Advent grace

Cross-posted from Rougher Places …

If it was a sunny morning, I’d be telling you Advent is shot through with grace, like the morning gold streaming through the pines in my front yard. But it’s overcast; and so I’ll tell you that Advent is infused with grace, the way a morning mauve intinctured the soft gray darkness this dawn.

One of the readings for today is the part of the Noah’s Ark story where God makes a covenant with Noah, and declares that the rainbow in the sky is a sign of that covenant, that God will never again destroy the world with a flood. Time and experience have layered this story with meaning, building up like silt in the crook of a creek’s elbow.

In childhood, I obsessed over those very few people in a floating barn full of animals (how many nooks and crannies and who was where?), God’s enormous hand closing up the door of the boat (what did that look like?), wondering what they ate besides each other (and where did food come from?).

Later came disbelief and metaphor and science and prisms and garden hoses and rainbows you could make yourself. As a young parent, Noah’s Ark was back in the form of an enormous picture book with pop-up windows that I read to the kids, as well as a stuffed pillow of a toy ark full of animals, and a Mr. and Mrs. Noah, white skin and hair and beard like Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.

Things got more interesting in the days of being a middle-aged divinity student happily questioning everything. When my old questions about salvation and how it works got some traction, I started looking at how God chose to relate to us, all the way back to the garden, and working my way forward. What I found was an increasingly graceful God. Over and over, humans messed up, and God found a way around God’s own demands to remain in relationship with us. Years after Mr. and Mrs. Noah’s descendants had begun to muck things up, God makes another covenant, this one with Abraham and Sarah, and establishes circumcision as a sign of the covenant.

In faithfulness to this covenant, God liberates the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, after which God expects their obedience. Even after Israel repeatedly fails to uphold the covenant, and asks for a human king, God is faithful. Saul loses God’s favor over a disobedient sacrifice, and you might think God would make a more restrictive covenant with the next king; instead, God establishes his most unconditional covenant yet with David (2 Samuel 7:15-16). Over and over, God leads with love, and remains faithful, seeking reconciliation with and among God’s stiff-necked people.

In Jesus, God speaks the clearest Word of love, modeling through the visible life of a human being the appearance, action and attitude of God’s unstoppable, unending, forgiving, stubbornly pursuing grace-full love.

I needed a firm grasp on the hand of that graceful God, because a few short years later came the long-delayed, long-denied realization of being gay, and the rainbow took on another layer of meaning. The rainbow’s association with lgbt people and communities and issues has its reasons and legends, claimants and detractors, but for me the association is valuable because the rainbow is a sign of a covenanting-in-grace, loving God who keeps God’s promises, even when we fail to keep our end of the bargain. God won’t let anything separate us from God’s love, not our own imperfections and fears, not the demeaning attacks of others, not even death.

Good thing. Because all of us face rougher places that make it hard for us to believe that God still loves us, still walks with us, is still the Advent-ing God, coming closer to us day by day.

God wants to show us the world God has covenanted with; God invites us to care for and to heal this world. We turn away, too often.

We turn away when we ignore the reality of hungry children in our own communities … old people dying alone … people of color still experiencing society’s ills in disproportionate numbers … younger and older people beaten and killed because they don’t look like we think they should, because they don’t love like we think they should.

God is not the one turning away, even when our limited stories paint God as vengeful, judging, murderous God. When we learn better, we tell different stories. Jewish midrash tells how God cried when the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea. Ellen O’Grady asks about the people and animals outside the Ark, on the way to asking questions about Jews and Palestinians. Christians rethink God as one willing to die for love of us, rather than as a God who abuses God’s own child in the crucifixion.

I realize my own thoughts about Jesus and God and their relationship are changing, as my relationship with my own son changes. He does not always choose the way I want him to. Sometimes I am sure he is wrong; sometimes I even think he is wrong in how he is choosing to love.

Which makes me wonder. Did God think Jesus was wrong sometimes, in how Jesus chose to love? Did God really see and know Jesus’ choices would lead him to be killed? Did God really want that?

I can imagine another story. I can imagine God horrified as the tension around Jesus built and built, until a frenzy of fear and anger put God’s beloved to death. I can imagine a howling “No!” echoing through the universe.

I can imagine a God still howling, over every unnecessary death.

And then gentling God’s own voice, against God’s own pain, in order to not scare me when God draws near to speak to me again, in the chambers of my heart, “Will you not listen? Do you not hear the cries? Can you not do more? Love them … care for them … in so doing, you love me. Won’t you love me? Won’t you meet me, over and under and below and around the rainbow sign of my love?”

Yes, Beloved. I’ll meet you in the “Somewhere …” place where someone needs me to love them. Because dreams really do need to come true.

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