Bethlehem, home of David, shall produce another ruler of Israel, who comes from old stock, like in ancient days.
From Micah’s prophecy we can read the things that he and the people he spoke to, were looking for in a Saviour.
To understand this better, remember that Israel is far from its ‘glory days’ when David ruled. Of course the ‘good ole’ days usually get much better after time passes, and one can conveniently forget the not so good parts of the old days. The downfall of Israel though is more than just inner decay, and wishful remembrances. The people have been conquered by their enemies, they serve a foreign ruler, and they cannot openly and freely worship their God, the God of Abraham, who with Moses leading, brought them out of slavery in Egypt.
The prophets have made it abundantly clear that the reason the people have fallen so hard and deep is that they have not been true to their God. They have forgotten the deliverance God provided, the food in the wilderness, the reasons to worship God, the reasons not to take advantage of each other or their neighbours, or even their enemies.
Instead they have been sinful.
Well we know that every person in every generation is a sinful being, and cannot free themselves. We also believe that God does not put us into harm’s way, as punishment for our sins. We do not carry forward the faith so often reflected in the Old Testament, that if we are good, God favours us, and if we are bad, God punishes us.
We believe that people are not punished for their sins, so much as people suffer their (and other people’s) sins.
God holds us in favour, no matter what. But God does want us to behave well in response, to reflect for all around us the saving Grace that God extends to us.
We are not in exile, least not 75% of the world’s population. Nor are we ruled by a foreign ruler, least not 5% the world’s population. Nor are we ruled by an evil and sinful ruler, least not 0% of the world’s population.
(These statistics are not scientifically established, they are just wild guesses, but statements of truth none the less.)
Micah speaks to a people who are in exile, who need hope of redemption and deliverance from the horrors of their time. The best promise the prophet has to hand on to is the promise of political deliverance.
God will bring a ruler who will rule like David did.
Until that ruler is born, though, the God will give the people up to their enemies.
But when his mother gives him birth, then, from this small clan among the people of Abraham, his kindred will return to their homeland. And this ruler will feed his flock.
This is the image of David, the Shepherd, leading his people as a nation, as he did when he was younger and worked as a shepherd for his father.
The benefit for this small clan, and for all the people of God, will be that they will live securely; they shall live in peace, brought by this ruler.
This was the hope of the people, as presented by Micah as the promise to them, which God provided to them, which they had desperate need of. They needed the hope. They needed the political saviour, or so they thought.
They waited, hoped, and fought a revolution or two, hoping to realize this promise given by God, a promise that fueled them and renewed them and gave them reason to go on, even in the worst of times.
Hundreds of years later, they still waited … for
A political saviour.
The writers of the Gospels, the scholars of the early Church, for centuries, understood that this and similar Old Testament passages were in fact prophecies about Jesus. For Jesus was a descendent of David, born in Bethlehem, of a small clam, and though the hoped for political freedom did not arrive, they understood that Jesus brought a freedom, greater than any political freedom; a freedom greater than any one time. Jesus brought freedom from chaos and evil, and from sin and the consequence of being separated from God because we are not good enough for God.
(Jesus redeemed us, but God had been doing this all along. Jesus made it clearly so, obvious … yet it remains a matter of faith, not proof. How else is God to communicate this message: that God loves us, other than to demonstrate it as a human being living among us on earth? So God loves us.
The challenge of life is NOT to see if we can be good enough to earn God’s love and Grace. The challenge of life is, realizing, believing, trusting that God already loves and redeems us, … the real challenge is to life this, to live out of this love, to live this love out. How are we doing at that?)
Knowing that God, as demonstrated by God as Jesus born, living, dying, resurrected among us … knowing and trusting that God has redeemed us, is for us, loves us: This is true freedom. This is true peace. A freedom and peace for all people of all time.
Micah almost for sure had no idea that so many millennia later we would place such a hope as foretold in his words; but he would probably not mind either.
Even given this hope, promise and real peace provided by Christ, after weeks of stress and late nights, horrors of what is, and enemies that want me dead and gone, I still need sleep. So a nap.
A peaceful nap in the wilderness, in warmth, with freedom to ski, take photos, write, and work to make life better … all in all to live well, despite my enemies’ evil wishes.
But one human body is only able to do so much for so long, and then it also needs rest, peace, recovery … and hope that God will end also these trials and tribulations brought on by my enemies; lies and their ancient need to scapegoat instead of taking responsibility for their own sin. It ruins lives, corrupts the youth and children and burns a wide swath of destruction through the community, church and far beyond.
So while some will look for political freedom, a benevolent ruler, which would be wonderful, I am thankful already for a bit of sunlight, a bit of warmth, and a bit of peace … all which make for a small opportunity to take a short nap.
