Judgment and Grace
by Rev Jacky Quarmby 26 November 2021
“When the seventh day dawned, I loosed a dove and let her go. She flew away, but finding no resting place she returned. Then I loosed a swallow, and she flew away but finding no resting place she returned. I loosed a raven, she saw that the waters had retreated, she ate, she flew around, she cawed and she did not come back.”
This sounds like part of the story of Noah, that we have just read, but actually it isn’t. This story was found on a collection of Babylonian tablets, dating from the 19th century BC, and it’s the story of a man called Utnapishtim, who was urged to “build a boat” and take into it “the seed of all living creatures” before the floods came. A similar story exists in the writings of the Hurrian people of North-Eastern Turkey. And the Ancient Greeks have their own flood legends.
We have also discovered fragments of tablets from the 19th century BC which contain a list of ancient Sumerian Kings, a list which refer to kings, who reigned “before the flood”, as if this was an historical event. And this passage that we have read today is itself two stories from two different sources that have been woven together. Perhaps you noticed the discrepancies throughout the story. In chapter 6, for example, two of each animal enter the ark, but in Chapter 7, there are seven of each kind of clean animal and two of every kind of unclean animal. And in chapter 7: 4, the rains last for 40 days, while in chapter 7: 23, the waters flood the earth for 150 days.
The details of these ancient stories, passed down through generations, are not really important, but they do suggest that at one time there may well have been a major flood event in this part of the world, perhaps following the last ice age, which submerged the land as far as the eye could see. While it is interesting to speculate when and where such a flood might have occurred, the writers of Genesis, however, are more concerned with what the story of the flood tells us about God and about humankind.
The message is one of judgment and of grace. As the story goes, God looks upon humankind and is grieved because of the wickedness of the human race and God decides there is no hope for them, that they must be wiped out once and for all. Such is God’s judgment upon the wicked. But there is one who is righteous and that is Noah and so God has compassion upon him and decides that he will save Noah and his family – and so God shuts them up safely within the ark and watches over them until the floods recede. Such is God’s grace for those who walk in God’s ways and trust in Him.
This Sunday is Advent Sunday, the first Sunday in the Christian year. The gospel reading for Advent Sunday speaks about Jesus’ return at the end of the age, when he will come with power and great glory to judge the earth and gather the faithful to himself. It will be a time of judgment and a time of grace.
Jesus said to his disciples, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man …. Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”
Jesus warns us to be ready as we wait for his return – by keeping alert, constantly preparing and continuing to put our hope in our loving God – just as Noah did. Can there be any better resolutions as we come to the beginning of another Christian Year?
Song: Colours of Day
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The day of the Lord is surely coming
Let us be faithful in worship
Unwavering in hope
Fervent in the work of God’s kingdom
And all the more as we see the Day drawing near.
Come Lord Jesus.