OT: Reflections on slamming into 1st Advent

I feel like I’ve had a spinning head for days. Between Thanksgiving, impending Chanukkah, the end of the term, the grading, the drive ahead of me, the general holiday chaos, I’ve just been overwhelmed by everything for a week. I can’t believe that Advent is starting already, but I don’t know why I am surprised. The Christmas music’s been in the air for a week already.

Happy beginning of the church year to all the Christians reading. Advent was a big deal in my life as a child and I still mark the days because of the theme of the human yearning for redemption. I have written a few posts about Advent music: one on a famous German advent hymn from the war years; and one about my favorite Advent hymns from childhood and their modern versions.

Armitageworld bloggers have already been busy writing about the day today, with posts on the first Sunday in Advent in Sweden and on childhood memories of Advent Sunday afternoons from Germany. And in a related mood, our fellow fan, Beverly, reminds us to stop and be thankful in the midst of everything.

Not in ArmitageWorld, my favorite Norwegian blogger opens her annual Advent calendar. And a Presbyterian pastor I admire preaches about Advent as Apocalypse (Revelation).


Before I forget:

rahobbitgiftbombforcharitynov2612gratianalFirst, I’ve been busy endorsing Richard Armitage’s charity preferences for the last week or so, and I’m going to do that again in this paragraph. If you’ve loved what and how he’s been doing this week, send a message to him with a gift for one of the JustGiving charities attached to congratulation him. In the process, you will help someone and feel great, too. You can donate as little as one pound! If you’d rather donate food in your local community or give blood, connect up with spReAdthelove, which I’m told already has found eleven donors this season. A message will be left in their honor at JustGiving, also to congratulate Mr. Armitage on everything. Thanks to all who have given.

Additionally, I’m going to go out on a limb for myself and make my own charity endorsement for Advent, the same as last year, a group called Advent Conspiracy that asks people to spend more time with their loved ones and to buy a different kind of Christmas gift this year: water for a village that has none — or freedom for a slave. (Yes: a slave. Human trafficking affects a minimum of two million souls each year.) Advent Conspiracy does not collect money itself but funnels giving to organizations that pursue these worthy goals. They have a moving video that makes me teary every time I see it:

Please consider any of these charities as the recipient of your donation.


What’s on my mind? I want to put this here, but I don’t have time to formulate it all. I’ll just put the pieces down. Hopefully I can come back.


Yesterday’s Torah portion was Vayishlach.

There are two telling moments in this reading for me.

First, Genesis 32: 24f (KJV):

24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.

26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.

I won’t let go until you bless me, G-d. Not because I’m so determined or especially virtuous, but because I’m caught up in your gaze, and I don’t know how to let go of You.

In v. 29, the angel refuses to Jacob his name. “Why do you ask?” he says. Why indeed. But the angel changed Jacob’s name to Israel and blessed him.


I particularly love the German translation of this text as Luther did it: “Aber er antwortete: Ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn.”

Here, the setting by J.S. Bach:


Then, also Genesis 33: 8f (NIV), when Esau and Jacob meet for the first time after Jacob tricks Esau out of his birthright:

Esau asked, “What’s the meaning of all these flocks and herds I met?”

“To find favor in your eyes, my lord,” [Jacob] said.

But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.”

10 “No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. 11 Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it.

The notes in the Stone Chumash reports that Rashi distinguished between Esau’s statement that he has “plenty” and Jacob’s statement that he has “enough” (the Stone Chumash also translates the latter reply as “everything”). Rashi says: Esau’s answer reflects greed, whereas Jacob’s statement sufficiency and gratitude.

Chabad comments on how Jacob’s favor before G-d affected him.

I need to be more grateful. Like Jacob, I have everything. G-d has given me enough. G-d has given me everything.


And, weird transition to the Christian past, the d’var Torah yesterday mentioned that Jacob offered Esau donkeys. The rabbi noted that Moshiach will come on a donkey. The donkey symbolizes physicality — the arrival of the Moshiach on the donkey stands for the ability that we will have to subdue our bodies and live spiritually. May Moshiach come and help us to live in the spiritual world.

When the Messiah comes, Israel will live in peace with the nations.

Christians also believe that the Messiah arrived, riding on a donkey. (Yes, I know they took it from the Hebrew scriptures.) The donkey symbolizes humility.


For the first Sunday of Advent in year A (yes, I know we started year C today, liturgy mavens), the RCL suggests Isaiah 2:1-5. This is the verse that the rabbi was quoting yesterday when referring to peace:

2:3 For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

2:5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

We sing the first verse every week when we take the Torah out to read it:

כִּ֤י מִצִּיֹּון֙ תֵּצֵ֣א תֹורָ֔ה וּדְבַר־יְהוָ֖ה מִירוּשָׁלִָֽם׃

I need to pray harder for peace.


I think it comes down to this: I want justice and peace and in order to get justice I must resign my hopes for peace. Or that’s how it feels on a day to leave, when I constantly have to point out injustice, to say that justice denied to one is justice denied to all. No man is an island. When one person is denied personhood, I am also no longer a person.

At the same time, Micah 6 — this is not an active move, it’s resignation. I can’t do anything else, other than act in justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with G0d. Because I simply lack the capacity for everything else. For everything else beyond that I am not enough. Like the Mennonite who says, My G-d says thou shalt not kill and I am not smart enough to figure out the rest of it and I don’t have to because the message against my incapacity has simply to be enough. Because that is enough it is everything and vice versa.


Hymns my mom reported that they sang in church today:


How to speak and let go of caring about the outcome. To create the room to speak, but to speak as if no one is listening. Not to care what people think. To simply become a voice and a word and nothing else. To reduce everything to its essence. To create and let the created thing be and walk away from it as if I had forgotten it and who I was. Flow, flow, flow.

