God Bless the Child

Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on for ever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name, ‘Righteous Peace, Godly Glory’.
Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look towards the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them.
For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne.
For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.
The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command.
For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.

—Baruch 5:1-9

The Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Eastern churches include Baruch in their Bibles but it’s a Deuterocanonical book; not really part of the Hebrew canon and not quite Christian. As a Protestant Christian I have only occasionally skimmed its text. Still, these verses were familiar to me because the writer saw himself in the tradition of Hebrew prophets – Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah – who also wrote of returning exiles, and Isaiah, who wrote, “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”

Maybe Baruch’s message this Advent season is for those who have lost their young people to drugs or depression or mental illness, to prisons or cemetery plots, or even just to family dysfunction or the pursuit of instant gratification and material wealth. No matter how much we love our children, no matter how hard we try to protect them and teach them right from wrong, we really have no control. Ultimately, they are responsible for themselves. It reminds me of the song made popular by blues singer Billie Holiday:

Them that’s got shall have
Them that’s not shall lose
So the Bible said and it still is news
Mama may have
Papa may have
But God bless the child that’s got his own
That’s got his own

God knows such families need peace of mind. They need the assurance that “the valley of the shadow of death” that has become all too familiar will be filled, lifting them into the light of God’s love. They need the assurance that the mountains they’ve had to climb, gaining a little ground only to continually slide back, can be conquered.

Like those earlier prophets, the message of Baruch is for the nation or the community, not for an individual. Every hurting parent and grandparent wants to believe that her or his child will be restored from whatever exile has claimed it, but the story may not play out for every lost child exactly the way we want it to. Still, there is something to hold onto: See your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them. The good news is that regardless of how far our children may stray from us and from the ways of righteousness, the Holy One is still watching out for them and loving them with an everlasting love. In that assurance may we find peace.

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