St. Lucy of Syracuse, Tennessee Laymen, Church of the Advent, December 13, 2023

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty reigns” (Rev. 19:6).

This evening we commemorate St. Lucy of Syracuse, a young Sicilian woman martyred in the great persecution under the Emperor Diocletian in the fourth century. Our saint finds us in the Advent season, the time of preparation for Christmas. Her name means “light” in Latin, a remedy to the darkness around us. In this season of increasing joy, the feast points us to the sober stuff of Christian witness and persecution, along with Gospel promise.

Though we celebrate Lucy of Syracuse this evening, the first Lucy who comes to my mind in this season is the Lucy of the Charlie Brown Christmas special, a television fixture of my childhood and maybe of yours. You know, the cartoon character from the strip “Peanuts” who dispenses advice, like lemonade at a roadside stand, under the hanging shingle of “the Doctor is in.” This Lucy helps Charlie Brown through his Christmas crisis of faith, her sign presaging the psychoanalytic preoccupations of generations to come.

The message of “peace on earth” under the Christmas star also spoke (even in 1965) of the ongoing war in Southeast Asia, and the turmoil that would stem from it. The message of the TV special was inspired, poignant, and funny. It’s hard to imagine a mass phenomenon like this today that would culminate (as this special did) with the reading of the nativity story from Luke’s Gospel. Amazingly for the time, and appropriately in view of what lay ahead, there was no laugh track accompaniment, but only cool jazz and Christmas carols.

Our commemoration of St. Lucy, and Charles Schultz’s cartoon, have this in common: a realistic assessment of where the human race finds itself. Over the world there is both the promise of peace and the shadow of war. It seems that not much has changed. No laugh track could be adequate to this moment. St. Lucy’s martyrdom itself brings before us the worst that human beings can do to others, or endure themselves, as well as the hope of resurrection.

Our first reading today, from the Revelation of John, is a case in point. The scene is one of rejoicing: the heavenly chorus assembled and singing praise to God. It’s a scene of victory, the triumph of the Lamb. “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and the bride has made herself ready…” (Rev. 19:7). The bride, of course, is the Church, adorned with “the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev. 19:8): saints like Lucy. The marriage is the heavenly consummation of the relationship between Christ and the Church, bound together by ties that cannot be broken. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9): that invitation is addressed to each of us, the promise of new life, the hope of resurrection.

This scene of triumph and victory is set, however, within a larger context that dominates the rest of the chapter: a scene of conflict and war. “Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called faithful and true, and in righteousness he judges and makes war” (Rev. 19:11). The white-robed saints of the earlier part of the chapter become an army of riders who follow the rider on the white horse, the One who is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16): Christ himself. The heavenly army is squaring off with the armies of the beast, who are making war on the saints. The wedding banquet of our reading is mirrored by another feast in the last half of the chapter, the grisly banquet of carrion birds who are feeding on the bodies of those slain in the heavenly conflict. A laugh track is definitely out of place.

In a single chapter we find the promise of peace and the shadow of war. It’s the pattern we find in our own world, reflected in a realistic assessment of where we are as human beings. It’s the pattern inscribed in the life of St. Lucy, in her martyrdom and her promised heavenly crown. It’s the pattern we find in Jesus Christ, the King of martyrs, the One mounted on the white horse who leads the saints into battle. In his death and resurrection is the original pattern we find reflected in the lives of the saints. Shadow and light, in this Advent-tide, with the hope of heavenly triumph, and the promise of new life.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee