Isaiah 62 – Conscious and Joyful Work

10 Pass through, pass through the gates!

    Prepare the way for the people.
Build up, build up the highway!
    Remove the stones.
Raise a banner for the nations. (Read the rest of the chapter here!)

There is work to be done, and we are called to do it

I love this chapter.  I found it by Googling “Bible Passages for Christmas Eve.”  It’s so joyous, so regal: Perfect for the birth of the person we call our Lord and Savior.  I also like how grounded it is, despite all it’s jubilation: There is work to be done to prepare for this party, and this chapter recognizes that fact.

I’d like to compare and contrast this chapter to another passage we haven’t yet read in this blog, but one you are probably familiar with if you’re a regular church-goer or Bible reader:  the parable of the ten bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13.  In it, there are five wise bridesmaids, who keep the oil for their lamps full while waiting for the bridegroom – who was very late – to arrive.  The five foolish bridesmaids did not plan ahead. When they did not have enough oil for their lamps they had to go buy more, missing the entrance of the groom, and were unable to gain admittance to the party afterwards.  The message: making sure you are prepared at all times for (the return of) God.

In Isaiah 62, just as in Matthew 25, we are anticipating the start of a large celebration. But this is not just passive waiting, in both passages we are called to do the work of preparation. And there is much to be done.  In the Matthew 25 parable, that work is summed up in the keeping of the oil, but here, Isaiah is a little more elaborate: we must keep watch, as the bridesmaids did; but also pray – pray until God has no rest; we must prepare the way for the people, build up the highway, and raise a banner.  There is also reference to harvesting grain and gathering grapes. Now, I’m not a literalist: I don’t think there is a highway waiting to be built that will literally bring God down to us.  So, if it’s all a metaphor, what does it mean we need to do?

Spiritual Callings can be fulfilled in many ways

I think it means we need to be engaged in conscious and joyful work.  We need to find our callings, and follow them.  This is not career advice, necessarily, though good on you if you’re bringing home a paycheck in an area about which you’re passionate.  But it can be through other ways, too.  Take this blog, for instance: It’s something I was moved to do after witnessing too many self-professed Christians making excuses for Trump’s deplorable behavior towards women, espousing hateful Islamophobic rhetoric, and disowning children – literally abandoning them on the street – for coming out as gay.  That is not what Christianity is, and I felt I needed to add my voice to those counteracting the worst examples of so-called Christian morality.  Am I a full-time writer? I wish…maybe one day.  Am I a theologically trained clergyman? Definitely not, and unless I win the lottery and can go to seminary school just for kicks, that’s never going to happen.  But it is still a calling, it is still something I am committed to do.

Other people achieve this type of work by volunteering, some are activists, and others are just caring individuals who feel called to kindness and stewardship of those immediately surrounding them.  So like I said, this conscious and joyful work may not be your main hustle, but I think it is something we all need to find time for in our lives.  Finding a cause that is larger than ourselves creates new relationships with others, enriches us spiritually and socially, and reinforces the best parts of society through stewardship.  This is the type of work that will metaphorically build the highway for the return of Jesus.  So follow the advice of this chapter: keep watch through close observation: see what needs are out there, and what makes you passionate. Pray to God for guidance in these passions (it took me two years, a lot of self-doubt, and a lot of prayer to actually get around to starting this blog after my initial idea), then go forth, do the work, and raise that banner: proclaim it to the world.  This is not to be boastful, but to let others know where you stand, and to rally them to your cause. In doing so, we have already become “a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of our God,” one of the Holy People, the Redeemed, and the Sought After, fully ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the promise of the second coming of our Savior, and the reward that is with him.

Hosea 14 – We Are Never Above Caring For Each Other

“I will heal their waywardness
    and love them freely,
    for my anger has turned away from them.

(Read the rest of the chapter here!)

