Oh, my goodness. It has been a month in the Brown household! We started out with Julia's wedding on the 7th. Look up "radiant" in the dictionary and I think you will find a photo of Julia! She was a beautiful bride, and she and Ben are so happy! The wedding was lovely and I am so happy for them.
They were honeymooning for 10 days, so we had their special needs cats with us. Hank has medicine in his food so Monty can't eat it so we had to keep it out of reach of Monty, which is not easy since Monty is into everything! Hank is also prone to urinary crystals so can't eat Monty's food. Molly (our dog) shouldn't eat any of it, so it was a round-robin of pet food at our house.
Vianne went to California for a few days before Thanksgiving, and since Jeff still had to do his 24-hour shifts at the fire department he, Parker, and their dog Cooper came and stayed with us. This Grammy LOVED that - but my shoulders aren't used to picking up a toddler any more.
Julia and Ben hosted their first Thanksgiving on Thursday, which was really nice. His parents were there. Jeff had to work so Vianne and Parker went to dinner at the fire station. Then everyone, plus Jay's brother Todd and his husband David, came to our house for Thanksgiving #2 yesterday.
I am worn out - but really happy. It was a wonderful month of celebrations, gratitude, love, and family. Now if I can just summon the energy to get the dishes done!
But today we turn our attention to Advent. Today is the first Sunday in Advent, and the beginning of the Christian year. I would wish you happy new year, but Advent is a season of quiet reflection as we prepare for the coming of the Christ child.
In Christian churches across the world, the candle of Hope is being lit in the Advent Wreaths. We will light the candle of hope tonight at dinner time.
This morning, as I sat down in the peace of my quiet house (the dishes will wait), I thought about hope. I think we need hope right now.
I decided to look at scriptures that reference hope, thinking that perhaps I will ponder a "hopeful" verse each day this week. I didn't get further than Job - which was the first reference in the index of the Bible I was holding.
if I say to the Pit, ‘You are my father,’
and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’
15 where then is my hope?
Who will see my hope? (Job 17;14-15, NRSV)
Poor Job. He was a man who had everything: a large happy family and a prosperous farm. He was a healthy man who was esteemed in his community. He was, most importantly, a righteous man who followed the law and worshipped God. Then in an instant everything came crashing down: his livestock and servants were killed or kidnapped, and then his entire family was killed when the house they were in collapsed. Worse was yet to come: Job developed leprosy and was cast out of town to sit on the ash heap and scratch his sores with pottery shards.
Many people think of this story as a "bet" between God and Satan, and see this story as evidence of God's capriciousness. Why would a loving God bet Job's happiness and welfare in a wager with Satan? Good questions.
First, I think it is worthwhile to note Job 1:6: "One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them." Satan was not the high priest of hell that we today understand him to be. Satan was a heavenly being, who was able to move between heaven and earth. Marcus Borg, in his book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time describes Satan as a "kind of espionage agent," not yet the evil opponent of God, but someone who reported back to God about what people were doing. Satan was trying to tell God that Job only loves God because he is given everything he could ever want. He was saying, basically, "Sure - it's easy to believe and worship when everything is good. But what about when it isn't?" Isn't that a question we still ask? I wonder how many of us are losing our faith in a God who doesn't stop a pandemic, who doesn't stop people from being murdered, and who allows people to defile God's creation. I wonder if I will continue to believe in God if something unexpectedly horrible happens to my family. I hope so, and I pray I will never have to find out, but I don't know for sure - just being honest.
Anyway, God has such faith in Job - I use the word faith intentionally - that he allows Satan to do anything to Job except take Job's life. So poor Job is left on the ash heap, alone, grieving, and miserable with illness. Job curses the day he was born, but does not reject God.
Enter Job's three friends: Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. Eliphaz says that clearly Job has sinned and is being punished. Bildad says that Job must repent. Zophar assures Job that his guilt deserves punishment. Through it all Job maintains his faith in God, although he isn't afraid to complain, question why he is suffering, and to despise the day he was born. Eliphaz says that Job is undermining religion, Bildad reminds Job that God punishes the wicked, and Zophar says the wicked deserve what happens to them. Eliphaz points out that Job's wickedness must be great. Bildad says that no man is able to be righteous before God - we are all wicked.
Everything in Job's life is hopeless. Job can't think what he possibly could have done to deserve all this. His well-meaning friends are making it worse by telling him he must have done something wrong, and in his wickedness he isn't getting anything less than he deserves.
Sound familiar? How many times have we said, "What did I do to deserve this?" Maybe just in frustration, or maybe we are truly lamenting, "Why me?" It is tempting to believe that we must have done something to deserve whatever is happening, but this leaves one troubling paradox: why do bad things happen to good people? Put another way, why do some people get away with murder and others are "punished" for far less serious transgressions?
