Do you know the day of Midian? Isaiah says that the deliverance will be like the deliverance of the people of Israel at the day of Midian, that the rod of the oppressor will be broken at that time, the power of the one holding the people down, holding them back; holding them captive will be broken forevermore.
We just tend to gloss over these things, don’t we? We tend to just take the Lord’s word for it, that there was a day of Midian and that the rod of the oppressor must have been broken on that day cuz so sayeth the Lord.
I take a lot of things on faith, that would explain why I come to a place like this one each and every week. Sometimes that is hard to handle for folks.
People have asked me to explain why I do not require classes and certificates before I offer the Eucharist to children and all I have to offer is that I do not understand what is going on in the Holy Supper, but that Jesus has ordained it as something that will do me good, bring me grace and so I do it and if I can do it and not understand what is going on, then anyone can and the meal is open to all who come forward and hold open their hand, bringing nothing with them; and they receive everything that the Lord has to offer, which is to say, everything.
I just do it because Jesus said I should and I follow where He leads me and try not to impose too much of my own judgment. I’ll examine and explore and dig deeper and pull it apart all day, but when push comes to shove, I just trust Jesus and get on with things. It has worked out nicely so far.
I still teach Communion to kids, (adults too, for that matter) I just don’t require it, I just do not place myself in between God’s grace and any open heart or hand, if you’re willing to simply trust and hold open your hand to receive a gift from the Lord, then I’ll place the bread in it, and who could possibly believe more simply than a child?
But I did want to find out what was up with the day of Midian. I knew that it was in Judges and that Gideon had something to do with it, but farther than that I could not go. But after all, it was important enough to include in the Christmas Eve scriptures, so it must be something special, it must have some kind of significance.
As it turns out, it has a lot of significance; it has everything to do with the birth of Jesus so I thought I’d start there, but I’ll make it as short as I can in summing up.
Israel messes up again and God delivers them into the hand of their enemies, as usual, and this time it is the Midianites. The people cry out to the Lord, a little late, as usual, and the Lord raises up for them a Judge (this is the book of Judges after all) by the name of Gideon who is told to straighten up his own house and then lead the people’s army against their foes, the Midianites.
The Judge appointed by the Lord raises up a mighty host and is about to deliver a little God’s own retribution on the residents of Midian when the Lord pulls Gideon up short and says, you have too many people, if you prevail like this, then people might not know that it was my hand that delivered them.
You get that? When people saw that the huge army prevailed against their foes, they might be tempted to believe in their own power and not that of the Lord and so God had Gideon send those who were afraid home.
So Gideon took care of that and then got all ready to attack and the Lord stopped him saying, wait, still too many guys, the people might still trust their own power, send home the ones I pick out for you this time, and God gave Gideon a sign and only three hundred were left and God told them to attack and God would deliver the Midianites into their hands.
And so it was.
The people were lost and without guidance, without hope; and the Lord sent to them someone to deliver them from their bondage. They wandered away from the ways of the Lord and the Lord forgave them their trespasses and resolved to set them free.
And like in the day of Midian, the yoke of your burden , the rod of your oppressor has been broken, not by the coming of an army, vast and powerful that we might mistake our victory for being our own, but by the coming of a child, the least likely of all possibilities.
After all, there were options, right? The whole Jesus thing was one among many possible outcomes of the sinfulness and degradation of the people. God could have, for instance, just gone the way of Noah again and called the whole thing a failed experiment, a Petri dish gone all septic and decided to start all over again. After all, if it weren’t for Noah being just righteous enough the whole thing might not have gotten this far this time, we lucked out the first time, God could have finished the job and been done with it.
Or there is the whole avenging army thing. As in the day of Midian the Lord could have anointed a king over men to raise up an army and expunge the world of un-righteousness and made all who survived submit to the Law without exception and then righteousness would have been made manifest at the point of a sword. It doesn’t seem too out of character for the Lord who delivered Israel time and time again into the hands of their enemies only to rescue them time and again by raising up a leader and a host to sweep the defilers from the world.
The problem is, neither of those things is truly like the day of Midian, when God chose to make plain to the people that it was indeed God who was at work, and when God chose to work in ways too wondrous for us to imagine making the heavenly will manifest across the face of creation.
