In 2012, ABC debuted a show, written by Shonda Rhimes (that should come as no surprise, as she is the writer for their entire Thursday night lineup). The show is Scandal. As of the end of their 2014 season, which had it’s finale in May of this year, the show had over 12.5 million viewers, making it one of the top-10 most watched TV series airing today. The show is now in its fifth season, and is as popular as ever.
There is something about Scandal that allures people – beyond the writing and the excellent acting – there is something that draws us to enjoy watching, and perhaps participating in a scandal.
Rev. Mike Slaughter, in his book, Christmas is Not Your Birthday, says, “[An ordinary] situation becomes a scandal when it violates people’s expectations about how a person in a certain position is supposed to behave.”[i]
Perhaps that’s why we enjoy watching shows like Scandal so much: they leave us on the edge of our seat as relationships, business adventures, and government-based actions tend to take the most unexpected turns.
And beyond TV-series dramas, even our news stations tend to make their living off of publicizing scandals. Google defines the word scandal as, “an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.” The news-media, and shows like Entertainment Tonight, build much of their programming around the error in decisions and actions by well-known celebrities and politicians, and they do this because as a nation, we eat it up.
It’s like the train-wreck – you don’t want to watch because you’re outraged at was has or is happening – but you just can’t take your eyes off of it.
If you like scandals, you would love the book of Hosea.
Hosea is known as a minor prophet – minor in that the length of the account we have from these prophets is significantly less than that of the major prophets (like Isaiah and Jeremiah). Hosea is one of the twelve minor prophets found in the concluding chapters of the Old Testament.
Hosea is a prophet in a season when the Israelites were coming out of great prosperity. As is the normal path of God’s people, when things start to go well, the people tend to turn away from God. This is the situation we see as Hosea enters the picture. Israel had been very prosperous during the reign of Jeroboam II, but in their financial and national prosperity, their faith and connection with God had become lukewarm.
Hosea’s life as a prophet is quite different than many of the other prophets. His prophetic life is perhaps the most intertwined with his personal life of any of the other prophets. Not only does he come to speak on behalf of God, but he speaks through his living.
The passage we had read for us in Hosea, chapter 1, this morning says, “When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord told him, ‘Go take for yourself a wife of whordeom.’” The Lord is going to speak through Hosea by the actions of Hosea’s life.
The first of those actions is to take a wife who has been a prostitute, an adulterer, or as some versions of scripture refer to her, a woman of harlotry. So, his first action as a prophet, Hosea is told to take a woman as his wife who has a history and past of unfaithfulness. And, because as a prophet, every action of his life will be, metaphorically speaking, intentional as to identify God’s will and way. We are told he’s to take this promiscuous wife because the nation – the people – the land of Isreal – commits adultery and harlotry by forsaking the Lord.
Just to be clear, because the scripture makes it clear, the prophet Hosea, metaphorically speaking, represents God and the wife he takes, who is Gomer, daughter of Diblaim, represents the unfaithful people of God.
If you keep reading in the first chapter, you find that Gomer conceived and gave birth to three children with Hosea. Their stories are short, but their births and their names are quite significant.
If you don’t know, you should know, names are significant in the biblical narrative. Names of people and names of places carry significant weight.
To express the displeasure of God with the people in their forsaking of the Lord, Hosea names the three children Jezreel, Lu-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi.
Jezreel was the name of the city in which previous kings of Israel and Judah has been killed. It would be akin to a Japanese family naming their child Hiroshimah, or a Jewish family naming their child Auschwitz.[ii] By naming the first-born Jezreel, Hosea was signaling to the people that they were now without a king. The kings of the past had only furthered the lack of faithfulness to God by the nation, and so the first child born brings sure condemnation upon the unfaithfulness of the people.
The second child born is Lo-ruhamah. Ruhamah, means compassion and mercy. It is a reference to God’s compassion and mercy. But the prefix, ‘Lo,’ is a reversal of the noun. So this is not God providing God’s compassion, but a sign that the people will be living without God’s compassion and mercy. First it is signaled that they will have no king, and now they will have no mercy.
And the final child born is Lo-ammi. Again, ‘Lo,’ meaning a reversal of ‘Ammi,’ which is a word that means the people of God. So, in the naming of their three children, the prophet Hosea is saying that not only will they not have a king because of their unfaithfulness, and that they will not have God’s compassion or mercy, but as God speaks in verse 9 of this first chapter, “[the people of Israel] are not my people, and I am not [their] God.”
