Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Second Week of Advent: Sunday

Piero della Francesca, 1470
When Israel went out from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became God’s sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
The sea looked and fled;
Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.
Why is it, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water.
These words, from Psalm 114, remind us that Jesus' Advent is one chapter in a great Story—an historical narrative that reaches back in time and is recorded in the pages of what I like to call "The First Testament."

"When Israel went out from Egypt," the psalm begins, and we are suddenly transported back into the days of Moses, nearly 1500 years before Jesus was born. The Exodus event was Israel's great salvation story. God broke their bonds of slavery, exhibited his judgment upon the gods of Egypt, displayed his mighty power to deliver at the Red Sea, called his people into covenant relationship at Mt. Sinai, preserved them in the wilderness, and brought them to the Land of Promise.

The New Testament portrays Jesus as the new Moses, who saves his people through a New Exodus. His part of the story begins with the people in spiritual exile and once more under the thumb of their enemies. John the Baptizer goes to the Jordan River and appears like the prophets of old. He calls Israel to be baptized, that is, to cross the river once more—to leave the wilderness of their sins, re-enter the Promised Land and look for the One who will bring them the rest that Moses and Joshua could only foreshadow.

Then Jesus, the new Moses, comes, not with laws written in stone, but with the life-giving Spirit to bestow. Not with rituals involving priests, sacrifices and the Tabernacle, but as our ultimate High Priest, our Passover Lamb, and as the Word who took on flesh and "pitched his tent" in our midst (John 1.14)—the one Mediator between God and humans.

This is the high point of God's Story, his "D-Day" invasion of the world. We look back on this Advent coming with wonder and amazement, as did the author of Psalm 114 when he considered the Exodus. And still we look forward to "V-Day," the second Advent of our Redeemer and the consummation of his victory.

The Lord of might from Sinai’s brow
Gave forth his voice of thunder;
And Israel lay on earth below,
Outstretch’d, in fear and wonder:
Beneath his feet was pitchy night,
And at his left hand and his right
The rocks were rent asunder.

The Lord of love, on Calvary,
A meek and suffering stranger,
Uprais’d to heaven his languid eye
In nature’s hour of danger:
For us he bore the weight of woe,
For us he gave his blood to flow,
And met his Father’s anger.

The Lord of love, the Lord of might,
The King of all created,
Shall back re-turn to claim his right,
On clouds of glory seated:
With trumpet-sound, and Angel-song,
And Alleluyas loud and long,
O’er death and hell defeated.

by Reginald Heber (1783-1826)

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