Fall Issue 11
The Advent of the Day of the Lord
By Jonathan Lipps
We often remark on the etymology of Advent (Latin adventus: “arrival, approach, coming”) in order to explain the primary spiritual characteristic of this season, namely “waiting.” We remark less often, or with less intention, on what exactly the waiting is for, maybe because we think the object of our waiting is obvious—we’re waiting for Jesus! In the same way that Jews used to wait for the Messiah, we now wait for the second coming of that Messiah (and thus more distally the eternal reign of the Kingdom of God).
The writings of the ancient prophets, however, caution against an uncritical, unreflective waiting for an easy and happy future state. Amos, for example, has this to say about the so-called “Day of the LORD":
Woe to you who long
for the day of the LORD!
Why do you long for the day of the LORD?
That day will be darkness, not light.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? (Amos 5:18-20, NIV)
The coming of Yahweh was not as monovalent a proposition as many Israelites apparently assumed. The ultimate outcome of the Day of the LORD was always depicted in line with the covenant promises of God to Israel (Jew and Gentile alike streaming to Zion to share in a radically new life of harmony), but a reckoning was an inevitable precursor to their fulfillment. This period of judgment was, like the promise, for the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike (not just for the latter, as many of the former no doubt hoped). The ambivalence of the Day of the LORD is mirrored in oracles about the Messiah, the promised Davidic King that would reign over the post-apocalyptic peace of God. Thus Zechariah can describe the coming king as both “righteous and victorious” as well as “lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 8:9). A righteous victory implies the judgment and defeat of a wicked group, but the posture of this righteous king is humility, not self-satisfaction.
Christians, of course, believe that the Messiah has already come, heralded by John the Baptist enacting the words of Malachi, who said, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes” (Mal 4:5 NIV). You could forgive the Jews of Jesus’ day, though, for missing the fact that the Day of the LORD was upon them. It wasn’t exactly as if the mountains were throwing themselves into the seas! When a group came to Jesus asking him to prove his divine calling with a miracle, he responded with a riddle that bordered on insult: “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah” (Matt 16:3-4).
In retrospect, it's fitting that Elijah was singled out as the icon of the Messianic herald, because Elijah could interpret the signs of God’s presence. Despite all the power and majesty of nature being paraded before him, he waited, and responded appropriately to God in his incarnation as a gentle whisper (1 Kgs 19:11-13). And this is exactly the point of Christmas. While the faithful in the Jewish world went on expecting a “great and dreadful Day of the LORD” along with a warrior-king’s triumphal emergence, Amos’ words proved truer than they realized: God came at night, in the pitch dark of a barn. God came in a dusty corner of the world, not its luminous center. God came in the midst of rejection and want (much-needed hospitality for a very pregnant woman having been withheld immediately prior), not comfort and plenty. From the perspective of human history, this beginning was less than a whisper, a far cry from any earth-shattering apocalypse.
Why? Why would God come so completely hidden, so unannounced? It would be a very surprising event indeed, if we didn’t already know something about the character of Yahweh. But we do. As Iain Provan likes to say: Righteous anger may be a part of God’s character, but it is not essential to God’s character—that pride of place belongs to love. Put simply, God came most viscerally to our world in the form of a helpless child rather than an angry lord because of love. Though he could justifiably have come in judgment at any point (after all, fair warning had been given time and time again), he instead doubled down on forbearance, and entered the messy narrative from the margins of the page, giving us all another chance to recognize the true author of the story, and what it is that author cares about.
It’s worth dwelling on this remarkable aspect of God’s character, and looking for its evidence in our own lives. God comes to us in gentleness and peace long after we deserve otherwise, neither annihilating us with righteousness, nor impotently nagging us to change, nor indeed letting us go our own way forever (if we insist on harming his creation), but quietly putting before us the next simple step we can take in a journey towards him. God’s steadfast love for us is so great that it bends his holiness like a gravitational lens, making space for us to grow in this stepwise fashion, however slowly and falteringly, like little seeds in the care of a gardener, pushing our way up through dirt and decay.
It’s true that even the New Testament writers don’t shy away from talking about a final reckoning for all, carrying on the original theme of the Day of the LORD. But however sudden and cataclysmic that Day might be, what Christmas teaches us is that the heart of the LORD who will come in judgment is the same as the heart of the God who came as an innocent baby. We can therefore look forward to a future which is good, and not arbitrary or evil. We can look forward to forgiveness and freedom from any fault humbly confessed. And most of all, we can look forward to fellowship with a God who has walked down our streets, laughing and mourning with particular human beings, even us—even me.
This is the object of the waiting we celebrate during Advent, and it is the same thing we wait for in truth all our lives. We no longer need to wait for a Messiah to be revealed; we must simply (and painstakingly) wait for the loving character of that Messiah to be the determining factor of all of reality. And meanwhile, we work towards allowing that character to become the determining factor of our own lives, and of our lives together. So we wait, work, and make ourselves ready, “because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matt 24:44)—just like he did the first time!
Imagining a Memory:
Pacific Theatre’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
By Steven Gomez
Who would have thought that a wardrobe could contain a world? Who would have thought that four young children would be crowned kings and queens? And who would have thought that a few pieces of furniture, their dust-covers, and a handful of coats were all you needed to bring the past back to life?
The answer to the first two questions is C.S. Lewis. And clearly Ron Reed, creative director of Pacific Theatre and author of their stage version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is the answer to the third.
