“Westward Leading, Still Proceeding, Guide us to thy Perfect light.”
Thinking back to your early childhood, you can probably remember different places in your house or neighborhood that are associated with certain events or feelings. Perhaps a certain tree became a meeting place among friends and now represents feelings of fun, or perhaps a dining room table that was only used on holidays became associated with the excitement of the season and the coming together of family. Or perhaps, if you grew up like some of us, there was a place in your house where you were sent for a “time-out”. Perhaps a corner or isolated room became associated with anger or shame or punishment.
In the Old Testament, places come to represent ideas and feelings. The temple became associated with a closeness of heart to God, which is why the Psalmist longs to go there. There are places like Mt. Sinai, which become associated with meeting God and receiving new instruction from him like Moses did. Then there is the East. The East is the “time-out” corner of Biblical geography. When people go East in the Bible’s story, they are leaving the presence of God in utter shame. The East is associated with exile. It’s where Adam and his wife depart when they are ejected from the Garden. It’s where Cain goes after his crimes are confronted, and it’s where the Israelites go when they enter exile in Babylon. The East is separation from God. It is where sinners always seem to end up…
Which is why it’s so shocking when suddenly at Advent, people from the East arrive in Jerusalem to see Jesus, the king of Israel. This is an unprecedented moment! From the East- the place where Adam, and Cain, and all of Israel were sent away from God’s presence, Jesus, even in his birth, begins drawing people to himself. It’s the great reversal. At Christmas, we wonder at the fact that those who were most far off from God in every way for all of history, living in a place of shame, can now not resist coming and seeing the king.
-In the Advent story, we see that the coming of Jesus draws in people associated with sin and shame- they cannot help but desire to meet Jesus. Do people in sin and shame feel drawn to you? How can you reflect the example of Jesus, and welcome in ashamed people?