Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 353: Zechariah 7-8; Psalm 137; Mark 15

Remembering the Valley on a Mountaintop Sort of Day
A few days ago, as we were sitting down to morning prayer, we got to talking about the timing of the Bible Challenge. The "read the Bible in one year" plan coupled with our start day (Feast of the Epiphany, this year), has our experience of the Mark's Passion on the very day when we are called to celebrate Jesus' birth. It's a hard dichotomy: a celebration of new beginnings, the fulfillment of Covenant over and against the ultimate rejection and destruction of that human vessel of reconciliation between God and humanity in the horrific death perpetrated on that Mother's Son.

As with most difficult challenges in Scripture, though, I am beginning to see it as a profound blessing. Why is Christmas so important to us? Not just for the fact that "unto us a child is born...." No, it is more than that. Something remarkable is happening in the context of God's walk with humanity. If we accept the birth of the messiah, of the Son of Man, of the One who is to come....then we must concomitantly accept his death as the completion of that new life's arc in our midst. A human life is never finished is finished. Then, and only then can we begin to put into context what that life held in terms of meaning, its sum. If we are to seek and celebrate the mountain top experiences, like Christmas, then we also have to fully embrace the valleys, like Good Friday.

I know what "happy" feels like, because I know "sad." I know "joy" because I know "grief." I know "gain" because I know "loss." These are the polarities that give us a reference point, a place to stand as we acknowledge the holy in our midst.

The prophet Zechariah sees a vision of Joshua, the high priest. He is rejected, worn down, beaten and in rags. He is rejected...and yet it is in that moment that God calls for his restoration, his cleansing, his elevation and anointing for service in the restored Temple. That is the prime example of God's radical love for Israel, for Jerusalem...for us...that we should not ever know rejection forever. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...." Right?

Still, what more powerful witness could we ask for, could anyone require of God, than that God should love the world enough to come to us not only in joy, but also in our despair, sorrow and grief. God is active there as much as anywhere there is light, warmth and contentment. "By the waters of Babylon, we wept," sings the Psalmist. We hung up our harps in the trees. We tried to forget, because remembering hurt too much. Our agony was made worse when our captors told us to sing our "happy" songs. Would that our hands would forget their strength before we forget you, Zion!

On Christmas, more perhaps than on an other day, we should remember that beneath every mountaintop there is a valley of shadows...and above every valley, there is a sun (son) drenched hillside promising comfort and relief. We just have to get a little more comfortable with the journey we are continually taking between the two.

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