Encountering Life-Changing Scripture during Advent
[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 6:1-13; John 5:30-47; Revelation 22:16-20. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
The lectionary for this day presents challenges; the passages are puzzling, even disturbing, as we search for understanding. Isaiah 6: 1-13 is considered by scholars to be a personal visionary account of Isaiah’s call to become God’s prophet to the people of Judah. The date is almost 600 years before the life of Jesus, a time when Jerusalem is threatened by foreign invaders. The scene of Isaiah’s call is a heavenly realm with God enthroned in splendor and attended by winged seraphs. It is a scene that is foreign to our day and our way of thinking. And God’s message to Isaiah is one predicting that the people will not listen – their ears will be closed and their minds made dull to Isaiah’s proclamation. Why would God call a prophet and put such obstacles in his path?
John 5:30-47 is a passage even more enigmatic than that from the book of Isaiah. When Jesus addresses his disciples, he seems to be saying that the disciples and the authorities among the Jews reject him as one who comes from God. This is a rejection of the very word of God – the Word made flesh dwelling with us.
Revelation 22:16-20 is a passage from the very closing chapter of the New Testament canon. It affirms that the prophecy has been completed. Nothing more needs to be added or deleted. Readers are warned to accept what has been given in this apocalyptic narrative of the new heaven and new earth. When we are puzzled by the revelation of St. John, we should note that many persons – even the Reformation leader Martin Luther himself -- find the book and its message difficult to comprehend. How, then, do we glean understanding from obscure and difficult passages of our scriptures?
First, we should recognize that the Bible was passed to us from an oral tradition that arose many, many years and generations ago. When the scriptures were compiled and written down, judgments were made by the authors and redactors. Because these early texts were composed in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, all subsequent translations into vernacular languages -- such as English -- are interpretations by the translators. When we engage an ancient and difficult text we have the obligation to seek out a meaning for our lives. We must not succumb to facile pronouncements of those who give their “authoritative” interpretation. Encountering scripture becomes an individual and ecclesiological responsibility and struggle
We do have tools to help, including historical inquiry archeological and sociological insights, linguistic studies, and references to scholarly discourse. Although individual inquiry is where we begin, it is not sufficient. We need the assistance of the total community of faith. Within that community of faith we will feel a reverence for God’s Spirit working with us. When a particular passage is difficult, we must also take a wider view of scripture. We need to feel the grand, supportive, and comforting presence of God as revealed in biblical stories, poetry, prayers, and hymns of praise.
Prayer: Dear Lord, we thank you for your revelation in scripture; in the lives of saints who have gone before us; in the lives of those around us; and supremely in the life and resurrection of Jesus, whom we confess to be the Christ. Amen.
Jay Davenpor is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.
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