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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.

The second O Antiphon, December 18, 2020, addresses the promised Messiah as Adonai, influenced by Isaiah11: 4-5; 33:22.

The ancient Hebrew word Adonai means Lord or Master: it speaks to His absolute sovereignty over all life, first recorded in the Old Testament book of Genesis. Then, the Israelites experienced the harshness, the complexity of life. Early on, they learned that their survival depended upon Another, a monotheistic God, unlike the pantheon of gods worshipped by their neighbors. Through the wisdom of the first patriarch Abraham came an inchoate calling, culminating centuries later within the covenanted relationship, finalized by the prophet Moses.

It is to this prophet’s reliance upon the power of God that we turn. Like the others, he experienced Adonai’s call in the burning bush, together with the corresponding mandate of freeing the Israelites from Pharaoh’s oppression—An impossible task Moses acceded to only after pointed dialogue. The outstretched arm played a significant role in this freedom.

Because the Red Sea thwarted the Israelites’ flight from hundreds of Pharaoh’s chariots armed to kill, Adonai instructed Moses to raise his arm, causing the waters to part into dry ground for them to cross. When everyone was freed, Moses was instructed to lower his arm, causing the rushing waters to drown horses, chariots, and drivers.

Like the Israelites, we falter before obvious good; we need help, beyond our imagination. Thus the outstretched arm from the Moses story still works. The imperatives, Come and redeem signify willingness to change. On our own, such is impossible.  

It’s happening again – splotches of scarlet shrubs adding pizzazz to October’s kaleidoscope of jeweled tones slowly morphing into winter’s silence. But wait, slow down, stop and gaze into the next burning bush (Winged Euonymous or spindle tree) you pass. Note the reddish purple fruit beneath finely toothed leaves, no longer green, upon branches flaring with corky wings. After a few days, note the red mantle encircling the bush.

Such a burning bush recalls the ancient story of Moses as narrated in the Hebrew book of Exodus. It was an ordinary day when Moses set out with the sheep of his father-in law, Jethro, and headed toward the wilderness area near Mount Horeb; an ordinary day that would stun Moses to the core. In the distance, he noted a living shrub enlivened by flames. Terrified, he moved closer. From the heart of the bush resounded the words: “Moses! Moses! …  Take of your shoes. Come no nearer, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses covered his face, afraid to look at God.

More words followed from the burning bush – the revelation of God’s name empowering Moses to free the oppressed Israelites from Egypt’s Pharaoh, the strategies necessary for this daunting task. With Moses’s reluctant acceptance, the living shrub became ordinary again, but he was changed. And we know the rest of the story.

As you move into your next ordinary day, be on the lookout for a “burning bush.” It could change your life! Be not as  Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1856)  described at the end of one of her poems, “the dull-witted picking blackberries seated around a burning bush!”

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