REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . But can we not find reward in the here and now?

I Esdras saw upon the mount Sion a great people, whom I could not number, and they all praised the Lord with songs. And in the midst of them there was a young man of a high stature, taller than all the rest, and upon every one of their heads he set crowns, and was more exalted; which I marvelled at greatly. So I asked the angel, and said, Sir, what are these? He answered and said unto me, These be they that have put off the mortal clothing, and put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God: now are they crowned, and receive palms. Then said I unto the angel, What young person is it that crowneth them, and giveth them palms in their hands? So he answered and said unto me, It is the Son of God, whom they have confessed in the world. Then began I greatly to commend them that stood so stiffly for the name of the Lord. “ (Reference: 2 Esdras 2:42-47 )

Five years ago I “passed” on this scripture passage, choosing not to comment on it but instead leave it for my writing partner. This year, as I am the only one writing, it falls to me to comment on this. The historic Anabaptist quoted/excerpted for this day would tell us, as he told his wife, “Thus, my dear wife, follow Christ, and take up your cross with patience and joy, and follow Him all the days of your life, for He had to suffer so much for our sakes, to save us. Therefore let us suffer for His sake; since it is our hour, let us joyfully contend for the crown of life, which is prepared for us and them that fear and love the Lord. Hence let us be satisfied in Him, and take our cross upon us with joyfulness and patience, and wait with firm confidence for the promises which He has made us, and that we may be crowned upon Mount Sion, and adorned with palms, and may follow the Lamb. 2 Esd. 2:42; Rev. 14:4.”

Most of the rewards for the pious seem to come at this end of this world, or at least at the end of their lives. There does not seem to be much “reward” bestowed during this life, or during our lifetimes. And I have to wonder, does every believer consider it to be this way? That rewards from the Divine come only after death or after this world has passed away? It seems a lot to ask to wait.

And I don’t mean that in a whiny impatient way. What I mean is, is there no reward in this life for following God and Christ? Don’t we or can’t we find reward in doing what Christ models and God asks of us? Is it not enough to know one is following God and Christ, or does there have to be a “reward”, a “carrot” dangling at the end of a Divine stick? Does humanity have to have a solid reason for being righteous?

Beloved, I am often dismayed at this “modern” world; but then I am also often dismayed at what the world was like decades and centuries before. I constantly see being kind and caring as a deliberate choice, and chose to be that one on most all occasions – after all, no one that is human is perfect. But altruism is a choice that I consciously make, for reasons that are my own and do NOT depend on getting some reward at the end of this world, or even at the end of my life. And while it is nice that the “pious” are rewarded, my actions that have their foundation in my Christian faith are not dependent on a reward.

May you beloved make good and authentically Christian choices, for whatever your reasons may be. Selah!

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Week of Christmas, Proper I: What have we waited for?

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)

The Revised Common Lectionary does not differentiate between years A, B, and C for the readings for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There are, however, three different readings (called Propers) that can be used for these days. I have chosen the scripture passage for today from Proper I. The other possible passages were Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, and Luke 2:1-14 & 15-20.

Why this one then? It accesses an old theme for Advent – coming out of darkness and unknowing into light and illumination. Or, more keeping with the theme of Year B, having been lost but finding one’s way back out of darkness into light.

“You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.” (Isaiah 9:3-5)

The writer of Isaiah was writing for and about a people who had suffered. Who had lost their homes and their way of life. And when this suffering came to an end, there was great rejoicing. The people praised and celebrated their deliverer. Praise and poems were written in remembrance, sometimes to be used against the day when suffering came again. To remember that suffering and oppression does not last forever.

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

It seems natural to think of this passage as foretelling the coming baby Jesus, and Jesus the Messiah. But when the writer of Isaiah wrote this, Jesus’ coming was far off in the distance. A distant hope born of dreams and aspirations of a desperate people. Some commentators say that this passage was to foretell the coming of human and purely mortal deliverer. And from an understanding that human endeavors and military might would secure the people’s freedom and fortune.

What do you wait for, beloved reader? What do you need deliverance from? We humans often do not know what we need. We want and want. We claim to suffer in varying degrees. We think we know what we need, but often when we have that we discover that we need something more or different. And with each round of suffering and misery what we believe would end it changes each time.

When we suffer, we may very well feel that we live in darkness. A deep darkness that takes away our hopes, dreams, and aspirations. I believe we are living in such a time. We need to remember – maybe remember again – that the light did come. In the innocuous form of a baby. What this baby grew to be was not what we may have expected. But I believe it is what we need.

May you beloved reader see the light coming and may you celebrate it in your life with joy and thanksgiving. Selah!