The First Week of Advent: Beginning Again

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity for ever. Now consider, we are all your people.” (Isaiah 64:1-9 )

Advent is a season of waiting and anticipating. The underlying premise of Advent is that we are not sure what we are waiting for. While we know intellectually we are waiting for Christmas, spiritually we know we need but not sure what we are in need of. Intellectually we know we need Christ, and by extension, God. But spiritually as we look within our selves, we come to see what are needs are. And we hope that these needs can be filled and addressed.

Year B (which is the year of the Common Revised Lectionary which we move into for Advent) is the year when scripture passages call back the faithful for renewal of purpose and devotion. There is a Year A which marks the first year of the cycle, so we are actually starting mid-way through the cycle. But as the first year that “A Simple Desire” is commenting on the scripture passages of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) I think it is a good symbolic beginning. Recommitting ourselves to considering and studying scripture is always a good spiritual practice.

All of you, my beloved readers, have seen and marked many Advent seasons (although they may have not called it such). But journeying through Advent, week by week with these scripture passages, you and I may discover spiritual ideas. Or perhaps re-discover then. It is my hope that you join me in the simple task each week of reading and pondering on each of the four scriptures passages found in the RCL. Consider it “a simple desire” to take up (or continue) a spiritual discipline. As we move through the weeks I will talk more about the types of scripture passages that make up the weekly lectionary. And once we come to the end of the Advent season, I will talk more about my plans for the new year.

Most of the time the first reading is from the Old Testament. It sets forth what has happened in the past to God’s people. By looking back at the past we might better understand the present and be more ready for the future.

We start with Isaiah 64, verses 1 to 9. It is an invitation to God to come down amongst the Lord’s people. It also acknowledges that the people of God have not always acted and lived according to God’s laws and precepts. So it is also an invitation for us, God’s people, to come before God with humbleness and contrition. The writer of Isaiah admits where God’s people have gone wrong, and why it seems like God has been absent. But God has always been there; it is God’s people who have closed their eyes and looked away. But now God’s people look to God and look for God in their daily lives.

May you beloved look for God as you start to look towards Advent. Selah!

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HURTFUL WORKS . . . Brings forth vengeance from God

Behold, saith the Lord, I will bring plagues upon the world; the sword, famine, death, and destruction. For wickedness hath exceedingly polluted the whole earth, and their hurtful works are fulfilled. Therefore saith the Lord, I will hold my tongue no more as touching their wickedness, which they profanely commit, neither will I suffer them in those things, in which they wickedly exercise themselves: behold, the innocent and righteous blood crieth unto me, and the souls of the just complain continually. And therefore, saith the Lord, I will surely avenge them, and receive unto me all the innocent blood from among them. “ (Reference: 2 Esdras 15:5-9 )

And it is asked, “How can a merciful caring God allow disaster and catastrophe to happen?” And what can we answer? That the innocent must suffer with the guilty because the guilty are deserving of it but the innocent are unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or is it that the innocent blood that is spilled is what God receives to the God-self? Does this mean then that innocent blood must be spilled in order to avenge the innocent who have suffered? Oh beloved, this line of thinking and conversation could become depressing, maudlin, and weepy. It needs a lighter hand than I have now. Fortunately five years ago on this day (or at least when I wrote the post for this day) I had a lighter hand. In the five years that have past there have been some changes, but I will deal with much further down the page. This is what I wrote for Nov 25, 2009.

Cleaning up the mess

Our cat is afraid of vacuum cleaners. Or more precisely, afraid of vacuum cleaners that are turned on and move. He can be quite brave and nonchalant about vacuum cleaners sitting around and silent. But if I start to move it or start the motions to get it out and use it, he takes off for parts unknown. And what, you may ask, does that have to do with today’s verse? Well, I need to vacuum today. In fact, after I finish this blog entry for today, and I am just thinking about the comparison between how the cat will feel about that and how the “wicked” inhabitants might feel about the Lord’s plans. The Lord does not ‘bother’ them when the Divine is upset but not doing anything. No, it is when the Lord makes movement or motions to start a plan that they might get upset.

