Thursday, November 20, 2014

Advent: Not the Time to Ignore History

Why skip history?

Being told to wait doesn't seem to help me with impatience. We may be uneasy with the chaos of history or the pain of our personal biographies, but that's not a very good reason to ignore a most intriguing and educational piece of the biblical story. The oft- forgotten history takes us up to a few short decades within the actual century of Jesus Christ.
In the story of the Maccabees in the Protestant Apocrypha (actually in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Canon), we discover that the people of God did not, in fact, "wait." They rebelled against tyrants and persecutors.

They fought- and won- a gruesome guerrilla war against the Seleucid kings of Syria who were ruling Palestine. A new, independent Judah was born in 150 BCE. The first king was Simon, the third son of Mattathias, a priest and initiator of the original revolt. 

The Hasmoneans ruled Judah from 142- 63 BCE and provided a significant period of peace and freedom, between the supremacy of the Greeks and Romans. Skipping history means that we miss the story of the Rededication of the Temple, Hanukkah. Also overlooked is what could be considered the zenith of the Sadducees and Pharisees as key players in a sovereign nation state (Judah). By the time they are mentioned in the New Testament, they are no longer rulers but vassals of Rome, their power severely weakened and limited.

The end of this short but important dynasty introduces us to one of worst villains in the New Testament story, Herod.  But he was a murderer long before the Slaughter of the Innocents that Matthew describes. Wouldn't we like to ignore the treachery of this Idumean, Herod the Great? Herod became a Roman puppet, and conquered Judah with Roman armies. And in an attempt to protect his power, he murdered everyone in his family with any Hasmonean lineage, including his wife and children.

Have you ever heard that the people of Israel had 400 years of "waiting," between the last book of the Protestant Old Testament, Malachi, and the "next" book in the Christian Scriptures, Matthew? The years between the two books may be roughly accurate. But people did anything but wait. As illustrated from the psalms below, the line of connection is intimate and living through Maccabees- not Malachi:

Lord, Lord God, creator of all,
you are fearsome, mighty,
just, and merciful.
You are the only king
and only generous one.
You are the only provider,
the only just, almighty, and eternal one.
You save Israel from all evil.
You chose the patriarchs
and made them holy.
Receive this sacrifice on behalf of all your people Israel. 
Guard your portion and make it holy. 
Gather together our scattered people, 
free the ones enslaved among the nations, 
watch over those who are despised and loathed, 
and let the nations know that you are our God. 
Punish the oppressors and those who commit arrogant acts of violence. 
Plant your people in your holy place, just as Moses said.

2 Maccabees 1: 24 ff.

Bless the Lord God of Israel
because he has come to help and has delivered his people.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house,
just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago.
He has brought salvation from our enemies
and from the power of all those who hate us.
He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and remembered his holy covenant,
the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham.
He has granted that we would be rescued
from the power of our enemies
so that we could serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes,
for as long as we live.
You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
You will tell his people how to be saved
through the forgiveness of their sins.
Because of our God’s deep compassion,
the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide us on the path of peace.

Luke 1:68 ff.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Trusting our own best self

Camp Miniwanca,  Lake Michigan
To thine own self be true. William Shakespeare

On this day, I will nurture my true self by no longer living in fear and by not worrying about things that are none of my business. Daily Affirmations

It came as a laser beam of light and energy: my own self, at my very best,all of the time. It happened on the shores of Lake Michigan. I was 17. It has served as a north star for me ever since.
But this isn't about creating a false self, apart from God. It is about trusting our God-given and created self. If I never learn to trust anyone, how will I trust God?  One of the tasks of human development is to learn to trust. The play between trust and distrust is emblematic of any phase of our lives, from infancy to old old adulthood. 

Of course, we are not our own best selves all of the time. We may try to improve on being created in God's image and likeness.  We may have learned to distrust. Maybe we were hurt by someone who claimed to be religious, who used the name of Christ to judge us instead of to accept us. Perhaps we were told that the abuse we suffered as children was for our own good - or it was supposed to protect us when in reality, the opposite was true. We lost trust- in ourselves, in others, in God- to keep us safe.

Recovering the image of God in us means we can trust ourselves as God created us and loved us to be. Accepting our powerlessness over the actions and words of others is a start. Better to move toward self- acceptance, the good from which trusting God and other people is possible.

It is God's gift to give.  

Oldies but Goodies