All Wrong

First Week of Advent Tuesday—Luke 1:5-8; Psalm 68

 Luke opens the Christmas story not with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus but another trio of characters: Herod, king of Judea, and two Jews, Zachariah and his wife, Elizabeth. And everything seems all-wrong from the beginning. 

First, Herod is not the rightful king of the Jews, but a murderous, puppet-king of Rome, who proved he would kill even his family members to protect his crown, whether the threats are real or imagined. Herod’s tyrannical rule is a grim reminder that the Jews live under Roman occupation as an oppressed people. In Rome’s empire, a small group of elites (about 2-3% of the population) rule, owning the land and labor force and consuming 65% of its resources. Everyone else (Jews, too) lives in varying degrees of poverty. Rome’s army secures and maintains Rome’s power and rule. Failure to comply with 
Rome’s laws results in swift and ruthless military action. Politics and religion are not separate, and no one pretends that they are. Rome believes its victory and rule to be divinely sanctioned. In other words, the victory and rule of Rome proves the goddess Roma and Caesar (the son of god) superior to all other local gods, including the Jewish God, Yahweh.

 Second, our two righteous, obedient Jews from Aaron's priestly line find themselves childless and too old to hope that will change. In the Bible’s world, people viewed childlessness as a disgrace and as the result of a defect in the woman. Believing Yahweh (or the gods, depending who you worshiped) rewards the obedient and punishes the disobedient, any sort of malady was seen as result of sin. Of course, Jesus corrects this misunderstanding about the ways and heart of Yahweh during His ministry. (See John 9:1-3.) But for now, imagine the struggle and the disgrace for Zachariah and Elizabeth, for this is their reality. Finally, let’s be honest. When people think rescue-mission-participant, the young, robust, and able-bodied comes to mind not the elderly, arthritic, and culturally shamed! 

All-wrong? Seems that way. But God is, apparently, neither conventional nor deterred by obstacles. And the powers of earthly kings and their kingdoms neither pose a threat nor prove to be a formidable opponent for Yahweh. 

 Does everything seem all-wrong in your life or, maybe, in the world? Make a list of your perceived all-wrong obstacles. Then, spend some time in prayer declaring God’s superiority over each obstacle.  

Pot or Plot: In Which Are You Planted?

Scripture is replete with metaphors, painting concrete pictures of abstract ideas. Take, for example, the many verses that speak of being planted.

The person who walks in God’s ways is like a tree planted (Psalm 1:3)

They will be the shoot I, God, have planted (Isaiah 60:21)

God had planted you like a choice vine… (Jeremiah 2:21)

Those who trust in the Lord will be like a tree planted (Jeremiah 17:8)

…you being rooted [same idea as planted] …in love (Ephesians 3:17)

Each of these metaphors likens people (or a person) to some sort of tree. In the same way a tree is planted in something, each person is planted in something, specifically a set of beliefs (ideas, values, truths) out of which that person grows and receives nourishment. Rest assured, the something into which a tree is planted affects the growth or lack thereof.

This morning, I found myself meditating on these planted metaphors. It occurred to me that when planting, you have two something options, I.e. the something into which to plant a tree. You can plant a tree in a pot (some sort of container) or a plot (the ground.) The Scriptural metaphors describe God planting in plots. Thus, considering the aforementioned options, plots represent trust in God (what He says, believes, values, etc.) and pots would represent placing trust in other things (what the world says will bring success, what a friend says about you, what magazines say makes a person beautiful or valuable, etc.).

Consider the physical realities of planting a tree in a pot versus planting a tree in a plot.

Pots confine—limiting growth, preventing the deep and wide spread of stabilizing roots. Pots themselves deteriorate and break, easily overturned by wind or carried away by flood waters. Potted plants require more effort to maintain, e.g. its only source of water is someone walking over to water it.

Plots of ground do not deteriorate, decompose, and break apart like man-made pot. Plots offer ample space for growth, where a tree’s roots can stretch deep and wide, bringing stabilization during severe winds and rains and reaching nourishment during times of drought. In other words, trees planted in the ground grow bigger and grow freely and naturally, even in adverse conditions.

Are you putting your hope and trust in lesser gods? Have you determined your worth and value based something other what God believes? Have you settled for being planted in a pot when God wants to plant you in a plot?

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD And whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream And will not fear when the heat comes. But its leaves will be green, And it will not be anxious in a year of drought Nor cease to yield fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8