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O Adonai

When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Deut 26:6-9)

I don‚Äôt know where people get the idea that God is some cosmic ogre ready to pounce on them. To be sure, this God is holy and just, and there is indeed judgment for those who insist on rebelling against him. At the same time, however, the God I read about in Scripture cares for those who cry out to him for help. This was certainly true of Israel. When they were enslaved in Egypt, God heard their cry and rescued them “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” He took note of their suffering and did something about it.

From first to last, the biblical story is one of God stepping into history for our sake: parting seas, shaking cities, slaying giants, sustaining widows, and inspiring prophets. The problem, I suppose, is that most of the time God seems to prefer to work behind the scenes. For every burning bush, there are a thousand—a million—instances where God’s deliverance came in ways that only faith could see.

It was like that two thousand years ago, when God stepped into history yet again. He performed another mighty act of deliverance, although it didn‚Äôt seem “mighty” at the time. Even though he stretched out his arms and displayed his power to save, most people missed it because this time his arms were stretched out on a cross.

O Adonai, ruler of the house of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the burning bush:
come, stretch out your mighty hand to redeem us.

O Wisdom

Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
“You that are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.” (Prov 9:1-6)

The book of Proverbs sometimes depicts Wisdom as if it were a person. This figure of “Lady Wisdom” (the Hebrew word for “wisdom” is feminine gender) is taken by some to be the embodiment of God’s wisdom. Indeed, a wide variety of Old Testament texts assert that wisdom existed with God from the beginning, descended from heaven, calls disciples, and teaches people of heavenly things.

If you think that description of Wisdom sounds something like the depiction of Jesus in the Gospel of John, you’re right. On the basis of such texts as Proverbs 8–9, early Christians appealed to the concept of personified Wisdom as a way to explain the pre-existence of Christ (Jn 1:1-2; Col 1:15-20, etc.). The same passages entered into early Christian debates about Jesus’ divinity.

Like Jesus, “Lady Wisdom” seems to do some of her best work at the dinner table. She has prepared a feast, the writer of Proverbs tells us, and put everything in order: mixing the wine, setting the table, and sending out messengers to invite people to come. Perhaps we may be forgiven if we are reminded of Jesus eating with sinners, feeding the multitudes, and promising a heavenly banquet yet to come.

At supper tables from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus revealed the wisdom of God. This wisdom was most evident in the self-emptying, life-giving meal in an upper room on the night before he was betrayed. There, he gave his disciples a meal to remember him by; a meal that would somehow sustain them and assure them of his continued presence.

Wisdom has prepared us a banquet. Can you hear the voices of the servants who call you to the feast? The bread and the wine are ready. Come to the table.

O Wisdom, uttered by the mouth of the Most High,
and reaching to the ends of the earth:
come and teach us the way of prudence.

Fear Not

In Sunday school, we’ll be looking at the angel’s message to the shepherds in the Christmas story from Luke 2. Today’s theme was “Fear not.” Toward the end of the session, after exploring in stimulating detail what “the fear of the Lord” is all about, how it relates to more mundane sorts of fears, and how fear and faith can coincide, someone had the impertinence to remark, “What if it’s just that angels are really scary?”

Precisely! Angels almost always appear on the biblical scene saying, “Do not be afraid.” And at least in the book of Revelation (not to mention numerous other apocalypses, both in and outside the biblical canon), angels are indeed frightening creatures. One of Connie’s memories of her seminary New Testament class was Dr. David Garland comparing the archangel Michael, decked out in his role as the commander of the hosts of heaven, with Rambo. The virgin Mary, Dr. Garland asserted, received an angelic visitation from a figure just that imposing!

Angels are frightening because they are mediators of the holy, the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, as Rudolf Otto phrased it: the mystery that both frightens and attracts. It shouldn’t surprise us that they often provoke fear within the mortals who meet them. In our finitude, we recoil in dread from such transcendence.

When we lived in Louisville, Connie worked at a child care center where one of the dads was a firefighter. Every so often he would come to visit the children, make friends with them (he even played the guitar for them), and explain about all his gear. He would put on one piece of equipment at time, talking and telling stories the whole time, until finally he put on his mask and was entirely hidden beneath his protective suit.

He did all this, for many years and even after his own stepdaughter was no longer in preschool, because he knew how children think. He knew that being caught in a fire is scary. It is dark and smoky and unbelievably loud. It’s natural for children to find their favorite hiding spot and stay put. In that situation, a firefighter is just one more thing to be afraid of: he doesn’t even look human under all that gear, and his voice, muffled as it is by his breathing apparatus, just makes him even more frightening.

