Sermon preached on 9 December 2018 – People Look East!

[Apologies for the poor audio in the video this week]

“People Look East!” the prophet Baruch commanded in our first reading. And he wasn’t talking about Edinburgh.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
look towards the east” says Baruch, echoed rather brilliantly in the Advent Carol that the choir will be singing at communion this morning.

People look East. But what is so special about the East?

The truth is, at different times and in different places, people seem to allow tradition to hang on various points of the compass.

When I was a newly ordained priest, I worked in our cathedral in Perth and in those days, you proclaimed the gospel in a particular way.

We make much of the fact that the gospel is proclaimed right amongst the people here. The idea is that the gospel book is brought right amongst people as we remember that Jesus himself came amongst us and shared our tears and laughter and humanity whilst sharing the stories and chatter and love of heaven with us.

God’s coming amongst us is enacted ever time we raise the gospel book and carry it amongst the people and read it there.

Oh, but not when  I was a curate in Perth. Yes, sure enough we processed the gospel to the middle of the church and everyone turned and looked at it. But whoever was reading it took a curious right turn when they got there and very definitely proclaimed it in a certain direction.

The gospel in Perth was proclaimed to the North – a lingering liturgical tradition that was common in Scotland and the Nordic countries at some times. You proclaimed the gospel to the North because it was the North that needed it. The place where all the cold came from and in so many northern myths, where all the ghosts and Ghoulies came from.

In some parts of Scandinavia they don’t have windows on the North side of a church in order to keep the cold and the Ghoulies firmly at bay.

So every time I read the gospel in my curacy, I did that right turn, and proclaimed the gospel to the North.

It was a rather picturesque liturgical tradition, even if it did seem to make is appear that the devil lived in Pitlochry.

Just a few months before going to Perth, I found myself in the desert in Egypt, exploring the spirituality of the desert fathers – monks who still live there.

(It is amazing the amount of effort and creativity Scottish ordinands at that time were putting into not being in Edinburgh where they were supposed to be training for ordination, but that’s another story).

Anyway, I was in the desert and the most extraordinary storm blew up. A sandstorm you could see coming towards you right across the horizon.

And it brought terror not only to those I was staying with in the Wadi Natrun monasteries but terror on the streets of Cairo. Was it the ferocity of the storm that caused the terror? Well, partly – it was the kind of storm you might wait 50 years for and hugely destructive.

But the terror was caused by its direction. The tradition in that part of the world is that Armageddon, the war that ends all things will come from the South. And that storm came very much from the South.

People look East, Baruch says.

Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
look towards the east,

and see your children gathered from west and east
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that God has remembered them.

So who is Baruch and what’s this all about.

My suspicion is that not that many people would be able to easily find the book of Baruch, never mind be able to say much about who Baruch was.

Well, we know Baruch’s words already. He was Jeremiah’s scribe, disciple, devotee and some have even speculated bidie-in.

He travelled with Jeremiah into exile and it was he who preserved the prophet’s words and popularised them.

So the Book of Baruch – obviously his own prophetic writings, right?

Well, not so fast. If only early religious writings worked like that.

No – the book of Baruch is named after him. Someone not so much passing themselves off as him as taking up his tradition.

So even though these words are not by Baruch himself, they are by someone wanting  us to remember him and Jeremiah being carted off into exile.

Exile in Babylon.

Yes, exile in the East.

Whoever bids us to look to the east is reminding us of those who were carted off to Babylon.

But is it the remembrance of lament? No.

Is it the remembrance of bitterness? No.

Is it the remembrance of hatred and despair? A thousand times no.

Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
look towards the east,
and see your children gathered from west and east
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that God has remembered them.
For they went out from you on foot,
led away by their enemies;
but God will bring them back to you,
carried in glory, as on a royal throne.

People look East says the Book of Baruch – and see those of the East and of West united in joy.

And in that joy, this new Baruch remembers all the prophesies of justice from Isaiah that a royal way be made by levelling the ground for all people. High places made plain, valleys lifted up and all the people of God treated as royalty.

It is the same memory that the Baptist has in the gospel. The valleys being filled and the hills be made low and all flesh seeing salvation.

The Baptist proposes a baptism of repentance surely necessary.

Baruch proposes what seems like a baptism of joy. Also necessary.

The baptism of repentance necessary because things are not right yet and we must commit to turn our lives around in order to turn this world back to rights.

And being baptised by, drenched by, suffused by joy because the Lord will never forget his exiled people.

No matter how far we feel from a place of justice and peace and integrity and honesty and goodness and plenty, the Lord calls us back to that place.

And we return to that singing. And full of joy.

For God will lead us with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness and love that come from him.

From the north and from the south, from the east and from the west, we are called to abide together in the kingdom where love is the rule and love the ruler.

Behold. Behold. In these advent days, know that the kingdom of justice and peace and love and joy is coming soon.

With a human face.


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