image “Night” by Anna Sircar
reflection by Brad ActonPsalm 119:1-24, Psalms 12,13, 14 Isaiah 2: 1-11 1 Thessalonians 2: 13-20 Luke 20:19-26
Today’s Scripture readings contain the tension of what it means to desire the Word of God. The Psalmist finds the statutes of God, the words of the Law, enrapturing. They are the agent for purity, guidance, direction, clarity, and peace. They give happiness, meaning, and delight. They contain wonders, mysteries, and a depth unlooked for by most modern readers.
The Psalmist invites us into something we do not expect. Statutes, decrees, and commandments are not the words we often find synonymous with his descriptors. But perhaps that’s because we always stop at the commandments.
When I read “Thou shalt not”s and “Thus saith the Lord”s, I must confess my eyes glaze over, either because I know I have failed at being obedient or because I cannot see how some commands equate with who God is. I read them like a child hearing the voice of a parent declaring, “No!” I hear the words of God like my daughter hears my voice as she reaches for electrical outlets or window curtains. She only hears the command, not being able to see the danger at hand or my desire for her to live a long, full, and beautiful life.
But to talk about all this in Advent is not only to see the Word of God in Scripture or in God’s commandments for His people. To say things like “Word of God” is to wander near mangers and unexpected holy places. We expect and hope for God to draw near to the world again, but we don’t know what that will look like. It might look like peace, or it might resemble sorrow. It might be similar to happiness, or it might look like judgment. For the church in Thessalonica in today’s reading, the Word of God drawing near meant persecution. But it was a persecution leading unto glory and joy.
So we look for the Word of God in this Advent Season, but when the Word speaks we may not have ears to hear. When God speaks it is only Light, it is only Holy, and it is only Love. But we are creatures of the world, too familiar with darkness, struggle, and disappointment. We have suspicious ears, and promises made by a God in a cradle may sound like just more foolishness. The mystery of God is too vast, the love too radical, and we cannot receive this Word. Angels and shepherds cry, “Holy, holy, holy,” but we’re left wondering how such things could be, especially in light of our own lives. God may feel absent now, and He’ll seem absent tomorrow, the day after, and so on.
While Mary carried God in her womb, the mystery was hidden, remote, and even frightening, but it was something within her grasp. The child was still hers, still safe, still unknown. But for her the Word of God coming into the world meant seeing this God speak, perform wonders, and speak Truth into a world in such a way as to leave even Mary aware that the mystery of God was no longer within her but vastly beyond her. The Word of God drawing near for Mary meant losing her Son, a “sword piercing her own soul,” but it also meant the resurrection of her Lord.
As we look for the Word of God coming into the world, do not expect what you will find. Let the mystery of the coming Christmas season be a sign of things unlooked for, of hope coming into the world in ways we cannot imagine.
“Open my eyes, that I may see…” – Ps. 119:18