I don’t know if Ronell ever personally had to go into a fire after a frightened child or if he had merely heard enough stories from colleagues to know how heart-wrenching it is to lose a child because they were afraid of the person who had come to rescue them. I know that the kids at Walnut Street Child Care Center were never afraid of Mr. Ronell. If they ever needed him, that might mean the difference between life and death.

When angels show up in the biblical story, they are usually fearsome creatures. But they are also usually far less threatening than the situation that called for their presence. It seems to be a principle in Scripture that the harder the task, the clearer the divine call. I don’t need an angel to tell me to love God, tell the truth, and treat other people with kindness; the Bible is certainly clear enough for that. But when a virgin is commissioned to bring the Son of God into the world, risking her reputation and possibly her life in the process; when shepherds (the gypsies or used-car salesmen of the ancient world) are sent to greet the promised Messiah… well, an angelic vision might be in order.

Life can be scary: especially when God asks us to do something big or calls us to believe something impossible. So much of our world is dark, loud, and tinged with smoke, we sometimes need a glimpse of holiness to see us through. When it comes, the worst thing we can do is run from it.

“Fear not.”

The Light

Beautiful set of Advent meditations from Singing Owl, a pastor e-friend of mine:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

Posada Chainblog

Dichosa la casa
Que alberga este d?ɬ?a
A la virgen pura
La hermosa Mar?ɬ?a

(Happy is the house
That this day hosts
The pure virgin
The beautiful Mary)

Welcome to the next stop in the Advent posada chainblog. Yesterday the Holy Family rested at the Psaltery. Tomorrow Sally Coleman will be their hostess.

When Connie and I first learned we were expecting, I received a certain kind of blessing on more than one occasion. The person?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùusually a man, always a parent?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùwould beam at the news that my wife was pregnant and shake my hand or give me a hug. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he would say, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìYour life will never be the same.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

At the time, my understanding of the changes that come with a baby, especially the first born, was purely academic. Now, I know. Now, when I hear that someone is going to have their first child I feel I can offer them a firm handshake and words of congratulations?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùand then, with a knowing look and a twinkle in my eye that they have no way of understanding, I can tell them they can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t even begin to imagine what the coming years will bring.

The incarnation meant that nothing would ever be the same for Joseph and Mary. How would they raise such a child? What would they say to their parents? How would Joseph shield Mary from the back-fence gossip that was sure to come? What would they tell the young Messiah when he asked about the names people no doubt called him? Everything changes when God comes near?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùeven when he is still hidden from the world in the womb of his mother. Even when he is still working secretly inside a human heart.

Mary is an example for us all. Each of us in our little way is called to do what Mary did in her big way: to bring Christ into the world. And as with Mary, that calling means our lives will never be the same.

?Ǭ°Entren santos peregrinos!
?Ǭ°Reciban ?ɬ©ste rinc?ɬ?n!
Que aunque es pobre la morada
?Ǭ°Se las doy de coraz?ɬ?n!

(Enter, holy pilgrims!
Receive this corner!
Because even though the place is poor
I give it to you from the heart!)

technorati tags: advent, posada

It’s Advent: No Carping Allowed

Of course, the rules of engagement in the War on Christmas would presumably forbid negativity at any rate. There is, after all, a difference between holding ourselves as Christians to a higher standard and refusing to share Jesus with the world to which he came. Michael Spencer on Christmas, Advent, and negativity:

Yes, the world has gotten into our treasure closet. But let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s not kick them out and yell at them to stay out of our decorations and music. Let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s ask them what they found. Let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s explain what it all means. Let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s connect the dots from Santa Claus to St. Nicholas to the Incarnation. Let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s invite them to sing along and, at the proper time, let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s pour some egg nog, tune up a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìGloria?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and shine the light right in their eyes.

Perhaps it is offensive to you that unbelievers have co-opted aspects of “our” holiday and left the most important parts behind. To me, it is more offensive that Christians by our lives have given them permission to do so. After all, if we can pick and choose which parts of the gospel we’re going to focus on….?

