Sunday, December 9 – Scripture Readings:
Psalm 114, 115; Amos 6:1-14; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12; Luke 1:57-68
I’m struck today by the contrast between the words of the psalmist, Amos, Paul, and then Zechariah at the birth of his son, John.
The Psalmist says:
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool of water,
and flint into a spring of water. (114:7-8)
But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood – you who rejoice…who say, “Have we not by our own strength taken Karnaim for ourselves?” Indeed, I am raising up against you a nation, O house of Israel, says the Lord, the God of hosts, and they shall oppress you… (12b-14)
[Those who do not know God] will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might… (9)
And Zechariah, as a brand new father, says:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. (68)
Words that speak of a trembling fear of God. Words that speak of God’s oppression of God’s people. And words that speak of God’s blessing, favor, and redemption. All words of God-with-us, Emmanuel. I certainly prefer the latter, don’t you?
But what if it’s not either/or; rather both/and?
During Advent (and frankly all year long), Scripture requires that we interact with a voice of God that is clearly about judgment, a God in whom we should fear, a God who articulates significant disappointment and plans for oppression, a God who, at least from Paul’s perspective, intends to punish those who do not obey Jesus’ gospel. We read of a God who, through the birth of John, is fulfilling prophecy (even like that above) and looking favorably on God’s people and redeeming them. One could be, understandably, confused or at least be tempted to just stick with the gospel passage.
How are we to make sense of these seemingly mixed messages? How are we to let these words coexist and remain in a both/and reality?
Maybe I’m an exception, but I don’t find this all that hard. It feels far more like my reality. Of course, my preference is to stick with the favor and redemption stuff, but that belies what I experience and know to be true.
Nearly every day I face experiences that provoke fear on some level, feel like oppression, and have me longing for punishment (for others, of course). I don’t have the luxury of a life that stays only in places of God’s kindness and blessing. Further, I don’t really think that’s God’s expectation or plan.
It’s appropriate that Zechariah’s words come out of the context of labor and birth. It’s appropriate that the larger context of this passage has us hearing more of Elizabeth than her husband; that it’s her labor, her rejoicing, her naming that tells us this story. That’s the reality of life: out of labor – its pain, its anguish, its seeming-endlessness – that life bursts forth, life that offers favor and redemption.
This is our both/and reality: labor – its pain, its anguish, its seeming-endlessness and life that bursts forth with a God offering us favor and redemption.
This is our both/and reality: fear, oppression, punishment (whether or own or our desire for others’) and God’s blessing.
This is our both/and Advent: a God-with-us, Emmanuel who speaks through psalmists, a prophet, an apostle like Paul, and a father’s words about the God who gave him a son via the labor of his wife.
Both/and not either/or. This is reality. And into such, we are told of a real, flesh-and-blood god who comes, again and again, not to take away the harder, even harsh aspects of our day-to-day life, but to inhabit them, to dwell in their/our midst, to live himself in places of fear, oppression, punishment and favor and redemption.
I choose both/and. You?