Benediction Online

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Baruch 5:1-9, Luke 3:1-6

The theme of today’s readings is restoration. The Old Testament reading we heard is a classic poem of the glorious restoration of Israel. Here all those who have been spread across the world by war and other disaster will return to Jerusalem who will once again be seen in her full glory. The glorious day when Israel’s fortunes will be restored. It’s unusual for us to have a reading from Baruch which is an apocryphal book. There are quite a few religious books which were known in the Jewish tradition or the early Church but which were not included when decisions were made about what should be in the canon of Holy Scripture. Baruch was written sometime between about 300 BCE and 70CE was one of those scrolls which did not make it into the final cut.

The reading was probably chosen for today not only because it is an exemplar of restoration thinking but also because it includes the verse:
For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low
and the valleys filled up, to make level ground,
so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.

which echoes the prophet Isaiah’s words that Luke includes in his gospel
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

This is obviously an important image in the tradition since it was first penned by the prophet known as Second Isaiah and then picked up in Baruch and Luke. Luke is using it to describe the role of John the Baptizer and to place him clearly in the Jewish tradition.

Although both Baruch and Luke draw from the same source, there is a significant difference in the way they use the imagery. In Baruch the ground has been leveled so that Israel may walk in safety. In Luke the mountains and hills shall be made low so that all flesh, all beings, shall see the salvation of God. Baruch’s vision is for Israel. As Christians we are spiritual heirs of Israel and so we may claim the spiritual vision as our own. Problems arise when Zionists and others take this vision and try to apply it literally in the Holy Land. The restoration of Jerusalem and Israel to the exclusion of other people and religions is one of the key sources of international conflict.

So how then, are we to understand these images of restoration? What is restoration for us? Luke obviously saw the coming of the Messiah as the beginning of the great restoration. Isaiah’s prophecy was being fulfilled as John preached repentance in the desert, preparing the way for the Christ. But here we are, some 2,000 years later still waiting for restoration which has not yet come.

One response is to ignore it as a myth, a nice dream, something not relevant any more. I think this is a mistake because it robs us of a way of understanding our relationship with God and we also ignore some of the most glorious and exciting spiritual imagery.

Don’t you get goose bumps from those wonderful ringing lines in Baruch:
Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God;
put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name,
"Righteous Peace, Godly Glory." ?

Our faith becomes very bland when we lose the drama of the restoration, the return to God. We can treat the restoration visions as poetry or even allegory.

We can see that this passage describes the soul’s return to God. We can throw off the garments of sorrow and affliction and claim the beauty of God which is ours as heirs to the kingdom. Now we’re entering the archetypes of fairy tales. Through kissing the frog, or being kissed by the frog, we are turned into the handsome princess, the beautiful prince, and throwing off our old rags of sorrow and affliction, which had been thrust on us by the curse of the old godmother, we are seen and see ourselves in our full glory as children of God, evermore called ‘Righteous Peace. Godly Glory’.

It works for me.

In the imagery of restoration we find a deep truth about our souls. The earth may have to move. Things will have to change, but we are called to prepare ourselves to meet our God in a new and glorious way. Images of restoration allow us to open our horizons, to imagine our soul’s relationship with the divine in grand and glorious pictures. They open our imagination to new possibilities, so see our relationship with the divine not just as a friendship but as a wonderful relationship full of excitement and potential. It’s not surprising that through the centuries spiritual writers have imaged this as the coming of the bride to her bridegroom or the bridegroom to the bride. Today’s poem from Baruch offers a more gender inclusive picture but one which is exclusive in other ways. It’s difficult to describe the special-ness and intimacy of our relationship with the divine without using exclusive language.

Yesterday during our Quiet Morning we used two poems to help us in our soul work. I want to finish by reading one of these to you. It’s a poem by Mary Oliver which Joann shared with me, that offers quite another picture. But I think it is a picture of restoration, or of the longing for restoration expressed quite differently.

(I should mention that the yellow chat is a small Australian bird which is considered endangered.)

I wish I were the yellow chat down in the thicketswho sings all night, throwing into the air praisesand panhandles, plaints, in curly phrases,half-rhymes,free verse too, with head-dipping and wing-wringing,with soft breast rising into the air -- meek andsleek,broadcasting, with no time outfor pillow-rest, everything -- pathos, thanks --oh, Lord, what a lesson you send me as I standlisteningto your rattling, swamp-loving chat singingof his simple, leafy life --how I would like to sing to you all night in the dark
just like that.


Post a Comment

<< Home