O Lord

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

JMJ

The first antiphon spoke of the Wisdom of God which can seem abstract, unless you know the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. The second antiphon is far less abstract. This one uses a title of God in the Old Testament, and highlights what may have been missing if the first antiphon was left to stand on its own. He who is coming at Christmas is God. Adonai.

Since we speak of God the Word, the Christian tradition has held that anytime God speaks in the Old Testament, it has been God the Word that was heard, the Second Person of the Trinity. So this verse speaks of Jesus as the one “who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai.” Jesus is not only the Word of God, he is also the only Word ever spoken.

“By him were all things made” says St John. “And without him was not anything made that has been made.” Thomas Aquinas, following the Fathers, teaches that God is the Essence and Being Subsisting, “Deus est ipsum esse per se subsistens. God’s essence is his Being, his being is his Essence. The all others participate in Being because of God, we have essence because of our relationship to God.

This is the God who comes to us at Christmas.

And this is why his coming is so inspiring of our Love: what do you know of babies? They are weak? Yes, the almighty God became weak for love of us. The outstretched arm that comes to save us shivers in the cold and can only clasp a finger. They are helpless? Yes, the defender of Israel became helpless, the provider of all needing a mother’s breast, the warmth of her arms, the protection of a father. Babies are not only unlearned but they are not yet able to learn at all. The synapses of their brain are not yet even formed to fire. The Word that spoke all things into being cannot even form words to speak. The wisdom behind all things cannot even think thoughts. How is this possible?

Love makes it so. The humility of God the Son before the plans of the Father makes it so. Yet I cannot understand it, how the Majesty of Supernal Radiance can leap silently into the arms of a human woman to mess his own diapers, to teethe and to suffer the embarrassment of acne and school yard bullies. How is God so in love with us that he would do this?

And yet we offer only scorn in return and he takes that too. If you hold out a finger you will feel how strong his hands are. Adonai.

O Adonai

+JMJ+

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

The way the last Antiphon connected with the 12 Steps drew me back again today as I mediated on O Adonai. I see an overlap in Step Three, and then Steps Four and Five tie in nicely.
  • 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  • 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
“Adonai” is the word used in place of the Divine name. The implication here is an invocation of YHVH, the One who Is, “I AM, That I AM”. God as we understand him – do any of us understand God? Personally, I find great comfort in the phrase “The one who is”, or “the Existing One” as it is sometimes translated. It’s a curious phrase when heard out of context – ie, without the understanding of its source. I heard it a lot in Eastern liturgy before I understood what it means. May “The one who is” or “the existing one” or “the Great I AM” bless us. And, in the liturgical context, as in this Antiphon, that title was applied to Jesus. This Jesus, the Great I AM, is he whose incarnation appeared in type to Moses in the Burning Bush: the Fire of Divinity moving in concert with the flesh of humanity.
Ultimately, the only way to understand God – as with any person – is to enter into conversation with that person. As God called Moses into fellowship at the Burning Bush, so God calls us (all humanity) into Fellowship in the incarnation of Jesus. Some images of Mary holding Jesus in her arms are called icons of The Burning Bush.
The traditional (Eastern and Western) understanding of the actions of God in the Jewish Scriptures are that they are actions of the Son through whom the Father acts: the Son is the Creator. The Son is the one who walked with Adam in the cool of the evening; and the Son is the one whom Jacob saw above the ladder, etc. This method of Reading Jesus back into the Hebrew Scriptures is confusing to some but entirely based on the faith that Jesus is the Promised One. This is God as we understand him in the only way we have – ie in God’s revelation to us.
And this Jesus is the one revealed the Law on Mt Sinai.
“Making a searching and fearless moral inventory” is not about legalism: it is about realising that I am weak. One of the cool tools available for us in the Christian tradition (East and West) is the practice of fasting and abstaining from certain foods at certain times. It’s not because these foods are evil, per se, or even “unclean”. The whole point is to train the body to do what is wanted, rather than to constantly give into cravings or promptings to indulge. The revelation of the law on Mt Sinai, even though it can give rise to microscopic legalisms (see following) is, essentially, a training programme as Paul says.
But as we’re “making a search and fearless moral inventory” we need to hear the voice of Grace. The first rule of fasting and abstinence is not to (eg) avoid meat on Fridays, but rather to eat all things sat before you with thanksgiving to God.
I remember once sitting in Fr Victor’s dining room during a fasting period. Matushka Barbara made us coffee and sat it down with heavy cream. I asked for creamer… and got a loving lesson in hospitality from the two of them.
Once, during Lent, a woman brought lox to a church supper and I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to eat it or not. What I did do was judge her for bringing the fish.
The law revealed on Sinai is a temptation to get hung up on pork and shrimp, sex, and clothing styles. The law is a temptation to judge others for their lack of keeping or their imperfections in keeping.
But the law – the “searching and moral inventory” – is only applicable in the first person. I am the only sinner I know.
Once during Advent someone brought me a plate of deviled eggs over which I worried rather a lot. I thought about giving the eggs away, but I ended up serving them at dinner and I ate one. I mentioned this to my confessor (Fr. David) who told me, “I never want to hear anything about food in confession again.”
To make a sin out of something that is no sin at all is to trip up on legalism. We can not admit “to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs” if we are straining at legal gnats or swallow planks of mumbo jumbo. We cannot admit “our wrongs” if we’re hung up on judging others. This is actually one place where I depart from many modern sorts of Rehab that are willing to blame parents (for “spoiling” the child or for abusing her), friends or family (for enabling) – and to judge them for it. I can’t confess the wrongs of my friends or family – nor can I judge them for such.
When I hold myself (and only myself) up to the code of Law revealed to Moses on Sinai, I’m without excuse: for I have failed on every point – especially the two important codes to Love God and Love Neighbour. I have no excuse or prayer in this matter but to beg for redemption.

