Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Called Out of Egypt

You watch as she folds her clothes and tucks them away in a makeshift pack.  She doesn't look at you, doesn't speak.  She just takes the last little signs of her life with you here and hides them away until they are almost all gone.

You saw the cart outside already weighed down with the items of your day-to-day existence - the jars of oil and meal, the seed for planting, the candle holders and fire starters and bags of feed for the livestock - all of it so unrecognizable outside of their regular spots around the hearth, on the table, near the bed, in the front yard.

You don't say much.  The truth is, you're not thinking much at the moment.  Or maybe it's that you're thinking  everything at once.  And the roar in your head is so deafening it is absolute silence.  

She looks at you.  There is something you don't recognize in her eyes.  It would surprise you to know that she is thinking the same thing about you.

She has stopped talking now, after months and months of discussion, months and months of prayer, months and months of preparing and urging you to prepare.  And you did some.  But the truth is, you didn't really think it would happen - not even when the Angel of Death passed through the streets.  The truth is, you had too many other things going on, too many other demands on your time, too many other things to think about - or not think about.  You have been too busy, well, living life.  And with all of the uprisings spurred on by the Troublemaker - or  Liberator, depending on who you talked to - there were plenty of extra demands.  And then there was the regular entourage of weddings and social events and, well, just the normal stuff.  Today you notice that a lot of time has passed - more than you realized.  You can't help but remember the last time she spoke:

"I have been called out of Egypt," she'd said simply.  And that was that.

Maybe you thought about her words a little as you were on your way to meet up with friends that night.  Maybe it unsettled something.  But mostly everyone was talking about it and saying lots of extreme things.  So if you thought about it that night, the truth is you probably just thought, Good for you, and maybe, I wonder if they'll have those great little cakes I like tonight.

But now it actually means something.  Now it means something to you.

"Tell me again," you find yourself saying, realizing she is still looking at you though she doesn't pause in her packing for even a moment.  You feel a little inane, but Egypt is the only frame of reference you have for ... anything.  You are a Counter in the Courts, not even a manual laborer.  You can't imagine anything but the city.  You can't imagine what kind of lifestyle could possibly exist out there.

"Tell you again?" she asks, somewhat incredulously.  "I am called out of Egypt. Life will never be the same.  Where are you called to live?"

It is the strangest conversation you think you have ever had with anyone, let alone the one closest to you in the world.  She is leaving.  And it is clear that you have a decision to make.

A decision, you wonder.  What kind of decision is it?  Shall I go live in the desert?  Shall I just pack my bags and walk out of the city gates - into oblivion?  Surely the Creator did not expect that!  I have been faithful here.  This is my life.

Sure, part of you longed for some kind of freedom.  But what kind of freedom was this?  You would have preferred the kind of freedom that would have allowed you to stay and, you know, just do what you want.  THAT would have been true deliverance - not this uprooting, not this liberation that requires you to ... give everything up, to ... come out.  What kind of freedom is that?

"I am called out of Egypt," she says again, now looking down.  And as she places the last piece of fabric and ties up the pack, it becomes clear that, if you are not called out of Egypt, she will leave you with the city.

*     *     *

Advent.  It is a time when many of us turn our attention to an old story, to the events leading up to the birth of Christ.  If a church has a strong tradition, perhaps we are invited to consider an ancient people longing for Messiah - even as we ourselves look forward to his second coming.

But there may be a few who take it a step further.  There may be a few who find their story more intrinsically intertwined with the ancient people of God.  In fact, there are some who would say that the ancient stories are, in fact, our story.

The ancient story of a people in desperate need of Messiah...

The ancient story of a people enslaved...

Okay, so what if I told you that YOU live in Egypt?  And what if I told you that advent is about being called OUT of your slavery?  More than that, it is about being called out - delivered - but not in the way you might expect, not in a way that you may even really want...

Honestly, that is the place in which the Israelites found themselves in Exodus.  They were delivered from their slavery to Egypt - Yay!  But delivered to what?  They had to walk away from everything they'd ever known, their way of life, and head into the wilderness.  Why?  For the story of a magical land of milk and honey?

Where was the milk and honey when they crossed the Red Sea and they began to get hungry and thirsty and lost and tired?

You think they were excited about being delivered from slavery? 

"Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'?  It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!"  

Exodus 14:12

And that is the place in which the Jewish people find themselves as the Christ child is foretold.  You want us to believe what???  You want us to give up on all our previous notions of Messiah - of identity and freedom and deliverance - for what purpose?  For a magical Kingdom of God?  And that is going to require WHAT of us?!?

And isn't that our story?  We cry out, "God, deliver us" but the truth is we do not really want to leave Egypt.  We do not really want the Messiah to come and expose our hearts and our infidelity and call us to the kind of freedom that costs us everything.

What if you were enslaved and you didn't even know it, and what if the coming of the Messiah meant that you had to give everything up?  What if you had to give up ... smoking? Alcohol?  Desserts or junk food?  What if you had to give up soda?!  What if the coming of the Messiah meant that you were called out of ... watching tv, going to the movies, playing video games, or surfing the net?  What if it meant not getting notifications on your phone every time someone posted to your FB profile or twitter feed?  What if it meant giving yourself to God in the ways you usually give yourself to the media?  What would that even look like?  Can you even imagine it?  Or is that just crazy wilderness talk?

Maybe.  But maybe, like the Israelites, you have made your home where you are and, frankly, you're kind of okay living in Egypt.  Sure, you raise your hands on Sunday morning and sing about deliverance but only as long as you can go home and get on the computer afterward, or watch the game, or go to lunch and a movie.  Maybe, like the Jews when Christ was born, you figure you've  been pretty faithful even while doing all these other things.  You can be faithful, after all, and still look at pornography.  It's not hurting anyone.  You can be faithful giving God 10% of your time and attention and Facebook 90%.  If the coming of Messiah means the giving up my computer, well, I'd really rather that the Messiah not come...

Personally, I'd rather die in the wilderness than serve any other god.

I am called out of Egypt. My life will never be the same.  And I find myself wondering, where are YOU called to live? 

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