ADVENT: DAY 23
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“For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant. I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbage; I will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools. I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them. They shall be turned back and utterly put to shame—those who trust in carved images, who say to cast images, ‘You are our gods’. Listen, you that are deaf; and you that are blind, look up and see! Who is blind but my servant, or deaf like my messenger whom I send? Who is blind like my dedicated one, or blind like the servant of the LORD? He sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear. The LORD was pleased, for the sake of his righteousness, to magnify his teaching and make it glorious.”—Isaiah 42:14-21
This passage is part of a broader narrative describing the “servant” of the LORD—a covenant to the people, a light to the nations. This is one of those messianic visions that we Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth to have fulfilled. His role as Prince of Peace is explained to the extent that “he will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice” (42:2-3). He is the paragon of the nonviolent actor.
And yet, in the very same chapter we have today’s passage. “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant. I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbage; I will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools.” YHWH is lifting up a nonviolent Messiah but then talks about laying waste to the very earth itself. How does this juxtaposition work?
It makes me think of the Prince of Peace taking up a whip and flipping the tables of the moneychangers and business people in a burst of violent fury.
His methods up to the point and after that point are clearly documented as nonviolent. His greatest challenges to the Empire were examples of strategic nonviolent action. His healings, his exorcisms, his teachings, his choice of friends, his titles, his civil disobedience, and even his acquiescence to martyrdom were strategic nonviolent actions in defiance of the earthly powers.
When he saw the devotees of Mammon, the forces of capitalism, the agents of the Empire exploiting and perpetrating injustice upon the people at the temple, though, he cried out and began to lay waste to their booths. He reached his breaking point when he finally understood the magnitude of injustice his people were facing.
History is full of powerful people preaching the nonviolence of Christ to those without structural power. We have told slaves to obey their ‘masters’ and to live peacefully like Jesus. We have told workers not to strike or picket because doing so enacts violence against the system. We have told protestors that they can only be effective if they are peaceful. We have preached this while waging wars that destroy human lives and the very fabric of creation. We have preached this while maintaining systems of mass oppression.
We must never forget, though, that our God is a God of righteous fury. We must never forget that our Messiah exhibited this righteous fury. When righteous fury bursts forth, it is not “rioting,” “insurgence,” or un-Christian. When fury is truly righteous, it is one of the most Christian of expressions.
BLACK LIVES MATTER!
I know that the savior I wait upon this season would be shouting this, marching in the streets, and laying waste to the system.