O Adonai and Leader of the house of Israel, you appeared to Moses
in the flame of a burning bush and at Sinai you gave him the Law:
Come with your outstretched arm to save us
Every Easter night for as long as I can remember Cecil B. DeMille’s epic movie “The Ten Commandments” has been broadcast on network television. I often hear church people wonder about this choice. Wouldn’t it make more sense to broadcast a “Jesus movie” – you know: “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” or “Jesus of Nazareth,” or even “The Passion of the Christ”? “What does Moses and the Exodus have to do with Jesus and the resurrection?” is the question that I hear being asked on Easter Monday every single year. And if you don’t have a good answer for that question, then it is highly unlikely that the intercession and affirmation of second “O” Antiphon is going to make much sense to you either –
O Adonai and Leader of the house of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush and at Sinai you gave him the Law: Come with your outstretched arm to save us!
The church prays this petition in the run-up to Christmas each year because the primary Biblical template for understanding Christ’s saving act is the story of Moses and God’s deliverance of His people from their bondage in Egypt.
- On the Mount of the Transfiguration when Moses and Elijah had a conversation with Jesus right before He set His face toward Jerusalem and began to move with purpose to what awaited Him there, Luke tells us specifically that what they talked about there was Christ’s “departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). The word translated “departure” is literally the word in Greek for “Exodus.” The use of this word here forever ties the climax of the Christ event with the defining event in the Old Testament’s story of God’s deliverance of His people.
- When Jesus came to John the Baptist to be immersed by him at the beginning of His Messianic Ministry, John publicly announced His arrival by shouting out for all to hear, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Christ’s death on the cross just as the Passover lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple closes this important circle of interpretation of the meaning of the Christ event.
- When the angel told Joseph to name Mary’s baby boy “Jesus” (the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua”) it was with the climax of the story of the Exodus clearly in mind (Matthew 1:21). Just as Joshua led God’s first covenant people into the Promised Land, so Jesus now leads God’s new covenant people into the Promised Land of forgiveness and life eternal.
- In the Synoptic Gospels the institution of the Lord’s Supper is deliberately linked to Christ’s great desire to keep the Passover with His disciples on the night before He Himself was sacrificed (Matthew 26:2;19; Mark14:1; 12-17; Luke 22:1;13-15). In this way the Exodus story of God’s deliverance of His people from their bondage becomes the primary interpretive frame for understanding the meaning of what it was that Jesus Christ did for us on the cross, and this is exactly what we see at work in a letter from Paul that was written before any of the Gospels were composed – “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. So let us celebrate this feast, but not with the bread that has the old yeast—the yeast of sin and wickedness. Let us celebrate this feast with the bread that has no yeast—the bread of goodness and truth” (I Corinthians 5:7-8).
- And in the book of Revelation one of the primary images of Christ that we are given is the Lamb who looks as if he has been slain (5:6; 12; 13:8), another Passover allusion.
And so it is against this Exodus backdrop that in these days of our spiritual preparation for the annual remembrance of the coming of Christ at Christmastime that the church prays for Adonai to “Come with your outstretched arm to save us!”
“Adonai” is Hebrew for “Lord.” It was the substitute for the name that God gave Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14). The name that God gave Moses consisted of consonants alone, and was therefore unpronounceable. This safeguarded the holy name of God in a faith tradition that regarded its vain use to be blasphemous (Exodus 20:7). And so “Adonai” became the standard way that the Jews spoke of God whenever God’s personal name appeared in a Biblical text and it was the way that they spoke to God in prayer and worship. The fact that God gave His own personal name to Moses when He was asked was “a sign of infinite graciousness… it meant that He wanted to be known as their (the Hebrews) God, for them (the Hebrews) to be seen as His people” (Oliver Treanor). And the initiative that God took and the effort that God made – all of the mighty acts of God stories in Exodus, two of which are cited in the “O” Antiphon text itself: the burning bush and the giving of the Law from Sinai – are concrete evidence that God’s arms are in fact “outstretched to save us.” The second “O” Antiphon is the perfect petition for people whose lives are in real crisis, and for a world that seems to be tottering on the brink of confusion, chaos and catastrophe.
It was President Kennedy who said that – “Our problems are all man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be just as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.” Position this notion as one pole of a continuum in your head and heart. And then at the other end, as the other pole of the continuum, position the perspective of the first three steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: “(1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable; (2) We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity; (3) We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” You can insert whatever it is that threatens your own personal sense of self, stability and security for the word “alcohol.”
Now, study the continuum –
X ——————————————————————————— X
Completely Self-Sufficient Absolutely Dependent
Where you come down on this continuum between these two poles, it seems to me, will largely determine just how urgently you pray the petition and just how fervently you believe the affirmation of the second “O” Antiphon this Advent – “Come with your outstretched arm to save us!”
Carlyle Marney, the thoroughly unconventional Southern Baptist preacher of the last generation, said that he was the Spiritual Life speaker at a major University when he was asked by the strong and handsome captain of the football team with the beautiful and popular Homecoming Queen on his arm what the meaning of life was? And Dr. Marney told him “No.” He wasn’t going to tell him, he said, because he knew that at that moment it was just talk. Strong and handsome, young and beautiful, popular and successful, Dr. Marney knew that a conversation about the meaning of life would be completely lost on that young man at that moment in his life. “Come back and see me,” Dr. Marney told him, “when you’ve just gotten divorced, or been turned down for that big promotion at work, or when you’ve just been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, or when your kid gets hooked on drugs. Then we’ll talk,” he said, “because them you’ll be ready for it… then you’ll mean it.”
Theologian Paul Tillich called it the boundary situation. He said that it’s only when we’ve personally curled our toes over the edge of the abyss and stared into the darkness of its meaninglessness and cruelty that we are prepared to take the claims of religion seriously. And this means that whether the annual coming of Christmas is the announcement of “good news of great joy that in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11) for you, or just another culturally manufactured holiday of artificial cheer and conspicuous consumption depends, in no small measure, on the state of your heart and your assessment of the condition of the world. As Jesus Himself put it – “Healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mark 2:17).
The second “O” Antiphon are for those of us who know that we need a physician, for those of us who know that we are powerless and that our lives and our world have become unmanageable, and who have made the decision of faith to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the God who, by the witness of the historical-redemptive trajectory of the story that the Bible tells, is stretching out his arms in Jesus Christ to save us. DBS +