Surviving the failure of God

Week 13, Day 1

For December 3

Isaiah 11. 1-10; Luke 1. 26-38

The full text for this week is given below.

Jesse was the father of David—the shepherd boy who grew to be a man “after God’s own heart” and became the greatest king of Israel. While he lived God promised David that the throne of Israel would, through all time, be occupied by one of his descendants—as long as those descendants remained faithful to Yahweh.

Later writings and prophecies altered that promise to David, making it unconditional. Because of David’s faithfulness and because of God’s great love for him, the royal line of David’s dynasty would never fail. That was God’s irrevocable promise.

Then Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian, came along. Jerusalem was sacked, the temple burned to the ground and the Davidic line of kings cut off at the knees. It looked, for all the world, as though the promise had failed. God had not held up God’s side of the bargain.

This apparent reality raised for Israel what may have been their fundamental question—a question that is mulled over and argued about in story, song, poetry and metaphor throughout much of the old testament: How does faith survive the failure of God?

In story form, the Advent season brings us to our version of the same question.

For a century and a half before the time of Jesus, and continuing centuries after for that matter, the Palestine territory languished under the boot of Rome. The glory of David’s kingdom was a distant, dim memory. Any hope for its return was seen by most thinking people as a foolish dream. How does faith survive a brutal world empire bent on diminishing and destroying it?

To begin an answer to the question, the Advent story turns the page and opens a new chapter: “… the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”

You know the story, of course. But you’ll do well not to rush through it, not to assume the conclusion to the story you’ve always heard. Slow down. Sit with the question—“How does faith—your faith, survive the failure of God?” Let yourself wonder how, or whether, the Advent story resolves the dilemma.

Faith—trust—is not an easy thing to hold in our complicated world, or in our often painful and perplexing lives. Yet trust is what Mary is called to practice. Trust is what we are called to practice, too.

But we need to keep in mind that trust is not the answer to our questions. Trust is more the doorway into the mystery our questions raise. The mystery where “the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and the power of the Most High overshadows you”.

Prayer: The mystery of life is deep, Loving God, and we often do not know the way. We pray the Advent light will inspire trust, whatever the dark days we face. Amen.

Isaiah 11.1-10

1 A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;

4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Luke 1: 26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

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