The ritual of liturgy awakens in me every year during the seasons that call for the most attention in my work: Christmas and Easter. I suppose you could lump me in with the crowd that only attends church on those two days of celebration, to some degree – that’s when I show up for the tradition of liturgy to ground me and direct my thoughts.
Today’s reading shouts of justice, of forgotten, unheard prayers – of people pleading to be remembered. I read the ancient words and know that I must remember context; I spent too many years listening to preachers pull words and phrases out of context to ‘instruct the flock’ and add fuel to their ego-drenched passion, years that built layer upon layer of beliefs that failed to hold, because they were based on reconstructed, weakened principles of ‘faith’ – which wasn’t faith at all. For something to be true, it must be true, and so context and inspiration and audience all matter.
And yet there is a reason the rich words of this book still find their mark; there is some measure of spiritual mystery that allows for the prophetic. And there’s most definitely the undeniable truth that most of the base desires and needs common to mankind haven’t changed. It is worthwhile to remember that at the core of the scriptures is the story of man’s interaction with the God. Quoting Andrew Peterson, who was quoting Sally Lloyd Jones:
There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story – the story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.
That’s the happy ending of Christmas and of Easter; we are rescued.
But the story arc of rescue requires the tension of despair and anguish; for rescue to work, there must be something to be rescued from. Quite frankly, it’s impossible to read the passages that reflect the despair and darkness of 2,000 years past without drawing a deadly line direct towards today – this present moment, our present circumstances.
How long, Lord God Almighty? You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors, and our enemies mock us. All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.
I read these words, knowing full well that they had contextual application in the moment for which they were written. But they are, after all, the words of a prophet; and so how can I not see these words like blasts of neon simmering through the barrage of soul-wrenching news updates? How can I ignore the yearning of my soul for something good, when the ego-driven, chest-thumping proclamations of greatness makes a mockery of leadership? How can I tamp down fear for the safety of loved ones who serve at the mercy of a mercurial bully pacing a world stage littered with land mines?
And, pray tell, what do I do with the deep disappointment that tears at my bones as I see the dark, sinister underbelly of men who have been known for all of their lifetimes as leaders in the church now tweeting their allegiance to fictional holiness, pandering power?
How then can we be saved?
Advent is messing with my head this year; it’s no longer an easy wait, a measured countdown to the birth of the baby. It is a hard, fearful question. It is an unmooring. It is despair and sorrow, an unraveling of what seemed to be a firm place to stand.
That, perhaps, is the point. The truth of advent is hard to find this year, at this point; I’m certain that means a harder journey.
But one that matters.
Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people.
Readings from Isaiah 64 and Psalm 80.