I’m not convinced this thing can be settled online at all. But it’s effecting real life relationships and it’s effecting local churches, so the least we can do is start thinking and rethinking in terms of our online discourse.
“Put not your trust in Princes, nor in the son of man, for there is no help in him.
His breath departeth, and he returneth to his earth; then his thoughts perish.” Psalm 146:3-4 (Geneva)
In Jeremiah 29, God speaks to the exiles from Judah through the prophet. He has a hard message for them. Their identity had been bound up in their land. It had been their inheritance, given them by God, and the Temple was where God Himself dwelt in their midst. Now the Temple was destroyed, it’s surviving treasures carted off by the King of Babylon to fill his treasury, and the people themselves forcibly remove and scattered over the breadth of the Babylonian Empire.
What were they to do? Hitherto, the message was clear, faithfulness to God was readily translated into political success and power. The message ran from the sad story of Judges through the ebb and flow of Kings and Chronicles. Indeed, the message of Jeremiah himself to the people until now had been that God was rewarding the faithlessness of His people by driving them from their land and removing all traces of their political independence. Little wonder, then, that God’s people veritably drip with bitterness in Psalm 137 as the reflect upon their new life in a strange land.
So consider well, then, what God is asking His people to do in Jeremiah 29. Seek the welfare of the city to which you have been exiled. Pray for it. Pray for its leaders. Build your lives where you are now. Plant gardens. Put down roots. Sing the songs of Zion. For the Lord God shall be with you, and not with those who remain in the land of your ancestors and in the holy city itself.
This upended the entire thrust of the story as they knew and understood it. Their identity as God’s people was not tied to geography, nor was God Himself. Faithfulness was not linked with political power and independence. His message was clear, if they had the whit to read it: Church and State are not one and the same.
But we long for power. The Jews of Jesus’ day yearned for a political as well as a religious Messiah. This was Pilate’s understanding, too, and he pressed Jesus on this, and he walked away confused. Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:28-40) But this world is all we understand, and want.
On this Independence Day, we would do well to remember those exiles by the waters of Babylon. Perhaps our hearts are filled with bitterness and rage. How can we celebrate a country that perpetrates injustice? Perhaps we long for the day when power shall be ours again, when the Kingdom of God and America are one and same, and celebrate this day as the promise of triumph.
God has given us the state to order our public lives, to enact justice between peoples, that we might live our lives in peace and tranquility. And well we need it. But in government rests not our ultimate hope. There are limits to what it can and cannot do. For we are exiles in this world, and we yearn to yet arrive at that City whose light is the Lamb and whose streams give water to the tree of life.
Let us then seek the welfare of this, the city of our exile. Let us hold our rulers to account, that they would govern more diligently, more wisely, and more justly. But let us not become enamored with the power that rests in government. Let us give thanks for the freedoms that we do enjoy, for the abundance in our midst. And let us work such that all men may yet experience these.
Praise thou the Lord, O my soul.
I will praise the Lord during my life; as long as I have any being, I will sing unto my God.
Put not your trust in Princes, nor in the son of man, for there is no help in him.
His breath departeth, and he returneth to his earth; then his thoughts perish.
Blessed is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God,
Which made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that therein is; which keepeth his fidelity forever,
Which executeth justice for the oppressed, which giveth bread to the hungry; the Lord looseth the prisoners.
The Lord giveth sight to the blind: the Lord raiseth up the crooked: the Lord loveth the righteous.
The Lord keepeth the strangers: he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but he overthroweth the way of the wicked.
The Lord shall reign forever: O Zion, thy God endureth from generation to generation. Praise ye the Lord. Psalm 146
I was early and the doctor was late. There I sat, naked to the world but for the flimsy gown, on the eve of my birthday wondering if they would find anything, again. The fact that the doctor found an adenoma six months ago is the reason I was now sitting there waiting.
Statistically, I am now in the back half of my life. So one gets reflective. I remember my pediatrician, Dr. Horton. He wore a white lab coat and smoked a pipe, I believe. It was his office, and unless he was sick or on vacation, you saw him. I don’t think he had a nurse, only a receptionist. Nurses still wore white uniforms with white stockings and shoes. I can recall the small stinky bottles of special shoe polish for white shoes, complete with the image of a nurse on it. I can’t recall seeing any nurses with the hat or the cape, but the image was still present.
You got a fairly thorough exam. Tongue depressor, rubber hammer to test reflexes, a look in the ears and the nose, and follow the penlight with your eyes. And of course, he stuck a glass thermometer under my tongue to check my temperature. He was authoritative. He drew his own blood.
In smaller towns, such persons were respected members of the community. Together with the local attorney, he served on the board of the local bank, with either the local insurance agent or the local grocer. Chances are they served on various advisory boards as well. Looking back on those days, nearly everything was local.
I was called out of my reverie by a commotion outside. Something had happened. Something not good. I heard muffled comments, and scurrying feet. I would later learn this was part of the reason my doctor was late.
One of the peculiarities of modern medicine is the obsessive need to confirm that that you are you and why you are there. Apparently, this is state law. Every interaction began with some variation of the litany. I was there for a colonoscopy. Who, pray tell, was going attempt to sneak in and steal a colonoscopy?
