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Waiting for the Wonder
Voices of Advent
By KATARINA KATSARKA WHITLEY
Church Publishing IncorporatedCopyright © 2005 Katerina Katsarka Whitley
All rights reserved.
Let justice roll like waters
The lion has roared;
who will not fear?
The Lord GOD has spoken;
who can but prophesy? (Amos 3:8)
For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind,
reveals his thoughts to mortals,
makes the morning darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name! (Amos 4:13)
... prepare to meet your God.... (Amos 4:12b)
I was keeping my sheep in the highlands of Tekoa when the word of the Lord came to me and plucked me from my place to throw me before the unjust within the city walls. The sheep were better company, the earth a more welcome bed for me. But the Lord spoke, and I obeyed.
Those I met along the way praised the king and listed all the gifts of the land as rewards of power and victory. We are a prosperous nation, they told me. Our women sleep on ivory beds, they claimed. Our military is powerful, no one can defeat us, they shouted.
I continued on my way, already sick at heart about their flagrant misunderstanding of the Lord's words. The chief priest bragged about the attention lavished on their festivals and the wealth offered in sacrifices. His pride assaulted my ears. Then the Lord loosened my tongue and I proclaimed God's judgment.
Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
they who trample the head of the
poor into the dust of the earth,
and push the afflicted out of the way ...
I persisted under the heavy burden of prophecy. I saw their misdeeds, I witnessed their sin, and I could not find it in my heart to beg the Lord's forgiveness for them. For they had forgotten their Lord, the One who brought them out of Egypt. Convinced that on the day of the Lord they would be redeemed and forgiven, they closed their ears to my words. And then the surprise sent from God stunned even me. I cried it out to them in order to warn them:
Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
I bent in two under the weight of that darkness and asked my Lord for a sign of hope. The people's songs hit my ears like noise; there was no melody left in the harp. I turned away from the people to the countryside I loved; I left the city to walk by the River Jordan, and as I climbed the hills I came upon a rock split in two, fierce water rushing from its crack. And I knew what mattered to the Lord. I raised my voice and cried out,
Let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
They refused to listen but sent their high priest to the gate to keep me out of the city. I returned to my sheep and could not harden my heart but shed my tears for those who had turned away from their God. I prayed for a ray of light, I prayed for the salvation of the people. God sent me a dream filled with light, a promise to bestow on those who recognize justice:
On that day I will raise up
the booth of David that is fallen,
and repair its breaches,
and raise up its ruins,
and rebuild it as in the days of old....
And in my dream, out there on the hillside, surrounded only by my sheep, I saw that all the nations were blessed by this return to the Light, and those who called upon the Lord in justice and peace were not ignored or abandoned. The sheep and I wait on the Lord.
Micah The prophet's lament and his dream of peace
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord ...
and he shall be the one of peace. (Micah 5:4a, 5a)
In the small village of Moresbeth—no glories of Jerusalem here—I have known from earliest years that my tongue has been touched by the hand of the Lord my God, together with my heart and spirit.
I spoke in verse as a child and my parents marveled and were afraid. The visions came unasked for and found words on my lips. So I knew from childhood on that I must pay attention.
What I noticed troubled me and shook me to the depths of my being. I found myself weeping whenever I saw the rich oppressing the poor and those who were fed taking food away from the hungry. And I vowed to the Lord that I would speak out against injustice even if it meant the end of my own life.
And I said:
Listen, you heads of Jacob
and rulers of the house of Israel!
Should you not know justice?—
you who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin off my people,
and the flesh off their bones ...
But they listened to false prophets instead, to those who promised them success and prosperity saying, "Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us." Thus says the Lord concerning these false prophets
who cry "Peace" when they have something to eat,
but declare war against those who put nothing
into their mouths....
The sun shall go down upon the prophets,
and the day shall be black over them....
But they loved war more than peace, while I dreamed in vain of my former friends sitting under their own vines and under their own fig trees.
I became like a madman in my travels to sinful Jerusalem, walking naked and barefoot, trying to call the unjust to the One who laments over them:
"O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you?
I struggled to remind them of the mercies of our God throughout our long history. And still they asked only about sacrifices and burnt offerings: Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams? with ten thousands of rivers of oil? I left Jerusalem to return to my humble village and to the people I loved, away from the rulers and the faithless prophets. And it was as I was passing through Bethlehem that I found consolation. God blessed me with a vision of mercy, of a shepherd who cares for his flock, of a king like no other.
And he shall stand and feed his flock
in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of
the Lord his God.
And to Bethlehem I sang:
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
And those who heard me rejoiced but they forgot to stand, to wait and hear how to receive him. For none of this can come to pass—the beating of their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks—without the fullness of the Word. Without a clean heart they cannot achieve God's dream that "nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more," for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it, if only they would listen.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
And in my grief and sorrow, I looked to the One who shall come from humble Bethlehem, not with drawn sword, nor with armies, but with justice and peace, to fulfill the Lord's promise. For
who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression?
I know a God who
does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in showing clemency.
He will again have compassion upon us....
I wait on the Lord.
Isaiah The comfort of a child from a Father who despairs of his children
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)
The visions troubled me to the point of agony. Some called it madness, and they may have been right. I reached the edge again and again, poised between sanity and madness in my sorrow for the people who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the Holy One and are estranged from the One who loves them. The smell of their burnt offering in my nostrils, I looked to the heavens and heard the voice of the Lord saying,
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams ...
bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me.
But after the darkness brought on by the assemblies with iniquity that have become a burden to the Lord there arrived this vision, and its coming was a balm: sweet as honey, tender as a mother's love, comforting as my father's hand in mine when I was a young child. The vision was imbued with light. This light has never been extinguished, though other, darker visions followed it.
