My first thought when I saw this listed as the passage of the day was — really? Joshua? Advent? But it really turns out to be an inspired choice for an Advent reading (hah).
“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
What a beautiful injunction to all the faithful at any time. And such well-known words. But of course, the two things they teach you when you learn to read the Bible in a “more scholarly” way are: 1) don’t take things out of context, and 2) always define the boundaries of your passage carefully.
With those two pieces of advice in mind, I picked up my Bible and re-read Joshua 23 and 24 together; here is the story of Joshua, after all the battles, in his very old age, reminding the Israelites of all that they had accomplished in God’s name and reminding them of their ongoing obligations under the covenant with God. And as always, reminding the recalcitrant Israelites not to stray from the God who loved them. Some scholars consider the passage as ancient Hebrew poetry; but the form of the rhetoric offered is not that important.
What is important is the message — the message is one of gratitude, of loyalty, of faith, and the extreme power and risk of believing in community…because if you keep reading in verses 16-25, you hear the powerful response of the assembled people:
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! 17 It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.”
And if we follow Chapter 24 to its end, we watch as Joshua writes the covenant and the rules for the people and they all agree to put aside their idols and worship the Lord. And then, his work done, Joshua dies.
What I truly love about the Hebrew Bible stories is the way they tell timeless truths as amazing stories. And what we see here is the moment of choice…that moment of choice each and everyone of us must make every day. Will we serve the Lord this day? Will we come forward and be known?
But we today must make another choice when we read these words — not to use them to exclude or damage another, nor to create some sense of security for ourselves and our beliefs. How often have you heard the words…”but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” used with a sense of smugness, a sense of superiority, a sense of my-tribe-is-better-than-your-tribe.
The choice to be made is not just the choice to serve the Lord; that choice we have to make every single moment of our lives in the tiny decisions and the large ones. But if we make that choice over and over again, we must also choose to allow others the right of choice — their own choices, in their own way.
In Advent, it isn’t just about waiting for something to happen. We have to choose to see. Ours is not a passive faith; the relationship with our God is not a one way relationship.
Choose this day who you serve — a particularly important question in a season and in a culture in which we are called to serve many other gods at the expense of the One.
For me, I and my house will serve the Lord. At least that is the answer today…but I’m ready for it when the question comes again tomorrow.