 

This is the last book of Hosea, and my 101st post! Yay!  I bounce around a lot in my readings, so it’s rare that I finish a book consecutively.  Since that is the case with this book, I wanted to do a summary post on what I’ve learned from it.

The major lesson, for me, is that different isn’t bad, and that no matter what, we are still required to be decent human beings.  Remember Hosea’s wife, Gomer, from way back in the early chapters?  She was way outside the norms of society back then.  She was either a prostitute – perhaps a cultic prostitute – or, possibly even worse by the day’s standards, a promiscuous woman. Yet God ordered Hosea to marry her, possibly twice.  And, as I discussed in this blog post, I think they really did love each other, despite any raised eyebrows they may have encountered.

I continue to be intrigued by the fluidity of pronouns and metaphors in this book as an example of “different isn’t bad.” Just in this chapter, Ephraim is described as a lily, and as having fruitfulness – both of which are metaphors traditionally reserved for female characters, yet Hosea uses male pronouns within them.  Again, I’m not saying that 7th century Israel was a place that everyone on the gender spectrum could walk around freely, but I do find it interesting that the language of a man of God is so inclusive, even before there was general language for gender inclusivity. Perhaps, just perhaps, we have some internal foundation for inclusivity that is slowly trained out of us by society?

Finally, many of the sins Hosea lists against Israel are sins against other people.  Murder, dishonesty in trade, stealing, lying and deceit, adultery – these are all sins that effect others.  Hosea also talks a lot about false idols and pride. While these are mainly sins committed directly against God, Hosea also talks about them in the context of how they effect others.  In chapter four Hosea spends a long time berating priests that lead their flocks astray, and the pride of princes and kings is listed as the downfall of entire nations throughout the book.

So, once more, to summarize: Hosea teaches us that we are never above caring for each other.   Even if you are a chosen child of God, even if that other person is a temple prostitute, or whatever fringe position is equitable in today’s society, since one does not often come across temple prostitutes these days.  If your heart is truly open to God, your heart will be open to all of mankind.

Hosea 13 – Showing Up When It’s Hard

I cared for you in the wilderness,
    in the land of burning heat. (Read the rest of the chapter here!)

 

Woo, God is angry here folx!  As we’ve come up against infanticide twice in a short while, I think it’s time we talk about it.  Unfortunately there’s no two ways around it: this is what happened in wars back then.  Examples abound in the Bible of women and children being killed – by both the “bad” and the “good” guys.

But before we conclude that God is a baby-killing monster and all turn atheist, let’s remember two things: first, that atrocities just as bad as the ones written here are still happening today, and that they are not sanctioned by God.  Though many people turn a blind eye, many others cry out in God’s name against these acts of war.  Second, a lot of this is evocative symbolism.  In other words, Hosea knew this imagery would get a strong response from his readers, and decided to use it.  Killing the children of Samaria also becomes a metaphor for its destruction: for without children there is no future, therefore Samaria itself is destroyed through their death.

Even with these explanations, it’s not a comfortable passage to sit with, especially the Sunday before Christmas.  I wish I had more for you, my friends, but all I have today is this reminder: sometimes our presence is required.  It sounds simple, but it can be one of the most difficult and important things we do:  Showing up, bearing witness, standing by, waiting upon.  Think of going to a funeral: it’s never fun, but it means so much to the loved ones that remain, and can provide a path to closure for ourselves as well.  Or visiting a sick bed: the ill know they are not forgotten and left alone in their suffering.  Or even, on a much more daily level, listening to someone vent their frustrations without trying to “fix” anything. (My husband now asks me from time to time “am I supposed to just be listening right now or did you want a suggestion?”)

By the simple-yet-difficult act of showing up, we create a space for healing, for growth.  Healing and growth isn’t always pretty or pleasant, but it is very necessary. The more that we can help whomever may need it, the less we will be like the wayward nations of Ephraim or Samaria described above. Judging by God’s wrath upon them – whether it was real or metaphorical – that is a good thing to be.