Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wednesday in Advent 3

Isaiah 9:8-17
v. 12b, 17b For all this his anger has not turned away, his hands is stretched out still.

The Hebrew Scriptures, by and large, argue for a vision of God at the center of all existence. None of us would argue with this vision, I suspect, as long as we don't actually have to talk about it. And there are perfectly good reasons for our reticence. Christians, in particular, often make fools of themselves by pretending they know precisely where that center is. Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans in order to cancel the Emmys which are to be hosted by Ellen Degeneres, a lesbian. If this is the vision of God at the center of things, we'll have none of it, thank you very much, and rightly so.

Walter Brueggemann reminds us that the Hebrew prophets spoke primarily in the language of poetry. The refrain from today's passage (and tomorrow's), cited above, is a piece of poetry. It is meant to evoke. In the Hebrew imagination it primarily evokes the only other instance in the Bible of an "outstretched arm," that of Yahweh against Egypt. The poet means to say that Israel has gotten itself so turned around that the outstretched arm is not for them, it is rather against them.

To put God at the center of things is both critical for us and something about which we need to be cautious. We do not, I think, have the "prophetic license" to declare everything that happens "an act of God." We do, however, have the "poetic license" to see everything with the eyes of God.

To do so we must be trained to focus our vision in the ways that God focuses the divine vision. That primary fcusing is through the lens of justice (we'll hear more about this in the reading for tomorrow). An example: a cursory glance at the governor's new budget proposals with this divinely-focused vision leads one to be troubled. As I read the report in the newspaper this morning, the governor wants us to choose higher taxes on consumption rather than on income. I have no doubt there are "sound" economic reasons for this decision, but I also "see" consumption taxes as disproportionately affecting the poorer among us. Thus to look at this proposal with "God's eye" (with humility, remembering that my eye is a secondary source of sorts) is to be skeptical of some of its parts, skepticism which may very well lead to opposition.

It is tricky business, this placing God at the center of things. We have to take great care and be careful not to act as if we know too much. But we still have to do it. Not to do so is to risk, in the words of the poet, "an outstretched arm" against us. And we will be the ones found to be holding that arm up with our indifference to those among us in geater need.

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