Psalm 107:17-22; 1Samuel 9; John 1:1-13

Psalm 107:17-22: Here, at first glance, there seems to be the usual deuteronomic construction: sin leads to affliction: “Fools because of their sinful way, / because of their misdeeds they were afflicted.” Yet, before we dismiss this as Old Covenantal theology, notice that it doesn’t say ‘God caused the affliction.’ It actually describes the human condition. We are foolish in our sinful ways because we fail to anticipate that our sins or misdeeds will have poor consequences. In short, we bring affliction on ourselves.

In their affliction, “they came to the gates of death. /And they cried to the LORD from their straits, (18, 19)–a tersely marvelous description of how and when we think of God. Only when things are really bad–when we realize we are at the gates of death–does it occur to us to ask God to rescue us. This is the classic “foxhole prayer.” We foolishly think we can ‘handle it’ ourselves and God becomes our backup plan of last resort.

We deserve to die in the consequences of our foolishness, but “from [our] distress He rescued [us]. He sent forth His word and healed [us], / and delivered [us] from [our] pit.” (20) We do not deserve rescue; after all, we should be responsible for the consequences of our actions. But God is merciful and acts on pure grace.

And our response? Not just inward silent gratitude but, “Let [us] acclaim to the LORD His kindness, / and His wonders to humankind.” (21) Worship, as always, is not only the proper response, it should be our natural response. And action, as well: “and offer thanksgiving sacrifices / and recount His deeds in glad song.” (22)

1 Samuel 9: The precedence for tall and handsome kings (and today, politicians) seems to start right here with Saul: “ He had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.” (2). Saul’s father’s donkeys had strayed off, so Saul is asked to go with his servant boy and find them. They search in vain, wandering over a good chunk of Israel before coming to the town where, not coincidentally, Samuel happens to live. Saul says they should give up and go back to his father empty-handed, but the servant boy knows of a “seer” (which the authors carefully explain is what prophets used to be called).

No surprise, the “seer” turns out to be Samuel who hosts Saul because he’s already received word from God that this is the man who will be appointed king. In fact, God has said, “He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines; for I have seen the suffering of my people, because their outcry has come to me.” (16).

Because we know how Saul’s story eventually turns out, we tend to think quite negatively about him. But it’s clear that Saul was chosen by God. At this point, Saul is God’s clear choice as the person to be king. If Israel is going to insist on having a king, then God provides the very best.  So, too, for us. We often insist on a choice that may not be the wisest and as the psalm above points out, will almost inevitably have poor consequences. But God will never give us less than the best. What we do with it, or worse, how we will corrupt it, is left up to us.

John 1:1-13: In the most dramatic, theologically profound opening verses of any book in the New Testament (and aside from Genesis, the OT, as well), we read “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Why does John choose to call Jesus “Word?” What is it about “Word” –repeated three times in this first sentence–that gives such profundity to this opening? “Word” is the elemental form of communication between human beings. And as we read the OT, “word” is how God communicates to the people who profoundly affect the history of Israel: Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and many others. The contrast is drawn again and again in the OT about the mute small-g gods and the God Who Speaks.

“Word” also sets John’s stage. Yes, there are Jesus’ miracles and of course the Passion. But John’s main focus is on what Jesus says–and he says more in this gospel than in any of the others.

These opening verses are John’s Nativity story. There is no Mary, no Joseph, no stable, no angels, no shepherds. In fact there is no human birth. There is simply Being from the beginning of time. The Word is. And now, the Word has come to us. And it will change the world.

Speak Your Mind