Carla Bailey, Senior Pastor
November 30, 2008
Never weather-beaten Sail more willing bent to shore,
Never tired Pilgrims limbs affected slumber more,
Than my wearied spright now longs to flee out of my troubled breast,
O come quickly, sweetest Lord, and take my soul to rest.
Ever-blooming are the joys of Heav’ns high paradise,
Cold age deafs not there our ears, nor vapor dims our eyes.
Glory there the Sun outshines, whose beams the blessed only see.
O come quickly, glorious Lord, and raise my spright to thee.
Thomas Campion, writer and composer of the anthem our choir just sang, was born in London in February, 1567. He was a law student, a physician, a composer, a writer of masques, and a poet. Campion’s parents died when he was still a boy, but they left enough money to send him to Peterhouse College, Cambridge, in 1581. He left Cambridge three years later, apparently without finishing a degree, and in 1586 was admitted to Gray’s Inn in London to study law. During his time at Gray’s Inn, he participated in the Gray’s Inn revels of 1588, an experience with impact since it seems he never did actually practice law. Campion’s first poetic attempts were in Latin, and soon, in 1591, five of his songs appeared in Newman’s unauthorized edition of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella. Four years later he published his own book, a collection of Latin epigrams, called Poemata. Campion’s lyric poems were published between 1601-1617 in four books of airs, from which “Never Weather Beaten Sail” comes. He died in London, probably of the plague, on March 1, 1620, and was buried at St. Dunstan’s-in-the-West.
It’s a wonderful poem just as it is. Still, at the risk of offending the purists among you, let me make its meaning more plain. The writer is exhausted. There has never been a boat so determined to get back to shore or a sailor so in need of sleep than he. Even his spirit is weary as it longs to escape from his troubled heart. O come quickly, my dear Savior, and give my soul rest. Heaven is a place of pure joy. There, in heaven, old-age doesn’t wear our bodies down. It is a place of light, brighter than the sun, so bright, that only the beams can be seen – not the sun itself, and only by those most fortunate to get there, through death’s door, to heaven. O come quickly, glorious Savior and raise my exhausted spirit to you there.
It is Advent – a time of waiting, longing, aching for the days of sorrow to come to an end and the Savior to come, at last, the Savior who will bring an end to violence, and anguish, and troubles and soul-weariness. Because it is attached to Christmas and because Christmas has become a cultural holiday as much as a Christian one, the themes of Advent are overshadowed by the glitter of gifts, red bows and sleigh bells ringing. Isn’t it interesting though that all of us experience, at one time or another, a sense of weary sadness during Advent? Is it the lack of light do you suppose? Or the garish drive to consume? Perhaps it’s the Bible readings for this season that bring us back to its somber intent and theological meaning. Advent is not so much a preparation for joy as it is a confession of anguish. God has seemed remote and disinterested in the mess we’ve made and the gifts of the Savior seem a long way away.
The world is quite a mess, isn’t it? For most of us here this morning, the economic downturn isn’t life-threatening. It is difficult and for some of us deep in debt, embarrassing. There will be some job losses here as perhaps there have already been. More of us are doing things we should have been doing all along – conserving, recycling, scaling back, re-evaluating what matters. But, though few of us are vulnerable to the ravages of this economic decline, there are not many degrees of separation between us and those who are being seriously hurt. Homelessness is going to sky-rocket over these next months, I’m certain of it. It’s almost impossible to imagine being homeless but we ought to try. Just let your mind go for a minute to this scenario – you are working but your bills are so far ahead of you, including your mortgage, that you’ve been juggling them for months – paying some, letting others slide. Even though you know that couldn’t last, you’ve stayed in denial. Now, you’ve just been told you’ve lost your home, everything must be removed in two weeks – fourteen days. Your house or apartment needs to be emptied out. Of course we can’t imagine it, that’s the problem, and since we can’t imagine it, we are certain the person who is being evicted must just be passive or lazy or at least irresponsible pr not very resourceful or not motivated to fix the problems before they became so dire. Hmmm, Advent.
And then there’s the constancy of terrorism in the world which is terrifying and uncontrollable and remote enough to feel vaguely threatening but not personally imminent. Advent. And there is the craziness of callous indifference to those who are trampled, literally in the case of the temporary WalMart worker, on our way to fulfill a personal goal. Advent. And there are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the myopia of the hatred in Israel, the ailing earth, running a low-grade fever as it tries to cleanse itself of the toxins we’ve poured into it. Advent. And there are the personal disappointments, of course – adult children who are still vulnerable to the vagaries of a harsh culture, certain that their problems are someone else’s fault. And aging and ailing parents, and too many responsibilities, or is it too few hours in the day? Advent.
Well, you get the picture. We’re living in something of a dark and threatening storm and it’s unpredictable and its causes are inexplicable and there just doesn’t seem to be any obvious way through it – no clear path with measurable steps that take us from A to B to C and on to a happy ending, or at least conclusion of righteous justice and peace and prosperity within which the lion and the lamb make their home together and the child plays over the hole of the poisonous snake without harm and the mountains are laid low and the valleys lifted up and the path made straight and the light is visible in the darkness.
The readings for this first Sunday of Advent seem strange if not inappropriate for our preparation for the coming of the Christ-child. How do these words from Isaiah and Mark, in which Isaiah describes the harsh vengeance of God and Jesus warns the disciples to be watchful and wary, serve to illuminate the preparation we seek during these four weeks that precede the morning of Jesus’ birth? They are so severe, so ominous, foreboding and dark, not unlike the storm in which we are currently living. O come quickly, precious Lord, come quickly and bring some sunlight with you. Come quickly and rescue us from ourselves, from our fears, from our stupidity and greed and callous indifference to the despair of those who are victims in a world of violence. Come, please come quickly so that I may rest. Come quickly and take me away to heaven with you. Come quickly and rescue me!
Let me offer one more metaphor for your consideration as we begin this Advent season, this prayerful time in the storm. The Messiah didn’t arrive in a chariot or as a mighty warrior. Nor, to use more contemporary images, did the Messiah arrive with a fail-proof economic stimulus package or as the first African American president. The Messiah, the Savior of the world, the incarnation of God, the Word made flesh, the light in the darkness arrived as a baby, a little, messy, vulnerable human being, completely and agonizingly dependent on others to preserve its life.
O come quickly, precious Lord. We are ready to take care of you. Amen.