Saturday, December 18, 2010

A YouTube Advent Calendar: December 18

On that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on the one who struck them, but will lean on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. For the Lord GOD of hosts will make a full end, as decreed, in all the earth.

Therefore thus says the Lord GOD of hosts: O my people, who live in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrians when they beat you with a rod and lift up their staff against you as the Egyptians did. For in a very little while my indignation will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction. The LORD of hosts will wield a whip against them, as when he struck Midian at the rock of Oreb; his staff will be over the sea, and he will lift it as he did in Egypt. On that day his burden will be removed from your shoulder, and his yoke will be destroyed from your neck.

-      Isaiah 10:20-27

There’s no use denying that the Bible is full of images of God destroying things … and people. God’s anger burns hot, then abates. God punishes, then forgives. This was the experience and interpretation of the people of Ancient Israel, and it has come to us through the generations. Whether or not we believe it today, it’s right there in the books we treat as Holy Scripture, divinely inspired.

We can choose to write it off, or we can take it as part of the package and find it helpful. We all remember the experience of our own parents’ anger and forgiveness. It may seem silly to attribute these wild emotional swings to God: aren't these frail human emotions beneath the Creator of the Universe? Yes, in a way, they are. But when we’re talking about God, metaphors are all we have. And we also believe that God understands us so intimately that, between us and God, there isn't really a between.

That leaves us understanding very little. But I hope we can all agree that life as human beings is both messy and wonderful.

I don’t believe God throws anyone onto the fire whole. I do believe God will and does burn away that which is useless and destructive in us, and that may well feel like punishment. To have our toys taken away and destroyed is no fun. But if those toys are destroying us, can we blame the divine parent? It turns out, rather, that our pain and frustration lead to our salvation.

One of my favorite Christmas albums is John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. On it, John Denver sings a duet with Robin, the little nephew of Kermit the Frog. Far deeper than anything you would expect on a children’s album, the song gives us images of hope and justice, perfect for an Advent season that still is not over. The song also promises that someday we will finally understand the mysteries that plague us today. Here’s “When the River Meets the Sea.”

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