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Back to Basics: Maranatha! While We Were Sleeping…

Back to Basics: Maranatha! While We Were Sleeping…

Chuck Fromm

Scribed by Andrea Hunter

While the world slept, the God of creation was born a human, the first and only 200% baby: 100% God and 100% human. The Jewish nation was breathing a prayer, spoken and unspoken for the Messiah. It was a simple response to God’s announcement in the Law and the Prophets, the Psalms and wisdom literature: He was coming! He was coming as deliverer, redeemer, bridegroom, king, and Messiah… And on a “cold winter’s night,” as His people whispered, “Come…Come now,” the LORD of creation did exactly that. He came to earth. 

We are so used to referring to the Bible as the Word of God that we often unconsciously identify God’s Word with its incarnation in print as the codex book rather than remembering the LIVING, breathing TEXT was made flesh. We forget that the Bible is a narrative not of human history, but of salvation history. 

Living Language

As salvation history, the Bible is not simply God’s Word; it is the story of God’s words, the narrative of a verbal and communicative encounter between divinity and humanity, a record of God’s repeated calls and our responses. God calls to Moses, addressing him by name from out of the burning bush; Moses responds, accepting God’s charge to go forth and lead His people. God speaks to the people of Israel through Moses; the people respond, “We will do everything the Lord has said” (Ex 19:8). It is this affirmative response to God’s call that constitutes Israel as the people of the covenant. Likewise, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew—and us—to discipleship with the words: “Come, follow me” (Mt 4:19). In obeying this call, the disciples formed the nucleus of the Church. 

These encounters between God and His human followers are presented as narratives of powerful—almost irresistible—speech. God’s Word has the power to transform the hearts of those who hear it, to effect a conversion to a new life in which God’s will is not only heard but done. This is God’s greatest glory: the power of transformative speech. As recorded in the written text of the Scriptural narrative, the story has undeniable power; but its greatest power comes when it is re-voiced, brought from the dead letter of the printed page to the inspired life of the living, proclaimed Word. When we, as members of the congregation, hear the words in Scripture of the Savior’s entry into earth’s realm spoken or sung, we join those saying, “Come,” and those bowing down:

“And there were shepherds residing in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Just then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord! And this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:8-12

When we hear Jesus telling Peter and Andrew to “Come, follow me,” we are not merely hearing the story of how someone else was converted to discipleship; it is the oral proclamation of the text that calls us, ourselves, to join Peter and Andrew as disciples. And in responding affirmatively to God’s call, we take our place as members of the textual community that is the body of Christ. 

Divine Romance

The story of God’s call to the Jews is the heart of the Torah, which is a love story, a narrative of the loving covenant between God and His people.1 The Hebrew Bible is itself the text at the heart of every distinctively Jewish textual community. For Jesus and the earliest disciples, the story of salvation as told in the Law and the Prophets was the focal point of their lives and communities and the authoritative grounding for their preaching. Yet Jesus, as the Incarnate Word of God, has a different relationship to the Scripture than that of an ordinary teacher or interpreter. In Luke 4:17-21, Jesus proclaims the Scripture in the synagogue at Nazareth in a way that emphasizes His distinctive nature as both interpreter and fulfillment of God’s promise:

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus reads aloud from the scroll and he declares to the assembled congregation that His oral enactment of the written text of Scripture itself constitutes a fulfillment of its prophetic promise. 

I love Walter Ong’s reflection on divine-human communication, that “The Word of God…is reciprocating. If the Word who became man is God’s communication to man, he is also man’s response to God” (1967/1981:13). Jesus assumes rabbinic authority as an interpreter of the text, sharing God’s communication to His people; but He also asserts another kind of authority, not simply as one who announces God’s kingdom but as one who embodies and inaugurates it by the mere fact of His incarnation in the flesh. His birth is rhyme for His death and resurrection. Advent reminds us of God’s proclamation, promise, and invitation, and our response, the echoing story of God’s conversation with and inhabitation of His creation. 

Transforming Communication

With the Incarnation, then, we find ourselves at a new juncture in salvation history in which God’s communication to humanity moves from the verbal/textual level to Him conveying all of His being to all of our being, perception and senses: “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”  The story of the Incarnation, the Word spoken to humanity, is the focal point of our identity as a people set apart by God. To put it another way, it is in proclaiming and hearing and responding to this story—not merely in reading it—that we are constituted as a textual community or church. 

The story of salvation history is the story of lives transformed, of a people called by God who respond to the call. Only by hearing this story and responding in our own hearts do we participate in the story of salvation. The Word of God rings forth in His call to men and women through the ages, and every time we hear the call proclaimed again, it echoes in our soul. When the echo resounds within us it will transform us. If we are open to God’s call and if we allow our lives to be so transformed, we may then add our voice and echo the story of salvation so that others may hear. From God’s call to “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Dt. 6:4) to Jesus’ call to the disciples, to the innumerable stories of the saints whose lives have been transformed by hearing the Word, the story remains the same: a narrative of conversion that has the power to save and elicit a heartfelt response.

At this time of expectation, anticipation and realization, this precious season of Advent, we remember anew and listen more attentively to God’s Good News: That He has come, that he is with us in our communities and families, and that “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” And with the Spirit we echo the prayer of those in the nation of Israel that night and those from faraway following a bright star, the prayers of a young mother and father in awe of their precious cargo, the prayers of humble shepherds, the echoing prayers of generations. We say, “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, Come.”

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