Saturday, December 29, 2007

Five Gold Rings

A Reflection for the Fifth Day of Christmas

"On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… five gold rings."

Five gold rings = the first five books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch, or Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

Scripture: Psalm 98; Deuteronomy 6:10-25; 31:24-26; Romans 10:1-13

GENTLE, PERSISTENT REMEMBRANCE. The reality around our house is that, without this extended focus on the twelve days, Christmas would be receding into distant memory by now. But here it is the fifth day of Christmas and we are anticipating yet another gift on the journey to Epiphany. Granted, this way of observing Christmas does not have hyped anticipation. Instead, there is a gentle, persistent remembrance and insight into the Word become flesh that is inviting and instructive.

STANDARD AND NARRATIVE OF FAITH. Open the gifts given to you today by your True Love. Five gold rings: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They are known in Judaism as the Torah, or the Pentateuch. Together they are what is referred to in both the Old and New Testaments as the Law. This is the backbone and skeletal structure of the Biblical community of faith. It is the plumb line in an idolatrous and crooked world. It is the narrative and standard for much of what has held Western civilization together for millennia.

COVENANT STORY. The Law is not so much "law" as it is a woven story of faith in which a covenant between the Hebrew people and Yahweh is developed, solidified, interpreted, and applied. This people without identity or land, this people who were slaves in Egypt, find identity (Israel), deliverance (the Exodus), and a home (Canaan, roughly contemporary Palestine). The common denominator in the formation of Israel is faith in and obedience to one unseen God, who is revealed as Yahweh, or I Am.

BOOK BY BOOK. Genesis traces the roots of a chosen and faith-formed people. Exodus walks us through slavery in Egypt, miraculous deliverance, and the formation of the Sinai covenant. Leviticus outlines the terms of the covenant, establishing everything from the calendar to minutia regarding food preparation. Numbers takes great pains to name every tribe and family; it creates a sense of community, belonging, and relationship. Deuteronomy renews the Sinai covenant as the nation prepares to enter Canaan after forty years of wandering in the desert.

LIVING OUT TORAH. How the people of Israel live in light of Torah is the subject of much of the rest of the Old and New Testaments. The historical narratives (Joshua through Esther) tell of the rising and falling of Israel based on adherence to or apostasy from the Law. The prophets (Isaiah through Malachi) are essentially passionate pleas for Israel to voluntarily return to live within the terms of the covenant, within which there would be joy and shalom. The New Testament is about rescuing the Law from legalism and vain traditions and of the fulfillment of Torah in Jesus of Nazareth. The Apostle Paul declares, "Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4).

DARE TO BELIEVE TODAY. So much of what it means to live by faith is learned from the Pentateuch. Abraham took God at God’s word and it was credited to him as righteousness. Joseph first survived then thrived by faith. Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt singularly by faith in the promise and leadership of God. The invitation made to these ancient people was extended to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph. And the invitation to "fear not" and to dare to believe that "nothing is impossible for God" extends to us today.

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