God wanted it to be wondrous. God wanted it to be something that people remembered, something that people would celebrate, talking about it in the years and decades and centuries that followed like “remember the Alamo” or “as in the day of Midian.”
If God had ended the creation, calling it quits with that quirky, rude, recalcitrant and always sinful humanity that had been placed there in the beginning like it says in the book, if God had decided to roll back the clock to where the universe was stable, that is with no people in it because if there was ever a cause for instability, it’s people; then there would be no need for the rest of this, no Bible, no Christmas services no anything, it’d all be gone.
And such has been God’s love for the creation from the very beginning, for you and for you that even in the midst of G’s greatest fit of pique there was no final destruction, no ending of things, we were delivered and given another chance.
It is not an option for God, it would seem, to give us another chance, it appears to be in the nature of God to do so and so just etch-a-sketch-ing us out of existence really wasn’t an option.
And the whole thing about raising up a righteous one to lead the people and be their Judge, at least as on the day of Midian, well, it had to be done again and again because with people, nothing lasts forever, not even deliverance from their own messes. If the Old Testament tells us nothing else, it is that leaders eventually fail. Power goes to their heads, the notion of being the chosen one of God drives them mad and they stop being an instrument of the Lord’s and become just another sinner, just another pathway for the people to follow, leading them to their own destruction.
Same thing is true for nations and tribes. It took days for the Israelites to begin whining after their deliverance from Egypt and turning to other gods. It would seem that the impact of massive shows of force wears off a little sooner than one might expect. God tried to deliver the people at sword point and it never seemed to work out the way God wanted.
Both of them are entirely too ordinary, entirely too predictable. The etch-a-sketch solution is put into action in the lives of thousands of seven-year-olds all across this earth every single day, frustration and shame make us ditch failed efforts as a bad mess and move on, often never trying it again, just giving up. How many have given up singing because one unwise teacher told them to just play the tambourine and stand in the back?
Whenever I try and shove God into the place of a frustrated seven year-old unable to cope with the constant failing of the creation I find myself understanding how God might have arrived at the notion of Jesus, the child in the manger.
Each time I think of the abject failure of the massive show of force in creating a pure and holy people, neither the plagues of Egypt, the pillar of flame by night and cloud by day, nor the sending of the serpents seemed convincing enough, I start to see that God wasn’t just trying to save, not just going through the playbook looking for a solution to a problem that had been plaguing God since about ten minutes after the creation of mankind.
God was trying to tantalize, to draw us in, to tickle our sense of wonder when the Lord God almighty came to us in a child, as vulnerable as any child, in a land where the infant mortality was probably about sixty percent, born to a nation under subjugation, born into a time when spreading the word meant running from town to town, literally spreading the word with your mouth.
The King of Kings, Lord of Lords, wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace could have come on a chariot of fire swinging the sword of God’s own thunder but that would have been ordinary, and predictable and once you start down that path, you have to do it again and again in order to keep people in line.
So the king of Kings, Lord of Lords, wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father and prince of peace came to us in a way that would draw gasps and inspire wonder.
What kind of God is it that conquers death with a squalling, mewling child born in the rudest of circumstances? One who is secure that the divine will to save will be done, one who needs no fanfare to get the job done.
What kind of God alerts, not the media, or the great powers, or the princes and potentates but the lowliest shepherds, dutifully at work in the night? One who knows that the story is the power, that the salvation comes in the wonder of the story, told to children each year in joyous tones, read aloud from Bibles and seen on television specials alike, especially the old ones, when you could still quote the Bible and get CBS to pay for it.
What kind of God bestows kindness upon the lowliest family, blessing them with the knowledge that theirs is to be a life told in story and song, that theirs is the story that children will treasure and hold fast to the Baby Jesus? One who knows that it is easier for children to embrace an infant, one not far removed from themselves in age or station, and so the story, the power that is the story will live on in the hearts of children, reminding their parents of when they were children, reminding grandparents of when their own kids were so small, and so free.
God chose the path of wonder and not the path of showmanship or obvious flashy displays of might. As in the day of Midian God has shown to us what power is, not in the mighty limbs of men or in armies, but in the clutching fingers and curling toes of an infant, the child of wonder whose story can set us free.