To connect this with being a mensch. To feel joy in the midst of destruction. To do as well as possible every time. To let myself not do well.

What to keep, what to lose? Like I have any control?


Sorry this is so disjointed. I have to grade …

Chanukkah in six days.

~ by Servetus on December 3, 2012.

16 Responses to “OT: Reflections on slamming into 1st Advent”

  1. Servetus, have you heard of Sid Roth? Just wondering. 🙂


  2. Wonderful post, thank you so much!


    • Thanks for the comment, and welcome.


      • My favorite sentence: “I think it comes down to this: I want justice and peace and in order to get justice I must resign my hopes for peace.”

        To be honest, I’d never really thought about the either-or tension between those two concepts before. There must be some ‘and’ middle ground. Otherwise, how to reconcile what the Messiah achieves in Isaiah 9:2-7? “He will be called…Prince of Peace” and also “…establishing and upholding [His kingdom] with justice and righteousness”. I wonder if we’ll ever be able to find that ‘and’ in our own lives. Rhetorical question, I suppose: how to leave vengeance to G-d but respond appropriately to wrongdoing? And what’s really the difference between justice and revenge?

        Ah well, thanks for the food for thought. 🙂


        • If you follow Rachel Held Evans, she’s had some interesting posts on this topic lately — and resulting discussions — about the relationship of G-d as judge and G-d as loving.


          I’m not and have never been evangelical, but I think the traditional answer to this question has been to define all G-d’s behavior (whatever it is) as just and so thus generating peace in some time frame that we can’t understand.

          The issue that I was specifically thinking of here (I don’t talk politics on blog, so I’m staying vague) was one where I had for years thought, okay, there are people I disagree with but I don’t believe their POV on the question is unjust. This summer I started revising my own POV and I started to realize the extent to which I thought that the other POV *was* inherently unjust. That made me feel like I couldn’t be silent about it any longer. But that in turn generated all kinds of conflict. Maybe the point is that I need to redefine what I think of as peace. Peace is perhaps not primarily the absence of conflict … ?


          • I’d never heard of Evans, but thanks for the recommendation! I read just the latest blog post of hers and totally resonated with it. I am an evangelical (with a Judaic Studies and Hebrew Language minor, lived at a synagogue for several years in college, so I was particularly fascinated with your 1st Advent post :), and I love wrestling with heady philosophical stuff. That’s what it always comes down to, though, wrestling…and hoping at the end that if I don’t let go, G-d will bless me and maybe even change my name / self-conception. 🙂

            I don’t have any deep insights about redefining peace, but I find myself wondering: is it possible to be at peace in the midst of conflict? If I experience any peace in my life, it’s 100% drawn from my relationship with G-d. I don’t make a habit of going around causing conflict in my life, but I’m no stranger to it either…and I’ve made enough mistakes to bring it down on myself numerous times. I’m sure there’ll be more. Peace is something I deeply hunger for and am grateful to experience as much as I do…and at the end of the day, I must always throw myself on the mercy of G-d and trust Him with whatever agonies I’m staring at. Sometimes peace comes immediately, sometimes it’s elusive, but in His arms, I’ve always eventually found it, even if the external circumstances haven’t gone away yet.


            Wow, how did following RA turn into this? LOL


            • you ran into me. I have strange philosophical / spiritual preoccupations due to my childhood. 🙂 The rest of the Armitage blogosphere is safer from this kind of thing.

              I rarely find my relationship with G-d peaceful. Dormant, sometimes, angry, loving / intense, but not really peaceful …


          • We may wish peace were the absence of conflict, but I think it’s more a concept of having peace inspite of conflict.


            • I don’t disagree but when does that turn into callousness / detachment?


              • I was least at peace (and, I felt, least in touch with G-d) when I was most detached. I particularly remember a moment when I was with some friends in college: one of them had just lost her older brother and she was caught up in grief. The rest of my friends huddled around her to give her comfort. They were shedding tears with her and hugging her. I was horrified to find myself standing apart from the rest of the group, feeling absolutely *nothing*. I hated that dead, detached feeling. That wasn’t peace at all. I had been sort of unconsciously cultivating a life of the mind, shunning emotions (which I considered a sign of weakness at the time), and this was the result of that foolishness. I immediately started begging Him to bring me back to life…I couldn’t get myself to feel anything on my own, except maybe shame.

                For me, peace is rooted in trusting G-d, in putting my hope in His character and His promises. That doesn’t mean that I always do it, but that when I finally get around to obeying Him and doing it, He enables me to feel the emotions, to acknowledge the not-knowing and the pain, the elation, whatever, but to know that whatever happens, He’s here with me and He’s not going to let me be utterly destroyed by whatever I’m going through. Or let His own character be destroyed by the hateful actions of others. I definitely haven’t stopped wrestling with how a loving, all-powerful G-d can let awful things happen, but the alternative (for me) to trusting Him to put it all right in the end is to give up on Him and believe that He’s either not all-powerful or He’s not good (or both). The implications of that are far worse than the struggle to live with the paradox.

                All of this sounds so heady and confident, like I’ve got it all figured out, but I haven’t. 🙂


                • IMHO peace comes from constantly nurturing your relationship with G_d which leads to spiritual maturity. This relationship/spirituality is the foundation that enables you to deal with conflict in a loving and peaceful way instead of becoming callous or detached — or some other negative reaction. I struggle with this ideal all the time because it’s difficult to give in to selflessness which is also reqiured for peace during times of conflict.
                  Glad you are feeling better; I was beginning to worry about you.


                  • I also have a hard time trusting G_d because I was raised to “trust no living soul and walk careful has hell around the dead.”


                    • Well, I suppose there *is* something to “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. 🙂


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