Theme: Hurry Up and Wait
Written by Peter Wall, First Congregational Church of Fresno
In 1941, during the Second World War, a young American writer was troubled. He later recalled, “I’d been living through the Hitler era in the 1930s, where no matter what anyone did, Hitler kept winning victories, and the only way that I could possibly find life bearable at the time was to convince myself that no matter what he did, he was doomed to defeat in the end. That he couldn’t win.”
That writer channeled his worry and conviction into a story, the first part of which was published in 1942, about an empire that seemed “bound to win, no matter what the forces arrayed against it,” except that one farsighted person had recognized that the empire was destined to fall, and had proven it scientifically.
That writer might have been influenced by the traditions of his Jewish parents, which included prophets like Malachi. The book of Malachi probably dates to the fifth century B.C.E. Things were obviously different then, but people still needed to scratch the same itches. Some of them, like Malachi, recognized powerful evils and yearned for the justice of comeuppance to their purveyors.
The imaginative means to make life bearable in those days did not include enthralling fables of technical control through the mathematical understanding of fundamental patterns in reality, as in the 1940s. Instead, Malachi spoke from an experience of the world as both deeply historical and thoroughly dangerous. The people had forgotten their identity, which was embodied in their prior covenant with God.
But who can endure the day when God arrives after that forgetting? God is not a reassuring hug, but a refiner’s fire. (A phrase that comes to my mind is “holy hell.”) And that purification will result in a return to the righteousness of an earlier time.
In these cynical and unimaginative times, we know that a dreamed up future is no more real than an idealized past. We know that even with the staggering success of our science, or the statistical sophistication of our polling analyses, we cannot predict the future. We also know that every day of human history has been rife with evil and injustice.
But I cannot blame Malachi for coping with a corrupt priesthood by imagining a cataclysmic divine purification and a return to a Golden Age. And I cannot blame Isaac Asimov for coping with Hitler by writing a science fiction epic now known as the Foundation series. They worked with what they had.
Today we need the assurance of hope like countless others have needed it before us. May our meditations in the season of Advent provoke our imaginations. Because that is the incarnation through which God still speaks.