Hildegard Von Bingen
Omnis caelestis harmonia speculum divinitatis est,
et homo speculum omnium miraculorum est Dei.
All celestial harmony is a mirror of divinity,
and the human being is a mirror of all the miracles of God.
—Saint Hildegard, Causes and Cures
I recently overheard a very energetic conversation between two young technology enthusiasts while sitting by the Charles River on a sunny Sabbath afternoon. They were clearly very excited by the ideas they discussed, evidenced by the liveliness of their tone. “And, well, just imagine!” said one, “soon we’ll be able to leave behind all the mistakes of previous generations—we’re so close! With enough investment and research, humanity will probably leave this earth and start a new life on some other planet.” “I think you’re right,” replied the other, “we’ve turned a corner here, you know, with the climate and all. We’ll probably have no other option than to start over somewhere else.”
If someone came up to you and called you a sheep, I would imagine you’d take it as an insult rather than a compliment. In our day, referring to people as sheep or sheeple, is to call down a whole host of insulting imagery. The idea of sheep following blindly, obedient to a fault, unable to think or act for themselves, is hardly suited to our society’s notions of informed decision making, questioning of authority, and devotion to personal autonomy. But neither of these ways of being in their exaggerated forms are appropriate for the people of God.
It’s true that sheep are popularly considered rather stupid animals. Perhaps it’s not so much that they’re stupid but that they get so fixated on one thing that they need a bit of prodding to move them along. Corporately, sheep will graze a pasture all the way down to the roots, destroying the very grass they depend on, and so the shepherd must constantly move the flock from one pasture to another in order to be able to return again when the grass is renewed. Individually, a sheep may wander from the flock because of a tempting stream, or the promise of greener grass on the other side. But alone, sheep are helpless against predators, liable to get tangled in the bushes they seem so attracted to, and even if they do manage to survive for a while, without shearing, their fleece will eventually weigh them down so much that it will almost certainly lead to disease and death.
We have been ushered into the season of Advent with the customary apocalyptic readings. Gazing not at Christ’s first coming in our midst but straining toward the horizon for his second coming we enter into this season of preparation. But, Advent preparation is not just about planning a party towards the end of December. The expectant waiting and preparation of Advent is time to do the soul’s work of conditioning for ultimate things, because eternity is on the horizon.
Jesus occasionally entered into a mode of teaching that, unlike other uplifting passages, embodies a foreboding sense of coming trial. Indeed, we have such a reading today. Jesus points to a day when there will be an accounting; when the souls of humankind will be laid bare and truth will be made known.
If I let myself actually hear Jesus, I tremble. I know that God’s mercy and grace are aboundingly sufficient and I know that there are some things, some ways of being, some little pet sins of mine that simply cannot endure in the Kingdom of God. But I know how much I depend on them when I try to let them go.
Today, Jesus speaks to us, not as a people, a nation, a church, or as an internationally defined global community. Rather, He speaks to us as He always has: as creatures of His hand and people of His pasture. There is no room in this claim on us for the passing boundaries of earthly empires or the othering practices of an assumed cultural superiority. No one person and no one group are the center of the universe Jesus reveals to us, for we are each and all the center of the Divine attention, an attention that knows, searches, and sees all—for it is the attention of the Eternal One, the source and center of all reality.
The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, … who is not partial and takes no bribe. You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. 
No creaturely title or pedigree, no national border or communal parameter undoes our dependence on this God for all good things. We are all, from birth to death, waking to sleeping, dependent moment to moment for our life and our pasture—our sustenance and security. They are not realities of our own making. Our sustenance and security can only ever be gifts of the Love that created us. No border can free or save us from the claims of such a dependence. It usurps every one of our identity claims.
Yet today, Jesus also speaks to us as bordered and boundaried people. As people who live in carefully marked communities, and who harbor a dangerously guarded dependence on national, political, religious, and ideological borders.
Read by Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE
I Thessalonians 5:18
I have a memory of my 5th-grade teacher asking us to write a short paragraph describing the things in our lives for which we were thankful. I don’t recall any of the specifics of that assignment, but I do recall having a terrible case of “writer’s block.” I sat for the longest time just staring at that piece of paper. I couldn’t think of a thing for which I was thankful.
Recalling it now, it seems shocking to me that a 5th-grade boy growing up in suburban America, with plenty of food and warm clothes and a comfortable home and a loving family, couldn’t think of anything for which he was thankful. I was surrounded by gifts, but I didn’t recognize them as gifts, and so I couldn’t begin to express my gratitude for them. I suppose I naively assumed that everyone had food and clothing, a loving family and a comfortable home. I was unaware of how privileged I was to enjoy these things on a daily basis, and simply took them for granted.
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
2 Timothy 1:1-14
“We are useless slaves; we have done no more than our duty.”
“Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds awake when he comes.”
“Well done, good and trustworthy slave. Enter into the joy of your master.”
“Anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave.”