Archive for April 1st, 2023

Nehemiah 9: Confession – Part II

Saturday, April 1, 2023

As we prepare for Palm Sunday and the coming celebration of Easter, we return to some Christmastide meditations from 2011.

Yesterday we understood the dichotomy of Christ’s birth story. Today we visit a chapter in the life of Israel that invites us to explore its two-sided story, a chapter of flight and return. 

The Israelites gather to pray in unison with their priest Ezra, and as they begin their confession they recognize the great dichotomy that is their life: It is you, O Lord, you are the one; you made the heavens, the highest heavens and all their host, the earth and all that is upon it, the seas and all that is in them.  To all of them you give life, and the heavenly hosts bow down before you . . . These promises of yours you fulfilled for you are just . . . But they, our fathers, proved to be insolent; they held their necks stiff and would not obey your commandments.  They . . . no longer remembered the miracles you had worked for them.  They stiffened their necks and turned their heads . . . but you are a God of pardons, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in mercy; you do not forsake them. 

These people whose fathers and mothers were deported to foreign lands and ruled by pagan rulers comprehend that their cold hearts and stiff necks took them into darkness. They also understand that their God is so loving and compassionate that despite their own shallowness and fickle ways, they may confess and ask for forgiveness. We might wonder how many of us would forgive such a people. As soon as they had relief, they would go back to doing evil in your sight . . . they were insolent and would not obey your commandments . . . they turned stubborn backs, stiffened their necks, and would not obey.  You were patient with them for many years . . . you did not forsake them, for you are a kind and merciful God. 

The Israelites have suffered to the point of exhaustion and in their extremity they recognize that they have no place to turn but to God. They recognize the dichotomy of the goodness and weakness in their lives; and they also recognize God’s immense generosity in welcoming them home. We see this same dichotomy of extremes in the Christmas story. When God comes to us as a babe born in a stable to a family that must move into exile, it is easier for us to confess as the Israelites do. When God comes to us a child welcomed by shepherds and wise men but also hunted by kings, it is easier for us to believe that God understands the dichotomy in our own lives.

It may seem a great irony that we seek protection and sustenance from our God who comes to us as a vulnerable child needing shelter and care; yet how well this reflects the divergence we experience in our own lives. How odd this seems at the outset and yet after reflection, how fitting.

Image from: https://allacin.blogspot.com/2015/07/ezraan-illustrated-summary-of-life.html

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