I was briefly a mascot of a Christian rock band called Frolic like a Heifer. They would sheepishly admit that they got their name from Jeremiah 50:11, which described the judgment on Babylon (in that context, frolicking like a heifer was not a good thing). At a couple of their concerts, while the band played, I came out in a cow costume and danced around. One time, I almost died an ironic death.
It was at the Baptist Student Union near the University of Hawaii campus. The concert was part of a year-end party. In the middle of my dancing shenanigans, I grabbed myself a burger so I could eat it while dancing around in a cow costume. I thought it was funny, a cow eating a burger. But in the middle of some killer dance moves, I almost choked. The burger lodged in my throat. I gasped for air.
SPOILER ALERT: I didn’t die that day.
The burger dislodged and I was saved from an embarrassing end. I would not get awarded a Darwin Award for choking on a burger while dressed as a cow. Everything was okay and we all had a great time, frolicking like a heifer.
In the Bible, joy and warnings of judgment are often intertwined. Consider another dancing cow passage:
Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the LORD Almighty. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction. (Malachi 4:1-6).
The great and fearsome Day of the Lord will come. The wicked will burn like stubble in a fire and will be trampled underfoot. The ominous threat of judgment chars the air. But not for all. The sun of righteousness will rise, healing in its rays, and cows will dance. Elijah, a voice crying in the wilderness, will turn the hearts of children to their parents and parents’ hearts to their children, averting the land’s total destruction.
We don’t much like talking about judgment (it’s so judgy!), but Advent reminds us of both joy and judgment. Without judgment, there is no justice and the arc of the moral universe bends toward chaos. Without the promise of joy—healing, wholeness and repaired relationships—we are without hope. Judgment calls us to set right whatever is wrong in our lives. The promise of joy makes us want to.
The thing is, we are all complicit in so much. Human flourishing and our standard of living in the modern West, have contributed to human suffering, injustice and environmental destruction. Where were your shoes made? Who made them? Or the tablet you are reading this on? For the most part, we don’t know, and when we do know, we try not to think about it. Each of us is a dancing cow, choking on a burger. We are happy and oblivious to our own destruction.
The promise of joy in the passage above is that when the dreadful day of the Lord comes, the Elijah will come and prepare the way, leading us to repair our broken relationships—children and parents, parents and children. With relational wholeness, on the Day of the Lord, we will frolick like well-fed calves. We will jump for joy.