The first book of the Lord of the Rings is a great escape story as Frodo, Sam and their companion try to reach a save haven, Rivendell. A sanctuary, a place of refuge, a place where things will be all right. It’s a dangerous journey, with unexpected traps and unexpected friends, fear and hope, battle, being wounded, a last chase for the crossings of the river and rescue. But it’s not the end of the journey, even though it reaches a place of healing. The journey has to go on from there; after a time of rest it’s a place to take stock and think things through, but journey goes on and things get more serious.
John the Baptist seemed like the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah. He was a miracle in himself, a voice in the desert that proclaimed God’s coming, offered healing and hope. It was a message that needed to be heard, and many heard and responded to it. But John wasn’t the end and he knew it, John was the beginning. John knew the Messiah was coming, was almost there, and submitted totally to this reality. He was ready to step aside when the Messiah came, even though he didn’t know exactly when and where this would happen. People needed to come to John first for purification, then they were ready for what came afterward.
Church as a resting place but not the end. We think about Church as many things: a place of rest, refreshment, wisdom, counsel, freedom, but the journey goes on, has to go on. If Jesus gets stuck here, the God’s mission is a failure. The Church bears witness to the world to come, even as it stands as an alternative. It is a refuge and fortress, but it’s not build for a siege. The new reality takes shape around it and because of it. It is the center of an expanding universe.
We come here in our Advent journey as a pivot point. From here on we sense the great day just over the horizon. Today is an arrival as we share the Body and Blood of Christ and a beginning. It is the beginning of a new world John the Baptist first spoke of, a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom that’s already in our midst, whose day will dawn.
Our time together here in church is a resting place in many ways, a place to recover, to reflect. But it’s also a time to build relationships, find wisdom, develop a sense of purpose, remember where we’ve been and remember where we’re going. Perhaps the last is the most important bit: to remember where we’re going. Once we have that firmly in our minds, the rest falls into place. Our destiny is heaven. When we leave here, that’s our destination as well as our destiny. How do we get ready for this journey?