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.

Keeping Christ in Christmas

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. Ah, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the Holy One of Israel, who are utterly estranged! Why do you seek further beatings? Why do you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds; they have not been drained, or bound up, or softened with oil. Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners. And daughter Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a shelter in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we would have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah.
—Isaiah 1:1-9

Since “X” is the first letter in the Greek word Christos, from which we get the word “Christ,” and since “Xmas” has long been used as shorthand for “Christmas,” I have no problem with the abbreviation. The behavior and attitude of Judah and Jerusalem as described by the prophet, though – yes, I have a problem with that: rebellious, iniquitous, evil, corrupt, despisers of God, and either unaware or uncaring that their actions affect those around them:

Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners. And daughter Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a shelter in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.
—Isaiah 1:7-8, NRSV

All this took place during the reign of four kings of Judah listed by the Gospel writer Matthew as ancestors of Jesus. Uzziah wasn’t a bad king as far as kings go, but he was prideful. His son, Jotham,

…did was right in the sight of the Lord … but the people still followed corrupt practices.
—2 Chronicles 27:2, NRSV

Ahaz was a crook who looted the Temple and Hezekiah was a weakling. Quite the “rogue’s gallery” of rulers.

I could take this opportunity to chastise the leaders of my own government, men and women who frequently exhibit similar poor judgment and flawed character, but that would be too easy – a cheap shot. Instead, in this Advent season and in this week of Hope, I prefer to call on not only those in positions of political power but on everyone to consider how our actions affect our sisters and brothers. My Hope is that we might learn, collectively, that contempt for Creation is akin to despising God; that ignoring the Biblical witness that calls us to compassion, justice, and love of neighbor distances us from the God who loves us; that hoarding riches effectively takes the food from the mouths of the most vulnerable of God’s children; and that the desolation described by Isaiah can be avoided when the survivors… the remnant… learn to work hand in hand to build the righteous realm of God described by Jesus in the Christian Gospels. I have Hope.

I Thirst.

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”  —Matthew 8:20, RSV

I’m used to seeing people sorting through trash cans and dumpsters to find recyclable cans and bottles. I’m not used to seeing someone pull out discarded fast-food soda cups and drink whatever liquid is left inside, but I saw it yesterday. That, my friends, is the desperation of the homeless.

It isn’t easy to get a drink of water if you’re homeless. Those of us who have the luxury of a place to sleep and bathe and wash our clothes can usually walk into a McDonalds or Burger King and ask for a cup of water but homeless people, who are generally grimy and smelly, don’t expect a warm welcome. Michael Hubman has made it his mission to provide drinking water to the homeless population of Los Angeles’ “Skid Row.” He gets it.

Even before I saw the guy on the train platform drinking from someone’s discarded paper cups I was pondering the fact that so many homeless people drink beer, which is one of the reasons a lot of people don’t like to give them money when they see them on the streets. I realized that beer is cheap and filling. If you’re stomach hurts because you haven’t eaten it makes sense (in a heartbreakingly sad way) to buy a 40 ounce malt liquor. It isn’t nutritious but it does quench thirst and fill the belly.

A (not necessarily academic) study done in 2009 in Davis, California included these comments:

  • According to a study in the scientific journal Alcoholism, “[malt liquor] drinkers were more likely to be homeless, to receive public assistance for housing, and to be unemployed.”
  • Researchers at the Prevention Research Center reported in a 2003 study that “The findings of this study suggest that malt liquor use is associated with heavy and problem drinking, other drug use and behavioral problems among community college students.”

I don’t much care for bottled water. It’s wasteful, expensive, environmentally irresponsible and, in most places in the U.S., unnecessary. But I may start carrying it anyway… so I can give it away along with that handful of change.

via “I thirst.