Saturday, December 18, 2021

Advent readings 2021 : Day 21


In which the exiles draw breath


Genesis 8:20-22

And Noah built an altar to the LORD and he took from every clean cattle and every clean fowl and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled the fragrant odor and the LORD said in His heart, “I will not again damn the soil on humankind’s score. For the devisings of the human heart are evil from youth. And I will not again strike down all living things as I did. As long as all the days of the earth—seedtime and harvest and cold and heat and summer and winter and day and night shall not cease.”


Qohelet 1:1-6, 14, 15

The words of Qohelet son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Merest breath, said Qohelet, merest breath. All is mere breath. What gain is there for man in all his toil that he toils under the sun. A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth endures forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and to its place it glides, there it rises. It goes to the south and swings round to the north, round and round goes the wind, and on its rounds the wind returns.

I have seen all the deeds that are done under the sun, and, look, all is mere breath, and herding the wind. The crooked cannot turn straight nor can the lack be made good.


The Flood that sweeps away the civilisations of the Ancient Near East—perhaps the swift rise of Alexander the Great’s empire—does not deal with the desire of humankind to capture the soil that gave birth to other peoples; but God does reaffirm the order set out in Genesis 1, an order of seasons—the waxing and waning of rulers, the times set them—established in order that the earth itself is not worn thin. The rise and fall of empires, the breath of life and the dying breath, is not for us to overthrow; attempts to control such things, to prevent men from rising or to hold on to power, are like trying to herd the wind. In all this, the vocation of God’s people is to intercede, to raise prayer to heaven: how long, O Lord? Even when the rebuilt Temple is desecrated by Alexander’s successors, it will be fought for and reconsecrated to this role. And Advent is a season of rededication, of consecrating ourselves, committing our breath as prayer for the world.

As we hear the news, which these days seems to come at us 24/7 without ever pausing for breath, rather than be discouraged, let us turn the unfolding events of humankind and the soil to prayer.


Biblical texts: Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary


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