First of all, I would just like to say that as much as I have been talking about not buying clothes I bought some over Thanksgiving. Ann Taylor Loft had everything 40% off, and I was in a sort of panic because we were in the big city (fancy suburb outside of D.C. as opposed to Beaufort, NC, where the nearest Barnes and Noble and Target are over an hour away….), and I bought a sweater and two shirts. Yes I did. I tried to tell myself that I needed them for work, that never would there be such a sale again, that it didn’t matter what kind of terrible labor practices allow the store to sell their clothes so cheaply, etc. And as much as I rant about the environment I throw plenty of junk in the trash can every day. My point is, that mostly when I write I am writing to remind myself, not because I have somehow transcended the allure of new clothes, face cream, and soup-in-a-cup…..
So, Advent. The Psalter reading for the week (at least according to here— not sure if this is the calendar that all churches follow?) is Psalm 72. The entire Psalm seems composted of little snippets of blessing or hope that begin “May he…” So, “May he judge your people with righteousness… May he defend the cause of the poor of the people… May he be like the rain that falls on the mown grass…” (The NIV says “He will…” rather than “May he…” in all of these verses).
I wish my Hebrew was good enough to understand the verbs a little better, but I think the difference between the NIV and the ESV indicates that prominent Bible scholars can’t agree on the exact voice indicated here. I like the slight note of uncertainty tucked within the verb “may.” This word, “may,” seems to hold to a hope that is unsure but longed for, not deserved but proclaimed and sung.
The season of Advent calls us to this kind of hope, hope that may even seem foolish in the face of the Real World (The Last Battle, anyone?), but a hope that isn’t separate from the world. Not a detached, beamed-up (ok, we have been watching some Star Trek recently), ethereal hope, but a hope that was pushed into a pile of hay by the labor pains of a young woman. Hope born of blood and smelling of manure. Dark-skinned hope.
The penultimate “may” in the Psalm is this: “May people be blessed in him/all nations call him blessed” (v. 17)! And the last one: ” May the whole earth be filled with his glory” (v. 19)! A universal hope! Yet the verse linking these two is: “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things” (v. 18). The spreading of his glory to “all nations” and “the whole earth” hinges on God’s identity as the God of Israel. A universal hope tied to a very particular God. So the hope of the nations is in the God of Israel, the God of the Jews. With all of our caucasian manger scenes, our little peach skinned Jesuses with blond hair, with our Americanization of Christianity let us not forget that the savior who gives us Hope is foreign to us. We are strangers and aliens to the covenant (Eph 2:12). So let’s cling to hope, not as though we are entitled to it, but as though it is strange, undeserved. A welcome where we should have been turned away at the door. A feast where we should have been given crumbs. A gift.