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9:30AM Sunday School
11AM & 7PM Worship

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Austin, TX 78705

The Repair Shop

The Reverend Matt Gaventa

January 12, 2020
Matthew 3:13-17

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”


The update from the Gaventa house is that Christmas has finally gone back into storage. As of yesterday, all the ornaments are back in their boxes and all the creche sets are back wrapped up in newspapers from 2007, and all of it is back in a series of plastic tubs lining the wall of the garage. Some of it packs up pretty easily, of course — like the stockings that you just roll into a ball and use as padding. But some of it is a bit more complicated, and nothing in our Christmas collection poses a greater challenge than the beautifully-crafted German Christmas pyramid that we inherited from Sarah’s parents. You may know this genre, but if you don’t, the German Christmas pyramid is like a series of small carousels stacked on top of one another, all carved out of extremely light balsa wood, flanked with a ring of candles, and then topped with a series of lightweight fans. Sarah grew up with these; her parents taught  on American military bases in Germany, and so part of her childhood inherited this German tradition, this moment when the family gathers around and lights the candles and the heat moves the air enough to push the fans and spin the carousel, which often has Christmas characters on them of one sort or another, and the whole thing dances to life. When it works, it’s magical.

But as you can imagine, anything that involves a combination of lightweight balsa wood and open flames and moving parts has a lot of vulnerabilities to it, and ours breaks all the time. Every year, we take it out of storage, and we have to do a sort of medical assessment on it. Sometimes the injuries are trivial – the first year we were here, the Texas summer just melted all of the accompanying candles, and we learned how not to store those parts in the garage. But some of the injuries are more substantial. There are hairline cracks in the wood. There are some mechanisms that don’t quite turn any more the way they’re supposed to turn. Even when this thing finally works, there are a few seconds of magic followed by hours of surgery. Every once in a while I wonder whether our Christmas pyramid almost has too much personality to really be useful. And I will admit that before we inherited this particular one, I had heard Sarah talk about them, and so early our marriage, at a moment of sentimentality, one Christmas I got her a brand-new Christmas pyramid, right off some factory line, and we still have that one, and it works just fine, it just sort of pops up and goes, no problem whatsoever. It doesn’t have any of the bumps. It doesn’t have any of the fractures. It also doesn’t have any of the story. It turns out we don’t really want the new one. We just want the old one to work.

If I could, I would take it to the Repair Shop. Not just any Repair Shop. This very specific Repair Shop isn’t actually a real shop, it’s my newest comfort television. Now on Netflix, a few years after debuting in the UK, the Repair Shop may be the least exciting television show I have ever seen, and I love it so much. BBC has simply rented out a beautiful old country barn somewhere and filled it with experts in repairs and restorations: carpenters, and upholsters, and experts in gears and mechanisms, folks who can disappear the tear in your canvas painting or reassemble the antique vase that cracked on the floor. This is literally the entire show. People bring in their heirlooms, like the old grandfather clock that smashed to the floor. An old antique chair that has fallen into disrepair. A teddy bear from before the war that lost a fight to a German Shepherd. You bring it in. And somebody fixes it. There is no suspense. They will take that clock apart to its barest components, each antique gear hand-cleaned and hand-scoured. They will take that teddy bear and rebuild it — it’s missing an ear, but we can take some the fabric from here and a stitch from there and for a second the whole thing is laid out like an autopsy and the next thing, it’s resurrected. I am in love with watching these things come back to life.

But it’s not just the mechanics of it. It’s the stories. Natalie Cummings is an older woman who walks into the Repair Shop with a violin case, and the story inside is priceless. Her aunt, Rosa, was a prominent violinist in Germany in the 1930s, and played with the Berlin Philharmonic. Unfortunately, Rosa was also Jewish in the wrong place in the wrong time, and she was ultimately arrested and sent to Auschwitz, violin case in hand. In the camp, the violin was life — Rosa was recruited into the small orchestra of prisoners who, at the behest of the guards, would play soothing music to lull new arrivals into a false sense of security. Rosa survived the camps in no small part because of that violin, though she did not long outlast the war, and so the violin went to Natalie’s father, who played it recreationally for decades before his death nearly forty years ago. By the time Natalie walks into the Repair Shop, the violin itself is in tatters. Not only is the neck effectively disconnected from the instrument, but around the edges of the instrument, you can see the effects of the camps, crude patches made over gashes in the wood, almost like the entire thing was held together with string and scotch tape. And Natalie’s hope is, of course, to give the violin new life.

