I am blogging this Advent from #decolonizelutheranism’s Advent devotional, Shut Up. (That would be the sanitized version)
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets … (Hebrews 1:1 ESV)
“… but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”
So begins this anonymous letter.
God has spoken to us. Through prophets, who frequently said little of anything happy and upbeat, except that we will eventually be delivered from the consequences of our sin. The prophets came, generally, as a divine check on royal power, a reminder to the king we wanted but should not have that God is, in fact, in charge. And not the king.
And not us, either.
Before then, God chose our rulers in a rather haphazard fashion, judges who were raised in times of emergency to deliver us. Even the first two kings of Israel — Saul and David — were “chosen” by God for reasons clear only to God.
There is no recipe in scripture for governance, except to trust God. Which we clearly cannot do. In our failure to trust God — to demand a king that we be like everyone else — God tells us of the consequences of that desire, that we shall be enslaved and impoverished by our king. However, our God also makes promises to us and to the world through the lineage of that king.
In short, God uses our very sinful condition and our faithless demands in which to ground and make real the promise of redemption.
The prophets tell us two things — that we have sinned, and that we will be redeemed. Sometimes that first message is harsh and imponderable. “Do not pray for this people” or “I am in the army making war on you, and I am bringing famine and pestilence and death.” I think as church, as the assembled people of God, we do not hear or heed those prophetic utterances enough. (Someone else is always responsible for the sin that brings misfortune, and that sin is never idolatry, never a failure to trust God.) We go straight to the redemption part, confusing it with modern promises of freedom and liberation, thinking our salvation has some kind of identifiable political shape, that there is some kind of political and social order God wants for the world and if we just work and struggle and fight we can and should make that happen.
But that gets us to the second message. The redemption God promises is sometimes harsh and imponderable as well. Jeremiah had to remind the exiles more than once that promises of a quick deliverance were not coming from God. Many would die in exile, and many would be born in that exile who would never be delivered. Hope is sometimes finding ourselves in the wilderness, being guarded by our conquerors and captors, and having to build homes and beget families. Hope is sometimes heading to the hills to avoid the coming disaster, as Jesus tells his disciples when they remark on the awesomeness of the temple complex in Jerusalem.
It stinks to live at a time when hope is consists largely of waiting in a place that is not your home under the rule of people you would never choose. When hope is planting and building, knowing what you are making is only obliquely for the ages, only a way to get your children and their children to whatever awaits in some distant, unspecified future.
We all want to be home, to be delivered to the place where we shall struggle no more in a kingdom that will have no end, where justice and peace shall reign forever, world without end. But that is not our fate. Likely not our children’s fate. Nor theirs either. We sit on the banks of a strange river and sing praise and laments. We will be redeemed. We will also never live to see that redemption.