The Same God.



Today’s readings: 

  • Isaiah 7:10-14
  • Romans 1:1-7
  • Matthew 1:18-24

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other Mass texts.

Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in bracchio extento. 
Alleluia Verse for 18 Dec

I’m cheating a little and leading with the verse for the Date instead on on something from the 4th Sunday in Advent. The verse (as it will be for much of the week) is a condensed version of the text from Vespers.

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstreched arm.

This is the same God. There are some who want to imagine sort of a judgy God in the Old Testament and then Jesus now. Some don’t want to go so far as to say Jesus is God, mind you, but he’s certainly better than the judgy God in the older parts of the Bible. They miss the point. This is the same God.

This is from a letter written by Pope St Leo the Great (reg. 440-461 AD) it was part of the Office of Readings for yesterday in the Roman Rite:

No doubt the Son of God in his omnipotence could have taught and sanctified men by appearing to them in a semblance of human form as he did to the patriarchs and prophets, when for instance he engaged in a wrestling contest or entered into conversation with them, or when he accepted their hospitality and even ate the food they set before him. But these appearances were only types, signs that mysteriously foretold the coming of one who would take a true human nature from the stock of the patriarchs who had gone before him. 

It was the pre-eternal Son of God walking the Garden with Adam, Feasting with Abraham, rescuing Lot, wrestling with Jacob. It was the hand of the Son of God inscribing the law on the Tablets for Moses and on the wall in the King’s palace for Daniel to read. It was the Word of God, not yet come as Messiah, who created the world and all that is in it, and he who spoke from the burning bush.

And it was he who rained fire on Sodom, who drowned the Egyptians, who destroyed the Prophets of Baal – all for their injustices (not sex, or idolatry, per se, although these are also injustices).

We don’t like some of these stories, so we decide they are culturally biased. We ignore them because they “must be untrue”. Yet, we don’t get to pick and choose – otherwise we miss out on the revelation of holiness at Christmas. It’s important that it is the whole Word of God that comes to us, not just some a la carte of some of him that we like (ignoring the parts we don’t like). We are like Ahaz in today’s first lesson: who says in pretend piety, “I will not tempt the Lord!” Even though God has told him to ask! Ahaz won’t ask, mostly because he’s afraid there will be an answer. We don’t want there to be a God who can reveal stuff to us because we’re afraid he might actually, you know, reveal stuff. So we say there is no God of Revelation, and that he has never spoke… we silence him in our pride.

Either God has revealed himself in our Sacred History or he has not. I’m OK with one or the other on your part, but don’t say you get to pick and choose. You get the package or you don’t get it: you’re on another path. Me too. If God can reveal himself, then we don’t get to decide which parts we don’t like. (Eg: Why is God the only person who can’t pick his own pronouns?)

This is the same God. Jesus as leader of the house of Israel means, of course, that the Church is Israel: and we have to remember what Israel means. “He who wrestles with God.” That doesn’t mean that we win, that we get to change God’s mind or God’s laws, but it acknowledges that we struggle. And that God knows that we do. We are on a wrestling team doomed to fail in our contest: and fated to be blessed by the submission we make to our opponent.

