O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.
In what way are you imprisoned? Sure, perhaps the question seems silly to a modern person who has the freedom of Western culture, the flexibility of easy transportation and the instant connectivity of the latest technology. It might even appear weird to imagine ourselves imprisoned when we are not “behind bars.” But I’m not so sure that today’s antiphon is so exceptional or aimed only at those in need of being set free because they are imprisoned in a traditional sense or trapped by outside forces. Instead, we might be in need of the Lord’s “mighty hand” to set us free…from ourselves.
In the reading from Isaiah set apart for part of the Church’s universal morning prayer called “The Office of Readings” (original, I know) we read:
I am the Lord, there is no other;
I form the light, and create the darkness,
I make well-being and create woe;
I, the Lord, do all these things.
The Lord, O Adonai, is not set apart or removed from our experience, even in the messiness of life for the Lord has created the darkness in addition to the light, and can be found even in our most lost and forsaken state. If God creates well-being and woe, what need do we have to be set free? Free from what?
It is true that God can be found everywhere, in the joy of the newborn child and in the darkness of road-side bombings. We do not need to be “set free” from create or reality, but we need to be set free from ourselves — individually and collectively.
We imprison ourselves and each other in the shackles of injustice, greed, selfishness, discrimination, violence and hatred. Yest, God is to be found in that darkness, but found as the very force of liberation from our own enslavement.
The challenge so often in our world is to recognize the incompatibility of God’s Reign with our own world views. we see things a certain way, are condition to understand the world in a certain way.
Not always, but often enough, the way we view reality seems perfectly justified by our culture. Is it right that I have so much and most of the planet’s population is starving to death? “Well of course,” our culture tells us, “we earned it, we deserve it, we worked for it!” Similar narratives are told day after day in order to justify injustice and create self-righteous people who do not pause from the “nine-to-five” to consider whether the Gospel we profess might be at odds with the life we live.
Today’s antiphon calls our attention to the Lord who was revealed on Sinai. It is this Lord who will come — who has come — to “set us free” from ourselves, from our proclivity to live in a way other than what God has destined us to live.
May our prayer as the season of active waiting, of longing and hope, draws closer to its goal of Emmanuel be one that calls upon the Lord to set us free from ourselves.