With a reading for each day of Advent, churches can choose pieces for their own services of Lessons and Carols, while individuals can use the book for their own private devotions. Suggestions for music for these services will also be included; these will encompass a broad range music to accommodate parishes' musical needs and abilities.
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Light to the Darkness
Lessons and Carols: Public and Private
By Katerina Katsarka Whitley
Church Publishing IncorporatedCopyright © 2008 Katerina Katsarka Whitley
All rights reserved.
Eve should speak like an old woman of wisdom and a great deal of humor—please, don't forget the humor! She is a storyteller with an immense store of knowledge and understanding. Please pay attention to the rhythm of the words. Do not rush.
It is no longer possible to remember how long it's been since we left the Garden—yes, well, as one of my great, great, great grandchildren reminds me—since we were told to leave the Garden. They ask me if I remember it. Of course I do. "Gardens are lovely," I tell them, "but we cannot live in them forever." (At my age, you can say anything and get away with it.) The children, so many I cannot count them, laugh uneasily. They sense that I have asked them here for a purpose. I have called them to draw close to me and they have gathered from near and far to hear my secret. I have been mulling over this for a long, long while. Here it is.
My Children, know this:
First, I have not minded so much leaving the Garden because God, blessed be his holy name, has never abandoned us. We may no longer have that sweet first contact, but we have been aware of the Holy Presence throughout this long time. God has never abandoned us.
Second, I know the stories that are being told among you; I hear them. You have some of it right and some of it so wrong it makes me laugh. But it does not matter. What does matter is that you understand this one great truth I have learned in my life: having knowledge, even at the expense of leaving the Garden, has been worth it. For it is through this great gift of knowledge that I have understood something of the Creator's power—yes, even the Creator's love. Out of what seemed punishment, came a great good; out of physical pain, all of you have emerged. The pain has been forgotten while the pleasure of your presence endures. Adam and I have known joy—how would we have tasted it had we not known its opposite, sorrow? And we have seen how darkness is dispelled when light arrives, night and day, after night and day. We never tire of it.
This is the secret: Out of you, maybe tomorrow, or maybe eons hence, God's promised fulfillment will arrive. You will not be left orphaned and abandoned. God created us in love. God will save us with love. Trust me and go in peace. Now that I have told you, I too am ready to leave this earth, this garden.
"As truly as God is our Mother," William Mathias (Oxford University Press)
"Adam lay ybounden," Boris Ord (Oxford University Press)
"Adam lay ybounden," (unison) Peter Warlock (Oxford University Press)
"When long before time," David Cherwien (Concordia)
"A Song of True Motherhood," Enriching Our Music 2 (Church Publishing, pp. 177, 178)
"Of the Father's love begotten," The Hymnal 1982 (The Church Hymnal Corporation, #82)
A Meditation on Eve: Who Was She?
The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
One must see the man's naming of the woman as an act of faith, ... an embracing of life which as a great miracle and mystery is maintained and carried by the motherhood of woman over hardship and death.... Who can express the pain, love, and defiance contained in these words?
* * *
Let's face it. She is one of the most verbally abused persons in the Bible. Men have blamed her for everything that has gone wrong in humanity's long history and women have apologized for her. I wrote Eve's monologue originally for a church in the United Methodist tradition. The woman who commissioned me to write it was shocked at my interpretation of humanity's foremother. When I asked her to examine the reasons for her reaction, she said, "I wanted Eve to be sad, to be repentant." Both of us were emotional over the issue. I was upset by her statement, which seemed utterly unfair toward the person of Eve. She was distressed by what I had written.
Obviously, even women disagree on their understanding of this first-named woman: some see the Genesis story as a magnificent, compact, theological retelling of God's act of the creation of the world and of human life, others see it as the historic account of a specific man and woman created, together with the universe, during a specific period of time. Yet those who cling to a literal interpretation miss the point. I have observed in many years of reading and listening that the most passionate defenders of this viewpoint often don't seem to know just what the Hebrew Bible says. I've realized—after countless conversations with believers and non-believers—that those who argue most vociferously have learned their position through the words of others, not through their own reading and study of Scripture. The more literary are influenced by John Milton's poetic retelling of the creation story in Paradise Lost, while others grasp on to the words of their preachers or, worse, their politicians.
