Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Advent Day 17, 2015 - Listen to your father...

Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob;
listen to Israel your father.

‘Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
   your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
   your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s whelp;
   from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion,
   like a lioness—who dares rouse him up?
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,
   nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
   and the obedience of the peoples is his.
- Genesis 49:2-10

During Advent we talk a lot about waiting and also listening.  This meditative season, when much of our world is cold and perhaps snowy, the shorter days and longer nights encourage us to spend more time meditating and listening than talking. The lights on the Advent wreath remind us that just because the world is dark and cold, that light is still coming and still shining.

One of the things we are told from childhood is that we have to listen -- to parents, teachers, priests and preachers, and figures of authority. At a time when children really want to be part of the conversation and talk whenever possible, it's a struggle to be quiet and listen, especially if they don't understand what the conversation is about. Children have to sit in school for what seems to them like an eternity, listening to a teacher propound this subject or that one, whether or not the child has any interest in it or not. "Learn your lessons because you will need that knowledge some day." Sure enough, the day comes when what they struggled with in algebra or English or chemistry will come and then it will be a matter of refreshing the memory rather than having to learn it all over again.

Listening is a big thing in the Bible. If Adam and Eve had listened to God, they might never have had to leave Eden. If Abraham hadn't listened, he might have lived out his life making idols in Ur. If the prophets hadn't listened, the Hebrew people would possibly have become gentiles and left God altogether. The picture is fairly clear.

Listening is critical in our world, and few of us really listen as much as we should -- or to the things we should. If a tornado or hurricane warning goes out, we're usually quick enough to respond appropriately or at least try to contact family and friends who might be in danger.  If we listen closely enough, we might pick up a signal that all is not well with another person, a signal that if ignored could mean trouble. Some mothers notice that when things are too quiet when children are around, that probably means they're either asleep or into something they shouldn't be. I know Mama had ears like that -- very effective ears.

The passage summons Jacob's sons and establishes a kind of pecking order for authority among themselves. They are to listen to their father and obey him. This is another theme that repeats throughout the Bible; people are to listen and obey, sometimes it is to their own fathers, and sometimes to their spiritual fathers. Most of all, they are supposed to listen to God and do what they are told. Like children, though, they don't always do things that way and then they get into trouble. It appears that sometimes there is a big disconnect between listening and doing.

We're often so sure that our way is the right way that we don't hear warnings or listen for guidance, It's then that we are in quicksand and have to try to find our way out. The Hebrews had prophets and messengers who listened to God and passed on what God expected, but the people didn't always listen or remember. It was much easier or better to do things their own way, or so they thought. The rules and covenants were there for a reason, a very good reason, but if they were ignored, there were problems 

Jesus and the prophets before him taught that we should listen to God and do things God's way. God was our father, just as our male parent was our father here on earth. Children owed attention and obedience to their father, whether or not they agreed with the requests or demands or not. We're still that way, aren't we? We listen to hear what we want to hear and ignore the rest. Modern-day prophets warn us of this and that but we don't hear them because we don't share their vision or their political beliefs. We don't listen to those who try to show us a better way, one in keeping with the will of God. We bar our doors and wall in our cities and borders because undesirables might make entry and do us harm. So much for caring for the homeless, the poor, the threatened, the disinherited -- which our father told us to do.

This Advent, maybe we need to take time to listen to our father. It's hard to reconcile Biblical demands for annihilation of whole tribes of people at God's command, but probably more times than that we are told to be kind, to care for our neighbors and the strangers among us. All we have to do is listen and at on what God is telling us to do.

It's so simple -- but so difficult. Just listen to your father....

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