Tomorrow begins the season of Advent. It’s a time in which the historical church has set their eyes toward remembering the coming of the promised messiah. Plenty of reflections and messages will be shared from the Gospels. Many will turn to some of the prophets as well, including the well-known Isaiah.
One place the church will probably not turn to is the book of Job. Yet I want to offer something here of why the book of Job just might be a place we turn to this Advent season.
Back in seminary, my professor categorized Job (along with Ecclesiastes) as “contemplative wisdom.” Whereas the words of Proverbs seemed so straightforward, and if you obeyed them the outcome seemed so straightforward, Job wasn’t as tidy. There wasn’t such an equation to follow: Do A and it will lead to B.
You see, Job’s life pretty much lined up with the wise instruction found within the Hebrew Scriptures, such as Proverbs. However, the outcome didn’t look like what was promised in Proverbs. [Note: I’m well aware that Job might have been, probably was, written well before the collection of Proverbs. I’m using a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor to make the point.]
That’s just it. While Proverbs offers wisdom, it offers it in general pithy statements. They are not the be-all, end-all of life, mainly because a short statement doesn’t allow for all the components of life. It’s not unlike our own modern-day proverb, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” The general thrust behind this statement is that, fruit (or good eating) keeps you healthy with no need for those not-so-good-news doctor visits.
Well, that’s all fine and dandy. But there are plenty of folk who don’t eat fruit on a daily basis, who don’t eat healthy on a regular basis, but they are doing “just fine.” There are also folk that eat quite healthy, but carry deadly stress in life or their alcohol intake is well beyond the norm. Some of those people end up in the hospital.
You see the disparity between a pithy statement offering general wisdom and real life?
Proverbs is great! But it doesn’t cover all the bases of life.
That’s where Job (and Ecclesiastes) comes in. It offers wise and careful reflection on life. But it also reminds we’re not always sure why such and such is happening to folk, including the things that happen to us. We are privy to the opening scene of chs. 1 and 2 that both Job and his friends aren’t. So we are at an advantage. Yet Job is there trying to wrap his head around what has just happened.
And his friends are reminding him of general proverbial wisdom that all ancients would agree with. But it simply does not fit Job’s story.
So it’s a somewhat painful and drawn-out wisdom that takes time. Microwaves don’t work with this wisdom. It’s a turkey dinner that’s going to take hours and hours to prepare!
The wisdom of Job is much, much different from the wisdom of Proverbs.
Now, what does all this have to do with Christmas?
Historically, Advent has been a preparatory time, a period of anticipation of the arrival of the Christ child. Yet this anticipation has also been coupled with somewhat painful reflection.
From the time leading up to the birth of Jesus, the people of God had been deeply contemplating and lamenting their situation. Why? The reality of oppression; the lack of liberation. In former days, it had been Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. Now, in the days following the prophet Malachi, it was the Ptolemies, Seleucids and currently Rome. The setting Jesus stepped into was a mess – politically, religiously, militaristically, etc.
At times, there were whispers (or proclamations) of a special one to come (i.e., in Sirach & Wisdom). Excitement rose in the blood of the Jews as Judas, the Hammer, Maccabeus took down Antiochus IV and the Seleucid oppressive rule. But it always came back to the same reality: Things are just not right. Things are not the way they are supposed to be. Another world power would simply step in place and squash any attempt of the poor little Jewish nation becoming anything of substance.
Lament. Pain. Crying. Disappointment. Anger.
Not just individually, but collectively.
God, when will you come through? When will you send your messiah in the line of David, the heroic deliverer we’ve been hearing about for centuries now?
That’s a long time to wait. That’s a long time to anticipate. That’s a long time to feel the pain.
Why all of this?
The questions are too many to count!
Job, like the anticipatory lead-up to the coming messiah, reminds us that it’s ok to lament, cry, struggle, question, to dialogue honestly with God, even if he remains quiet for a season.
In our world today, perhaps it is in tumultuous upheaval. Another African-American is shot. Another cop is shot. Another baby is dismembered. Another terrorist opens fire. Another friend betrays. Another failure in loving your spouse and children.
Pain. Agony. Questions.
Why won’t life change?
In those times, we would do well to allow Job to become our mentor, our father, to draw close into his bosom. Perhaps if we’ll listen, we will learn much from him as the Spirit speaks.
Yet…the book of Job does not stop there.
Nor does the Advent anticipation.
We turn to the final chapter, the epilogue of Job, and we read that God both vindicates and restores Job. Yes! A poetic drama that plays out at a very sluggish pace over 41+ chapters. How much back and forth can these guys really do?! But the wait is well worth it. Those last 11 verses of ch.42 are a cup of cold water on a parched mouth. We’re almost shouting in the background, “Showed you!”
Redemption would come at last.
The painful, frustrating, centuries-long wait for God’s people of old. Exile, war, loss of sacred space and land, under the control of pagan empire after pagan empire.
Then a baby is born. A king, a messiah, a deliverer. He announces a good news message, an evangel proclamation that God’s kingdom was arriving.
Redemption would come at last.
The painful wait is over.
And here we are now, ourselves, with another season of Advent on the cusp. We’re awaiting the arrival of the Christ-child in the church’s calendar. We’re also anticipating a second Advent when all things are summed up in the work of Jesus. When we can sing this refrain with full confidence: He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. It will be a world with healing leaves and rivers of lively water and no more night.
We’re anticipating Christ’s Advent just a few weeks from now. We’re anticipating Christ’s Advent at some point in the future.
Job has something to teach us during the Advent season – both in our seasons of pain and our seasons of hope as God’s people.
Painful reflection. Promising hope.
Perhaps we’ll read those pages this Advent.