Oh, and PS: I don’t think the cure for the first offense is to get even more offended. So don’t expect any negativity from me?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùat least none directed toward folks who don’t know any better in the first place.technorati tags: advent, christmas

An Advent Hymn

Well, there may be a few more tweaks as I experiment with different Greek Unicode fonts, but it looks like at least everyone can read the following:

?鬆?é¬ø?°¬ø¬¶ ?°¬º¬ê?è?í?è‚Äû?é¬??é¬? ?°¬?¬Å ?è‚Äû?鬵?è‚Ä°?é¬??鬵?°¬?¬??è‚Äö ?é¬??鬱?è?í?é¬??鬪?鬵?°¬?¬??è‚Äö ?è‚Äû?°¬ø¬??é¬? ?°¬º¬??é¬ø?è‚Ķ?鬥?鬱?°¬?¬??è‚Ä??é¬??ç¬æ
?鬵?°¬º¬¥?鬥?é¬ø?鬺?鬵?é¬? ?é¬??°¬?¬??è¬Å ?鬱?°¬?¬ê?è‚Äû?é¬ø?°¬ø¬¶ ?è‚Äû?°¬?¬??é¬? ?°¬º‚Ǩ?è?í?è‚Äû?°¬?¬??è¬Å?鬱
?°¬º¬ê?é¬? ?è‚Äû?°¬ø‚Ä° ?°¬º‚Ǩ?é¬??鬱?è‚Äû?é¬ø?鬪?°¬ø‚Ä° ?é¬??鬱?°¬?¬? ?°¬º¬§?鬪?é¬??é¬ø?鬺?鬵?é¬?
?è‚Ǩ?è¬Å?é¬ø?è?í?é¬??è‚Ķ?é¬??°¬ø‚Ć?è?í?鬱?é¬? ?鬱?°¬?¬ê?è‚Äû?°¬ø¬?
?è‚Ǩ?è¬Å?é¬ø?è?í?é¬??è‚Ķ?é¬??°¬ø‚Ć?è?í?鬱?é¬? ?鬱?°¬?¬ê?è‚Äû?°¬ø¬?
?è‚Ǩ?è¬Å?é¬ø?è?í?é¬??è‚Ķ?é¬??°¬ø‚Ć?è?í?鬱?é¬? ?鬱?°¬?¬ê?è‚Äû?°¬ø¬?. ?°¬º‚Ǩ?鬺?é¬??é¬?.

Did you know that this verse (Matthew 2:2, the words of the Magi to King Herod, with a wee bit of elaboration at the end) can be sung to the tune of ADESTE FIDELES (“O Come, All Ye Faithful”)? It makes a pretty neat Advent hymn, don’t you think? 🙂 Here is a phonetic approximation of how it should be pronounced:

Poo ES-teen oh tekh-THEES vah-see-LEFS tohn yoo-DHEH-ohn?
EE-dhoh-men ghar ahf-TOO tohn ah-STEH-rah
en tee ah-nah-toh-LEE keh EEL-thoh-men
prohs-kee-NEE-seh ahf-TOH
prohs-kee-NEE-seh ahf-TOH
prohs-kee-NEE-seh ahf-TOH. ah-MEEN.

(I prefer the Greek pronunciation of Greek over the artificial Erasmian method. Your mileage may vary.)

And here is the English for those of you who don’t have a Bible handy (although you’ll have to work out how to set this to music on your own):

Where is the One born King of the Jews?
For we have seen his star
At its rising and have come
To worship him
To worship him
To worship him. Amen.

Also, be sure to check in on the process of the Andii Bowsher-inspired posada blog chain.

technorati tags: advent, posada

A Cyber-Posada

A posada is a Latin American tradition of re-enacting Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem. It is sometimes enacted with clay figures. Sometimes it is done as a sort of Christmas trick-or-treating. Anyway, Andii at Nouslife is wanting to get together a posada blog chain for Advent. I’ll be happy to let Mary and Joseph hang out at my blog pad for a day. How about you?

That’s What I’m Talkin’ About

Though not quite as militant as Kyle, here is somebody else who understands what is at stake when we trade the birthright of Christmas for the mess of secular pottage our culture is selling us. From Rediscovering Advent:

Those who insist on waiting to celebrate Christmas when it actually arrives are regarded as dreary pedants who are simply out-of-step with reality or insensitive to the feelings of those who prefer to follow their own traditions rather than the ancient cadences of the Church year. Although they have a high view of the faith and the feast, they are often dismissed as modern day Ebenezer Scrooges, who thought Christmas was humbug and did not even care that Advent existed.

