"Sea of Flames," Pastor Kinsey
The precious Sea of Flames diamond 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. And it seems to me, a flash of fire and spirit, like the Advent of Our Lord, the announcement of the coming of the Messiah.
The Legend, of the Sea of Flames diamond, was said to have protected the [anointed] 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 sea. So went the legend, anyway, that was told to Marie-Laure as a child in Paris in 1934, in Anthony Doerr’s novel, “All the Light We Cannot See.”
How do people react to the beauty, and indeed, the wealth of such a precious diamond? Can diamonds like the Sea of Flames be shared by all in a public museum? Or will it only be an object that creates greed and misfortune?
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 says 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 from cataracts, at the age of 6. “It’s like they’re cursed,” young Marie-Laure hears people whispering all around her.
So, as WWII crashes in on France, the Museum’s director devises a plan to hide the precious Sea of Flames, in case the museum is captured. So, 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 if he is indeed the carrier, because 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, coincidentally, 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.
The 16 year old, Marie-Laure, now totally blind, is left all alone to fend for herself in the town’s final battle, as the Germans dig in to defend against the onslaught of the Allied bombs. 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 France ever see the light, 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 is the ax lying at our roots, ready to cut us down? Are we part of God’s plan, the favored and chosen people? Or will God raise up new people from stones? Do we know the one who is coming to bring Light, a flash of fire at our center, light that will illuminate our days, and show us the way? Is our salvation near?
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, 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, or extort those you have power over, just because you can.’
For this, John was exulted, and the people gathered thought perhaps he was the Messiah – that full of such wisdom, John was about to inaugurate the Advent of the coming new age. His teaching on lifting up the lowly and combating oppression sound a lot like Jesus! John the baptizer, was a Sea, but a Flame, of Judgement – a cleansing baptizer on the water’s edge, but with a winnowing hot flame separating the wheat from the chaff. He was not the Messiah of Grace and Love, the anointed Son who brings the Holy Spirit, flame-of-fire.
And John knew it: One who is more powerful than I is coming, said John. I baptize you with water; but Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and yes, with a new kind of fire – with a purifying red tongue of fire, more valuable than any diamond.
The magnificent Sea of Flame diamond, all beautiful sea-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 ages of formation and shaping.
The fire that Jesus brought as our Messiah, we find, was the spark of fire ignited at Pentecost, the individual flames of fire that touch all the 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, a flame more beautiful than any diamond, the Light of Christ, of the resurrected Jesus, the one “we cannot see,” but we feel at the center of our lives, and know as the most beautiful and magnificent gift we will ever receive. As John said, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
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, as we live with the promise of our resurrected life to come.
It turns out that the protector of Marie-Laure’s Sea of Flames Diamond was one of the enemies, an orphaned German, under-aged boy-soldier, like one of the enemies we are to pray for, and who himself uses his one opportunity for good, by living large, and by overcoming temptation to do what no one else could with the diamond, bearing fruit worthy of repentance.
That’s the kind of Messiah we have in Jesus, the One who lifts the curse of death for us! The One who’s inner light is our flame.
He was the prophet from the north, from tiny, discounted Galilee, born of an unmarried mother, born a refugee in a lowly manger across the border in southern Bethlehem of Judea.
Jesus the Christ, the anointed One, 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 without credentials into God’s new and liberating kingdom – waiting and hoping, in this Advent season – preparing and anticipating every opportunity we have, to be keepers of the flame, and to bear good fruit.