The Hebrew people have a snake. The Christian people have the cross. Both proclaim good news.
The Old Testament book of Numbers tells of a weary and grumbling people. Traveling in the desert wilderness along the Red Sea, they ate the same manna day after day. While hot, thirsty, and tired, they encountered serpents that killed many of them. God instructed Moses to craft a bronze snake to place upon the top of his staff. Supposedly, when a person gazed upon Moses’ snake, God would heal him or her. Later when the weary people fell into despair, Moses would lift his staff high into the air to remind the people of God’s deliverance.
Jesus referred to Moses’ staff in John 3: 14,15 when he said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” Challenging the rulers of Rome and defying the religious leaders who sold their souls to Rome for power and prestige, Jesus, like other insurrectionists found himself nailed to a tree. Throughout these past 2,000 years, the Church has placed the cross on top of steeples, altars, and almost every piece of furniture and fabric for viewers to remember what God did through Christ. We are made whole through the brokenness of Christ on the cross.
Grumbling, weariness, brokenness are the themes of 2020. We are weary of COVID, racism, isolation, protests, divisiveness, politics, scandal, and more. We wander in the wilderness of it all. We gripe. We complain. We cry out, “God save us.”
Perhaps it will help to hear other parts of these stories. For Moses, there was a burning bush out of which God spoke, “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows … Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” For Jesus, there was the announcement of the angel saying, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. And then a multitude of angels singing ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’”
There are a number of Theophanies in the Old and New Testaments. These stories of God’s physical presence always addressed a problem. As the weary people grumbled, God appeared in the cloud, in fire, in a tempest, in a still small voice, and even in the form of humans and a donkey. Throughout the darkest of times, God revealed the light of love and glory.
When the world grows crazy with fires, hurricanes, floods, protests, bitter elections, pandemics, faltering economy, injustice, divisiveness, brutality, and a host of other acts, it seems as if God is punishing us. Like the slow erosion of sunlight where the days grow shorter and night expands, we plunge into the darkness of the long night of the soul. We are overwhelmed. As we enter into the final two months of the year, we don’t feel particularly thankful. It does not seem like Christmas. We cry. We complain. We grumble. We grieve.
However, a snake and a cross tell us that God hears, calls, and sends us. As these two symbols are uplifted, our eyes are cast heavenward. We look above and beyond the cares and concerns of this world and behold the glory of the universe. We are reminded of the infinite love which God has for us. Love which sustains us. Love which reveals the truth that God does not punish us. Rather, God restores us. Perhaps if we look up long enough, we will see the same angel who told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, I have good news for you which will bring joy to all people.”
Lift up your eyes and your hearts. Be not consumed by the brokenness of this day, but trust that, in love, God is redeeming all creation.