A Homily for the Third Sunday in Advent
by Bishop Steven Marshall
In the tradition of the Church calendar, the 3rd Sunday in Advent is often called Rose Sunday, because it represents a lightening of the dark violet of the rest of the penitential season of Advent. This lightening has two points of significance. One is that of a greater light shining through the violet to reveal the rose tint signifying the coming of the Light, the other is a lightening of the mood, for which reason the Church has traditionally ascribed this Sunday to the quality of joy. The rose color expresses the joy of recognition, the recognition of the One who shines from beyond the veil of violet, who is the Messenger of the Light.
The joy of the recognition of the Messenger is described in one of the traditional scriptures for this Sunday in Advent:
“And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah; and entered into the house of Zachariah, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a fulfillment of all those things which were told her from the Lord.” (The Gospel of Luke)
This joy of recognition, the recognition of the holy messenger has in so many ways been trivialized or minimized by mainstream religion and new age thinking that it is difficult, without direct experience, to appreciate the great mystery that it represents to the Gnostic. Understanding the Gnostic experience of the recognition of the messenger and the joy that it brings hinges upon two Gnostic insights. One is that there is an alternative, spiritual reality transcendent to the material world, and second that this reality manifests itself on myriad levels of being which are metaphorically connected but not identical in breadth or depth. For our present purpose we need only concern ourselves with two of these levels of being. The first is the microcosmic, interior, mystical, more individual level, the second is the macrocosmic, more universal level of manifestation. Neither of these levels manifest as merely subjective fantasies of the alternative reality, as both can be objectively perceived by what Jung called the “objective psyche” and have both psychological and metaphysical reality. This objective psyche is closely related to Jung’s “collective unconscious,” as it might be thought of as the psyche that accesses the “collective unconscious” through what Jung called the “transcendent function.” To make a long theory short, when people have an authentic experience of this alternative reality both the individual and universal levels of manifestation are objectively perceived in the language of poetic myth and metaphor; there exists a common “eye of perception.” The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, expressed this in one of my favorite of his verses.
“The waking have one world in common, whereas each sleeper turns away to a private world of his own.”
In this verse the waking refer to those awakened to the alternative reality of myth and metaphor, the sleeping to those in the ordinary state of consciousness and the perception of the everyday. It is through such an awakened and common “eye of perception” that we may recognize the Messenger of the Light on both the individual and the universal levels of manifestation.
One way by which the Messenger is recognized is by the message. The Messengers of Light have always been known by their message, a message of liberation and freedom, the revelation of a way out, the existence of an alternative reality beyond the everyday, something more real and more authentic than the shadows of our mundane lives. Like Plato’s allegory of the people imprisoned in the cave, whose only reality was the puppet-show of shadows thrown against the walls by the torchlight, who had never seen the upper world illumined by the light of the sun, so the recognition of the messenger and the message of another reality is taken by many for only the shadows of things that are real and belief in things that have never been experienced in truth. Some never even believe in an existence beyond the shadows of what they see in the everyday world. Yet the revelations of the Messenger do not lead us into some playground of pseudo-archetypes of our own fanciful imaginings, as such authentic experiences of the numinous, archetypal and interior realities come with an awesome, ego-shattering power, troubling and frightening in their importance and numinosity, and never what might be expected from the shadow-realities with which we are familiar.
This role is that of the Messenger on the universal level of manifestation. In this fashion the Messenger has the role of the Liberator and Saviour, as the Holy Prophet Mani describes in his sacred writings:
“The Messenger of Light, who comes at the right time and assumes the form of the true church and human flesh, and acts as leader within righteousness, chooses the personalities of his disciples and then frees them, both those of the Elect and those of the Hearers; he dives down into the deep oceans of the waters of the world, and draws them out from the jaws of the deep. And they do not stray again, but after other rebirths and toil for the Light, they come to the hands of the Angels; and the Angels carry them to the places where they shall be re?ned as pure gold.”
An extract from The Avatars by A.E. describes in similarly potent imagery this same role of the Saviour:
“In fancy this tireless child thought of leaping from crest to crest of the long blue waves of hills. Why could he not do it? He imagined the run and the mad gathering of power for the leap, and in the very act of imagining he had left the body behind. What had happened? The air in which he floated was vibrant with timeless melody, a sound as beautiful and universal as the light. Where was he? The earth was vanishing, swallowed up in a brightness as fiery as the ecstasy of the fire. A moment more and he would have passed from the illusion of boyhood. He was reaching up to some immeasurable power which was himself when consciousness faded.
‘It is time to waken him. The seer cannot be held to the eyes, the being cannot be held to the body.’
“He looked up. He saw a figure thrice the height of mortals, a body gleaming as if made of gold and silver air. It was winged with flame above the brows. The eyes which looked upon him were still as if they had gazed upon eternities. The boy cried, and knew not why he uttered the words: ‘I know you Shepherd of the Starry Flocks. What soul do you now draw from the Abyss?'”
When compared to the Gnostic conception of the Saviour, the popular views comfortable to the many, take on two extremes both of which prevent our recognition of the Messenger and the Message. The first may be called the “bootstrap” or “do it yourself” approach, which declares that we do not need a saviour or a redeemer outside of the ego personality of our everyday awareness of who we are. This is a very ego-centered approach, likened to the exclamation of the Old Testament Demiurge, “I am the only God, and there are no other gods besides me.” Lifting ourselves out of ignorance by our own bootstraps never seems to work very well. It results in our being limited to a horizontal plane of being, climbing over others to get to the top of the heap. Cut off from our source of divine glory and power, we become enslaved to the ego-personality, its grandiose hopes and its controlling fears.
