Wrestling with the Advent text this week has been interesting in light of the multiple funerals. [Yesterday as they played taps for my friend George the sky opened up and I was bathed in the brightest light, it was such a moment of grace.] I am looking at righteousness (on Sunday) and realize I need to preach about forty five minutes to an hour to cover the basics... IT WON'T HAPPEN! I will reign in those ponies, so much will be left unsaid. Even so, one of the key issues I am contemplating came up in today's first reading from Zechariah 7:8-8:8.
This preacher/prophet is best read with Ezra and Nehemiah, in the time of "Exodus II" (the return from exile). Today the collection of brief statements from God were rich in meaning and power.
Thus says the Lord of hosts,
"Render true judgments
show kindness and mercy to one another
do not oppress the widow, the orphan, or the poor
and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another..."
I want to break those thoughts up so that each may be savored on its own. In the end, therein lies a fundamental communication from God. It occurs often and is based on a key concept, this is the nature of God and it is a call to each of us to find our own true (vs. fallen) nature.
God is righteous and His judgments are true. God is also kind and merciful (Hebrew hesed). Judgments that are true are often called blunt. I prefer blunt language (which is often criticized). I find God does as well. He calls us awful names at times, in part because we are awful and do awful things sometimes. Yet, even so, God loves us, and even we can love and care about others.
True judgments do not provide extra benefits for friends or 'the connected,' a challenge in every age. And kindness to the "real people" (those like us) comes easier than it does to those on the periphery. The most vulnerable folks are generally a prophet's focus in calling God's people to righteousness. It always brings me joy to distribute our parish's wealth to outreach. Yes, it is tempting to want more pay and 'nicer things' but that is a temptation easily addressed by words of God like these. There is no legacy greater than kindness and mercy to those who need it and can never repay.
But for Christians, programmed to debase "the Law," it is sometimes thought that such prophetic words are anti-Jewish, anti-Law. As we read on we are reminded that the opposite is the case.(7:7 They made their hearts adamant in order not to hear the law...) Verse 7 lays the Law and the spirit inspired prophets side by side as two sources of God's word. Torah, which is translated as law, means instruction. When I learned that it turned things around for me. It is God's instruction (Gentiles relationship to this instruction is a long blog for another day) to His people. It explains how to live, to worship and to be holy. Some of it is hard to grasp and its ancient setting is a fog for us. Others, like the social justice words, are as relevant as this mornings lecture on right behavior.
The bad news, from God, is "when I called, they would not hear, so, when they called, I would not hear." I often say our God is the Burger King God, "have it your way," He says. Choose the type relationship you would have, He says. Decide if we are a pair or separated, He says. Embrace Me, or not, grasp atheism, agnosticism, self-centeredness or materialism. Come up with your reasons and excuses and explanations for doing what you do, and not doing what you do not do. In the end, understand, said God through Zechariah, I will give you what you give Me. You will reap what you sow.
Yet, in mercy, He promises to gather a remnant: I shall save My people....they shall be My people and I shall be their God. Always mercy, always kindness. Always an effort to bridge the gap created by our injustice, our coldness of heart, our lack of thanks and praise, our failure to worship, our failure to share our bounty with the needy and poor. Always that love pouring out (and rejected) and pouring out, again and again into eternity. Such a good and faithful God. And now we are prepared to understand the mystery of Christmas...