Scripture reading for today:
Treasonous to “the gods,” Faithful to our Maker/Husband
In the Christian tradition, Advent is a season of great hope and possibility. God has come to dwell among human beings, setting in motion something new and mysterious – the kingdom of heaven emerging in our earthly dimension.
Today’s lectionary readings don’t start with hopefulness, they start with disturbing images. A desolate, barren woman. Anger, floods, being swallowed alive. False messiahs and false prophets, deception, unsettling.
These images remind us of the daily headlines we process. Except, and I am continually surprised, that a lot of people I engage with don’t seem to even pay attention to the times we are living in. Some for good reason, “it’s so disturbing, I’ve just stopped watching, I don’t need that!” And they literally have no clue what is going on beyond their own lived experience. Others are largely ignorant of the real issues but express themselves in extremely polarized utterances.
Our recent election in Canada is a case in point. My connections included people who had no clue what was going and just functioned on auto-pilot; as well as people who had no understanding of the real issues but expressed extremely volatile opinions (on all sides), and thankfully, a few people with whom I could carry on a thoughtful conversation. I often found myself wondering, how does the notion that we “should have no other gods before Yahweh” factor into our daily lives and, let’s say, our political decisions?
The Isaiah passage starts off as a loving invitation to a barren, desolate woman, to have courage and widen her tent because blessing is coming. “Don’t be afraid, you won’t be put to shame.” Feelings of empathy emerge for this downtrodden, struggling, rejected, marginalized woman. We want to defend her, hold her up, to advocate her case, to seek justice.
Until we read a bit further and come to realize that this “woman” is actually a personification of the nation of Israel. A woman, a people, who turned away from a loving, compassionate, slow-to-anger God/Husband, to seek after other, more tangible, more handsome, more convenient gods. We discover that the loving, compassionate Husband wants to restore the relationship despite the rejection, despite the sorry state this woman has fallen to, as the consequence of her choices. The Holy One of Israel, your Redeemer, the God of all the earth, Yahweh, says “my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace removed.”
Psalm 124 is a cry of thanksgiving following desperate circumstances. It could be the cry of the desperate, barren woman who now wants to return to her husband. Despite the consequences she has suffered for turning away, she realizes, “if not for him” I would not have escaped. Yahweh, the Maker of heaven and earth has broken the snare, for me.
Matthew 24 warns that false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive the faithful. And people will be deceived. Everything around the faithful will be shaken, but do not be disturbed. Look for signs of hope – like the fig tree. There is an inevitableness about these things. Many things we hold sacred will pass away. But Messiah’s time will come.
I think our recent election was a disturbing time for many people. My reminder, as we gathered to worship the Trinity on the day before the election, to the congregation I serve amongst, went something like this.
“Which God are we worshipping today? Which God will you worship throughout the week?
If we are worshipping the middle-class, growth-market god who deceives us with a few more dollars in our pockets and a secure job, then we may be turning away from the Loving Husband God. If we are crying in desperation to some human god to save us from the snares we have fallen into, then we may be turning away from Yahweh, the Maker of heaven and earth.
But if today, we are reminding ourselves that the loving, compassionate God who sent himself amongst us to demonstrate that love, is the only one we can look too in our desperation, then there is a reason to be hopeful. Our actions today are treasonous, we are saying in the songs we sing, the Scriptures we read, and the prayers we pray, that Yahweh, Messiah, is Lord and not the leaders and pundits of this nation-state. When we bring our financial resources forward, giving them away as an act of worship, we are saying the market-force-gods do not control us.”
To me, those are “fig-tree” signs of the kingdom of God emerging on earth. Signs that Emmanuel has come.
Thank you for reading the New Leaf Advent Reader, a collection of reflections from writers across Canada. If you are enjoying the reader, sign up to receive the readings in your inbox each day here: SIGN UP And please share this reflection with your friends and family who might also enjoy it.