Chapter 2 of Hosea is a monologue of God with the children. God is expressing his displeasure with Gomer’s unfaithfulness. In it, we are told she goes to other lovers, “[because] they give [her] [her] bread and water, [her] wool and [her] flax, [her] oil and [her] drink.” Remember, in the prophecy of Hosea, the unfaithful wife, Gomer, is the metaphorical representation of the people of God.
She is the one who represents us. Just as she goes looking for sustenance (bread and water), and clothing (wool and flax), and support for life (oil and water), so too do we look for something or someone to provide us life and liberty away from God.
Just the other day I was driving to the office, coming up Route 1, and I got behind a car that had on its rear window information about this person’s job as an independent consultant for Rodan and Fields. Do you know the company? It’s a company that sells skin care products, and it’s quite the rage. At the bottom of this woman’s window, below her name, email and contact number, was the simple phrase that is the tag line or the company, “Changing skin. Changing lives.”
Who doesn’t want someone to help them change their lives for the better?
Rodan and Fields is not the only company to claim that they have the answer to change your life. The National Lottery in their advertisements claim to be a “Life Changing” solution. AllState, who I use for my car insurance, has had for over 65 years the slogan, “You’re in good hands with Allstate.” We all want someone to take care of us. In a similar way, Verizon joined in the effort to promise you a better life with their slogan, “We never stop working for you.” And how can we leave out Coke – who, among their many slogans over the years, offered this one in the 1930s, “Don’t wear a tired, thirsty face.”
In a season where almost every advertisement offers you a glimpse at how much better your life could be, we are forced to stop and ask ourselves, what is it that is really going to make a difference in my life this year? What gift can do the work needed to make me feel better about myself? What box, if wrapped and offered to me, is going to stimulate my mind in such a way that I’m going to feel better about the decisions I’ve made – or not made – in my life thus far? What gift is going to lead me to be a better person, giving me the courage and strength I need to help in the work of the transformation needed in this world?
The entirety of this second chapter in Hosea is God naming that God knows of our need for something and someone who help bring about reconciliation and transformation both in our lives and in the greater world. The entirety of this second chapter of Hosea is the naming of God that we live in a broken world and that there is no doubt we are searching for life and justice in the wrong places. It is all about naming that God knows how many lives have been lost to senseless gunfire in America this year. It’s about naming how God knows that not everyone believes that black lives matter, or that Muslim lives matter, or that blue lives matter, or that refugee lives matter.
The second chapter tells us that God knows how broken we are as a nation and as a world – and it claims that God knows that the reason we are broken is because of our adultery in giving our lives over to the false promises that are offered in this world by those who claim to have a solution for a better life.
“Gomer’s prostitution and adultery represent the idolatry of God’s covenant people.”[iii]
Now, make sure you’re paying attention, because this is where the drama in the scandal gets really good.
In verse 1 of chapter 3, God says through Hosea, I can make you great again. Hosea, after this long discussion between God and the children regarding Gomer’s unfaithfulness, is told to go and take this woman back as his lover. Hear this verse, “The Lord said to me again, ‘Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods.’”
This verse – this is the crux of the Christmas message. Even in our lives of promiscuity, even in our lives that we sell out to the false-promise that anything other than God can make our lives great, even as those who give ourselves over to the materialistic and political offerings of the world, God tells Hosea, “Go and love your wife again, even though she’s an adulteress – and in the same way, I will love the people Israel, even though they have sold themselves to other gods.”
This message is the message we receive in the birth announcement of Christ: “God loves us even as we remain under the influence of unworthy lovers such as greed, selfishness, addiction, and deceit.”[iv]
This is the promise we read and receive in Christ. As Paul says in Romans 3, ‘It is because we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God that we are justified by God’s grace in this gift of Jesus Christ, through which redemption is made possible.’ (paraphrase)
The message of God in the birth of Christ is that the love God offers all of God’s children is this form of scandalous love. It violates the expectations one would have for a creator with their persistently disloyal creation. Yet, God sent Christ to show us the way home. God sent Christ as a witness and living testimony to God’s scandalous love. In this gift, you too are invited receive God’s love, and to participate in sharing the scandalous love of God – offering love to those people and places where it would be unexpected for love to be offered.
May your life be lived as a recipient of such love, and as a living testimony to the transformative power of God’s love witnessed in the birth of Christ.