Sunday, December 18, 2011

O Adonai

Note: This post is the second in a series of posts on the "O Antiphons" that I wrote two years ago. I'm reposting them here this year as we head towards Christmas.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, 
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush 
and gave him the law on Sinai: 
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm. 

I grew up in a tradition that emphasized grace. Sure, there were parts of my evangelical upbringing where the importance of works would sneak in, where preachers would insist that you had to do certain things correct to be saved. However, that's not what shaped me. I was shaped by the idea that we are saved by pure and unadulterated grace, not by works, lest anyone should boast. And that gospel was the sweet milk that nourished my young Christian soul.

And I'm grateful for it.

Later in life, though, while working on my Bachelors degree in Biblical Studies, I took a class on the Minor Prophets. This “grace only” view had begun to break down before that, during the freshman Old Testament survey course taught by David. But that class on the minor prophets... it broke my theological world in two. All of the sudden I saw that grace without justice was cheap and empty.

O come, O come, great Lord of might, 
who to thy tribes on Sinai's height 
in ancient times once gave the law 
in cloud and majesty and awe. 

In the midst of giving the law, God made it clear that the law was a covenant ensuring that the people would truly practice the love of God. Thus the Torah is filled with concern for the poor and weak, those without voice in society. In Deuteronomy's retelling of the Ten Commandments, the commandment for keeping the Sabbath day is given so that the poor, the slaves and workers of society may also have rest.

Later in Deuteronomy, God declares that this law flows from God's very being. And lest you be confused about what that being was, God says, 
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. — Deuteronomy 10:17–20 

The Torah should make us look like that. Our God is not moved to action or inaction because of financial gain. The key question for universal health-care, thus, isn't how much will it cost. The key question is how does a society care for the least among them. To oppose the idea of providing health-care to every human being because of the cost is to take a bribe, to use financial gain as a reason for action/inaction on a question of justice.

God is not like that.

And our God will execute justice. Our God will look out for those in our society to whom we have given less rights, and will establish equity. Our God loves immigrants—illegal or otherwise—because our God watched the people of Israel struggle as they journeyed in search of a homeland. God has a soft spot for these folk and so cares deeply for them.

The worship I had loved, when I was younger, one that was bathed in a sense of grace, was incomplete. Because I took this class on the Minor Prophets and discovered that the prophet Amos believed the Lord despised such worship, “Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). I discovered in Micah that God had no patience for my offering of sacrifice if I neglected the first good, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

We need to recover the importance of the Torah. We need to recover a sense that our actions absolutely have social repercussions—and that God is profoundly interested in them. We need to recover the sense of a society which will structure itself with a sense of justice and equity, not solely concerned with what will keep the markets going up.

We need Adonai to descend once again, to burn this law onto the stones of our hearts, to surround us with the smoke and majesty of a God who is on the side of the weak and helpless. Because we seem to have forgotten. We've bought the bottle of cheap grace and ignored the more costly. But it is the more costly that will save us. It is the more costly that will change us.

O Adonai.


Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

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