Earth’s crammed with Heaven

Take Off Your Shoes!

“We have found the Messiah — which means the Christ”

John 1:41

I Samuel 3:3-10,19; Psalm 40:2,4,7-10; I Corinthians 6:13-15,17-20; John 1:35-42

Picture if you will, an elderly woman seated on a slow moving train, quietly looking out the window, noticing everything that passes by: the lines of houses, the wire-connected poles, the rolling clouds, the children at play. A man she doesn’t know is seated next to her. Smiling, the woman points to something in the distance. “See there,” she chuckles, “the row of corn in the field. Isn’t it wonderful?” The man is curious. “What’s so wonderful about a common row of corn?” he asks. To which the woman gently replies,

“You think it strange that a little field of corn has meaning. But, you see, last week my doctor told me that I have but little time remaining. And ever since — everything has looked so beautiful — so important to me. I feel as if I had been asleep and have only just awakened.”

The poet Elizabeth Barett Browning wrote:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God.
But only he who sees takes his shoes off;
the rest sit ’round and pluck blackberries.

It’s not that we’re bad — maybe just a little bit sleepy. So we’re not awake to the notion that the “earth is crammed with heaven.” And we miss the golden glow of the corn, and the feathery, fleeting clouds, and the utter delight of children at play. To paraphrase the poet, we don’t bother to take off our shoes before walking on sacred ground.

So wake up! For we are born for life! So says our very nature. And so says the Bible. Born for life! In Biblical terms, this means that we humans have a spiritual dimension that is “immortal” and “incorruptible” — that is to say, our “soul.” It means that if we will only awaken to it we can see the Divine in everything. It means that as whole human persons we are oriented toward a perfection.

But we soon discover that although the perfection we naturally hope for is unlimited, nevertheless our actual experience of it is limited — as though we are sleepwalking our way through life. So much so, at times, that our hope for fulfillment can easily turn into despair. We can become so frustrated with the questions surrounding our hope that life itself is reduced to a complete absurdity.

But then, with the birth of Christ, a great joy is awakened in us, which lays aside all the questions and imponderables. A great joy is awakened which clears the way for us to make sense of our lives, for all time.

In Luke’s Gospel, we read, “there were shepherds who lived in the fields and took it in turns to watch their flocks during the night. The angel of the Lord appeared to them as the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord … and peace to men who enjoy His favor'” (Lk. 2:8-12,14).

In today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus begins His public ministry by awakening His first disciples to His call. And their decision to follow Him does not come “out of the blue.” They respond in the context of fulfilled expectation, hope realized, dreams come true. Having spent the day with Jesus, Andrew seeks out his brother, Simon Peter, and tells him, “We have found the Messiah!” (Jn.1:41). Immediately after receiving the call from Jesus — “Follow Me!” — the Apostle Philip hastens to tell Nathanael, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the law, the one about whom the prophets wrote: he is Jesus, Son of Mary and Joseph, from Nazareth” (Jn. 1:45). For those first disciples who had been raised in the Old Testament Tradition of expectancy, it was a mind-blowing experience. God had made good on His promise! The promise was fulfilled at long last in the unique Personhood of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus has come into the world that we “might have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10). And again, in the words of today’s Scripture Reading, “Look, there is the Lamb of God! … We have found the Messiah!” (Jn. 1:36,41).

At the age of twelve, Jesus disappeared for a time from His family. If you have ever had a child wander away from you at the beach or the shopping mall, you can imagine the panic that must have gripped the hearts of Joseph and Mary when their young son was lost in the desert. And when they found Him in the Temple Mary said, “My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been looking for you.’ ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied ‘Did you not know that I must be busy in My Father’s house?'” (Lk.2:48-49).

Behold! We have found the Lamb of God who is in our midst now. But the problem for us who have faith is not so much in believing that God’s presence dwells among us, but in recognizing our Divine Host when we see Him. We know how beautifully God made His presence known some two thousand years ago. But now, we who are at work in the Father’s House must be awake to His presence in ever new and unexpected ways. In other words, have we really found the Messiah?

“You will see Me most clearly,” Jesus says, “in the faces of your brothers and sisters whose demands on your love and concern are hardest to meet.” In that light, can we say we have found the Messiah? “You will see Me most clearly,” Jesus says, “in the faces of those brothers and sisters whom you find hardest to love.” In that light, can we say we have found the Messiah? But find Him we must. For when we do, we will begin to see glimpses of the Divine in everything and everyone around us.

During the recent holiday season, many of you were once again reminded of the hassle of air travel. Consequently, many are now opting to drive, rather than fly to their destinations. But when there’s no better option, savvy travelers make use of strategies to head off disaster. For example, to eliminate the worry of lost luggage, experienced travelers pack only the essentials in an “airline approved” carry on bag. In fact, if you browse the web to look at the latest available options, you’d be amazed at the clever and innovative ways you can cram into a carry on bag what used to require a full-sized suitcase. Thinking about this, one frequent flyer quipped, “if you’ve ever wondered where all those bags end up, the scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage.”

In our lostness, we gather together to celebrate the coming of the Messiah. That’s the marvelous thing about our Christian faith: God becomes Incarnate — ONE OF US — to seek us wherever we are. But no matter how lost we may become, we are never abandoned. Jesus finds us where we are. He is with us now! We were lost, but now we are found!

So wake up! Wake up and take off your shoes. And then you can walk the sacred ground that is blazing with God’s, Everlasting Love!

 

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