Psalm 126; Habbakuk 3:2-6; Philippians 3:12-16
With its familiar “. . . .Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.. . . .” (verses 13-14) the Philippians passage is one which many of us were taught to memorize in our childhood or adolescent years. But not so with Psalms 126 or Habbakuk 3:2-6. Go look them up and you will see what I mean.
Notice anything? To me, the only characteristic common to all three passages is that all three authors long for an Ideal not currently present. The lesson to be learned, however, is in the stark contrast of where the authors look to find that Ideal. For both Old Testament writers, the tone of the passage is “We remember, Lord, what you did back there in our community’s history; do it again!” But for Paul, the paradigm of a thoroughly converted follower of Christ if there ever was one, the Ideal is in front of him, in a not yet realized goal which he seeks “to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (verse 12)
What’s the difference? In two words: Christ Jesus.
In the Bible, both Old Testament and New, God is consistently portrayed as a Holy One Who Is Out In Front of God’s People, calling them forward. The people of the community of faith in the Old Testament, however, are often portrayed as looking back and longing for God to repeat an old thing. Once God becomes Incarnate in the Advent of Christ, everything changes. The New Testament community of faith forever looks forward to what this God Who Can fill Mangers and empty Tombs can do anew. Paul, the poster boy of traditional Judaism if there ever was one, had a lot to let go of. But he regarded it all as rubbish as he pressed on toward the high calling of Christ.
Christ Jesus changed everything for Paul, including his orientation to history, his understanding of God’s Ideal, and his role in God’s work. In this Advent Season, what might he change for us?
LET US PRAY
O God, in this Advent Season and forever more, grant us the courage to let go, to grab hold, and to hang on for the wild ride of following Christ Jesus. Amen.
Ross Brummett is husband to Lea Ann, father to Molly and Will, and friend and colleague to many at Carson-Newman where he serves as Senior Vice-President for Student Affairs and Professor of Religion. “During this season of Advent, I am most looking forward to the Comfort of the Old, the Challenge of the New, and the Quiet Contemplation of both."