In Advent we replay the epic events of salvation history, to remind ourselves that redemption is still possible in our own day.
The story of Noah is definitely on that list of God’s Greatest Hits. The whole earth is destroyed and only Noah and his family are preserved. When the storm and flood are over, God puts a bow in the sky as an eternal sign of the divine pledge: “The waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Gen. 9:15).
It is a sad irony that what God has pledged never to do—we are finding a way to do anyway: gradually flood the earth. In our foolish disregard for the gift of Creation, we are melting the polar ice caps and the seas are rising just as surely as they did when it rained for forty days and forty nights. We can deny it, or deny our part in it, but if you live in Bangladesh, Viet Nam, Myanmar, Nigeria or Pakistan, it looks like the forty day’s rain has begun.
Noah’s story tells us something important about the way Israel’s God saves people and nations. God doesn’t just swoop in and “save” folks. Instead, God invites us to live in a life-giving covenant. God is the one who initiates that covenant, but we must be faithful to our role in the compact. Living into the covenant is what brings salvation. For Noah that meant spending 120 years building the ark (Gen. 6:3). Sadly, we have not followed Noah’s faithful example. We have lived profligately and when faced with the massive consequences, we have claimed there was “nothing one little person could do,” or that technology would surely one day mop up our mess.
As always, we are not punished for our sin; we are punished by our sin. God begs us to return to the covenant of love, but we are our own worst enemies. That can be sad and discouraging, and it can also be cause for great joy. Any day, if we want to, we can choose life.