What then should we do?
Section One (Parsha Debrief):
This week’s parsha contained: Joseph drawn out of a pit/prison, Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph exalted to the highest honor, the birth of Joseph’s two sons, a famine that brings Joseph’s brothers down to Egypt, a series of round trips, and the framing of Benjamin.
In the Midweek Reading Guide, we noted Joseph’s questionable and deceptive tactics. Also, we asked about a strikingly familiar phrase: If any of us is found to have it, he must die (Genesis 44:9).
For those who’ve been reading along with us, did you catch the connection?
In fact, there are additional connections that were brought to my attention by the folks at Aleph Beta. They all lead back to the same story earlier in Genesis — Laban and Jacob. Check them out:
Is Joseph the new Laban? Seems that way. One action after another links back to Laban. But I thought Joseph was the good guy?
Maybe it isn’t always so easy to tell good versus evil. Maybe that’s why God is the justifier… not humanity. We tend to get it wrong. We tend to miss the point.
In a relationship, like that between brothers, there are two parties; two sides. Focusing on which party is good and which is bad (or which side is right and which is wrong) will not lead to reconciliation… we call that stubbornness.
Instead, if we can learn to see both sides — if we can learn empathy — we make ready the path for reconciliation to take place in the relationship.
Intuitively we know this. Also, we’ve discussed this idea of empathy leading to reconciliation previously. It was in Jacob’s saga, which we unpacked thoroughly in Reunion & Reconciliation. If you recall, it was only through Jacob’s experience with his oppressive uncle that he was able to gain empathy for Esau. Jacob was transformed. After which, we see him engage anew — both in dealing with God and with his brother.
This week, we get glimpses of transformation — the brothers confess several times.
Then they said to each other, “Obviously, we are being punished for what we did to our brother. We saw his deep distress when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this trouble has come to us.” But Reuben replied: “Didn’t I tell you not to harm the boy? But you wouldn’t listen. Even his blood is being sought.”
Confession. Recognition. Empathy. These are hallmarks of repentance. In fact, it’s this statement by the brothers that becomes the confession in the Yom Kippur liturgy.
Maybe this story could have ended here, much sooner, without all the deception. If, instead of turning away to hide his weeping, Joseph would’ve turned toward his brothers in vulnerability and wept with them!
The two previous usages of this wept were when Jacob wept thinking Joseph was dead, and when Esau and Jacob wept together in reconciliation. If only Joseph turned toward them, not away from them, we could have witnessed both reconciliation and resurrection.
Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah) and Section Three (missing the mark):
This week it seemed fitting to combine Section Two and Section Three.
In the connected Luke Text, John the Baptist brings a seemingly hard word to repent. I imagine many pastors will do the same in their sermons this week, if reading from Luke 3 (as suggested in the Revised Common Lectionary).
But I want to invite a different message to bring forward to God’s people on this Second Sunday of Advent, and it starts with a question:
Do we repent out of fear, or out of love?
If you recall, in Section Two of the Worth Imitating Post we brought to your attention that the angel speaking to Zechariah regarding the birth of John the Baptist quotes Malachi. And, it’s brilliant! It seems like the persons who designed the Revised Common Lectionary recognized those connections to some extent.
It’s almost as if the context of Malachi’s audience is relevant to the context of Luke’s audience is relevant to us. Maybe, we too find our will to subvert the idolatry all around us destroyed. Maybe, we too have lost our identity as partners of God.
With context, repentance no longer holds its negative connotation. Often, when I hear pastors talk about repentance it’s with force, rarely, if ever, an invitation. But, in realizing something, someone has destroyed my will to subvert idolatry and something, someone has stolen my identity as a partner with God — I want to seek repentance and restore those aspects of my life. Repent shouldn’t be a hard word to hear. We should want to partner with God.
Goulder’s Calendar and the Revised Common Lectionary both focus on the first half of Luke 3. Maybe in new light (e.g. love candle flame 😉 ) we can better understand the Baptism of Repentance.
With divine inspiration, I think the author of Luke uses the Baptism of Repentance Text to reference stories we’ve detailed in Genesis, including this week’s! Take a look:
In addition, the author of Luke has John the Baptist quoting Isaiah 40:4, the crooked will become straight (Luke 3:5). That’s Jacob! That’s the name change we unpacked in Reunion & Reconciliation!
There’s more, both Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3a say, Prepare the way before the Lord. However, Isaiah 40:3b adds, make His paths straight in the desert. The additional paths, has the same Hebrew root (i.e calal) as the ladder in Genesis 28:12. That’s the ladder we unpacked in Section Four of Patient Redeemer!
Come on! That’s not coincidence!
John the Baptist is trying to get God’s people to remember the exchange between God and Jacob at a time when Jacob is fleeing Esau in terror. Much like in Luke, when people face the terror of Roman occupation. The exchange between God and Jacob happens in conjunction with encountering angels in a dream, on a ladder.
At the heart of the connection, a realization — God’s words are words we can trust.
He is with us. He will watch over us wherever we go. He will return us (much like the Baptism of Repentance is about returning home). He will not leave us… until His promises are made true.
– Genesis 28:15, paraphrased
That sounds a whole lot like the Christ child showing up in the flesh so we can physically see and experience a God living and breathing those words. The story was, and still is, about a God who will not leave nor forsake us. And the Christ child comes to remind us that God so loved His creation that He wrapped himself in flesh to show us!!
The Christ child is another reminder that God is true to His word; that God wants Heaven lived out on earth.
So, knowing this, what then should we do? To which, in our Luke Text, John the Baptist offers suggestions. His suggestions connect to both the Jacob and Joseph sagas. I think this is by design, and is significant for what repentance looks like.
What then should we do?
Turn toward God! Become the ladder!
That’s what repentance looks like. We turn toward God and return to being God’s people (i.e. partners with God) by first trusting that He is with us and for us. As a natural product of that trust, we become the ladder bringing Heaven crashing into earth.
We light this candle of love to remind us that our relationship with God is founded on love, not fear of wrath.
We trust His love. We become His love — bringing the divine to earth through acts of loving-kindness.
Section Four (real-world applications):
This year, tell the christmas story consistent with the way God told the story (footnote #1).
Because too often the story gets co-opted. And, overtime we forget. Overtime, we no longer trust that God is with us and for us.
If we’re not careful, we start to believe:
We better watch out. We better not cry. We better not pout. Because someone’s coming to town. He’s making a list, and checking it twice. He’s going to find out who’s naughty and nice. He sees us when we’re sleeping. He knows when we’re awake. He knows if we’ve been bad or good. So be good for goodness sake.
He is a busy man, He has no time to play.
That’s not who God is! But, if you’re honest with yourself, maybe you’ve let that narrative slip in and takeover the truth (footnote #2).
This Advent — this week — find true love (& repentance).
Next Week’s Readings: Genesis 44:18-47:27; Luke 3:21-38
- This idea can be understood more fully by viewing A Tale of Two Kingdoms Advent series. Week Two — Love found here.
- The co-opted storyline comes from the second Advent sermon series we’ve been suggesting: Emmanuel. Week Two — God Is For Us found here.