December 29, 2019 – The Rev. Hugh Stevenson

UP, UP & AWAY

When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. (Luke 21:28 KJV)

I got a kite for my birthday. I love kites, the way they ascend into the heavens transcending the force of gravity, up, up and away. We took my new kite to Bodega Head where there was a fresh breeze from the sea and it flew up into the air. What exhilaration! So the song that concludes Mary Poppins speaks to me. It’s a song of joy or redemption, a song of resurrection. The Banks family had been going down hill, while George Banks devoted his full attention to the bank where he worked and neglected his family. But when he lost his job it was a blessing in disguise; he had time to fix the kite which was broken and to take his family out to the park as he sang:

Oh, oh, oh! Let’s go fly a kite up to the highest height!
Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear. Oh, let’s go fly a kite![1]

One of my heroes when I was a child was Douglas Bader.[2] He was a British pilot during the Battle of Britain. He was credited with 22 aerial victories. He was shot down in 1941 and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner-of-war in Colditz Castle. And all this, despite having had both legs amputated after a flying accident in 1931.  His biography by Paul Brickhill was called Reach for the Sky (1954).[3]

Among those who reached for the sky were Elijah who “ascended in a whirlwind into heaven” in a chariot of fire with horses of fire.[4] And Jesus who “was lifted up (ascended), and a cloud took him out of [the disciples’] sight.”[5]

In olden times when people still believed in a flat earth, there was a dome (or firmament) created by God whence soft refreshing rain fell down upon the earth. [6] Up above the dome, God sits enthroned surrounded by the heavenly court in the heavenly city–a magnificent place where the streets are paved with gold and the gates are pearls. From his vantage point God sees all things that take place on earth. He knows if you have been naughty or nice–or in Biblical terms “righteous” or “wicked.” Jacob had a dream of a ladder reaching up to heaven with angels ascending and descending and St John the Divine passed through an  open door to enter heaven.[7]

On a number of occasions when he was praying, Jesus looked up to heaven: when he broke the five loaves to feed the multitude and when He raised Lazarus from the dead. When he was baptized, the heavens opened and the Spirit descended upon him like a dove. [8]

In our sophistication, we know that there isn’t actually a dome up there. It is a metaphor rather than a reality. It stands for presence of God, it stands for heaven. We should “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”[9] We should not spend our lives earthbound, with our eyes cast down. We should not be preoccupied with troubles that might afflict us in this life. Think how much we would be missing out on. So, as Jesus said, “Look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” The Christmas stories require us to look up lest we miss out.

At the annunciation, the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.” And in Elizabeth’s song which we call the canticle, Benedictus, “You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” [10] If you would see Jesus, the Son of the Most High then you must keep your eyes raised to the heavens. So we sing: “He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all.[11]

This is what the shepherds did when they were watching their flocks in the fields by night. They looked up and first saw an angel who told them, ” ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Then “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!”[12]

If the Wise men from the East had not looked up they would not have seen the star that guided them to the stable where the child who was been born king of the Jews was lying in a manger. But they saw, they came they paid him homage and they gave him their priceless gifts. Following their example we should look up for the guiding star.

Finally let us not forget one more who flies through the air over the roof tops each Christmas in a sleigh drawn by Rudolph and the other reindeer in order to bring presents for the little children. As he finished his work, he was up, up and away and his parting word as he drove out of sight was “Happy Christmas and to all a good night.” Amen to that!

Christmas I   December 29 2019

[1] Mary Poppins (1964). “Lets go fly a kite” is sung by David Tomlinson who plays Mr. Banks, then by Dick van Dyke, the chimney sweep, and finally by the full chorus. The composers were Richard Sherman and Robert Sherman

[2] Group Captain Douglas Bader (1910-1982). A group captain is the equivalent of a colonel in the military.

[3] A movie with the same title followed two years later starring Kenneth More as Bader. It won a BAFTA for Best British Film

[4] 2 Kings 2:11

[5] Acts 1:

[6] Genesis 1:6-8

[7] Genesis 28:10-19, Revelation 4:1

[8] Matthew 14:19ff, John 11:41, Matthew 3:16

[9] Colossians 3:1, the epistle for Easter D (Year A, this year, 2020)

[10] Luke 1:31, 1:76. El Elyon was the deity of Melchizedek, the priest of Jerusalem when it was a Jebusite city (Genesis 14:18)

[11] “Once in royal David’s city” Hymnal # 102

[12] Luke 2:8ff