Two Writers; Two Creation Stories
We cannot speak of the Creation or of Eve without looking at what biblical scholars have told us about the story. Recent scholars have concluded that Genesis 1—the Creation of the world—was written by a masterful writer who has come to be known as the Priestly writer, or as we shall call him, P. Gerhard von Rad writes of this first chapter: "Nothing is here by chance; everything must be considered carefully, deliberately and precisely." He calls this chapter the Priestly writer's "doctrine."
The second Creation story, Genesis 2:4b–25, von Rad calls "the Yahwistic story of Paradise," and its writer, scholars agree, is very different from P; he has come to be known as the Yahwist, or J, for the German Jahweh. Understanding the difference between the two versions helps us to see the story—and Eve—in a new way. So let's look at the biblical accounts.
First, let's remember that translations often are not accurate. Many misunderstandings have resulted from the difficulty of rendering Hebrew words—which contain no vowels—into another language. Take, for example, the Hebrew words adam, which means "of the earth," and adamah, which means "the earth," or "dust of the ground." Both words are impossible to translate exactly into English. Translating from Greek into English has been problematic, too. Using the earliest Greek version of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, some translators have rendered the Greek word anthropos, which means "human being" and applies to both genders, as man. But Greek, like Hebrew, has entirely different words for man and woman: aner and gyne. So to say that God created man is to mistranslate the word and misunderstand the story.
Here's what Genesis 1:26a has to say: "Let us make a human being in our image, according to our likeness. It doesn't say, "Let us make man in our image ..." as the King James Version declares. A modern translation, the New Revised Standard Version, corrects that mistake by translating it as "Let us make humankind in our image and in our likeness."
Let's look a littler farther on, in verse 27: "And God created adam/anthropon, in the image of God, he created him; male and female he created them." The change from the singular pronoun him to the plural them poses a puzzling problem. But one thing is clear. The writer declares that male and female human beings were created at the same time—not man first and later woman.
Second, let's separate the first creation story in Genesis from the second one. Confusion happens when the two creation stories—the first from chapter 1 and the second from chapter 2—are conflated. It is this second story that most people think of when they speak of the creation of Adam and Eve, and it is the first story that they think of when they speak of the creation of the earth and the sea and all that is within them. Most people don't realize that they are two different stories written at different times by very different interpreters of the oral and written traditions. In this second story, man and woman are not created on the sixth day but adam/anthropos is created first, before all else. God makes adam/anthropos out of the earth and blows life into him. Then all the plants and living creatures are created to keep adam company and give him nourishment. Finally, woman is created so that man will not be alone: "And the Lord God said, 'it is not good for anthropon to be alone; I will make for him a helper just like him'" (Genesis 2:18). The NRSV writes of the "helper as partner," while the Authorized Version writes of man and the helper, help meet (something that doesn't mean much to modern ears). I find the Greek—like him—much more persuasive with its sug-gestion of equality and mutuality.
It is in this second story that the Garden of Eden is described. It is here that Adam alone is told "from the wood of the knowledge of good and evil you will not eat." But when Eve eats of the fruit and then offers it to Adam and he eats, he does not remind her of the injunction against eating it. So on whom does the blame fall? The decision is made by both of them. The word sin is never mentioned.
Looking carefully at what the story of Genesis really says shows the harm that has been done to women as a result of misreading, mistranslating, and misinterpreting the first two chapters. When we consider the abuse heaped on women in the past and the suffering of women in so many parts of the world today, we realize with a shudder that this is very serious—and enlightening—indeed.
