Sermon for the closing Eucharist of the Michaelmas Term – Fr Earl Collins

At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

Luke 10:21-24 – NRSV

Jesus’ words today might seem to call into question what we are doing in a place like this at all, since he tells us that God has hidden his wonders from the wise and the intelligent and revealed them rather to infants. Indeed the Greek word translated “intelligent” is sunetos, which actually means “educated.” And he pronounces this blessing precisely after the disciples have just come back from being sent on mission! Are we then wasting our time spending so much of it pursuing a theological education in a specially created environment such as this? 

You probably won’t be too surprised when I say, “No, actually, I don’t think that myself!” Before every burst of new evangelising energy, there has to be a period of preparation and incubation. Those whom Jesus commissioned became apostles only by first being disciples, people closely associated with him; Jesus himself only went out to preach after he had spent a testing time in the desert; and Paul too, after his conversion but before taking up his ministry, took himself off to Arabia to reflect. 

And even the original mission at Pentecost did not come out of nowhere. The Apostles had first gathered in the incubation chamber of the Upper Room, devoting themselves to prayer – and no doubt, being Jews, to the study of the Scriptures – before the Spirit sent them out with force on to the streets of Jerusalem. Preparation and incubation! I

That is particularly true of the two main figures whom the season of Advent sets before us: John the Baptist and Mary the Mother of the Lord. John spent a long time in apparent obscurity before announcing his glad tidings to Zion, but that solid formation in the wilderness served him well when he had to proclaim his unwelcome message, even unto death.

Mary had a unique capacity for pondering what she had seen and heard – the very model of theological reflection. As Augustine said she first received the Word in her faith before giving it flesh in her womb. Both are good models for all Christian ministers called to proclaim the Gospel in the world. John, pointing away from himself toward the One whose messenger he is, exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God!” And Mary, who followed her Son all the way to the cross, says to us from there what she said to those at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you.” 

Both of them, their lives focused on the Word-made-flesh, remind us that if we hope to proclaim Christ effectively then we really have to know and love him well. That takes time – time to pray, time to penetrate Scripture, time to reflect on his presence in our lives. A theological college like this one is a kind of organised conspiracy to grant us that special time. It is God’s plan, by hook or by crook, to get you one day under a bishop’s crook.

Of course, at the end of a long and demanding term with so many transitions it might not feel like that.  One might still ask: OK, but is all that theology really needed? Yes, I’d say, but it all hangs on how ones does it. We need to study theology as the Advent Preface advises us to look to Christmas, “…watching in prayer, our hearts full of wonder and praise”; to do it like Mary with, “…love beyond all telling.” Then it can lead one deeper into the Mystery, into a more intimate relationship with God in Jesus Christ. 

Theology pursued in that spirit, with prayer, humility and wonder, is the necessary preparation and incubation before the Spirit sends you out on the streets, as heralds of the Gospel. In this Christmas break, during this much needed pause on your path of formation, take time to reflect on where you are on this journey to that deeper intimacy with God. That relationship is the heart of the apostolate: to be “lost, all lost in wonder,” at the Word-made-flesh and to hear again his call to become another John, pointing to him as our Saviour, another Mary, giving him flesh afresh in the womb of faith. 

Contemplate Christ then this Christmas and rekindle your first love for him – before coming back in January for the next stage of this organised conspiracy into which God has led us all at Westcott House. Then you will truly equip yourself for the wonderful life of a future minister of Christ.     

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