18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”
Hebrews 12: 18-29 (NIV)
(For use with the MORNING Daily Prayer)
It was a holy gathering; and the people gathered to hear a Word from their God. The mountain was burning with fire, and there was darkness, gloom and storm, even a trumpet blast. As if this was not frightening enough, there was a voice speaking these words, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death”. The event was so terrifying that even Moses was trembling with fear, and the people begged not to hear further words.
“If even an animal…” underscores that there is no human being who would be spared in case one touches the mountain. If an animal (a non-sinful creature) must be stoned to death, what about human beings (sinful creatures)? In such a case, as sinful creatures, would they even consider reaching out to God in their helplessness and hopelessness? Does this give hope to the Church or to anyone today?
A friend of mine from Rwanda had a conversation with a child soldier (a Rwandan orphan) back home. This child was promised provision and protection by a so-called mentor (who enrolled him into the rebels’ army). As a child soldier, he carried guns and killed. The child said that he was given commands that were unbearable, in such a way that he was fed up. He detests any connection to a guardian (even God), because he does not see God as different from the terrible guardian he just experienced. Now, how would such a child feel if the only God he encounters is the One through Hebrews 12:18-21? Excited? Probably not.
Neither the Hebrews nor the child soldier nor we would be longing for a God described in Hebrews 12:18-21, since God’s people at the scene begged not to hear any further words from God. The child soldier had already experienced enough, a very traumatic life. The writer of this text knew that the readers have many struggles; some of them had been abused; others are immigrants, some were denied their civil rights, fighting horrible diseases and facing racial discrimination; others were battling economic disadvantages, addictions; and some were already traumatized through civil wars and were hungry and thirsty for hope. Now, where then will they find hope for which they are so desperate? Is there any God of righteousness, yet of grace, love, compassion and mercy who will provide that hope?
ADVENT points us to a season of hope and preparation to welcome Jesus Christ into the world. He is Emmanuel (God with us), fully God, the Almighty – the source of righteousness, love, grace, salvation, renewal of life, providence, protection, mercy, forgiveness, hope; yet He is fully human. He has experienced our struggles, thus He is the best to understand our weaknesses. He walks with us and shares our pain and our joy. In contrast to Hebrews 12:18-21, Hebrews 12:22-24 highlights the fact that the readers have come to mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, a place where God dwells with God’s people, where God is no more distant but near, no more terrifying but throwing a joyful feast to God’s people. With God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, there is hope here and now, and hope for tomorrow.
A Prayer for the Third Sunday of Advent
Lord, our God, this season of ADVENT reminds us of your breaking through into the world in our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ. As we prepare through this season to enter into that holy moment, we hold on to the hope that you brought. We acknowledge, as sinful people, that we fall short of your righteousness. We did not participate in your mission to help your people who have been abused, or have immigration issues, or have been denied their civil rights, or are facing racial discrimination, or battling economic disadvantages, or those who are fighting addictions, horrible diseases and so on. Yet your love, your grace, your mercy and compassion, and your forgiveness make hope available to us here and now, and tomorrow and the life to come. We ask for your forgiveness, Lord. We have hope that your work among us will alleviate their burden. Now, help us to see where you are working and what you are doing so that we may participate in your mission, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our redeemer, the One who taught us to pray (Our Lord’s prayer). Amen!
Pastor Yao Thomas Agbemenou