It reminds me a bit of our hope on this day when we tell the story of the baptism of Jesus, which is, like all baptism stories, the story of something shiny and new. Of course, in this Epiphany season, Jesus is at the very beginning of his ministry; Matthew’s Gospel skips from the flight into Egypt some decades later to find John running around the wilderness and Jesus just now ready to get his work started. This is the story that begins the story, a story of a new calling, the story of a new chapter, the story of a life ready to be lived, which, of course, is why Jesus sets out to be baptized, to have this moment recognized, to have his new life begun. Such is always the story with baptism, everything shiny and new; you may even remember: one of the ways we tell this story is by taking the moment to remember our own baptism. If you were baptized as an infant, this can be a challenge, but if you were baptized as an adult you can do this, you can remember the moment, you can call back on the water as it came over your head, you can recollect that sense of new beginnings and new invitations and new and new and new.

But I am sympathetic with John the Baptist, for whom baptism is old work, and who would nonetheless very much like to be baptized. Jesus comes to John in the river, and Matthew says that “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” Jesus doesn’t oblige him, of course. There is no time, and Jesus needs to get his ministry started and he is checking boxes. But I am sympathetic with John, who has been in this business a long time already, and still hungers for new life. John has been living in the wilderness already. John has been wading in the Jordan already. John has been surviving on locusts and wild honey. As you well know there is nothing shiny or new about John the Baptist. Nor, of course, for him, is there anything shiny or new about baptism. John has been baptizing people up and down the Jordan for longer than the Gospel writer can count. We have no way of giving a number to it, but we know that crowds were streaming out of Jerusalem into his presence. He has done this a lot, which means that a baptism that might seem shiny and new to us is not shiny and new when your name is John the Baptist. But still John the Baptist wants to be baptized. Of course he does. He’s been doing his work for a long time. Of course he wants new life.

Just maybe, he gets it. Of course, Matthew doesn’t record John himself getting baptized, but maybe he still gets new life. After all, his hands get to hold the water that inaugurates the ministry of Jesus Christ. And, of course, what Jesus is doing in Matthew’s Gospel is a new thing; Jesus is bringing a new covenant; Jesus is ushering in a new creation; Jesus is beginning a new chapter in the life of all creation. Nobody would have been surprised if Jesus showed up to this new thing looking for a new baptism with new hands carrying new waters. But that’s not what Jesus wants. Jesus wants the old waters, the Jordan River that has run through Israel’s story since the beginning. And Jesus wants the old hands, the hands of this wayfaring prophet, hands that have slept on the desert floor, hands coated with the dirt of the muddy riverbank, hands worn with the traces of the water that they have held time and time and time again. It turns out this isn’t just a story about new beginnings and new creations. It’s a story about restorations, of old hands put to new use. It’s a story about reclamations, of an old hand called again into God’s purposes. It’s a story about redemptions, of old life made new in the waters of grace.

So this violin comes into the Repair Shop, war-torn and falling apart. Of course, I know absolutely zero about instrument repair, but the thing looks like it’s in pieces, and I cannot help, with the same energy that once bought a factory-purposed Christmas pyramid, I cannot help but think that maybe it’s time to find a new one. But of course, the whole point is that this one has a story. When the Repair Shop opens up in the instrument, you can the signature of the man who made it alongside fingerprints of those who loved it through the darkest days of the war, and the technician decides quite easily that that story is too beautiful to ignore. Because the wood that is charred by despair, and the joints that are torn by holocaust are too much a part of the instrument. And so instead of pulling any of it out, he just puts in some light reinforcements. A few gentle supports. A little tender patching. Some fresh glue. A good cleaning. The neck, of course, is reattached; the strings replaced. But the old body of the instrument. The old heart of the instrument. The old soul of the instrument. It gets loved as it is. It gets loved with care, and with attention, with grace. It gets to be a story about restoration and reclamation. A story about redemption, where nothing gets thrown away, where anything, and anyone, can be repaired.

So, as we gather around the waters once again, this is the Gospel for today: this baptism is not just for the young and shiny. It is also, especially today, it is also for the old hands with so much life left to live. Welcome to the Repair Shop. Here in these waters, every story is sacred. Here in these waters, every wound matters. Here in these waters, every bump along the way of your story is part of your story, is part of who you are, is part of who God calls you to to be, in these waters. Here in these waters, nobody gets thrown away. Here in these waters, everyone can be redeemed. Here in these waters, everyone can be repaired. Here in these waters, we are forgiven, healed, and made whole. Come, thou fount of every blessing. Tune my heart to sing thy grace. Like an instrument beaten down by the shadow of death. But the song that violin plays now. I wish I could play it for you. But, I think you already know what it sounds like. It’s the music of all creation. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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