I’ll leave that for you to calculate how exactly that fits in the notes for Micah.
The people are in trouble, grave trouble, as people are of every age. It’s a matter of whether they know it or not.
So they cry:
Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.
It is a refrain, and a refrain for all time, whether we know we should be singing it at all, whether we know we should be singing at all.
The refrain becomes most poignant in juxtaposition to the troubles of the people. Still on its own it bears noting that to have God’s face shine upon us is quite the experience.
Most everyone can remember a time when they felt the warm sunshine streaming down and warming one’s face. Imagine how good that feels on a cold winter day, when the sun only peaks up above the horizon for a few hours each day. Imagine that storms and snow and slush have filled the skies, days, and roads (streets for city dwellers) and for a time, the sun shines free, welcomed and warm … and for those few moments everything is alright. All is well in the world.
Now take that memory and transposed it into the key of G for God, the key of C for Jesus Christ, the key of S for the Holy Spirit …. While God’s face is hidden from us, we languish and no matter the circumstances of our lives, we find no joy, no purpose, no meaning for a life, for a year, for a day, for a moment. All is lost. Stretch this to time enough to make it the only memory that lives vivid in one’s mind, and the hope that sustains one disappears. God has deserted us, or so we experience life at that time.
Then enter on to the scene of our lives played out on a stage for all to see: God’s face, shining down on us … and all is transformed … there is no lack of joy, purpose and meaning for our lives. God is present: All is well. All is well. All manner of things are well. [Thank you Julian of Norwich.]
This reminds me constantly of the Irish blessing: … XXXXX
the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face
May the rain fall gently upon your field,
And may God hold you in the palm of his hand.
And the prayer: may we be just warm enough to enjoy the snow, with just enough to eat not to treat each other as hungry animals. XXXX
This refrain for the Psalm is quite the refrain, for the 4th Sunday of Advent. It ought to be sung well. Clearly as the refrain, not only in the Psalm recitation/singing, but throughout the service:
Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.
For this is the refrain of Advent: our hope is in God, in the person of Jesus once born on earth as one of us, and yet to return to earth. This is the hope of all hope, the basis of all our hope. We bask it this hope … especially when the world challenges us with every form of disaster and destruction.
The destruction is, like a good Psalm, not detailed, not so specific, that it fits only one time. It is a song of the congregation for generations. But the trouble of the people is not displayed as inconsequential.
God’s anger fumes against the people. That is not just God deserting the people but remembering their sins and letting them suffer all the power of God’s anger.
They have bread of tears, bowls of tears to drink.
They are the derision of their neighbours and their enemies have not only won, but scorn their very existence.
But the hope is there: Our prayer is that God will find the strength to come as a saviour to free us from our enemies’ scorn and our neighbours’ derision.
The good shepherd arrives. Remember how David led the people? Now, again we like dumb sheep need a saviour again.
Don’t we always?! But don’t we especially also this December, even this 4th Advent, this 23 December?
You can fill in what is called news. It is seldom if ever New, but the same old, old repeated ad nauseam the troubles of people, as in every generation … but it is our trouble, old troubles presented to us as new. And if you live through a disaster, it is new to you, so there is that: The troubles are new to those who suffer them. And we cannot healthily dismiss the horror and need of those brothers and sisters who suffer troubles. Living through troubles is what binds us humans together into communities of life, instead of communities of hell, blaming, complaining, and back-biting.
And is it not in the face our particular kind of trouble this December 23, that we need to sing aloud for all to hear:
Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.
I could tell you the troubles I have been given, thank you very much to all those who lie about me, but the interest for the congregation is not my troubles, but our troubles in the midst of which, Jesus appears, God’s face shines on us, and the Holy Spirit delivers us.
More to come on Hebrews and Luke, the Magnificat.
Hebrews is a letter written to people of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah; a people of the ancients, the Law and the Prophets. They are people of the Temple, who bring their sacrifices to the altar. The blood life of the animal sacrificed, replacing their blood, brings God’s favour. It is an acknowledgement of one’s own sins and the need to be accountable for them before God. Their own sins, before God (like ours also) requires the life of the sinner to make payment, so grievous is even just one sin for it separates one from God, which is to be dead, even if one is still walking.
Instead of sacrificing people, an animal’s blood-life stands in for the human. Human sacrifice God does not want. God made this obvious in God’s interruption of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac on the altar on the mountain. No more child sacrifice. No more human sacrifice. But animal sacrifice stands in for human sacrifice.
The temple, with its institution of priests, and power, and money, and laws developed this far beyond simple sacrifices into what many called an impossible demand placed on the people. If the priests wanted to condemn someone of a law, it was always possible, for no one could keep all the complicated, sometimes even contradictory laws. Keeping on the right side of the law did not demand compliance, but the outward appearances and currying favour with those with enough power to assure one was never charged with breaking the law.
