Into Thin Space 2 Advent 2004 Isaiah 2.1-5 Luke 1.5-20 The Rev. Deke Spierling Calvary Presbyterian Church Ancient Celtic Christians used to speak of “thin space,” of sacred places where the boundary between heaven and earth seemed almost transparent, where the border between time and eternity seemed as narrow as a razor’s edge. Iona, for example, an island off the coast of Scotland where Columba, the warrior monk, banished from Ireland, walked the beaches and brought Christianity there, was thought to be such a thin space. There are thin spaces scattered throughout the Bible, of course: Mt Sinai, where Moses received the commandments. . . the Jerusalem Temple, where the prophet Isaiah “saw the Holy One sitting on a throne, high and lofty,” and heard the seraphim sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” [Isa. 6] A stable in Bethlehem, a cross on Golgotha, an empty tomb—thin spaces all, where the boundary between time and eternity seemed a mere membrane, if it existed at all. The prophet Isaiah’s vision of Mt. Zion, which we heard in the first reading this morning, was about a thin space, a high place closer to heaven, to which the nations will stream to learn God’s ways; a place of encounter with the Holy Mystery, who will transform people’s hearts, freeing them to beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks, as they seek to walk faithfully in the light of the Eternal. It was a place in the narrow borderland between God and humanity. And what of unsuspecting Zechariah, who appears in the gospel reading. He was the Officer of the Day in the Jerusalem Temple. He entered the Holy of Holies, a matter of duty and responsibility, taking with him the prayers of the people into that sacred yet familiar space-become-thin. There, he encountered God’s messenger Gabriel, who foretold a child for this aging priest and his wife Elizabeth. A cause of “joy and gladness,” the angel said, the birth of this son John, who would become the baptizer, the forerunner of Jesus. The boundary was as thin as a razor’s edge that day, and his encounter left Zechariah full of doubt and wonderment, and he was struck dumb. You have been in thin spaces, I should think—sacred places where eternity seemed to invade time, occasions when the Holy touched the human: The birthing room of a hospital, perhaps, or at the grave of a beloved person. In the midst of music by Bach or Mozart, or U-2, for all I know. You may have walked the narrow border between time and eternity in the solitude of a forest, or the familiarity of your kitchen table, where for a moment, you glimpsed something mysterious, something holy, that startled you, that left you perplexed, full of wonder, even struck dumb. My friends, the pilgrimage of Advent is a journey through thin space, through the narrow borderland between time and eternity. In the midst of the rush and routine of preparing for Christmas, somewhere deep in yourself, do you not also await a fresh advent of God’s presence in your own life. . . in our life together as God’s people? In the midst of our captivity to the silliness and commercialism of Christmas, there is, I think, a yearning for thin space, for encounter with the Holy; there is still the hope that the great Mystery will 2 again arc across the slender gap to touch our minds and hearts with sacred fire and set us free to rejoice and to serve. On this second Sunday of the Advent pilgrimage, we pause for refreshment at a way- station, at this Table, where the crucified and risen Christ is our host. Here, in earthly things, we catch a glimpse of the Holy. Here, eternity is clothed in the mundane garments of earth, in bread and wine, word and gesture. It is a thin place, where God would touch your humanity with the grace of forgiveness and healing; where God would feed us with the bread of new life together in Christ and the joyful wine of the Spirit. This way-station stands in the narrow borderland between time and eternity, where God may surprise you into perplexity mingled with hope, wonderment leavened with courage, muteness that yet sings, “Come, Lord Jesus!” It is said that the ancient Druids took a special interest in in-between things such as mistletoe, which is neither quite a plant nor quite a tree, and mist, which is neither quite rain nor quite air, and dreams, which are neither quite waking nor quite sleep. They believed that in such things they were able to glimpse the mystery of two worlds at once. Dearly Beloved: In thin spaces, might we not also glimpse the mystery of two worlds at once, and by the goodness of God incarnate in Jesus, might we not be surprised, and be filled with perplexity and wonderment at such mystery? Might we not be struck dumb for a time, in order all the more to sing out, to sing out with our hearts, with our voices, with our very lives, “O come, O come, Emmanuel! Redeemer come, and make us new, that by your grace, we may make your world new as well.” Thanks be to God. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.