We ask these questions because it puts us in control. We are so self-centered that we believe that if we could just change our behavior, nothing bad would ever happen to us. If we can blame someone else, even better - I don't behave that way so I'm not going to suffer like that. I'm old enough to remember when some televangelists were blaming the AIDS crisis on the "sin" of homosexuality - AIDS was God's punishment. But why were people who were just trying to live into themselves as they understood themselves to be (we all do that) and who were loving a person they loved dying, and murderers weren't? Why were hemophiliacs - innocent children who depended on blood transfusions - also dying? (Remember that when the AIDS crisis first struck, HIV hadn't yet been identified and there was no test for it.) Hurricanes have also been blamed on the "sinfulness" of New Orleans and homosexuality. It strikes me that just as in the story of Job, those who are collateral damage aren't mentioned because they are inconvenient to the story we wish to tell. Job's family, who died, and Job's servants who also either died or were taken into potentially worse circumstances, don't factor into the narrative. Those who are innocent of the "sins" we blame for God's "wrath" are conveniently ignored. Remember the message of Elihu: "How dare you? You are not God!" These pronouncements didn't hold any more water than Job's friends' arguments did. Neither, now, do the pronouncements of those who claim to know what God thinks, or hates, or demands.
I'm not sure Job ever really existed. Someone wrote this story as a fable to teach people about God - and not the petty, vindictive God that we think the story is about. Apparently, many rabbis disagree, and the story of Job is historically placed after Cain killed Abel and before the tower of Babel, so very early in the timeline of Genesis. Regardless of whether Job was a real person or a fable - a story with a moral - the story teaches us that we are not in charge, and God is a loving God who will see us through whatever trouble we find ourselves in.
“Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding? 21 It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air. 22 Abaddon and Death say, ‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’
23 “God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. 24 For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens. 25 When he gave to the wind its weight, and apportioned out the waters by measure; 26 when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the thunderbolt; 27 then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out. 28 And he said to humankind, ‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:20-28, NRSV)
Job asks where wisdom comes from - I'll give you a hint: it doesn't come from Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. He continues to lament the life he is living and to grieve his losses. He argues with God and demands that God answer him and tell him what he has done to deserve this, because he, Job, can't think of anything he did wrong. Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite of the family of Ram speaks up next - he is angry and basically says to Job and his friends, "Who do you think you are? You aren't God!"
“But in this you are not right. I will answer you:
God is greater than any mortal.
13 Why do you contend against him,
saying, ‘He will answer none of my words’?
14 For God speaks in one way,
and in two, though people do not perceive it. (Job 33:12-14)
And then God speaks. Out of the whirlwind God speaks:
2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone 7 when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings[a] shouted for joy? (Job 38:1-7)
This is only the beginning of God's response to Job. I hope you will read it for yourselves.
Job is humbled:
“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. (Job 42:2-3, NRSV)
God rebukes Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar for not speaking correctly of God to Job, who did speak correctly. God is not at all upset with Job for railing against God and demanding answers - in fact God restores Job's health and prosperity and Job dies "old and full of days."
I think Job is a very, very hopeful book.
I find the "words" of God to be reassuring - someone greater than I, someone who knows the world and how it works, someone who knows every hair on every head, is in charge. God's ways are not my ways, and I must not pretend that they are. Bad things will happen in every life. God does not necessarily cause them to happen - saying we know why they have happened is pretending to understand the mind and ways of God, which are too wondrous for us.
Job suffered, surely, but God did not abandon him. I think that is the "moral" of the fable of Job: bad things will happen and God will see us through.
I think of that hope today. I looked back at my post from last year at this time (you can read it here, if you like). I was hopeful for a vaccine - we have one, now (I've had my booster shot and hope you have or are planning to). I was hopeful for our newly elected President and his administration. I was hopeful that perhaps we were getting a handle on climate change. I was hopeful that racism was being recognized and called out, and that calls for police reform might result in some real change.
Things haven't quite worked out the way I hoped they would. We are still living in a pandemic and a new variant is about to wreak havoc on us. People are still dying, and people are still selfishly refusing to get the vaccine (if you CAN'T get the vaccine, know that I am not talking about you). Some in the media continue to perpetuate lies about COVID and vaccines. We lived through January 6 and our democracy is, I think, still teetering on a precipice of survival - will those who are more interested in power prevail or will our democracy survive? The COP26 summit seems to not have been as effective as many had hoped. Police reform isn't being talked about much anymore, and racism, misogyny and xenophobia continue to spew out of the mouths of some powerful people.
But God has seen this before. We haven't, but God has. God is still in charge. If our fragile human institutions fail it is because of us, not God. It is because of the hubris of some and the inability to think of the many that we are in the situations we are in. God, however, hasn't changed. God remains present with us, working for the good God intends for us.
And so, on this first Sunday of Advent, 2021, I hope. I hope that the light that is coming in the baby Jesus will finally outshine the darkness. I hope that Jesus' messages of love and redemption will finally be heard. I hope that we will finally stop trying to be God and learn to follow God. I will ponder the passages of hope that I find in my Bible, and will spend this week focusing on the hope that I can find. I will express gratitude for the blessings God has bestowed on me, and I will pray that God will bless my family - not because we deserve it any more than anyone else's family, but because praying that prayer does give me a sense of control (even though I have none). As I spend this week preparing for the coming of the Christ child, I will reflect on those who came before us who felt hopeless, and yet found God in the midst of their troubles. I will remember that God has seen all of this before, and I will put my trust, and my hope, in the Lord.
I wish you a blessed Advent, and to my Jewish friends, I hope you will have a festive Hannukah!
Bible Timeline. Bible Hub. Bible Timeline (biblehub.com). Accessed November 28, 2021.
Borg, Marcus J. Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. San Francisco: Harper. 2001. p. 171.
"Job (biblical figure)," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Job_(biblical_figure)&oldid=1056698901. Accessed November 28, 2021.