I've thought a lot in the past few years about how little the word "king" means to children in our churches, but this morning in my preacher group I also began to wonder about Israel.
My friend, L, read aloud this week's alternate passage from Baruch 5–she has a beautiful voice, and I loved hearing her speak these words:
5:1 Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
5:2 Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
5:3 for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
5:4 For God will give you evermore the name, "Righteous Peace, Godly Glory."
5:5 Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east,
and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the
Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them.
5:6 For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but
God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne.
5:7 For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting
hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so
that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.
5:8 The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God's command.
5:9 For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.
It struck me that when I read "Israel" in a passage I assume some history and for my own devotional purposes simply substitute some vague idea of "God's people" for the name of a nation. And as we enter this season of singing old-fashioned favorites, I am pondering Israel.
I remember being a little girl and learning hymns and carols by how they sounded long before I could read the words. I remember not knowing that "glah sisi" was really "glassy sea," and frankly it lost some of its power and mystery when I figured out it wasn't some mystical appurtenance.
It must be the same with "Ih-ih-ihz-ry-ell." What associations do people have to the word? We can't assume the average 5th grader has any at all. Will "Ih-ih-ihz-ry-ell" sound like the same country you hear about on the news? And is it, really?
I don't quite know who I am in this Advent. My kids are all grown past the need for major surprises and into the era of major practical needs. As Associate in a large church with a lot of traditions that don't change, I have a very different role to play this Advent than in past years. What is the peak moment for which I am preparing? I'm not sure. And that feels unusual and weird and not a little discomfiting.
Baruch seems to be saying not to worry about it so much, and I'm ready to go there, to stand on the height and look to the east and west and see what is being gathered and remembered.