Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent IV: Insolent Ikons

The Epistle:

The Gospel:

It's painful for an ex-chorister as myself not to join in verses of Scripture which one has sung many times and the words of which have inspired great composers such as Orlando Gibbons and Henry Purcell to write iconic music.

That's just it. The music is ikonic, if I may be allowed to use more Hellenistic spelling.The purpose of any ikon is to point the way to Christ. The Roman Martyrology talks about various saints being persecuted for "the worship of sacred images" - a clumsy phrase considering that this is the translation of dulia - a profound veneration and not latria which is reserved only for God Himself and no other being. Sometimes, just sometimes, English doesn't communicate finely enough what is really meant. The act of dulia is the following of an arrow, the acceptance of the direction of a signpost or the attempt to be obedient to the directions of a yokel who tells you that you should have turned off near the windmill.

The two Ikons in the Epistle and the Gospel are those of St Paul and St John the Baptist, both of whom have a reputation for being rather on the stern side. You don't want to get on the wrong side of St Paul. How the Galatians ears must have rung with the shout "ω ἀνόητοι Γαλάται!" "O Foolish Galatians!" Likewise, you'd want to steer clear of startling figures such as St John the Baptist in his ragged appearance calling you a brood of vipers!

These saintly gentlemen will not pull their punches. If were on the wrong road, they will point it out to us. They will not spare our blushes because they certainly put the cost of our salvation ahead of our pride and dignity. And yet isn't this why we should venerate them? They actually bother and take pains to bother. They actually care about us, about our fate, about our relationship with the One Whom they know very well. Their music may sound rough to our ears - I doubt that St John the Baptist was a Kings College Alto - but it is beautiful music when it is put into the context of God and choirs of angels.

And their message is not one of stern crossness, of frowns and hard stares; theirs is a message of hope and joy. "Make straight the way of the Lord!" "Rejoice in the Lord alway and again, I say rejoice" Both are pointing definitely in their ikonic poses to the Coming Christ who will wipe away all material dependence, all riches, all misplaced ease when He does come again, and give us something even more permanent upon which we can rest. Maranatha!

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