Saturday, December 18, 2010

O-Antiphons- O Adonai

Welcome to the second installment of the O-Antiphons series. Yesterday, we talked about Wisdom, the Logos and creation, today we'll talk about might. burning bushes and salvation.

O Adonai, et dux domus Israel,
qui Moyse in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

In this antiphon, we find ourselves returning to one of God's great saving acts in history- Moses and the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. We begin with the burning bush on Mt. Horeb(Exodus 3) and the commission of Moses as the leader who would lead Israel from bondage in Egypt into freedom. We move quickly onto Mt. Sinai, where the law was handed down amid the cloud and the fire of God's presence in the centre of it all. Both of these events are affirmations of God's power in their own right, but they also book-end among the most spectacular examples of God's might in the defence of Israel in the whole Old Testament. From the plagues in Egypt, to the destruction of the Pharaoh's army amid the parting of the Red Sea and the coming of the manna from heaven, we find God using the natural world to overcome Israel's oppressors and to save the people with whom He had made a covenant with in the days of Abraham. Here we find the power implicit in the action of creation being wielded and made manifest in the world of humanity.

This kind of thing, of course, makes Christians uncomfortable, partly because we see God taking sides in history as just code for the 'holy wars' which plague the history of the people called by the Prince of Peace and partly because we find God's power so overwhelming. Like the ancient Israelites, we fear even putting our hand on the mountain in case we die from such direct contact with God's might (Exodus 19,12). Besides, doesn't the smoke and fire on Mt. Sinai produce the Law and aren't we Christians all about grace, not law? How can this evocation of the Exodus story matter to Christians, who, in this post-Holocaust world, have turned their back of triumphalism and coercion in the name of religion?

Yet, what the Exodus story meant to the Jews was that it was a story of salvation par excellence. Completely unexpectedly, God took an oppressed and powerless people and raised them up in order to make them a priestly people, to whom all the other nations would come to worship the one and true God. Here is God's saving intervention in history- one of several which, in the Christian view, would culminate in the God becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ. Just as God saved the people of Israel, Jesus Christ, through his life, death and resurrection, will save all humanity from the sin and death that was a natural outcome of its rebellion against its own Creator.

Of course, in the New Testament, that power is oddly hidden. After all, didn't the all-powerful God become a helpless babe in arms? Wasn't He executed like a common criminal without barely any resistance whatsoever? As we read more deeply into the Christian story, we find that this apparent weakness will prove to be the power which breaks the power of sin and the death in the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus' resurrection will prove to be the beginning of the end for death and for evil because it proved that God, even in the weakness of the incarnated Jesus, can't be bound by death, but, rather, bursts forth into life with all the intensity which lies behind the creation of the world. Jesus not only gives us an example of how to resist sin and evil in the world, but He gives us the power to do it and the hope to defeat death in our bodily resurrection. And that is the power of God's weakness. What does his strength look like?

If we take Revelation seriously, we'll find that out one of these days. The promise of the Second Coming is, of course, a fraught issue as Christians debate the merits of pre- or post-millenialism, the Rapture and the value of biblical prophecy. I really don't want to get into those debates, but what Jesus taught us is that He will return to set the world right once and for all. Then, God's power will be on display and nothing will stand against it. We justly worry about what all this means and we also justly worry about those who try to anticipate that time or try to hurry it along. Very few things are as deadly as violence backed by religious delusion. We are right to be on our guard.

Yet, if we believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, good and loving, should we, also, not trust that this God's power will be used not only effectively, but justly? Is not God's might, by definition, just? Is not the Wisdom of God the most important guarantor of the just use of God's might? How can we fail to trust God's power, when we believe God to be good? And if God is good, can He fail to use his power to drive out evil from the world he created and restore goodness and life?

So, we look for the ultimate act of salvation- the restoration of God's universe and the return of humanity to its place in it. We can count on Jesus to have the wisdom to know what to do, but He must have the power and might to do it. As Christians, we trust that power and might will be used for good because of the God we serve. The vision of what that kingdom would look like is the subject of the next antiphon.

Veni, Veni, Adonai,
qui populo in Sinai legem dedisti
vertice in maiestate gloriae.

O Come, O Come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai's height
in ancient times didst give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.


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