Micro Posts: Advent 2020
Imported from Instagram (@ruthie.buescher)
Advent is just around the corner. Do you also feel the heaviness settling in? The culmination of a year of frustration, loss, and grief, sliding into the darkest days of the year. Fraught with complicated family expectations, disappointed plans, and for many of us, a deep sense of aloneness. @bruce.buescher has a gift for conveying that isolated space; this painting does a great job of reflecting the quiet loneliness many of us are feeling.
The waiting is what crushes me—waiting for what is clearly wrong to be put right. I think about the history of waiting that led up to the events of advent; the groaning that happened. Over 400 years of groaning under the yoke of Egypt. 40 years wandering in the desert. Hundreds of years of evil rulers, followed by 70 years of exile. And then, worst of all, 400 years of nothing, not even a prophecy, not a sound. Imagine holding onto the words of Job, who said: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth,” only to wait a thousand years for even a piece of it.
It doesn’t surprise me one bit that when the angel came to Zechariah, he scoffed at him. I cynically lose all faith if I have to wait one week for something—no wonder he wanted proof. Proof that the waiting could actually be over, that the words of the prophets were more than just tradition. Proof that the God who wrought miracles in Sarah and Rachel’s wombs was weaving an even greater miracle in the womb of Mary. That the people who walked in darkness had, indeed, seen a great light, and that the light not only illuminated their darkness but knew and loved each one of them, alone and staring out their windows, wondering if anyone could see their fear and if things could ever be put right again.
In the words of Eric Marshall, who writes the beautiful music of Young Oceans, I’m weary, pacing at these gates. I want to trample on the curses of the earth. Yet I’m shamed and comforted by the example of those who waited through the years. Like Simeon, waiting at the temple, who rejoiced that he could depart in peace because his eyes had finally seen salvation—and he didn’t even live to see the cross. How blessed my position in history is.
One of my favorite things to reflect on during Advent is the five women mentioned in the genealogy of Christ in the book of Matthew. Hebrew genealogies recorded the male line only, so it’s extremely significant that Matthew included the names of women. Not only that, but all of the women mentioned except Mary were gentiles—outsiders who were grafted into the lineage.
The first woman to be spoken of is Tamar, and she has a wild story. Given in marriage to Judah’s eldest son, she was widowed, given to Judah’s second son, and widowed again without conceiving a child. Rather than give her to his third son, Judah considered her cursed and sent her away. Tamar, filled with the conviction that she was meant to carry on Judah’s line, disguised herself as a prostitute and conceived a son by Judah. When he found out she was pregnant and demanded she be put to death, she brought out his staff and seal—means by which he’d paid her—and showed him that she was the one he had slept with. Shamed, Judah claims: “She is more righteous than I.”
Tamar’s story, and her inclusion in the genealogy, fill me with hope. I get Tamar. I too am a woman who too often will go to any length to get what I believe is due to me. And yet God brought fruit from her actions: she is elevated and honored, a woman who played a key role in the coming of Emmanuel. Jerram Barrs writes that she, a Canaanite woman, was “a woman who was more faithful in her sense of responsibility to God, to his law, and to her family than was Judah himself.”
God brought his kingdom—the Lion of Judah—through a woman who was lied to, shunned, and desperate. I can see her crouching under that staff and seal, knowing they were the only things that could save her. They’re still the only things that can save us—the staff of the great shepherd and the seal he has placed upon us to mark us as his own. Rod of Jesse, come quickly, that like Tamar we might see your promises bear fruit and stand proudly in the lineage of faith.
Rahab is the second woman mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ. Like Tamar, the church hasn’t always known how to deal with her story, but the Bible itself is clear: she is a woman to be honored.
Rahab is spoken of five times in the Bible. Her story begins in the book of Joshua, when the Israelites, who have been wandering for 40 years, come to the land God promised them and begin to make plans to take possession of it. Rahab, a prostitute, hides the Hebrew spies from those who wish to harm them, and in return she asks that they spare her and her family when they come back to conquer the city. She has heard of the God of the Israelites and exults him with a joyous speech about his mighty works. It’s a moving proclamation of God’s power from the lips of a woman who is an outsider, displaying a devotion and sureness many Israelites themselves didn’t possess.
Over the centuries the church has been squeamish about the fact that Rahab was a prostitute in a way the Bible itself never is. Not only is Rahab named in the genealogy of Christ, she is spoken of twice in the New Testament as a hero of the faith (in Hebrews and in James, where she is mentioned alongside Abraham.) The Bible is not bothered by her past because it knows what we often forget—that biblical characters are not there primarily to be emulated, but rather to show God’s faithfulness to those he loves, despite their deeds or stories.
The fact that Rahab, who was an outsider and a prostitute, is lifted up alongside Abraham, the father of the Hebrew faith, is an example of the unique grace and glory of Christianity. Rahab, a woman who longed desperately to be given a place among the people of God, was not just given a home and a family, she was also given a primary role in bringing salvation to earth. She is the mouthpiece of God’s glory and the reminder of his promise: that no matter who we are, how we have been abused or taken advantage of, no matter how others see us, we are cherished and known by the God who makes us his people. May we never forget Rahab’s words of longing and her sure confidence in the might and goodness of a God who upholds his promises and brings his people home.