I understand that times have changed. The technologies available and the number of conditions doctors can treat have expanded. Insurance companies’ efforts to keep costs down have perversely have had the opposite effect—it’s all about maximizing billing opportunities. My annual physical will consist of a few checks, and an order of a blood test. I’ll have to come back for my doctor to read me the results I’ve already looked at online. The physical is “free.” They can bill for the second visit.
Is it better to have that sense of continuity and familiarity or the panoply of treatments? I wonder. I apparently share the “Comstock Colon.” I’m not sure when my grandfather was first diagnosed with colon cancer. It was the slow-growing variety, and so every few years they would remove a bit of his colon. This continued for some time until he ran out of colon. Would the earlier availability of colonoscopies have allowed him to live longer and healthier? I don’t know. He died three weeks after his 90th birthday.
“Teach us to number our days,” concludes the Psalmist, “that we might apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
White, white everywhere
On the ground and in the air
White fingers greedily tapping on my windowpanes
Devouring, covering, shielding
Silent as the grave
Nestling all in its own little world
The wind howls, but it is soon lost
In a swirl of white
Penetrating into the remotest cracks
Striving in this deadest time of year to say,
“See, I make all things new.”
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks;
foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers;
but you shall be called the priests of the Lord;
they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God;
you shall eat the wealth of the nations,
and in their glory you shall boast.
Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion;
instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot;
therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion;
they shall have everlasting joy.
Isaiah 61:1-7 (ESV)
This was amongst the readings this year in our Advent devotional. I’ve read it many times before, as part of our Christmas preparations. This year, a phrase from verse two burst from the page. In all my years of hearing or reading this passage, I had never seen it before: to proclaim the day of vengeance of our God.
This is not an aspect of the Christmas story I’m used to hearing. It is hard, after all, picturing the traditional image of the Infant in the manger with the vengeance of God. But it is there. In fact, as we continued with our readings, I kept finding that undercurrent of danger popping up. Do we know what we are proclaiming?
The one response that seems to have gripped everyone that first Christmas is fear. No one comes away unscathed.
The Old Testament prophets looked upon the coming of a Messiah with hope, but also an acute awareness that God’s people had all to often blown it. Messiah is an answer to prayer, as well as a rebuke.
Zechariah is struck dumb, which created no small problem for him as a priest. (Luke 1:18-22) Priests after all, were to represent the people before God, which required speaking words. He could no longer serve, until he affirmed the instructions God had given him. Mary, too, is troubled. The world did not take kindly to unwed mothers, and she would have to endure the rigors of her pregnancy largely alone. Her body is literally taken over by God, swelling day by day. (Luke 1:29)
Joseph alone seems to have borne the news with something like equanimity, but of course the risks were pretty obvious. He’s told to marry a woman suspiciously pregnant, and assume parentage over a child of dodgy origins, sacrificing his dreams and business for promise, one he will never see fulfilled.
The angels are terrifying. Our romantic Victorian imagery doesn’t do them justice. Why are they so scary? What are we trying to hide with our iconography?
The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) riffs on these theme, and reveals why Christmas is so scary. God regards the poor and humble, and remembers his covenant with Israel. He scatters, He tears down, and lifts up, echoing Isaiah 40:4. What is this describing but an earthquake? The hungry are filled, but the well-to-do are sent away empty. What if we are deemed rich?
That is the scary thing. We do not know, and the coming Messiah promises to expose all things (Luke 2:35). Paul speaks of God as a fire that will burn through our lives and deeds, stripping away the chaff with which we surround ourselves, laying bare our essence.
Traditionally, Advent was time for the Church to look ahead to the Second Coming, having just celebrated the Feast of Christ the King, even as it was looking back toward Christ’s First Coming. I think they caught that sense of danger in his Coming, that God is out to judge both his friends and our enemies, even as He brings peace, hope and healing. May we recover something of that this holiday season.
Lo, he comes with clouds descending,
once for favored sinners slain;
thousand, thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.
Every eye shall now behold him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at naught and sold him,
pierced and nailed him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see.
The dear tokens of his passion
still his dazzling body bears;
cause of endless exultation
to his ransomed worshipers;
with what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture,
gaze we on those glorious scars!
Yea, Amen! Let all adore thee,
high on thy eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
claim the kingdom for thine own.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Everlasting God, come down!
- Charles Wesley
“Furthermore, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are worthy love, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, or if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8 (Geneva)
I am thankful that this year the whole family was able to gather under one roof to celebrate for the first time in several years. The food was good, too. Thank you.
For the joy of curling up on the couch with our dog snuggled next to me. Thank you.
For the infectious joy my wife exudes whenever she gets an idea. It gives me a taste of what Creation must have been like. Thank you.
For the blue of the sky against the golds, reds, oranges, greens and purples of the trees that makes autumn in the part of the world so special. You go for the big box of crayons! Thank you.
For the smell of fresh baked bread, or the aroma of something wonderful wafting from the kitchen after a hard day at the office. Thank you.
For cheese, and bacon, and that through Christ, we needn’t keep kosher. Thank you.
For the thrill of voices blending together. Thank you.
For mercies new every morning, for all gentle thoughts and mild. Thank you.
For Thyself best gift divine, to our race so freely given. Thank you.
“O Give thanks unto the Lord, for he is gracious, and his mercy endureth forever.” Psalm 107:1 (Coverdale)