Two Expressions of Eve
Though I don't consider Eve to be a specific, historic woman but All-Woman, I still thrill at the expression "daughter of Eve," which I first encountered in the writings of C. S. Lewis. As Eve is an expression of God's creation, of God's understanding of our need for companionship and love and procreation, I find myself a grateful part of this created order when I hear the expression "daughter of Eve."
The other expression that has caused me hours and hours of thinking and gratitude are these words from Genesis 1:26: "Let us make anthropon in our image of God, in our likeness," which I take to mean the hosts of heaven that surround the Creator God. I remember vividly the moment this understanding came to me. I was still very young, teaching a creative writing class to high school seniors, and I said without forethought—as if it came to me like an epiphany: "This is why we write, we paint, we sculpt, we compose music—we are created in the image of God; we are given the gift of creativity. God started it, Eve continued it by giving birth, and here we are millennia later giving thanks for this gift." Years later I was delighted to find confirmation in Carol Meyers' interpretation of Genesis 4:1–2a, "where Eve is said to have 'created a man together with the Lord.' "
Thanksgiving to Eve and for Eve
Eve, you are woman, wife and mother. Above all, you are mother. In you, mother Eve, we honor mothers, we honor women. We thank your Creator who made you equal with man and gave you the gift of birth and nurture. You worked hard beside the man tilling the soil but you struggled even harder giving birth. Love helps you forget the pangs of birthing. Love urges you on to offer food, to give nourishment to those who come near you, to give knowledge to those who seek it.
Creator of Adam and Eve, we thank you for Eden— for the cool, green earth, for the beasts of the field and forest, for the winged creatures that lift our hearts with joy by their soaring flight and their song ... For the sounds of water, the rivers that flow, the sea with its rich surprising life; for all that forms our paradise, we thank you. For the gift of the tree of knowledge and the awe that fills us when we understand what is good and can choose the difference from evil.
God of the universe, of Eden, of this good earth, of our forefather Adam and foremother Eve, We offer our thanks.
Abraham is very old and utterly resigned. His life has been lived with all its triumphs and tragedies and mistakes, but this one event remains the most vivid in his mind, and in talking about it he finds an answer that satisfies him. Still, the memory remains truly terrible. The voice should be that of an old man, rather gravelly, sad, but, at the same time, full of hope.
Sarah says I've lost my mind. She says that this is not how our God deals with us. "Just because we are surrounded by fools who think their gods are after blood, you think our God is the same," she yells at me. It's easy for her to talk about this now, when Isaac is alive and safe, his hand firmly clasped in hers. I don't think she'll ever let him go. I don't think she'll ever trust me with him again.
My son. God's promise. The child of my old age. My hope and my terror. I was so sure it was God's voice I heard telling me to take him to the hills that I did not hesitate, though my heart bled. I didn't say anything to Sarah; she would have killed me with her bare hands had she known. My son and I traveled for three days and Isaac, sweet and obedient as was his nature, didn't ask questions until the very end. "We have everything we need for sacrifice, except for the animal, Father. Where is the animal for the sacrifice?" And I, unable to lie to him, said, "The Lord will provide."
The Lord did provide. I keep asking myself: Would I have done it? Could I have done it? Killed my own child? All the neighboring tribes do this—they sacrifice their firstborn to honor their gods. How could I do less than the pagans? Do I love Yahweh less than they love their gods? Is this what I was thinking? I no longer know. But Sarah is sure she knows. She thinks I feel so guilty about abandoning Ishmael, my other son, my true firstborn, that I felt compelled to sacrifice Isaac. Sarah has no patience when it comes to Ishmael and his mother, Hagar. Maybe she's right. I have never stopped thinking of them. I have never forgiven myself.
But my God has forgiven me—this I know. Isaac has forgiven me. I had tied him on top of the sticks of wood, on a frame I built while my hands shook and my eyes poured out their tears, and he only looked at me as if to say, Even now I trust you, Father. This is what I was saying in my mind also: Even now I trust you, Yahweh. And it was then that the angel of the Lord stopped my hand from committing the crime. Sarah scoffs: "It was fear of what I would do to you that stopped you, you foolish old man," she says, but her voice trembles with the imagined horror of it all.
