Prose is Important, but Poetry is Necessary
Preparing for the Third Sunday of Advent: Three Days Before Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Isaiah 12:2-6 (from the Prophet)
Old Testament: Amos 6:1-8
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15
O God of the exiles and the lost, you promise restoration and wholeness through the power of Jesus Christ. Give us faith to live joyfully, sustained by your promises as we eagerly await the day when they will be fulfilled for all the world to see, through the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s Psalm or Song is from the Prophet Isaiah. Periodically, the Lectionary Psalter is from a book of the Bible other than Psalms that comes to us in the form of poetry. A substantial amount of the Old Testament material is poetic. It seems the prophetic message of judgment and hope is so important, so critical, that prose is simply not sufficient; the Word of the Lord must be delivered in the imagery of words to capture the attention of people so often distracted from the ways of God. Prose is important, but poetry is necessary.
Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann writes,
The prophet engages in futuring fantasy. The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing. The same royal consciousness that make it possible to implement anything and everything is the one that shrinks imagination because imagination is a danger. Thus every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing futures alternative to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.
The season of Advent is designed to stoke our imaginations, to imagine what is possible. In Advent we don’t work to implement what is coming; we must leave that to God. Our task is to imagine what, from a human point of view, is unimaginable. That is why Isaiah sings
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.
If there is to be rescue, only God can do it. God implements, we imagine. To do that we need poetry, we need song. That is why Mary sings about the son in her womb (Luke 1:46-55) and Zechariah about his child who will prepare the way for God’s visitation, God’s implementation (Luke 1:67-81).
Perhaps that is why we so enjoy singing the hymns of Advent and Christmas? Maybe it’s more than the fact that we only sing them for a short span of time once a year. Perhaps it’s because these hymns in a special way give us words… poetry… that fuel the imagination, that make it possible to peer over the horizon of divine things and see beyond what normally can be seen in our world where realism has become the water to put out the fire of what is possible. The prophets in their poetic pronouncements light the fire of our fantasies that allow us to stretch into a future that only God can bring to pass.
And the only way to feed that fire is to sing, to wax poetic, so that we can imagine with words the Word that will become flesh (John 1:14).
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