Most everyone who knows me is aware of my love affair with the book of Revelation.  The shining Son of Man, the awe-inspiring glimpse of heaven, the Lamb standing for us, the Bride of Christ adorned for her husband, the vanquishing of the dragon, the drying of tears, the fruit of the New Jerusalem, and the running of living waters from the throne – the drama of it all!

Then there is Laodicea.  Inscribed, there, among the seven churches, is the dis-spiriting record of our drab, fitful, unrepentant and unreal lives. We tend to dramatize evil as if it were something quick, fierce, exciting -- epic in proportion.  Like the poet Milton, whose Satan in Paradise Lost has vitality (over against a most pallid Jesus), most of us find that our pulses quicken when we behold a villain, but we are bored at the prospect of sheer goodness. Surely this is because our eyes are faulty.  For if we are truthful with ourselves, and look with sober judgement at life, we must admit that it is the reprobate life that is lackluster, the unbalanced and sinful life that devolves into greyness, futility, and despondency.  Have you ever had the experience of turning off a gangster film because you can’t work up enough interest in the major characters?  Their lives are so pathetic, so uninteresting, that you just don’t care enough about what happens to them to sit through 2 more hours—though you have the feeling you should, and though the film-maker pulls out all the stops to engage you.  In a similar vein, I once heard from an older friend, a priest, that those who come to him for guidance need not worry that he will be shocked by what they divulge—in fact, the repertoire of human sin is rather limited, and human patterns of tawdry behaviour are predictable, even, in a strange way, boring.  Left to ourselves, we are as C. S. Lewis put it “in the Shadowlands,” with our eyes covered by the veil of illusion. 

Enter the One who is Truth personified, “the Amen,” the “faithful witness,”  the beginning of all that is real in God’s creation.  His light searches us.

Are we indeed rich?

Do we indeed see?

Are we indeed clothed?

No, says this one who is Truth incarnate.  We are more like a meal cooked too quickly, left half-done in the centre, and abandoned on the kitchen counter to grow tepid.  Neither one thing nor the other, not passionate nor quiet, not hot nor cold.  We expect the Lord to absolutely indict us, as with his word about salt that has lost its savour—“you are fit for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled under foot.”

But He doesn’t. Hear the tenderness of our Lord: “Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent.”

 

Can we hear these words today? 

Or do we assume that the word “love” is incompatible with reproof and chastening? For a long time now, “love” has been devalued in our society to mean simply “tolerance.”

 

 Do we assume that “zeal” is for the unbalanced, the unenlightened, the politically incorrect?  It is a long time since western Christians can agree with the Psalmist and “rejoice in the judgements of the Lord!”

 

Do we pay only lip-service to “repentance,” or relegate it to a first-step in Christianity, the door gone through only once at the beginning of our entry into God’s house? For far too long, our churches have substituted an “I’m okay, you’re okay” message in the place of  confession, assuming that the kneeling position is unbecoming to children of God.

 

But Jesus is here speaking TO THE CHURCH.  Those whom I love, I reprove.”  He begins this message to Laodicea by talking to the church as a group, and then moves in up close and personal.  His marvelous words of invitation -- “Behold I stand at the door and knock”-- have been visualized in our day by that ubiquitous and rather sentiment print by Chicago artist Warner Sallman.  Moreover, they are frequently redirected towards evangelisation, so that we lose the context of this passage.  Jesus is saying not to the unconverted, but to each member of the CHURCH,  Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to that one and eat with him (or her), and he (or she) with me.”

 

Here is the astonishing reversal!  That those who have no status, no appropriate attire, and no grasp on reality, are addressed, and indeed,  are VISITED by the One who is over all, who is clothed in glory, and who himself created the eye, the instrument of sight.  And not only that….We are VISITED, each one of us, not for the purpose of judgement only, but so that we may become intimate with him, eating and drinking with the one who made all sustenance, who made all homes, and who indeed made us, his creatures, and his intended guests.  He wants to be with us!  With you!  With me!   It is from him that we receive knowledge that we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.  It is in him that we find our ark in the flood of judgement, our rescue from death, our shelter of refuge in the storms of life. It is from him that we receive the wealth that is real wealth—because he means to refine us, to make us treasures in ourselves.  It is from him that we, stripped of our grimy sins, receive clothing—the robe of righteousness that is substantial enough to cover our nakedness, and, on top of that, the robe of glory that will, in the end, amaze us and all who behold us.  It is from him that we receive ointment for our eyes, and the precious gift of sight.

 

What is it, no, who is it that we see with these new eyes?  Why, it is the new creation, all being made new for our sakes.  It is our newborn brothers and sisters who surprise us as they, from time to time, shine with the glory that will be fully theirs.  And it is the Lord of Glory himself, in the centre of the whole scene, that One who many of ancient days longed to see, and who many of ages past longed to hear.  He is a feast for the new eyes that he is making within us. 

 

As we see him, we are, ourselves, changed.  For as St. Paul puts tells the Corinthians,
We all, beholding [or reflecting] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being changed into that same image, from glory to glory.

 

For communion, for intimacy, to the hearing of his word, to the table and to altar he calls us.  In the ordinary run of life, we present and receive the gifts of creation to the Creator; in the ministry of the word, we open a book of pulp-fashioned pages and hear Him speak; at the Lord’s supper, we present and receive the poor creatures of bread and wine, and so feed inwardly upon the One who gives us life. Ordinary and special times together conspire to mould us, to transfigure us, with divine light and life. For this intimacy with him, and with each other, into which we are called, provides a place in which he can, and is, and will change us. Lovers gazing at each other often become like each other.  Here is the difference in the divine love story.  Our beloved has already become like us, so that we might become like Him.  Even – can it possibly be?— he will change us to the point that we become able to “sit with him” and “rule.”  Poor, blind, pitiable, drab, he is pulling us out of the unreal shadowlands so that we are bathed in glory-- glory that at this point makes us squint.  Then, with death’s dark shadows put to flight, we will sit there as naturalized citizens of a new cosmos, in true wealth, with open faces, in dignity and in colour, eating and drinking with the One who is the author of it all.  And I promise you, we will not be bored!

 

Advent reminds us that while this is a future hope, it begins now.  It has begun by his strong actions, and it comes to those who listen soberly to what Jesus has to say, and respond.  We may hate the medicine.  We may be uncomfortable, in this “mellow” culture, of the strong words. We may feel fatigued at his call to ongoing repentance and pilgrimage. But let those of us who have ears to hear, hear what the Spirit says to us through the unambiguous words of the Son of Man:

 

“Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent.”