Reed has carefully set the play in 1962, when Lucy (Rebecca deBoer) and Peter (John Voth) revisit the spare room in the old Professor’s house, where the old wardrobe that once led to Narnia still stands. It isn’t long before they’re retelling each other the story, doing all the parts and shifting the room around to build the world, not unlike children at play who make-believe with what they have at hand.
Having seen another production of this script some years ago, I thought I knew what to expect. But there was a renewed magic this time around, which I attribute mostly to the venue. I previously saw it staged in a more traditional auditorium, whereas Pacific Theatre’s intimate “in the round” experience tends to draw an audience into the story. There’s a dimensionality possible here that gets lost in other performance spaces.
Despite the low-budget approach and only two actors, “minimalism” is not the word to describe this production. An entire world and a massive cast of characters is truly conjured up before our eyes, thanks to the ingenious creativity of the designers and the masterful skills of deBoer and Voth, our leads. A fur coat serves for Mr and Mrs Beaver; a couple of chairs and a trunk become the Witch’s sledge; and as for Aslan…well, let’s just say it’s about as simple and as humble as you can get. Big budgets are no match for an audience’s imagination, something Reed reminds us of in his show notes: “Narnia gets a hold on your heart because you help build it, bringing all your senses to bear…as you work with the creator to make a world.”
It’s an admirable philosophy for live theatre, whether fantasy or otherwise. And in this play it has another layer of significance. Lucy and Peter are not imagining their own world; they’re remembering what happened to them as children. At the same time, those of us who grew up with Narnia are remembering a story we’ve known since childhood while imagining the world suggested by the stage. The line between memory and imagination blurs, each serving as a doorway to the other as surely as a wardrobe is a doorway to a snowy wood.
For people who haven’t had a lifetime’s experience with C.S. Lewis’ classic tale, this intermingling of imagination and memory is no doubt going to be less potent, but through the playful cooperation of audience and actors it will surely be no less real.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, adapted by Ron Reed from C.S. Lewis’ novel and directed by Sarah Rodgers, runs at Pacific Theatre until December 29. Visit pacifictheatre.org for more information and to purchase tickets.
Righteous Legacy, Part 5
By Peter Cheung
Righteous Legacy is my attempt to tell his interpretation of the story of Dr. Ho Feng-shan, better known as the Chinese Schindler, on stage. One of my reasons for writing this script is to raise awareness about anti-Semitism, which is ongoing as seen in the recent Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. This scene was written on November 9, 2018, the 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht.
10 | Kristallnacht
November 9, 1938 (Historically, the rescue of the Roseuburgs happened in 1939.)
Roseuburg’s home. Mr. Roseuburg, his wife and their maidservant are packing.
Two Gestapo officers enter, passing by the Roseuburg’s home outside.
GESTAPO OFFICER 1: Corner the Jews! Burn their synagogues! Heil Hitler!
OFFICER 2: (as if addressing Officer 1) You, over there! You! Follow me, there are Jews here!
Another Gestapo officer enters, both approaching the Roseuburg’s home. They ring the bell. Once, pause, twice, pause, then they become impatient.
Mr. Roseuburg sees the two Gestapo officers, signals his wife and their maidservant to bring him the phone and hide. He attempts to hide the fact that he is packing. Mrs. Roseuburg brings him the phone. He quickly calls Shan and tells him not to come.
ROSEUBURG: (rushed) Dr. Ho, it’s Roseuburg. I know you want come and visit later today, but it is ok. We appreciate that. Gotta go. Bye!
The Gestapo officers kick the door open.
GESTAPO OFFICERS: (together) Heil Hitler!
OFFICER 1: You! What are you doing?! (Officer 2 restrains Mr. Roseuburg)
ROSEUBURG: I… (Mrs. Roseuburg peeks from her hiding place, scared to make a sound)
OFFICER 1: Packing to leave, huh? (messes up what Roseuburg is packing) I don’t mind; this country has no place for you! But is anyone willing to take you?
OFFICER 1: Well, either way, you don’t need this place anymore, do you? There’s a place for your lot, communists! Go! (signals Officer 2 to escort Roseuburg out of the home. Both leave.)
Mrs. Roseuburg in shock. Finally, she takes up the phone to call Shan. Shan enters from other side of stage (as if he is receiving the call from the consulate).
MRS. ROSEUBURG: Dr. Ho … It’s Mrs. Roseuburg, they took him! The Nazis, they took him!
SHAN: What? No wonder, I found he sounded strange earlier. I was already on my way; I will be there shortly. I might be able to help. See you.
To be continued . . .
By William Butler Yeats
Now as at all times I can see in the mind's eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depths of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary's turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.
Puzzled by the crosswords this semester?
Embolus will be available in Room 010 this Tuesday, December 4 at 1pm (after soup group).
Solution to Last Week’s Crossword
Crossword by Embolus
2. Terminal president? (4,1,7)
9. Anger (3)
10. Numeric sequences (12)
12. Sick (3)
13. State (7)
15. Single (3)
16. State water (4,4)
17. State (5)
20. State (5)
22. Golden city (8)
26. Weapon (3)
27. States (7)
28. Since (3)
29. State adventurer? (7,5)
32. Purpose (3)
33. Breathing tube (5,7)
24. State (7)
25. State (7)
30. Everyone (3)
31. Gamete (3)
1. State (8)
3. Lennon’s lady? (3)
4. State (8)
5. State (6)
6. Hard fruit (3)
7. Financial state (7)
8. Sycophants (3,3)
11. Departed by air (4)
13. State capital (7)
14. State (7)
18. State (8)
19. State (8)
21. Fleets (7)
23. Oh dear! (4)
24. State (7)
25. State (7)
30. Everyone (3)
31. Gamete (3)