As you could probably tell from my last two posts, I am looking at Christmas completely different this year. One of the themes that the Spirit keeps bringing to mind is the miracle of the moment that Christmas represents: Jesus stepping into his creation to set the ball in motion for his taking on the sin of the world and making us right with God. This theme has two parts for me: the obvious Gospel connection, but the other side of it is God’s relationship with Israel and how Jesus birth turned that relationship on its head.
Jesus birth heralded the breaking of the silence between God and his chosen people. The story of the Bible is the story of God’s relationship with humankind. This relationship is personified in his relationship with the Israelites. He chose a people to be his own. A people to allow him to give a real picture of who he is, a loving and merciful God who, though he is holy, he is also compassionate and forgiving. He would allow this people to trust him and prove that he can be trusted. A people that will make him angry, but that he will always accept with open arms if they would just turn back to him in trust. It is this picture that will eventually apply to all people that trust in his son, Jesus.
A part of any relationship is communication and a give and take. The history of the Hebrew people and their relationship to God is more of a take relationship. They take while God gives. God is patient, but broken trust led to hardships for Israel. I was working on a brief and abridged history of the Old Testament, but it got too long to put in this post. I will probably make it a seperate post to refer to in other posts, but the theme that stood out to me as I was writing it was this:
- God blesses Abraham and his family.
- Abraham and his family accept the blessing.
- God tells them how to trust him and prove their trust.
- Abraham and family move outside of this.
- God gets angry, but moves out of compassion to their aid.
- There is a broken relationship and a silence.
- Abraham and his family deals with consequences because of their lack of trust.
- They cry out to God.
- God hears them and moves.
- Relationship is restored.
- The cycle repeats.
Now, the thing that happens over time is that the more people there are among the Israelite people, the bigger the broken trust becomes. The bigger the broken trust, the bigger the broken relationship. The bigger the consequences, the bigger the cry to God. The bigger the cry, the more God moves miraculously to their aid. The bigger the move to their aid, the deeper the relationship becomes.
There are two times in Old Testament history that the broken relationship and silence is the biggest, and the first one is early on. It is the gap of time between Joseph and Moses. The best that I can see, after God rescues Jacob’s family from the edge of extinction during the famine there is a time in which there is very little movement between God and the Israelites…at least none that we are privy to. As far as the cause of this, all I can figure out is that Jacob constantly tried to live the relationship with God and God’s promises to him on his own terms. His sons seem to be the same way. Even Joseph is pretty prideful before he is sold as a slave (it is only thing to have a dream in which your family bows down to you, it is something else to brag to them about it). This pride in the family was probably a pretty major breach of trust that needed to be broken to deepen the relationship.
So, there is nearly a 400 year silence. This is broken when Moses, the one who was exiled from both Pharoh’s family and the Israelites and was now living in the wilderness with “unchosen” members of Abraham’s family as a shepherd, was tending flocks and God spoke to him through a burning bush. No wonder he was afraid to be God’s spokesperson! Not only was he really not an invited member of Abraham’s family, he was sent to claim that God was now ready to repair the relationship with people who felt abandoned by him! This a major break in silence!
And through the story of the Exodus, God moved in a major way to repair a major rift in the relationship with his people. Though this cycle of broken relationship happened over and over again in the wilderness, the relationship really was a lot deeper afterwards. However, with this came bigger and bigger movements of lack of trust on the part of the Hebrews. This moved them and God further and further apart.
The story of God’s people once they settled in the “promised land” is a constant recycling of the broken trust circle of life. God’s warnings became more and more severe, but his moves of compassion became bigger and bigger, as well. Eventually, the broken trust led God to allow his warnings to become reality and his people were taken from the land he gave them. It was during this time that God kept sending people to warn that there would be a major break in relationship if they did not turn back in complete trust to him…but he also kept promising a future in which the relationship would be completely restored by a coming King…his chosen servant who would make everything right forever between God and his people.
After God heard the cried of the exiled Israelites, he brought them back to Israel. He saved them, but they had to deal with the consequences. After over 1000 years of deepened relationship between God and his people, God went silent again. Their pride and arrogance caused a lack of trust that broke the relationship. Remember, the deeper the relationship, the deeper and darker the silence becomes. During this time, Israel was never truly free. Captive to several nations. It was another 400 year silence, but this one was worse. Israel lost their place as God’s blessed nation. The people sought God, but God did not send any more messengers. I can not even imagine this, as the citizen of a country less than 300 years old and as someone who has God’s Spirit with me constantly. I don’t have words to describe what this silence must have been like (no pun intended).
Religion became ritual. People used it for power. Commoners believed in God but did not understand him. The scriptures were read, but not comprehended. God was a part of their culture, but not an intregal part of their lives.
This was the silence that was broken by the cry of a baby. Shouts from angels to sleepy shepherds ended God’s broken communication. Visions and dreams were given again. A supernatural star broke the monotony of the same nightime scenery seen for 400 years.
A baby broke the silence. The chosen one had come. God’s annointed one would repair the relationship between God and man forever. And he laid in a cattle feeding trough being watched by a carpenter and his wife along with dirty shepherd and animals probably marked for sacrafice.
It came upon a midnight clear…and the silence was broken once and for all.
Father, Jesus, and Spirit, thank you for breaking the silence. Thank you for repairing the relationship. Thank you for allowing me to be accepted by you. Please help my trust to be real and my love to be true. Your son and dependent, Joe.