The Third Sunday of Advent
Sea of Flames Stone, by Pastor Kinsey
The precious Sea of Flames was locked up in the museum that Marie-Laure’s father worked at. No one had seen it for almost 200 years, but it was said to be stunningly beautiful: pear shaped, blue like the sea, with a flare of red at its core, a diamond as big as a pigeon’s egg. The Sea of Flames, in Anthony Doerr’s book, “All the Light We Cannot See,” – which is the Book Discussion story for today – could be said to be like the Advent of Our Lord, the announcement of the coming of the Messiah.
In the novel, the Sea of Flames was said to protect the Prince who held it in his palm, saving his life from a mortal knife wound, but at the same time, brought misfortune and even death to some of his friends and family around him. But the curse would be lifted, if only someone had the courage to throw the Sea of Flames back into the water. So went the legend, anyway, that was told to Marie-Laure as a child in Paris in 1934, in “All the Light We Cannot See.”
Questions arise like, does the Sea of Flames create weal and woe for the characters of the novel, or simply illuminate the story? Is the curse real, or merely coincidental?
Marie-Laure’s father is Principal Locksmith, the keeper of the keys, in the National Museum of Natural History. And he alone has the keys to the Sea of Flames, locked behind 13 doors! He doesn’t believe in the curse. But early on in the story we hear tell that: his father died in WWI, his wife died in childbirth, and now his daughter, Marie-Laure is blind at the age of 6, from cataracts. “It’s like they’re cursed,” Marie-Laure hears people whispering all around her.
As WWII crashes in on France, the Museum’s director devises a plan to hide the precious Sea of Flames. Two fakes are created, perfect look-a-likes! And three employees of the museum were designated to secretly carry the stones away from Paris. Even as German bombs are falling on the French capital, Marie-Laure and her father, and two others, are making their way out of France. Neither of them knows which one is the real Sea of Flames. Any one of them might be carrying one of the fakes, or the real thing!
But misfortune continues to swirl around Marie-Laure’s father, making us wonder. First, the two of them fail to get on their train leaving the country, and end up at their uncle’s home in Britany, on the island town of Saint-Malo, on France’s NW Atlantic coast, which has been selected by the Germans as the strategically perfect location for their soldiers to occupy, just across the channel from Great Britain. Then their house-keeper dies, followed by Marie-Laure’s father mysteriously being summoned back to Paris. He hands off the stone to his daughter before departing, but he’s never seen alive again. And finally, their uncle is captured by the Germans.
The 16 year old blind girl, Marie-Laure, is left all alone to fend for herself, as the Germans dig in to defend against the onslaught of the Allied bombs, in the town’s final battle. Does Marie-Laure have the real Sea of Flames diamond? Will it protect her from the war? Will she survive the Day of reckoning? Will she ever see the liberation by American and British troops?
Here in this Third Sunday of Advent we wait and hope with anticipation for our liberation. In Advent, we live in the “in-between times”. The time between Christ’s first and second comings. Is Christ with us to protect us? Or are we cursed because others are protected? Can we trust even our closest friends and family? Do we know the Light, see the light that illumines our days, and shows the way, that fills us with life and offers us salvation?
And what of the fire-y prophet John the Baptist? Isn’t he a kind of Sea of Flames diamond-in-the-rough for Jesus?
As the crowds were coming out to be baptized from Jerusalem and Galilee, John preached repentance in the Jordan wilderness. Everyone was coming to be baptized and asking John, what should we do? If they cannot depend on their status as the chosen people, that they’re ancestors of Abraham, what then should they do? How should they bear good fruit so they are not cut down and thrown into the fire? If you have more coats and more food than you need, says John, share with those who have none. To the rich he says, stop cheating. And to the occupying forces, their Roman overlords, John says, do not reinforce the structures of inequality and extort those you have absolute power over, just because you can.
For this, John was exulted, and the people gathered, thought perhaps he was the Messiah – that full of wisdom, he was about to inaugurate the Advent of the coming new age. The crowds can sometimes be attracted to someone who talks tough, tells it like it is, who shuns political correct-ness I guess, even as the people feel threatened, and perceive danger all around them, like the feeling of an ax aimed at them, which they want to turn on others. John the baptizer, was a Sea and a Flame – a cleansing baptizer on the water’s edge, and a winnowing hot flame separating the wheat from the chaff. But he was not the Messiah.
One who is more powerful than I is coming, said John – who was not too full of himself to realize this. I baptize you with water; but Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and yes, with fire.
The magnificent Sea of Flame diamond, all beautiful blue, was said to have a touch of red, like a small flame, at its core. Not perfect, because no diamond is, but just enough red to give it a spark of light at its center, a power born of eons of formation and shaping. It took a microscope to tell if it was the real thing, to measure the flame and verify its worth.
The fire that Jesus brings as our Messiah, is the first spark of fire he ignites at Pentecost, the flames of fire that touch the 12 disciples as they wait for him in the upper room, and the fire of the Holy Spirit that steadily spreads to more and more believers, more and more followers, of the Light of Christ, the resurrected Jesus, the one “we cannot see,” but we feel in our lives, and know as the most beautiful and magnificent gift we will ever receive.
And that’s the grace that rescues, revives and fills us so full, so satisfied, that we can’t do anything but rejoice, as St Paul does, rejoice in the Lord always. That’s the grace that gives us hope and confidence in this time of waiting and preparation, to bear good fruit. Here, in this in-between time of Advent, in-between the first and second comings of the Messiah, we can’t afford to be superstitious about blessings and curses.
The Sea of Flames diamonds do not protect us or curse those around us, with some independent supernatural powers. It may cause us to do crazy things, if we are jealous of its beauty, or if we are consumed with its riches beyond our deserving, as one deranged character in the novel is. And our actions may in turn, cause misfortune to befall others. But the protector of Marie-Laure turns out, not to be the Sea of Flames – spoiler alert – but to be a German, like one of the enemies we are to pray for, an orphan boy-soldier, tiny in stature, used as a tool by the Nazi’s, but who himself uses his one opportunity for good, by living large, and by overcoming temptation to do what no one else could, bearing fruit worthy of repentance.
That’s the kind of Messiah we have in Jesus. He was the stone that the builders rejected, and yet he became the corner stone. He was the prophet from the north, from tiny, discounted Galilee, born of an unmarried mother, who became a refugee, born lowly in a manger. But Jesus uses the opportunity God gives him, to show us the way. He uses his life, to create a pathway to the Light, as we travel from this eon to the next, waiting and hoping, in this Advent season of preparation and anticipation, and giving us every opportunity to be keepers of the flame, and to bear good fruit.