So I have to ask myself, Whose voice was it I heard? How can God make promises if God intends to take them back? I am beginning to wonder what it is that we men call the voice of God. Now, when my life is nearly spent, I am sure only of those true moments when the call of God to me was clear, beyond all doubt. That moment when God called me out of Haran, and I obeyed. And later, in the darkness, out of my deep sleep, when God's promise came to me that my descendants would be blessed, that they would know God. This I have believed and this is the God I have obeyed. No matter what Sarah says, what will be remembered about me is that I believed in God's promise even when nothing around me gave any proof that the promise would be fulfilled, even when the fulfillment of the promise was demanded and almost snatched from me. Even then I trusted Yahweh. Even then I trusted Yahweh.
"God's Promise," Samuel Adler (Oxford University Press) (SSA)
"In dulci jubilo," 14th-century German, arr. R. L. dePearsall, ed. R. Jacques (Oxford University Press)
"The Song of Zechariah," Wonder, Love, and Praise, #889, #890
"Sing, O sing, this blessed morn," The Hymnal 1982, #88
A Meditation on Abraham: The Terrible Sacrifice
* * *
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (Genesis 12:2)
The promise given to Abraham has significance, however, beyond Abraham and his seed. God now brings salvation and judgment into history ... a source of universal blessing.
* * *
Being painfully familiar with the plight of the Palestinians and the historic agonies of the Jews makes me enter the Abrahamic realm with fear and trembling. At a time of war in Iraq and terror in the Middle East and elsewhere, I am aware of the claims the three major monotheistic religions make on the person of Abraham. My father, who taught me so much about faith, adored Abraham for his trust in and obedience to the Lord, but I have found Abraham a difficult man to like. Yet, I am grateful that the stories and sagas about him are brutally honest, so that he appears to us with all the weaknesses of humanity despite his giant status as the father of the religions that claim him.
I will set aside the question of historical accuracy. Some of the stories are sagas and a few concerning Abraham have the whiff of legend about them, but they reveal the essential truth proclaimed by the ancient Hebrews that God acts through and in history, that he is a God of promises, and that Abraham was a man of obedience. I grew up with the stories of Abraham and all of Genesis and Exodus. My father read biblical stories to us every night of our childhood years and they became part of me as the Greek myths were part of me from a forgotten dawn of awareness. Abraham and Sarah were part of our faith story, so it is difficult now to remember a time when they did not matter.
When my father told us the Old Testament stories, he did not leave any of the hard parts out. Questions were inevitable and he always tried to answer them. What I came to regard as "the easy answer" was this: God has his reasons. What we don't understand now, we will one day. As a child I believed this, but that doesn't mean that I gave up on the questions. What I could not forgive, however, no matter how it was explained to me, was the call for the sacrifice of Isaac. It angered me and saddened me, and my brother still teases me that Dad had to stop his reading because I dissolved into tears, and he could not continue to upset me. The stories of the sacrifice of Isaac and of Joseph's abuse by his brothers were so painful that I still remember running away to another room in order not to hear them.
Excerpted from Light to the Darkness by Katerina Katsarka Whitley. Copyright © 2008 by Katerina Katsarka Whitley. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
Introduction and Stage Directions
Part I. Nine Lessons and Carols
Lesson 1: Eve
Lesson 2: Abraham
Lesson 3: Miriam
Lesson 4: David
Lesson 5: Isaiah and His Wife
Lesson 6: Malachi
Lesson 7: Zechariah and Elizabeth
Lesson 8: Mary of Nazareth
Lesson 9: Shepherds Abiding
Part II. Voices Crying in the Wilderness
Words of Promise
Words that Urge Repentance: The Day of the Lord
Words of Fulfillment
The Logos: an Epilogue