The Horrified God
Zeph 3:14-20; Isa 12:2-6; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:7-18
by Isaac Villegas
Dec 16, 2012
“Be silent before the Lord God.” That’s the verse that stuck out to me as I read Zephaniah this week. It comes early in the book, at the beginning: chapter 1, verse 7. “Be silent before the Lord.” That’s where I found myself since Friday, in those simple words, as I’ve tried to figure out what to say today. “Be silent before God.”
The passage from Zechariah assigned for today comes at the end, in chapter 3, the last chapter in the book, after a long prophetic vision of desolation, of land laid waste, of a people scattered, of violence, of sorrow and wailing. After a dizzying story of destruction, there’s a pause in the text, a transition, then we read what we heard today: a call to “Sing aloud,” to “Rejoice and exult with all your heart.” We hear this same call in our passage from Isaiah, “Sing praises to the Lord,” “Shout aloud and sing for joy.” And in Philippians, “Rejoice,” it says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Instead of these words about rejoicing, I’d rather stick with Zechariah 1:7, the verse about silence, not songs of joy and loud praise.
We are people of the book. Through the generations, Christians, along with Jews and Muslims, have been known as people of the book. For us, as the church, we find out who we are, who we are supposed to be, as we read and meditate and discuss our Scriptures. We are committed to gathering around the bible, a book full of stories and poems, full of words, so many words, over a thousand pages of words.
We have so many holy words, but what about holy silence, hallowed stillness? The temptation, for us, as Christians, as people of the book, the temptation for me, is to use all those words in the bible to justify my desire, our desire, to explain catastrophe, to fill the void with pious words, to talk as if we are experts on how the world works, as if we are experts on good and evil, and God. But that’s not what the Christian life is about. We aren’t experts, we are lovers. Christians are lovers. We are people who open our lives to the love of God, to the God who is love, love for the world, for us, for children. We grieve because we love. God grieves because God loves. God is the mother who cries over the death of her children in Connecticut on Friday. God is the father has been sitting with his wounded children in the hospital in China, after the Friday attack on an elementary school in Henan province. God is the mother whose stomach churns at the sight of what her child has done with a gun at Sandy Hook elementary school. God is the father who is sickened by what his grown child has done with a knife at the Chenpeng Village Primary School in China.
“Be silent before the Lord,” silent and still in the presence of the horrified God, the nauseated God — grief-stricken and dumbstruck.
I want to say Advent is a time of silence and stillness, a time to wait and ponder. I think this is true when we wait with the pregnant Mary, when we live by her story. Her story creates in us space to pause, to wait, to wonder — like when she is shocked by an angel who tells her incredible news about the Messiah in her womb, and then departs, leaving her bewildered and alone. But today, on this third Sunday of Advent, we do not have Mary, we have John the Baptist — loud and fierce, not silent, not still.
John tells us to repent, advent is a time for repentance: “Bear fruit worthy of repentance,” he says. If there is any word we need to hear, if there is any word that should disturb our silence, it is John’s word: repentance, a call to stop going down the path that leads to self-destruction, for us, for our society, for the world. Repentance is a kind of stillness, a sudden stillness, a forced stillness, like pulling on the emergency break while driving on the freeway. Repentance is a refusal to keep on going in the same direction. Repentance means stopping, turning around, refusing our habits of sin, habits that contribute to a world of violence, sins of omission, of forgetfulness.
We repent because we have strayed from God’s ways. We repent because we long for the God of life to end our violence, to redeem our world, to heal the wounds of children; we long for nothing less than the resurrection of the dead.
These are promises that I don’t know how to make, promises that I cannot say on my own, promises of hope and resurrection, promises I don’t know how to say because they are about a future that seems so unreal to me, especially today, given this past Friday, given a history full of Fridays like that one, Fridays full of crucifixions.
All I can do is read a few lines from the bible, scriptures that invite us into a hope found after we’ve given up on our words, after we’ve given up on our explanations, a hope found in silence.
I’ll close by reading a few verses from the scriptures we heard today:
God will renew you in love.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.
I will remove disaster from you.
I will save the lame and gather the outcast.
I will bring you home.