The next woman in the genealogy is Ruth. She is my namesake, and my parents even gave me the middle name Charity as an illustration of one of Ruth’s attributes.
The book of Ruth begins with the story of an Israelite who travels to Moab and marries his sons to Moabite women. When the man and both sons die, his widow Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to return to their fathers’ houses, but out of love for Naomi and Naomi’s God, Ruth refuses. Instead she travels back to Israel with Naomi and works from sunup to sundown trying to scrape together food for the two of them. Her devotion leads to a happy ending—Ruth ends up in the field of a man named Boaz who takes notice of her courage, and eventually marries her. He is a descendant of Rahab, and I like to think that his ancestress’s story had something to do with his ability to value a woman who was a friendless outsider.
There is much to celebrate in Ruth’s story. Her faithfulness and strength are inspiring. The loveliness of Boaz’s affection for Ruth and the way he treats her with honor contrast sharply with the awful stories in the book of Judges, which immediately precede the book of Ruth. Judges makes clear that this was a lawless time in the history of Israel and recounts a litany of heinous crimes, many committed against women. It was when I listened to the @jenwilkin Judges study that the full weight of Ruth’s story really hit me, because Wilkin emphasizes that the events of both books run parallel to each other. The hope-filled story of Ruth happens during the years of chaos and abuse, not after them.
I find that profoundly comforting, because it reveals how even in the worst of times God is quietly building his kingdom, steadily working in small ways. And he is working amidst the sorrow and pain of this year. It’s hard for me to see how, but I am sure that his work continues unhindered. When awful things happen, nearby or across the globe, and it feels hopeless, I think of Ruth picking up grain in a field, oblivious to how God would use her life to bring life to the world, oblivious to how her small story was a ray of hope for the people walking in darkness, who would one day see that great light.
The fourth woman in the genealogy is Bathsheba, although she is not mentioned by name. Matthew calls her “the wife of Uriah,” alluding to the account of King David’s crimes.
Bathsheba’s story is heartbreaking. Happily married to Uriah, a commander in David’s army, she is seen by the king and lusted after. While Uriah is away at war, David sends for her and forces her to sleep with him, and when she becomes pregnant, David sends her husband to the front lines to be killed. Bathsheba is then forced to live in David’s palace (which was, by all subsequent Biblical accounts, a truly wretched place) and become the wife of her husband’s murderer. In addition, the first child she bears to David dies in infancy.
What strikes me most about Bathsheba is her silence. Throughout the story she does not say a word, other than to tell David that she is pregnant. At first I was bothered by this, and bothered by her roundabout mention in the genealogy. But the more I’ve pondered it, the more I can see a purpose behind her voicelessness. She, like many women who are victims, had her voice taken from her. Powerless to stop what was happening to her, she was muted, her sorrow seemingly unseen. Her silence is representative of the countless other women who have lived stories like hers.
A while back my brother @__snoked__ shared with me a beautiful essay he wrote about what he calls, “Our singing savior.” He quotes Zephaniah 3:17, which says that Christ: “will rejoice over you with singing.” When I think about Bathsheba’s silence, I think about Jesus singing over her, and singing for all who have had their voices taken from them by the sin and misery of this world. I think about him gently placing her in the line that led to his nativity, because he did see her pain, and he would not stand to let it go unseen. He saw the injustice that had been done to her and to others like her, and he continued his strong, fierce song of love--a song that he continues to sing over each one of us even now. He is singing over you; he is singing over me. He will keep singing over us until the day we are able to lift our own voices to join him in his chorus of abundance.
The fifth woman is, of course, Mary. But there is a sixth woman who, though not mentioned by name, is present throughout.
The second verse of “In the Bleak Midwinter” reads: “Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain / Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign / In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed.” Mary, feeling her round stomach in the darkness of night, must have trembled as she pondered how the God of all might and power, the one who had to cover Moses with his hand as he passed by so that his glory would not destroy him, could be contained within her womb. Her blood pumping into the God who transcends time, her nutrients nourishing the one who created life. The one who had formed her body, allowing her to take part in forming his.
The sixth woman is Eve, hovering in the background of not just the genealogy but of the entire Bible. Standing in the garden, shamed and about to be exiled, how could Eve have known what God meant when he said that her offspring would crush the head of the serpent? How could she have guessed that God would take away her sin by humbling himself to the point of putting on her own flesh?
I think Eve knew, deep in her bones, how bad things on earth would get, and she must have known that no ordinary descendant could have the power to reverse the curse she and Adam had brought upon the world. But how could she have foreseen the moment when God showed a sky full of stars to Abraham; the luminous burning bush; the lamb slaughtered and under whose blood the Hebrews sheltered, whispering a prayer that God would pass over them. How could she have foreseen the breadth of the stories God wove together, grafting in men and women who were outcasts, who were lied to, who sinned and broke faith, who were friendless and downtrodden. From Eve to Mary, each was given the same message: Do not be afraid. The Lord is with you.
The Lord is with us, and his work is both complete and continuing. To us, a people who are broken, bound, and searching, a child is born, and he is the Prince of Peace. We are given the privilege of laying both our burdens and our adoration at his feet.
All art by @bruce.buescher