Enter Jesus into this. The letter to the Hebrews, in perfect imitation of the people of power’s obfuscations of the law, sets out in the lesson for Advent 4 that Jesus ends the temple sacrifices and institutes that, by God’s will, Jesus was the last sacrifice, the last blood-life required by God to make things right between humans and God.
So we are, forever, made right with God, by the sacrifice of one human who is also God, Godself. As it always was and is and will be: only God can set things right between us and God. Only God can make it right between you and God, between me and God. There is no one who does not sin, each moment all one’s life. There is no one who can make up for even one seemingly innocuous sin. There is not ‘grand gesture’ that any of us can perform or undergo to make up for even one sin, yet alone a lifetime’s sins, or a seemingly severe sin, like murder by suicide or attempted murder by suicide. There is no ‘grand gesture’ that makes us right with God, like ‘coming to Christ’ or believing with all one’s heart, or repenting, or devoting one’s life to God, or confessing and making atonement or making things right with other people. There is not even getting baptized. Baptism is God’s act, a sign for us to remember that the one baptized, specifically, has been made right with God, by God, by Grace.
That is to say: God does it solely because God chooses, irrespective of what we may or may not have done, thought, believed, chosen.
Which is exactly what Hebrews says today: “it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
There are lawyers, and even myself a philosopher and theologian, who can decipher how the earlier passage is used to arrive at this end. But it is not logical, A + B then C, which bring us to G, for Grace.
Christ speaks to God
A: in the words of the Old Testament prophets clearly stating that God does not want or desire burnt offerings and sacrifices.
B: Instead God has prepared a body for Jesus.
C: And this is God’s will.
Put together simply by juxtaposition, and attributed to Jesus with the conclusion clearly made that the last statement C was intended to apply to B, was intended to counter A.
What seems logical lacks the basis: Jesus is not even quoted here as having said these separate things together, nor do the Gospels. But that is the illogic of a religious statement.
We believe the result. But no reasonable person would accept this argument as valid or helpful or significant.
But the writer of Hebrews presents it. The writings came to be authoritative in the early Christian church and it is included in the Canon, the Holy Scriptures. And we use it in our lectionary, logical and sound or not.
One of the many significant things to note is that this passage reminds us that we humans always want to be the ones in control of our relationship with God. We go to all ends to make it happen, and hide from ourselves that we are trying to wrestle control of our lives from God. That is the root of all sin, to try to displace God in God’s universe and in our lives as creatures in that universe … creatures who by our very nature are in a relationship with God, whether we like it, admit it, or deny it. And that relationship is determined wholly by God; including that God has given us freedom to choose to participate in that relationship of blessing, or not. Thus theologians have always worked at trying to explain how our freedom to choose fits together with God determining everything. Explanations run the gamut from God determines even our ‘free choice’ (there is no real free choice) to our free choice (given by God) undermines God’s power forever thereafter and we really do control the universe and our relationship with God, … and the explanations run the gamut using almost every possibility in between.
Luther landed, with many others, calling such matters, matters of faith, dealing with them as paradoxes. We are simultaneously both saints (God’s choice) and sinners (our free choice).
For Luther then (though he was not completely consistent about this either) God chooses to save us (through Jesus’ sacrifice); yet we have the free choice to separate ourselves, not only temporarily but permanently from God.
This is called our sinful, prideful insistence on sinning against the Holy Spirit – never too exactly defined, which would have the ugly consequence of giving avenue to evil people to lord it over others that they have sinned worse than any other and (by the determination of these evil people) the sinner is condemned and can be without consequence separated from life (killed, but it is not murder. Which of course still happens all the time under many guises, also in Canada to completely innocent people – open your eyes!)
Which is to say: the logic of it is not what is significant.
What is ultimately the most significant thing in all of life … the thing that really matters is simple: we rely solely on God’s Mercy, Grace, and Love is; we can and ought to reflect that Mercy, Grace, and Love in our lives, for ourselves, for our neighbours, and especially for our enemies. Whether we do or not, does not change God or God’s relationship with us, ours with God. It changes us, and it either gives life or robs life … from us, from our loved ones, from our neighbours, and from even our enemies.
So choose: do we want today, to give life, or take life!
God gives you and me the ability to make that choice each day, each moment, and the consequences are REAL.
But Jesus’ story is God telling us, that God alone determines our relationship with God. So stop the futile and life robbing behaviours, beliefs and condemnations that sacrifice others (and ourselves) as if that were going to make things right between any of us and God.
That’s God’s work, done, accomplished, for ever, and for everyone.
Get on with living, and living well … no matter what else is our life.
