Psalm 74:10-17; Numbers 29:7-40; Luke 1:57-66

Psalm 74:10-17  The psalmist continues to appeal to God’s sense of self-honor by asking, “Until when, O God, will the foe insult, / the enemy revile Your name forever?”  Why the the silence and inaction, God, when you are being insulted and reviled by Your enemies? “Why do You draw back Your hand, 11 and Your right hand hold in Your bosom?”

Once again, we are exactly the same 3000 years later: we want God to do something, especially when such rampant injustice is afoot.

So, the appeal to God’s honor doesn’t seem to have worked.  God still remains silent and aloof.  So, now our psalmist appeals to God’s creative power, effectively re-phrasing Genesis 1:

Yours is the day, also Yours the night.
It was You Who founded the light and the sun.
It was You Who laid down all the boundaries of earth,
summer and winter, You fashioned them.  (16-17)

The implicit message is clear:  Come on, God, You created the universe.  A simple flick of that right hand held in His bosom (11) and the enemy will be vanquished.

For me, these verses allow me to be frustrated with God.  Yes, I know intellectually that God’s ways are mysterious and they are certainly not mine.  But there’s no requirement that I just shut up and passively accept it.  Along with the psalmist, I too, can shake my fist at God.

 Numbers 29:7-40  As we have observed so many times, there was nothing random about the sacrificial system.  There were the daily offerings and libations, but the calendar was filled with “sacred assemblies” during which time no work was to be done.  These often occurred over the period of seven days, with the specific nature of the offering defined for each day.

The command is crystalline: “These shall you do for the LORD in your fixed seasons, besides your votive offerings and your donations, as your burnt offerings and your grain offerings and your libations and your communion sacrifices.’” (39) Notice the “besides your votive offerings and donations.”  This is in addition to daily sacrifice.

How different from our culture where labor seems to be prized above rest or festivals.  Even our biggest cultural festival — Christmas–has become a relentless chore rather than a celebration.   God was very serious about this Sabbath business and about the need for festivals where “no work shall you do.”

Over my lifetime Sunday closings have disappeared; we are on the go every minute. We’re proud that we are “productive” (one of my personal obsessions).  Are we better off for all this work?  We Americans deride the Europeans and their long vacations and numerous holidays.  But are we better off as a society because we’re “more productive?” Our personal and societal tensions, which in God’s plan here in Numbers were released by sacrifices and festivals, remain pent up until they explode in so many unhealthy ways: addiction, violence, divorce.  It’s an endless list.

 Luke 1:57-66  The birth of John, who would become the Baptizer, is the nativity story we rarely read.  But it is crucial to Luke’s narrative and his promise of an “orderly account.”  He could hardly write about Zechariah and Elizabeth, the visitation to Zechariah and his consequent muteness, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and then skip over the child’s birth.  More than just completing a story arc, though, John’s birth is a foreshadowing of even greater things to come.

First, there is the issue of the name “John,” which as the neighbors point out is a name found nowhere in the family history.  They are unhappy with Elizabeth’s insistence on the name and turn to Zechariah.  In an almost comical scene, we see Zechariah frantically motioning, as he has for the past 9 months, and writing out the name, “John.”  The authorities, who had their own idea of what the child’s name should be, were “amazed,” (which I’ll take as shock and consternation).  This is the first account in this gospel of the authorities being upset about something.  Much more is to come!

The general consternation at this deliberate naming weirdness is quickly forgotten when Zechariah suddenly speaks. And the first thing Zechariah does is praise God, which seems logical on several levels.  But everyone responds in fear rather than rejoicing, and gossip spreads “throughout the entire hill country of Judea.”  How human!  What is so often our initial response when the unexpected, even something good, happens?  We are fearful

John’s “set apart” name bespeaks the “set apartness” he will experience in the wilderness and the repentance he preach about.  In 30 years, the authorities will be just as unhappy about John’s message as they were about his name. The return of Zechariah’s voice foreshadows John’s voice that 30 years hence will become the most widely heard voice in Israel.  But like Zechariah’s voice that created fear in the neighbors, John’s message will be hard and create anxiety, especially in Herod and his court.  But there is no question anyone’s mind: “the hand of the Lord was with him.” (66)

Finally, this birth foreshadows another greater one to come.

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