Through the many years that have rolled into oblivion since then, I have heard the pundits and the would-be prophets trying to interpret my vision, to understand it. Now that I am old, I know that most human interpretations of visions are wrong. How do we capture the Divine within the human mind? And how does the song of heaven touch the strings of our lyre? I too have sought to understand and have given voice to my visions. Many of them have been fulfilled in my lifetime. But this one vision I have only felt. I never sought to understand it, for its comfort was so welcome that I resisted putting it into words. I only wanted to live in it, to breathe it, and to continue feeling its comfort as I felt it the first time it appeared to me. These are the only words I found, and so far in my lifetime, no one has understood them as they were meant:
For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given.
Why should they have filled me with such joy? They came to me from a God who had despaired of the love of his own children. My tears ran profusely as I wrote of God's unfathomable heartache:
I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.
Is there a hurt more searing than that caused by ungrateful, unloving children? And the vision continued in its excruciating pain:
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
The images continued to fill me with despair, to flood me with God's grief. And then, when I had given up hope for any comfort, came these tender words: "Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel." Ah, the goodness of that thought—God with us. And then it became more certain—this hope of a coming—but of a child? From a God who had despaired of his children's love? Who is this child? I cried to the Lord.
The voice answered:
Authority rests upon his shoulder;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace....
I cried out: Mighty God? Is it possible that God is talking about the Godself in the form of a child?
But I received no answer that I could understand. Only a song in my ears rang its joyful news:
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
I had to be content with that. I prayed that I would see that day. But now, at the end of my days, I am still waiting, praying that those who will walk in light will recognize the Giver of light. Come, Immanuel, come!
Ruth Waiting for the wonder
Why have I found favor in your sight,
that you should take notice of me,
when I am a foreigner? (Ruth 2:10b)
May you produce children in Ephrathah and bestow a name in Bethlehem; and, through the children that the Lord will give you by this young woman.... (Ruth 4:11b–12a)
They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:17b)
... and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.... (Matthew 1:5–6)
It was a night of personal terror and unconcealed shame. Imagine what it felt like. Imagine being tutored by your own mother-in-law on how to seduce a man. I had been a widow for a couple of years. I had left all I had known as a girl—my parents, my village, my traditions—to enter the alien world of the Hebrew children. I did it because Naomi, my dead husband's mother, was a powerful presence in my life, and because nothing could be the same for me in Moab now that my foreign husband is dead. I would be an outcast at home as the widow of a Jew. So I decided to follow Naomi across the border, and even she thought I was a fool to do so. But she was lonely and, bereft of all three men in her life—her husband Elimelech and her sons Mahlon and Chilion—she was glad for my company.
Together we returned to Bethlehem, her village and the ancestral home of her husband's family. Everyone there seemed to know her, but I was sad that she felt such bitterness at returning with only one daughter-in-law instead of the triumph she had envisioned—coming home with her husband, her sons and grandsons. Again, I felt that I didn't count.
By now everyone seems to know my story, but I want to tell you about my night of terror and shame. I had been gleaning the fields because I didn't want Naomi to starve and, young as I was, I thought, Maybe one of the young reapers will see me and choose me for a wife. How else was I to survive? As I bent down to pick up the leavings of others I kept thinking how sad life was for women. We were prey to every man's desire. If we had no man to protect us we became things to be grabbed and claimed, not human beings to be cherished. I remember my tears as I walked behind the reapers, tears that never stopped. I felt that life was unfair, but I was not selfish enough to think this was my fate alone. I could see that it was the fate of all women. I would ask, Why, why are we fated to be things and not persons? Who is this god of the Israelites? They seem to think this god really cares for them. To me that became an ever-present question: Who is this god of the people of Bethlehem?
As I worked, I was terrified that someone would assault me—any man could do so, any man could have me just for the taking. And that knowledge filled me with unbearable despair and fear. So, the moment the day's work was finished, I would hide myself among the other gleaners, my head completely covered with only my eyes free so that I could see my feet as they trudged along, and I would rush back to the security of severe Naomi who would fight anyone to protect me.
Every day I followed the gleaners because they knew best which fields were ready for harvest and which reapers were merciful enough to leave some barley on the stalks and on the ground for us poor migrants. We lived in a world where the rich knew only the rich, and the poor associated only with the poor. I was learning the life of the very poor. But God had other plans for me.
One evening, when I stopped to ease my aching back, I let my shawl fall off my head for just a moment so that a breeze would cool my brow. And it was at that moment that I heard a voice call out to the reapers, The Lord be with you, and they answered, The Lord bless you. I was so stunned by this greeting, by the bearing of the man himself, that I forgot to cover my hair and my face. And that is when Boaz saw me. I shared all this with Naomi and she started thinking that this encounter had been sent from God and she decided to help God's plan along.
The rest has entered the realm of storytelling in Bethlehem, my son tells me. Grandmothers tell the story to their children and mothers to their young. But they don't know how terrified I was.
Boaz made himself known to me, but he was being kind to a poor foreign girl. It was Naomi who saw a future in this encounter. It was she who told me to lie down with Boaz when he rested on the threshing floor. I was obedient to my mother-in- law, but I knew how far-fetched her idea was. Boaz would take me in the night, and then he would discard me. I made myself beautiful—that's what Naomi called me. She coached me, she told me what to do, and Boaz would do the rest, she told me. I did as I was instructed, but I felt that death would be better than this plot of seduction.
Excerpted from Waiting for the Wonder by KATARINA KATSARKA WHITLEY. Copyright © 2005 Katerina Katsarka Whitley. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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