For that is what God created us to be and do:.. To choose to love, ourselves, our neighbours, and especially our enemies; for that is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, our minds and our strength.
So we cry:
Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.
Luke 1.39-45- (46-55)
It is just a visit with a relative: Mary, pregnant before she is married, heads to the hills to see Elizabeth, wife of the one of the priests. Elizabeth is pregnant as well and at the sound of the guest’s greeting, her fetus leaps in her.
Elizabeth cries out, and exclaims (ok, how did she know already that Mary was to give birth to God’s own son, the saviour of the universe, but it’s a story, so not all of it is going to make all the logical and logistical sense of an historical account. This is an account of the purpose of God. So of course Elizabeth knows Mary’s son will be their saviour!)
Surprise at Jesus’ visit
Elizabeth cries out and exclaims that Mary is blessed among women and her son is blessed as well. Elizabeth is more than a bit astounded, that Mary, the mother of her Lord, has come to visit her!
We ought to be so surprised that Jesus comes to us, every day, every minute. For what do we deserve but God’s condemnation! But we do not see Jesus, even standing beside us.
Or we are so used to Jesus’ presence with us that we behave like we are bored with it, as if nothing significant were to come of God standing with us, face to face, shoulder to shoulder. Gracing us with God’s presence, promising us that all will be well … even when there is nothing that is well at all to be seen or known. For when God is with us, already all things are well, all manner of things are well.
For Elizabeth understands that Jesus (Joshua in Hebrew, meaning saviour) is indeed God’s son, our saviour; this infant is the boy that will grow to be the man who will save us all …
No More Scapegoating
And Jesus will make it obvious that we do not need to sacrifice anyone else anymore; no more scapegoating.
All this is astounding
Sings a song.
But as all songs of faith well composed and well sung
Not just that God inspires us to revolve, to repent, to turn about and follow Jesus, instead of walking our own way and demanding that God follow us.
This is revolutionary, as in
More than a few oppressive rulers have prohibited the use of this song.
The start is fitting.
Mary’s spirit rejoices. What better way to start singing of God’s presence in our lives.
THE LOWLY … GOOD NEWS
Mary realizes that God has taken a turn from power to the powerless.
God looks to the lowly servant, Mary, caught pregnant before being married.
And she expects to be called great, not for what she has done, but for what God has done to her.
This God is not the God of judgment that so many people fear without love. This is the God of mercy from generation to generation.
God has great strength, and chooses to show it …
THE MIGHTY, THE OTHER KIND OF GOOD NEWS
But not to build up or sustain those with power and wealth, and pride,
But to scatter them with their thoughts of how great they are, thoughts so mistaken that they are just plain foolish, even if they carry their own day, or seeming carry the day until God scatters their thoughts and meager accomplishments as if they were seeds of weeds that are despised by all who see them grow.
The rulers are replaced.
And this causes many unjust rulers to prohibit, under severe punishment, the singing or use of this song.
But to whom does God go?
Or from our perspective, to whom does God come?
God lifts up the lowly.
God feeds the hungry, with not just cheap food, but the good stuff, the nourishing food that makes for health and good life.
God sends away empty handed.
This revolution changes all power and privilege.
And those of us caught in the bottom of injustice can sing
Can sing loudly, for all to hear,
That God has come,
In Mary’s and Elizabeth’s day God comes to Israel, today to us, to whomever and where ever we are.
God comes to us keeping the promises he made to Abraham, for we also are
By grace alone
Among Abrahams’ descendants
God claims us, and makes us worthy of good food, good life, fair treatment, and great hope.
Using the Magnificat can make life changed, can change life, can bring us down if we are powerful, proud, and wealthy.
But it brings up those of us who are humble out of necessity and position, wise but poor,
Who must count on God’s grace to survive each day.
For our good honest labour has not netted us luxury and privilege, so that we can rest instead of working to survive the
Whatever they are:
Enemies that want vengeance for things we never did.
Enemies that know nothing of who we are, except that they hate us and want us dead.
Coworkers who are corrupt, or abusive, or mean, or haughty and proud, or self-righteous and judgmental, or self-declared entitled. OR the challenges of
Disappearing fish, species, glaciers, clean water, honest people, friends … children
Cancer and other life taking diseases
Bad Genes and simply dirty jeans
Parents who need more than we can give, children who are almost on their own.
Grandchildren who cannot seem to live a life that is not confused and desperately chaotic.
Spouses who abuse and take everything we have to give and more.
Institutions that are corrupt and decaying, destroying people caught in their downward spiral.
Or plain Evil, in so many guises, tempting us to be God, and to try (futilely) to make our own lives good enough for God.
Save us we cry, Save us we sing.
From all this we need to be saved, for we cannot save ourselves, so we cry
Restore us, O God. Let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved!