Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Advent Sunday - The Word as a Wordle

Here is the gospel reading for Advent Sunday from Matthew 24:36-44, as a seasonally coloured Wordle...

‘...But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour...'

It is interesting to note that the Wordle highlights the words son, man, one and coming. The Son of Man is one who is coming.

Who or what is the Son of Man? It seems that the phrase over the centuries has meant different things. In the very earliest times it referred most probably to a human being or one's self. For example in the Old Testament in Numbers 23:19
לא אישׁ אל ויכזב ובן־אדם ויתנחם ההוא אמר ולא יעשׂה ודבר ולא יקימנה
God is not a human being (איש : ['iysh]), that he should lie,
or a mortal/son of man (בן–אדם : [ben-'adam]), that he should change his mind:
Has he promised, and will he not do it?
Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Ben-adam. The son of Adam. The son of a man.

Later in the Book of Ezekiel in chapter 2:

He said to me, Son of man (בן־אדם : [ben-'adam]), stand on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2 The Spirit entered into me when he spoke to me, and set me on my feet; and I heard him who spoke to me. 3 He said to me, Son of man (בן־אדם : [ben-'adam]), I send you to the children of Israel, to nations that are rebellious, which have rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me even to this very day. 4 The children are impudent and stiff-hearted: I do send you to them; and you shall tell them, Thus says the Lord YHWH. 5 They, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there has been a prophet among them. 6 You, son of man (בן־אדם : [ben-'adam]), don’t be afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you, and you do dwell among scorpions: don’t be afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house. 7 You shall speak my words to them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear; for they are most rebellious. 8 But you, son of man (בן־אדם : [ben-'adam]), hear what I tell you; don’t be you rebellious like that rebellious house: open your mouth, and eat that which I give you. 9 When I looked, behold, a hand was put forth to me; and, behold, a scroll of a book was therein; 10 He spread it before me: and it was written within and without; and there were written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.

Son of man here appears to be a title referring to the humanity of the author, much how the word "human" may suffice in English. It is not a respectful appellation, but a humbling one (in some cases, an arguably abject one), and this use is a consistent pattern throughout Ezekiel.

In other words, the son of man, is a downtrodden figure that the prophet Daniel then links with a divine figure, the coming Messiah, a theological link that was strengthened during the time before New Testament.

In the New Testament, Jesus uses the term in similar ways, but some think he might just be referring to humanity generally.

How do we deal with this this Advent? The Son of Man is coming - that's what Advent is about. Getting ready for the arrival of the Messiah figure - God's chosen leader who would forge a new relationship between humanity and God and free humanity from the oppressive regime that they were bound by. Then it was a longing for a Divine King freeing people from the rule of the Romans. Today it might be a longing to be freed from debt, from habit forming behaviours and led to a better way of living. Or if the Son of Man refers to the whole of humanity, then a longing that a better 'version' of humanity is coming, is made possible by God. Either way it is a hopeful vision indeed... God's take on things, is that He longs to free us and enable us to be the people that He and we (however deep down we may need to look) long to be...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this (rare) piece of useful sanity in blog and twitter-land today.

Two questions:

surely it is (if you take the original meaning) the "new humanity" that is coming, not just a longing for it? Aren't we moving towards fulfilment in either meaning?

God wants us to be free to be the people we long to be... is I think what you say. But shouldn't we be hoping/longing to be the people that God made us to be, rather than letting our own desires dominate? Or am I reading you wrong?

James Ogley said...

'adam of course is not gender specific (see http://jamesthevicar.com/wordpress/2008/07/29/adam-male/) so ben-adam could be rendered "Son of humanity" or "born of human" or something along those lines. This brings to life the state of the whole of humanity and so the enormity of what is wrought by the "new adam" - the new human.