First Friday of Advent
December 2, 2011
Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows. . . . You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16: 4a, 11)
Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice. . . (Amos 5:14-15a)
The ancient people of Israel had no end of opportunities to worship the various gods of the surrounding nations. One of the worst was Molech, a god borrowed from the Phoenicians, who demanded the regular sacrifice of children. Others, like Baal and Asherah, were more about fertility and prosperity, and caught the attention of the Israelites when they wanted plenty of children and more productive crops.
Regardless of the choices, worshipping any of the local gods instead of the one true God did not end up well for the people. Ultimately it was a significant part of Israel’s downfall and ultimate exile. When the people looked back over the disasters that had destroyed their nation, they would surely lament their abandonment of God.
Their turning back to God was not, however, merely a cognitive affirmation that Israel’s God was better than the others. It was a turning that was to result in a transformed way of living that would be demonstrated in the community that was God’s people. Worshipping the one true God would result in life rather than multiple sorrows, and that life would look like the seeking of good over evil and establishing justice—that is, making right that which had gone wrong—in their land.
When Jesus appeared on the public scene, one of his earliest messages—borrowed from Isaiah 61—rings with this call to goodness and justice:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19
We’ve got more than our share of seductive gods in our US culture. We have gods of consumerism, materialism, politics, and religion. We hear the call to worship the stuff that makes end-of-year retail numbers look good; we are told that if we give full allegiance to a particular political party, we stand on the side of right and all will be well; the demands are made to let self-interest rule supremely and let the poor fend for themselves, and prosperity will follow; we are lured into certainty when we are told that our brothers and sisters in Christ are our enemies if they don’t see things exactly as described by some new prophet. And so our sorrows are multiplied as these gods promise us the Moon and instead deliver us into Hell.
In the coming of Jesus, who comes as God’s anointed to bring, among other blessings, liberation from the worship of all that is not God, we are confronted with life rather than death, with good rather than evil, with justice rather than oppression. It’s not just that we might be freed from the grip of those idols, but also that we might not worship at their altars and preach their gospels.
In this Advent season, perhaps more than in other years, reflecting on the past, present, and future coming of Jesus is crucial for us. We are in a bad economy that demands consumption in order to prosper; we are entering an election year when promises of justice and goodness often ring hollow and draw us into the worship of political preferences.
God help us. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
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