I know I am in the habit of saying that you should definitely go to church. Wake up! I say on Sunday mornings. Don’t neglect the gathering of the faithful. You need to hear the sermon and take communion and go down for coffee hour and try to get to know the other people who are mucking along in the slough of despond or whatever it’s called. But I guess I probably don’t often think very carefully about what sort of churches you, Dear Reader, might be choosing from. It’s very easy for me to say, “Go to church,” from the comfort of my theologically sound, not cringe at all pew where I get to sing actual hymns and nobody is rewriting creeds and scriptures to suit their own ideological fancy. We don’t sing Kumbaya, and though there is the guy who sometimes wanders in off the street during the sermon to kneel in front of the pulpit because he is drunk out of his mind, we don’t let him stand up and take over the preaching time. Instead, we invite him gently downstairs for a strong cup of coffee, some food, and a prayer, if he will stand it. So anyway, I don’t want to be alarmist, but it’s possible that the end is nigh:
And then, just in case you aren’t cringing enough:
All of that is so awful, but if I have to narrow it down, I think my favorite is the bit in the center of the Cringe Advent Compilation where a friendly, certainly well-meaning blond lady’s theological wondering takes an astonishing turn:
And what if God, scanning the planet, knows all of the people of various ages, in different countries, and what if God knocks on their doors, with so-called Gabriel and says, “Hey, I’ve got a beautiful way for you to fix this community problem, or solve climate crisis, and so on and so forth.” All the stories of the Bible are not just something that might have happened, but what they mean for us today, and maybe what they mean for us today is that you too have a metaphorical dream baby, something that God wants to bring forward in your life.
I mean, who among us doesn’t want a “metaphorical dream baby,” whatever that is…if only there were some way to know if this could be true. If only there were some way to approach the Bible to make it make sense. But the stakes, if you do that, are quite high. If God is real and not so shrouded in ineffable light that you can’t actually just impute to him all of your ill-considered desires, you might discover yourself to be, how shall I put it without being offensive—wrong about a lot of things. If God is real, and worse, knowable then you might owe him something. It might not be good for you just to make stuff up, to get into a pulpit or get online and say whatever your heart tells you. And if you were to persist in saying whatever you wanted, you would end up, eventually, in grave danger.
But maybe you are not a bad preacher. Maybe you are just an ordinary person who is thinking about church, and is, rightly, a little bit afraid of the idea of a real God who has power. Would you want to know what he was really saying? Your whole world might be upended. Would you be able to stand it?
If you go to church, where will you go? If you were able to find an actual physical, embodied, in-person location where someone took on the awful responsibility of making sure the lections for the morning were read aloud, and then exposited in some less embarrassing fashion than what we have displayed here, you would hopefully discover three interesting things about God from the texts for the day.
The first is that God not only created the cosmos—the heavens and the earth—but continues to organize them according to his own inclinations:
5 Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord,
your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!
6 For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord?
Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord,
7 a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones,
and awesome above all who are around him?
8 O Lord God of hosts,
who is mighty as you are, O Lord,
with your faithfulness all around you?
9 You rule the raging of the sea;
when its waves rise, you still them.
10 You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
11 The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours;
the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.
The north and the south, you have created them;
Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
13 You have a mighty arm;
strong is your hand, high your right hand.
14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
Here is no metaphorical dream baby. Rather, God rules over the details of your daily life from a cosmic angle. He could come and knock on each and every door, but he wouldn’t be looking to you for any particular wisdom about how to fix your intractable community problems. He can handle it with his own strong hand and mighty arm. You need to get onto his page, not the other way around.
Second, you would discover that God, though he rules over the heavens and the earth and all that in them dwell, he is concerned that you discover who he is in his own right. To that end, because you had sinned and fallen short of his glory, he sent his Servant who is no metaphor, no dream in your heart, nothing that you conjured up. Quite the other way around. He was always there, and he always had a plan to put things right. Indeed, he will rule over you, because otherwise you will continue to make a mess of everything:
19 Of old you spoke in a vision to your godly one, and said:
“I have granted help to one who is mighty;
I have exalted one chosen from the people.
20 I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him,
21 so that my hand shall be established with him;
my arm also shall strengthen him.
22 The enemy shall not outwit him;
the wicked shall not humble him.
23 I will crush his foes before him
and strike down those who hate him.
24 My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him,
and in my name shall his horn be exalted.
25 I will set his hand on the sea
and his right hand on the rivers.
26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father,
my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’
27 And I will make him the firstborn,
the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 My steadfast love I will keep for him forever,
and my covenant will stand firm for him.
29 I will establish his offspring forever
and his throne as the days of the heavens.
Third, this Servant isn’t someone who will crush you, especially if you search for him and, when you have found him, ask him for help:
Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.
And all this before you wake up and thrash around trying to figure out if you can actually make it into a pew or a cushy seat before the singing is over. Before Jesus steps into the murky Jordan to sink down under its hot eddies and rise up, soaked in the sins of the whole world. Before he steps out to bear the weight of them to the cross, to separate you from the destruction of death as far as the east is from the west. Before the sky opens up and the Dove descends and the Father announces to all creation how pleased he is in the Son.
Which probably means we can go a while longer as lots more churches shut their doors, or beclown themselves by preaching lies and anti-gospels. But you don’t have to go to them. You can beat back the discouragement and search out true Christians who want to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, who want to confess their sins and receive the astonishing steadfast love of the Savior. Hope to see you there!
Photo by Eduardo Soares on Unsplash