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Archive for January, 2016

Few biblical passages depict the severity and gentleness of YHWH more poignantly than the Exodus narrative of Israel’s escape from Egypt.

The day of their flight, after all, follows upon the night when YHWH’s avenging angel stole the life from every first-born of Egypt, from the palace to the dungeon. In a carefully calibrated escalation of sternness that leaves no protagonist untouched and unmoved, YHWH meticulously prepares the moment when Israel will escape extermination and find both future and liberty in one noisy dash.

At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It was a night of watching by the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the Lord by all the people of Israel throughout their generations. (Exodus 12:41–42 ESV)

Ah, these nights of watching.

These times of trouble when we may die or we may live, and no one knows the outcome.

Will our dreams become reality, or will they simply perish in a silent, unnoticed disappearing act? Is this the end, or is this a beginning?

Nothing for us to do, then, in nights like this but watch.

It is comforting to know that at least this once, back in Egypt’s imperium, YHWH too stayed up all night watching. Nothing was going to escape his grip, no malevolence would derail his purpose. No hideous strength would touch the apple of his eye this night. His Israelites would have their new day, no matter the impeding powers.

People still celebrate YHWH’s night of watching with their own. We call it Passover, with its bitter herbs and its swallow of wine and its evening-gathered families and its memory of a night that will not be forgotten. ‘This night’, a child intones to his convened, listening, remembering family, ‘is like no other’.

Yet we may hope, at least, that YHWH has other nights of watching, when our lives and our hopes and our future will not be swallowed up in the dark by calamity as we wait, powerlessly, for morning.

Watch, YHWH. We need you to watch. Please stay up late with us—for us—as this new night falls.

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The Bible is unflinching about the human predicament.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.   And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:4–8 ESV)

How do we become un-lost?

How do we overcome our agnostic doubts, find our way through the morass of what we self-justifyingly call ‘the evidence’ to a defensible conclusion?

How do we assess this abiding sense of guilt again someone we can’t quite see?

How do we decide whether whether we are, finally, alone? Or not?

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9 ESV)

The Bible’s story of human origins has the creator seeking out the first humans in their worst possible moment.

It has ever been so, and we are fortunate for it.

Absent a creator who—so we are told—pursues us and loves us in spite of everything, we are lost. We are on the fence. We cannot know if the aloneness we feel is real, or only the product of minds poorly equipped for the harshness of life.

To be lost out here is more than a feeling, and the jungle is vast.

But, wait! I hear someone …

 

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Is it only the hope born so relentlessly in a new year’s first hours?

Or is YHWH’s purpose as unstoppable as it appears this first morning?

… and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel .. (Matthew 1:11–12 ESV)

From the conjunction of a January 1st and the first verses of the New Testament emerges a fresh glimpse of divine purpose, pushing through the bitter-sweets of the year just gone and into the face of all manner of fears about the one taking shape under our feet.

Matthew—grouping a genealogy of the about-to-be-born Jesus into an artifice of fourteen generations here, another fourteen there—molds history’s apparent chaos to make it a bit more ordered and orderly than rapid readers in the twenty-first century might understand it to be.

Between one fourteen and another, he skips over an apparent end-point: deportation, or exile. In the world of Babylonian eminence, a people did not emerge from exile. They either died in its grip or assimilated into the empire’s powerful ways and means so as to become unrecognizable among the flotsam and jetsam of once-proud peoples and nations now subjugated by the empire’s irresistible force. So was Israel’s great crisis short-handed as ‘exile’.

Yet Matthew skips over Babylonian captivity as though it were nothing. Well, not quite nothing, but nothing more than a comma in the long story of YHWH’s purpose.

Exilic calamity brands death into the bodies of less favored nations, who will die sooner or later far from home and be forgotten when they do.

Not to those who serve the divine Father of the about-to-be-born Jesus. They taste the same blood as those who are ground into dust by history. Their hearts race to the same fears. They curse the same mornings. Far from  immunity to history, they have been thrust into its sweaty core.

But, just when all seems list, a new fourteen appears, a biographical cluster that promises life, progeny, and future.

And now, we are about to be told, a king is born. His name means ‘He rescues’.

And, on top of that, it is January 1st, when all things are possible.

Give us fourteen more, then.

 

 

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