The Doctor knows you don’t want to be here. But you’re here. Let’s make you healthy.

As noted yesterday, our freedom lies in our ability to conform fully to the nature God has given us. That means that the things that are against nature might be fun, but they are leading us away – not towards – God. The Burning Bush calls us forward, gently: it’s pretty! Yet it issues commands as we get closer. Then it gives us hella awkward instructions. Sometimes, we can banter (send my brother, God) but in the end, the commands are for our good and the good of all God’s church. So we have to follow them. We don’t get the beauty without the true and the good. God defines all three.

At Christmas, the same God comes to us as one of us. Are we ready?

O Lord: 2nd Advent Meditation

Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

Lord and Ruler the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come, and redeem us with outstretched arms.

The redemption prayed for in this antiphon has happened – as mentioned in the last meditation: we are once again set to be free to enter into the dance with God.  We can, however, insist on a return to the “slavery to our own reasonings”.   It’s a path I well know: because I want to be Christian, but, you know, not all the way.

To call the divine child “Adonai” is a theological claim, a heavenly claim.  To call him “Dux” or, as in a few days time, “Rex”, is a temporal claim, an earthly claim.  If you will, it is a political claim. In Greek it is usually rendered “Kyrie” which is a title for Caesar.  In Latin the title is usually “Domine” here, however, the text takes up the Hebrew word, one of the Divine Names – using it untranslated, to better make the theological point: this is God in the Flesh. As noted, it’s backed up with a temporal title, “Dux” or “Duke”.  God was both of these things to Ancient Israel until they begged for an Earthly King “like the other tribes”.  God said this desire for a visible, human Dux was a rejection of his kingship.  In his mercy he gave them what they asked for, first a “king that looked like a king” in Saul, then a king that acted like one in David.  Perhaps in a divine show of humor, he became one of the children of that earthly kingship: in and by himself returning the throne and crown to himself. As he is the Lawgiver in heaven through Moses, so he is the lawgiver on earth through his Church. The divine and the earthly are joined in this man: Christ is both God and Man and he is Lord of Heaven and Earth, both Adonai and Dux.

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty, and awe.

What would it mean for a human person – or nation – to call this God-Man, “Adonai et Dux”?  We know that Jesus, himself, said that just saying this was enough:

Non omnis qui dicit mihi, Domine, Domine, intrabit in regnum caelorum: sed qui facit voluntatem Patris mei, qui in caelis est, ipse intrabit in regnum caelorum. 

Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. 

Matthew 7:21

Saint Paul adds: Et nemo potest dicere, Dominus Jesus, nisi in Spiritu Sancto. And no man can say the Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost. (I Corinthians 12:3) Simply saying it is not enough – there is the doing. Saint James says, “Estote autem factores verbi, et non auditores tantum: fallentes vosmetipsos.” But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. (1:22) Saying is a start: but doing is the key.

I am aware at how good I am at saying.  I am equally aware at how good my friends are at calling bull-pucky.  I am thankful for my friends, liberal and conservative, Christians and not, who have challenged me since High School: saying you cannot be both Gay and Christian without warping one or the other beyond all recognition – so much so as to no longer need the name.  I’m sorry it took most of my life to hear them, but I am thankful for them.   Ditto the people who call bull-pucky on my lack of charity or, most recently, on my sloth.  Saying, “Jesus is Adonai and Dux” means a serious essay towards fixing things over which he’s not Lord. I have learned to hear my Holy Guardian Angel saying “Stop That”.  Just gotta learn to listen…

Thing is, Jesus makes it clear it’s possible not to get this point at all.

Multi dicent mihi in illa die: Domine, Domine, nonne in nomine tuo prophetavimus, et in nomine tuo daemonia ejecimus, et in nomine tuo virtutes multas fecimus? Et tunc confitebor illis: Quia numquam novi vos: discedite a me, qui operamini iniquitatem.

Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.  

Matthew 7:22-23

It’s possible to spend your entire life going to church or thinking “spiritually” but never change your bed, your food, your social patterns.  It’s possible for people to look at you and say “Yeah, he’s a Christian, but I’m thankful he’s not that sort of Christian: he’s kinda cool.”  Or, if they are your friends, really, they may challenge your integrity on that point.  Be sure to listen then – it may save your soul.

There will be preachers and prostitutes, pious peddlers and impious pastors, popes, police, patriarchs, politicians, and you and I standing before the throne at the last day: will our lives – or only our words – say “Adonai et Dux”?

What do your friends think?