It is probably not a stretch to say our cat feels like the vacuum is a plague, and dirt on the carpet could be seen as pollution; dirt as hurtful acts may be a stretch. And if you permit me to be briefly and superficially in the role of God, I am not holding back any more in my plan to clean. And I do desire the ‘innocence’ of my floor, that is dirt etc free. And if I was to anthropomorphize the carpet, it might be less than thrilled to be pounded upon and subjected to the vacuum; but it might also recognize the need for cleansing. So sure, why not let the metaphor stand. You see, much of what has ‘polluted’ the carpet is cat hair. Aahaa, you say! Now it is clear! The cat is the ‘villain’ in the metaphor.

The Anabaptists also had villains who they took to task for their behavior. Jakob Hutter in a scathing piece wrote about the lords and rules of his time. “[T]hreefold woe to you Moravian lords into all eternity! You have given in to [King] Ferdinand, the awful tyrant and enemy of divine truth—you have agreed to drive those who love and fear God out of your lands. You fear a weak, mortal man more than the living, eternal, almighty God and are willing to expel and ruthlessly persecute the children of God, old and young, even the Lord’s widows and orphans in their need and sorrow, and deliver them up to plunder, fear, great suffering, and extreme poverty. It is as if you strangled them with your own hands. We would rather be murdered for the Lord’s sake than witness such misery inflicted on innocent, God-fearing hearts. You will have to pay dearly for it, and you will have no more excuse than Pilate, [John 19:6- 12] who also did not want to crucify and kill the Lord Jesus. Yet when the Jews threatened him (by God’s plan), fear of the emperor made Pilate condemn an innocent man. You do the same, using the king as your excuse. But God has made it known through the mouth of his prophets that he will avenge innocent blood with terrible might on all who stain their hands with it.” But notice in Hutter’s remarks that Pilate was fulfilling God’s plan. In other words, Pilate could no more avoid doing as he did than our cat can avoid shedding.

This is so often the catch when we see evil happening in the world. Evil and all the other terrible things that happen in the world happen because evil first came into the world not through humanity, but through immortal opposition to God’s good. And so it is important that we leave vengeance, which is the theme for the next few days, in God’s hands. I can vacuum up what the cat sheds, but I cannot prevent the cat from shedding. And preventing the cat from shedding would take action that would severely injure the cat. So too is the task of humans on this world. We can mend as best we can the hurt the world suffers, but it is beyond our capacity to stop the Evil One.

Everyone that is touched by evil suffers; the innocent and the guilty. The innocent because the suffer for actions that they did not undertake. And the guilty because they will be punished at some point by God. May you, gentle reader, take only that action which is rightly in your power. And may God comfort you as we comfort our cat when the time of cleansing is over. Selah!

 

Since I wrote this our cat aged and passed away. He was almost 12 years old at his passing – a quite respectable age for a cat. And he is dearly missed. I loved him almost as one would love a family member. And while I might have written this in a teasing fashion, I would avenge any hurt that might have come to him, and on several occasion did!

I think that is what the writer of Esdras is saying, that our God so strongly loves and protects the innocent that the Lord’s vengeance is so all consuming. Or to borrow the metaphor in the piece I wrote some five years ago – our cat found out my desire to clean was so all consuming that I set aside my concern for him in order to clean.

Do think this is possible beloved? That God’s need and desire for vengeance against the wicked and their hurtful works is given greater priority than what might happen to the innocent? And in the shifting sands of understanding, might have the “Moravian lords” decided that order and establishment of authority take precedence over the innocents who were rounded up and persecuted? Or perhaps King Ferdinand decided that an example of not flouting civil authority must be set for other citizens under his rule?

See, I am descending into depressive and maudlin thinking! But issues of evil, wickedness, vengeance and shedding of blood are sad and despairing. May the Lord comfort you, beloved, when it feels like God’s wrath against wickedness has spilled over on to you. And may God’s comfort enfold you and heal you. Selah!