Sadly, much is lost in this popular reordering of the Church year. In fact, Christmas itself is impoverished. The Church has appointed twelve days for the celebration of Christmas, from December 25th through January 5th. Those days include important feasts, including St. Stephen the first martyr, St. John the Evangelist, the Holy Innocents, and the Holy Name, which help to illuminate more fully the meaning of Christmas. If the celebration of Christmas ends after dinner on December 25th, we lose those great days and the mysteries they unfold.

(H/T: Open Thou Our Lips)

9.5 Curmudgeonly Christmas Theses

Kyle has once again declared War on Christmas. Joshua gets it, and has joined the fight. (What is it with those Georgetonians?) In honor of the occasion, here are some theses for your consideration. Since I’m at best only a tenth as radical as Martin Luther, I’ll limit myself to nine and a half of them:

(1) Christmas is a religious holiday with Christian origins. We Christians have always dovetailed it into other cultural celebrations, or outsiders have tried to piggyback their celebrations onto Christmas?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùas, for example, when the birth of Mithras began to be celebrated on December 25 several centuries after the birth of Christ. This fact should encourage us to use discernment in which cultural add-ons we accept and which ones we leave aside.

(2) The non-Christian festive accretions are not all bad. I personally like turkey dinner, Christmas trees, elves, gift-giving, and even goofy holiday songs like ?¢‚Ǩ?ìJingle Bells?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and Ray Stevens’ ?¢‚Ǩ?ìSanta Claus is Watching You.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I don’t mind if Rebecca looks forward to presents on Christmas day as long as she understands that Jesus is the best gift of all.

(3) What I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t like is Christians who can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t seem to tell the difference between the spiritual core of the holiday (holy day) and the optional accoutrements. If Santa Claus is going to be making an appearance at your church this December, shame on you! Although I might be persuaded to forgive and forget if Saint Nicholas shows up on December 6 (his feast day), decked out in proper fourth-century clerical vestments. He need not punch out any Arians this time to make his point about the doctrine of the Incarnation.

(4) What I really can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t stand is when the malls jump the gun on the year-end shopping extravaganza by putting up their holiday decorations well before Halloween. C?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢mon, people, is business really so bad you have to start egging us on that early?

(5) Putting up holiday decorations that early has even brainwashed Christians to the point that they don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t know when Christmas begins and ends. Brothers and sisters, Advent is not the same thing as Christmas! It is a period of spiritual reflection as we await the coming of the Savior. Fasting is (or should be) involved. Christmas begins on sundown December 24 and continues for the next twelve days. You know: the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìtwelve days of Christmas?¢‚Ǩ¬ù we sometimes sing about?

(6) Anyway, because this shopping frenzy is at best tangentially related to celebrations of the birth of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d really prefer it if the retailers would quit wishing me a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìMerry Christmas.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù ?¢‚Ǩ?ìHappy Holidays?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is just fine for the generic, homogenized festival of gross consumerism. Christ is probably embarrassed to be associated with such foolishness. I know I am.

(7) Speaking of this ?¢‚Ǩ?ìMerry Christmas?¢‚Ǩ¬ù business: it has kind of lost its punch, don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t you think? Everybody says it, except for those aforementioned retail stores that have gratefully acknowledged that Christ has nothing to do with the spending orgy over which they preside. In Eastern Orthodoxy, you wish people Christmas blessings by saying, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìChrist is born!?¢‚Ǩ¬ù to which the response is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìGlorify him!?¢‚Ǩ¬ù That works for me.

(8) And another thing: I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m with Kyle. Let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s put the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìMass?¢‚Ǩ¬ù back in ?¢‚Ǩ?ìChristmas.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m already looking forward to receiving Holy Communion at my parents?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ church in Michigan on Christmas Eve. I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t care if you do it high-church, low-church, or somewhere-in-between-church, but what is the sense in belaboring the point about Jesus being the reason for the season if you can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t find a couple hours to get yourself to church sometime between sundown December 24 and sundown December 25 and, you know, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìGlorify him?¢‚Ǩ¬ù?

(9) And I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m serious about the Communion part, too. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s the central feature of all genuinely Christian worship. Let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s see if we can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t figure out a way to celebrate it on one of Christianity?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s central feasts.

(9.5) Don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t even get me started on Kwanzaa!

technorati tags: advent, christmas, consumerism, happy holidays, merry christmas, war on christmas