Season of Advent 2018 Year C – Second Sunday: The Old Testament Passage – Putting on and taking off a national identity

Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name, “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.” (Baruch 8:1 – 4)

A brief search concerning the book of Baruch will quickly show you that there is much controversy about the book. Who wrote it? When was it written? What time period was it written about? But I do not care much about figuring out the answers. What intrigues me is the concept of putting on a new national identity. The writer of the book of Baruch (who ever and whenever that person might be) talking not about individuals being re-cast but a whole nation. Jerusalem was comprised of hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people who for the most part professed the same type of perspective and outlook. Judaism had long ago established an exclusiveness that kept the national identity from changing much. What was the lot of one person was probably the lot of that person’s neighbor. Remember too that Judaism was based on the twelve descendants of Jacob and those families carried on the traditions from each succeeding generation. So for the Jewish nation to change as a nation from sorrow and affliction to splendor, righteousness, peace and Godliness would mean a remaking of every person in Jerusalem. It was a promise and prediction of . . . . biblical proportions!

“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.
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.
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. The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command.” (Verses 5 – 8)

Not only is writer of Baruch foretelling that the nation of Jerusalem will be remade, but those who were taken from families and neighborhoods will be returned. At least that is the overt promise. But as I said above, it is not the individual persons who will be returned and remade. It is the nation of Jerusalem, the re-establishment of the identity of the Israel nation. It is, beloved reader, a group identity rather than a collection of individuals. Moreover, it the group identity that is washed clean and presented as unsullied and unmarred.

“For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.” (Verse 9)

Our modern society is so taken up with individuals, and each individual’s identity recognized and honored. I am not saying that is a wrong or bad thing. But the writer of Baruch is in essence saying, do not mourn the individuals that were lost. Have hope because the nation of Jerusalem and Israel will at some time in the future be re-established and be better than ever.

According to the understandings of Israel’s and Judah’s demise, it was their inability and unwillingness to follow Yahweh’s laws and guidance. Presumably, according to the writer of the book of Baruch, this will be remedied by the work of the Divine. What once was will be changed; not by the actions of any one person, or even by a group, nor even by the actions of the whole nation. The Lord God will just do it, and all of Jerusalem and Israel will be changed.

What I am trying to say, beloved reader, but am reluctant to say forthright – is that the personality of a nation will be changed. Think of Russia during the Cold War years. Think of Germany during WWII. Think of England/Britain in the 1800’s. Think of India/China/Japan in the previous century. It is the same thing concerning Africa. All of these “personalities” were not based on individuals but on the group identity – for right or wrong. Can you, beloved reader, think of nations that have taken on a corporate/national personality? For right or for wrong?

Now, with the concept of the changing of the personality of a nation, let us look at the other Old Testament passage for this week.

“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.
Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.”( Malachi 3:1-4)

When we think about the refiner’s fire, we may picture individuals being tested and recast as something better. But it is more likely in these passages that the Lord God as the refiner will remold a whole group – the descendants of Levi who were the priestly tribe. Then the purified priestly tribe will be sanctified to offer up sacrifices for the nation and usher in the change on a national level. Our focus on the individual does not always fit in with the way scripture was written. But that is not to say that focusing on the individual is wrong, nor that we have misinterpret New Testament theology. I hope at some later point speak to that change. But this week, beloved reader, it would seem that our focus needs to be on large groups and not the individual. So let us stick together, holding one another in our thoughts and prayers. Selah!