God is working Gods purpose out/As year succeeds to
God is working Gods purpose out/And the time is drawing near
Nearer and nearer draws the time/The time that shall surely be
When the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea
So runs a triumphant hymn of the last centuryedited with a touch of inclusive language! It strikes a fitting note for our last reflections before Advent, the season of watching and waiting and expecting.
"Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom?" Somehow we human beings have never got the point. God has done Gods work. Created a good creation. Created human beings with freedom to choose. Lived out before us the Way. Still we come to the end of each liturgical year gazing up into heaven.
The patient God still waits.
These scriptures call us to ponder how God acts, the God whose coming we await at Advent.
From This World to the Next
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Psalm 42; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
The Hebrew scriptures for this week deal with this worldliving and dying and all the problems caused by living and dying, leaving ones home and returning to it, the ties that bind, and new possibilities for life. It is this world to which they attend; in this world God works Gods purposes out with faithful people.
The lesson from the Hebrew scriptures is the lovely story of two remarkable womenRuth and Naomi. These two brief excerpts set the stage of Naomis misfortunes and the birth of her grandson, Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David.
The story should be read in its entirety. Two women in the face of devastating odds work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Naomi, emptied of all promise, goes back to her home, and Ruth refuses to let her go alone. Naomi uses the traditions of her people to secure life for Ruth and herself. Ruth, trusting her in all things, wins a place in salvation history.
The psalm eloquently captures the sorrow and the faith triumphant of the women: "Why are you cast down, O my soul/and why are you disquieted within me?...Hope in God, for I shall again praise him/My help and my God."
God Doing the New Thing
1 Samuel 1:4-20; 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (in place of the psalm); Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25; Mark 13:1-8
The plea of Hannahs husband to his grieving wife, "Why is your heart so sad?" recalls last weeks psalm, "Why are you cast down, O my soul?" And in the Hebrew scripture this week, as last week, God comes to the aid of a woman. The culture saw childlessness as a curse, even though Hannahs husband obviously didnt. He favored her above the child-bearing Peninnah, and his pitiful plea, "Am I not more to you than 10 sons?" indicates that in Hannahs husband God was doing a new thing.
But this scripture is not Elkanahs story. It is Hannahs. Hannah bargains with God. The intensity of her prayers misleads the priest, but in the end she has a son, a major figure in Hebrew history, Samuel, priest and prophet and the last of the judges of Israel.
Keeping her vow, Hannah brings the child to the temple, and the song she sings is the psalm for this week. It is a song for the ages because it echoes richly in Marys song of exaltation when she visits her aged relative, also surprisingly pregnant. Marys song magnifies the Lord as did Hannahs.
Hannah sings: "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones/And lifted up the lowly." As Robert McAfee Brown says, "Reversal is the order of the day in the kingdom of God."
The strange 13th chapter of Mark is called a "little Apocalypse." It would seem to be Jesus explaining the last days to his disciples, but beyond our lesson in verse 14 is a parenthesis, "let the reader understand." Has Mark inserted a revolutionary broadside into his gospel?
Our lesson begins with the disciples awe. Ched Myers, in his political reading of Mark, sees the stage direction of Jesus taking a seat facing the temple as the dramatic action symbolizing Jesus utter repudiation of the temple state, the entire socio-symbolic order of Judaism, and its exploitation of the poor. A word so timely it might have been spoken to our headline religion: "Beware that no one leads you astray."
The epistle picks up on the theological dimension of the new thing that God is doing with the destruction of the temple as seen through Christian eyes. We are back to the old gospel hymn:
Not all the blood of beasts/On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace/Or wash away the stain
But Christ the heavenly Lamb/Takes all our sins away :A sacrifice of nobler name/And richer blood than they.
A Glimpse of the King
2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-12; John 18:33-37; Revelation 1:4b-8
"A mans reach must exceed his grasp," the poet said, "else whats a heaven for?"
If the tradition can be trustedand David was a poet, capable of expressing himself in the beautiful imagery of these lines
A just king is like the light of morning
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.
Is not my house like this with God?
For he has made with me an everlasting covenant.
Walter Brueggemann, commenting on this poem, says the three motifs of "Gods sovereign power, Gods moral expectation, and Gods abiding fidelity provide the clues to the shape and significance of Davids rule." Brueggemann concludes, "It is evident that the historical reality of David stands in considerable tension with this magisterial assertion."
But David had a greater Sonand for him in the coming days of Advent we wait.
The gospel is a disturbing reminder that our expectation may be a stumbling block to our perception of the reality. One of the most troubling moments in all history is the meeting of Jesus and Pilate. Pilate, in all the pomp and power of this world, obviously is disturbed by the calm young rabbi who is unimpressed by all the might of Rome, which held his life and the life of all his people in its wide-ranging rule.
"Are you a king?" Pilate expected a revolutionary, someone who would challenge the authority of Rome with arms. "What have you done?" Pilate expected a criminal, someone who had broken the cultic laws. "My kingdom is not from this world" is Jesus reply. "I came to testify to the truth!"
What are your expectations of the One you are expecting? Will your expectations blind you to the reality of his coming?
The Revelation to John is all but meaningless to us who live in a "Christian nation" and sing triumphant songs"Lift High the Cross." The reality of the situation that the Christians to whom John was writing faced is all but lost to us.
John writes grace and peace from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first born of the dead. For John, "witness" and "the dead" were synonyms. To be a witness was to be a martyr. The choice was between God and Caesar. You could not have both.
Is that the One you will be expecting these next few weeksa God who demands that there be no other God beside?
Verna J. Dozier is an educator and lay theologian in Washington, D.C. She is the author of The Dream of God: A Call to Return (Cowley Publications) and The Authority of the Laity (The Alban Institute).