St. Patrick’s Day, 1907 off ‘the Lizard’, a mile long reef extending south from the coast of Cornwall, Great Britain, a huge storm was raging. This is the region where the North Atlantic smashes into the English Channel and is notorious for its tides and currents, known as the graveyard of ships. The SS Suevic, 12,000 tons, sailing from Melbourne was just hours away from its destination in Plymouth. The officers couldn’t see the stars to navigate, but they thought they saw the Lizard Lighthouse ten miles off and so in misplaced confidence proceeded full-steam ahead to reach port by next morning. It turned out that they were actually right on the Lizard rocks and crashed onto the reef so hard that they were unable to extricate themselves. The 141 crew and 382 passengers, 60 of them under 3 years old were ruined. Ruined Advent is not simply a run-up to Christmas. It is a time to rehearse the great Biblical truths. Ephesians 2 reminds us that before Jesus came ...
you were dead in your transgressions and sins... we were by nature objects of wrath.
Like those on the Suevic, we were ruined. All our efforts to direct our lives in the face of a hostile environment had only succeeded in driving us on the reef of the justified wrath of God. Our peril was not of accidental drowning, it was the sentence of death for crimes committed.
Rescued When they finally realized they could not save themselves, the Suevic fired distress rockets into the stormy night sky. In every village along the Cornwall coast, there was a chapter of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute. These volunteers, fishermen and tradesmen from the villages of the Lizard, Cadgwith, Coverack & Porthleven saw the rockets, manned their 39-foot open lifeboats and shoved out into the storm. The tide and gale were so strong that they could barely make headway and it was so foggy and dark that after rowing the four miles they located the Suevic by running into the side of it, and tossing a crew member into the sea–the first person that was rescued that night!
The first boats arrived just in time to avert a disaster. The Suevic had launched two of its own lifeboats filled with women and children. There was no way that they could safely negotiate the channel through the rocks to shore, so local men jumped into the boats to guide them. When these inadequate boats tried to return, they were smashed on the rocks.
Over the next 16 hours the four RNLI boats made trip after trip, 15 different crews taking turns in the six-man boats. Hanging from rope ladders as the waves threw the lifeboats up and down against the side of the Suevic, they tossed children and then their mothers into the arms of their comrades in the boats below. By 10 am they had rescued 456 people without a passenger or rescuer being lost. The remaining folks were taken off by a tugboat as the storm subsided.
No RNLI rescuer died that night, but in Advent we remember that our rescue from God’s wrath was more costly. It cost the Rescuer, Jesus, his life, but then...
God...made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions...God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus...it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesian 2
Recruited We are indeed seated with Christ in the heavenly realms – but not yet fully! We are also still here in the earthly realm. This is a time to remember what we have been rescued FOR. Jesus, the lifeboat Captain tells us to ‘...go make disciples of all nations…’. He has recruited us to the high honor of joining him in snatching others from ruin. And he is no shore-side commander, for he promises, ‘...I am with you to the close of the age.’ During Advent we remember that this life is not about collecting the most toys or experiences or honors but about being with Jesus as he goes tirelessly back and forth to rescue people from the shipwreck of their lives.
Retrieved The season of lifeboat work will not go on indefinitely. One stormy night on the Sea of Galilee Jesus commanded the storm to ‘Be Still!’ and it was! In Advent we celebrate that one day Jesus will say to the tumult of time and the tempest of demonic assault and the hurricane of human hubris–Be Still! And it will be! One day he will come back and on THAT day he will take us to the Father’s house that we may be with him always.
But this is not that Day. This day is our day to man the lifeboats with our Captain, the Lord Jesus, and push out into the storm and the dark and the fog to respond to the distress flares which are streaming into the night sky from those shipwrecked on life’s reefs.