Wednesday, December 18, 2013

O Adonai... come

[This post is second in a series of Advent meditations, exploring the "O Antiphon" for each day as we walk the final steps toward the celebration of the incarnation on the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord.]

Leader of Ancient Israel
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
rescue us with your mighty power! 

A lot of my upbringing involved arguing with people about the law. I was raised in a protestant tradition that believed we were saved by grace through faith... but that also believed Christians were supposed to think and act and believe a certain way. We'd argue with the Baptists all the time about how you were saved by grace, but you still had to do things to be a good Christian.

"O Adonai"
Sister Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ
When I got to college and began studying this whole law thing, I discovered that Christians have been trying to figure this out for quite a while. That made me feel better that I didn't know exactly how to parse it. Perhaps the most important thing I learned in that whole undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies, though, was this—people in the times of the Hebrew Bible were also saved by grace.

Of course, Paul himself makes this exact argument, insisting that Abraham was saved by faith.. but then James has to go and make the opposite argument, kind of screwing the whole thing up a bit for anyone who thinks the Bible alone can answer all questions. So I never really knew who to believe.

But in freshman Old Testament survey, the professor had us memorize Joel 2:12-13. It was one of several texts he told us to memorize, but I think he had us do this one so we'd have a go to answer to anyone who said the God of the Old Testament was a God of anger.
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“Return to Me with all your heart,
And with fasting, weeping and mourning;
And rend your heart and not your garments.”
Now return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil.
That phrase, "slow to anger" is all over the place in the Hebrew Bible. There's law, make no mistake, but the law was never intended to give full life. The law was intended to give us a shape for what it meant to live as God's people in a certain time. There are, as much as some people want to deny it, things God's people are called to do and think and say and believe... the trick is pulling the actual law of God for today apart from one particular culture or people's understanding of that law.

That's what we've gotta try for, to let go of the laws we want to create and to open ourselves to the law God wants to offer us—because the law God offers is one that will heal relationships, one that will enable us to live as God's love in this world.

And if you've ever been pissed off by some religious person who thought they had the law down pat, and who used it to beat you over the head, then I think this antiphon is for you.

But watch out, because sometimes when God brings the law to your heart, you find that you also are pushed to change your own views, to let go of some of your actions, some of your thoughts and desires so that you can love how God invites you to love.

And I wonder, beloved of God, were you to place God's gracious law alongside of you own life, where would you find mercy? I wonder, beloved of God, were you to place God's gracious law alongside of your own life,, where would you be called to change?

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.

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