O Adonai: With Outstretched Arm

In this last week of Advent, I’m writing short daily reflections on the ‘O Antiphons’, which mark the Western liturgical tradition’s countdown to Christmas.

Today’s reads:

O Adonai and Leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

This antiphon reaches deep into the tradition’s history to the Exodus, when God called Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt. One of the most beautiful images of this story is the consistent refrain of God acting “with an outstretched arm.” It’s an image that is used in the Scriptures to convey God’s direct action, times when God reaches out. More generally, it’s a reminder that, since God is always at work, in the little things as much as the big ones, our lives are always ‘in God’s hands’.

And so today as I read this I can’t help but think of all the things in the world and in my own life that seem in need of some divine intervention. The world seems like such a dark place. There are so many deep, structural problems that our governments and systems seem unwilling or unable to address. We need God, the Lord, to reach out and act, with outstretched arm to redeem us, to save our society, our livelihood, our land, our planet, from calamity.

And, I don’t know about you, but in my own life there is often a similar feeling of impossibility that can sometimes border on hopelessness. There are so many areas where it feels like I’m doing everything I can do and yet am not making headway toward the life I feel called to live, so many areas where despite my best efforts it feels like I keep getting stuck in the same old cycles and patterns that keep me where I am. In all these areas and more, I need God, the Lord, to come with an outstretched arm and redeem me from the pits, both of my own making and those others have dug for me.

For as the prophet said so long ago, “the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king: He will save us” (Isa 33.22).

This is a helpful reminder that despite all appearances, God is there, a faithful companion and lord, with outstretched arm: reaching out to rescue the lost from the pit, brandishing a sword to defend the abused and oppressed, holding the hand of the lonely and grieving.

Nothing in our lives or world is too big. For it is all in God’s hands, as small to God as a hazelnut, in the vivid image of Julian of Norwich.

O Adonai and Leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

Amen.

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