The second popular view of salvation is the familiar “Sunday school” approach, which assumes that we are all wretched sinners with nothing of divinity within ourselves, wholly dependent on belief in an external and historical saviour for our redemption. This works even less. Again we are limited to a very horizontal plane of being, without a vertical dimension transcendent to everyday society. We end up believing that we must follow the commandments of mainstream religion to merit redemption and find ourselves enslaved to the tyrant super-ego of our psyches.
A third, Gnostic view proposes a conjunction of these two opposites. There is a divine and redeeming power within us, yet it is transcendent to the ego-personality of our usual awareness. It most often manifests as a mysterious, yet personal other within our psyches. This more individual manifestation of the Messenger is called by the Holy Prophet Mani the Light-Twin or Twin-Angel; Jung called it the “Self.”
The Gnostic also recognizes that we are in need of liberation and salvation, not from ourselves or our sins, but from the predicament of worldly existence in which we find ourselves. The predicament, however, is both external in the world and interior in our psyches. Just as the Gnostic psychologist, C.G. Jung, proposed the need for a third function transcendent to the level of psychological conflict, so we require a redeeming and liberating power and consciousness that is transcendent to the predicament that exists within us. It is as if we are all sunk in quicksand; we are no less human for having fallen into the quagmire, yet we cannot lift ourselves out or the others who are caught in it with us; we require someone outside of the quicksand to lift us out. Also, in our predicament of ignorance and forgetfulness, we require one who knows us from our divine origin to remind us of who we are.
The role of the Gnostic saviour is also that of the Messenger who brings the message of remembrance, reminding us of who we are and the heavenly light-world from which we have originated. On the more individual level of manifestation the Messenger comes to remind us of the message to “know thyself.” On this level of manifestation the Messenger and the Self that we are bidden to know are the same. Yet we come to this recognition not by seeking who the mysterious other, this messenger of another reality, is but by seeking the Self who we truly are in the inmost core of our being, the inmost of the inmosts. As Jesus explains to his disciples in the Secret Sayings of Jesus:
“Jesus said: Pay no heed to the multitude; and think little on those outside of the mystery; for know that I am wholly with the Father, and the Father with me. Therefore I have suffered nothing of what they are going to say about me. For what thou seest, this I have shown thee; but what I am, this alone I know, no other. Let me then keep what is mine, and see what is thine through me. But see me truly, not what I said I am, but what thou being akin to me, canst fully realize, and wilt know in the fullness of thy time.”
We cannot rely on the multitude for knowledge of the Messenger. We can only know and recognize the Messenger when we awaken to and know our true and royal Self, the truly real and divine being within, neither flattering nor condemning but voicing the truth, the author of all that is truly good in us. In the Hymn of the Robe of Glory, the Messenger as an eagle and a letter brings to the wayfarer in the world the following message:
“Up and arise from thy sleep and hear the words of our letter! Remember thou art the son of kings; see the slavery and whom thou servest! Recollect the pearl for which thou didst hasten to Egypt! Think of thy brightness, and recall thy glorious mantle, which thou shalt wear as adornment and thy name be read in the list of Heroes; then with thy brother, our viceroy, thou shalt be in our kingdom!”
The call to remembrance reminds us that we are kin to great ones and that we have been enslaved, put to sleep, and have forgotten who we are in our likeness. In the Acts of John, Jesus says “I am a mirror to thee who understandeth me.” We cannot know who the Messenger is on a universal level of manifestation, for that is known alone by that Holy One, but we can perceive that Messenger as a likeness in a mirror, as a reflection of that Self within us that is the perfect reflection of the Holy One. The word Gnosis has been translated by Bentley Layton in The Gnostic Scriptures as “acquaintance”, an intimate acquaintance, likened to knowing in the Biblical sense, a knowing on a deeply interior level akin to the physical intimacy of sexual knowing, yet spiritually transcending it in both closeness and bliss. In the prayers written by the Holy Prophet Mani, he calls unto the Messenger of Light, the Christ, as “our celestial Spouse.”
“O Christ, our Light, come to us and take us unto Thee! We have trusted to the knowledge of Thy hope which called us unto Thee; take us up to Thine abode, O our celestial Spouse! We are trees in the orchard of Thy Light; our Light shines like the sun; for we have lit it with Thy fire, and nourished it with the good oil of purity.”
Such is the intimacy and joy of the acquaintance with the Messenger expressed by the Holy Prophet Mani. The Logos, the Word, the Messenger is already known of himself, and we must let him keep what is his and see what is ours through him; only when we know who we are as akin to him will we know what and who he is. Then shall we recognize the Messenger both individually and universally.
The Message is a call to remembrance. As described in the Hymn of the Robe of Glory, it reminds us not only of who we are and from whence we have come but of the promise made to us and the promise that we made in descending to this world. Our promise is to liberate the pearl from the coils of the world-dragon. That pearl for which we are sent by the command of those who sent us, is no less than our own divine Self. Through recognition of the Messenger we liberate the light which is within us: through the liberation of that light which is within us, we assist in the liberation of the light that has been scattered throughout all creation.
There is a redeeming and liberating power within us, yet it is in the likeness of the universal liberator of all beings. It is not circumscribed by the perceptions of our ego nor limited by cultural stereotypes or the material world in which we live. The Gnosis of the Self, the recognition of the Messenger, the intimate acquaintance with transcendent being is more powerful, liberating, and redeeming than anything offered by this world. The message of the Redeemer awakens us from slumber, clears away our ignorance, and reminds that we are akin to the image of the Holy One, not a redeemer of history and culturally defined form but the Living One who truly is. So shall we recognize the Messenger and see truly, as the Logos said, “But see me truly, not what I said I am, but what thou being akin to me, canst fully realize, and wilt know in the fullness of thy time.”
Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.