could not make any headway figuring out who was the Christ amongst them.

From that day, the monks began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they were speaking to could be Jesus. They began to show more love for one another; their community life became more brotherly, and their prayers more fervent. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and spiritual direction. Word began to spread and before long candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again in numbers as the monks grew in zeal and holiness. All this because a man of God drew their attention to the truth that Christ was living in their midst as one of them. The truth of course is that Christ was present in all of them. They, like us are the image of God.

Listen again to the prophet Isaiah, only this time, imagine that it is you, and not Isaiah, who is standing up and telling everyone: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me, he sent me to:
• bring good news to the oppressed
• to bind up the broken-hearted
• to proclaim liberty to the captives
• to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
• to comfort those who mourn.”

Of course it is true, we have been given the Holy Spirit in our baptism, and when we accept Jesus as Lord of our lives. We have been anointed for a purpose, we each have a task to do. In his letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul puts it simply for us:
• encourage the fainthearted
• help the weak
• be patient with everyone – that is a hard one
• rejoice always – getting harder
• pray without ceasing – running out of excuses
• give thanks, no matter what.

There are two kinds of people in this world: radiators and drains. As Christians we are called to be radiators and to be a blessing to the people we encounter each day.

We might think of a blessing as a short sentence said by the priest, often with a certain amount of hand waving, at the end of a service. With the exception of sneezes, we might think that giving blessings are reserved for those in fancy dress or with a dog collar. Don’t believe it! To bless and to be a blessing is our joy and our duty as Christians.

May God richly bless each one of you – don’t be a drain and let this blessing run straight through and get flushed away, but go and be a radiator of God’s love, his joy and his peace.

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