Often, the first days at a new job or the first days at a new school, a required process of orientation is put in place. The function of the orientation is, quite literally, to “orient” a person to their sense of identity within the new role(s) they will inhabit. The orientation offers explanation, teaching, and guiding parameters on what kinds of actions and intentions are available to a person. If the orientation is to new employment, for example, working as a snow-plow driver, the orientation will include instruction on various issues of snow and ice, road conditions, and how to use equipment for snow plow removal. If the orientation is to a new campus where University work will commence, the orientation will give guidance on which buildings include which disciplines of study, who works in which buildings when administrative needs are needed, and guidelines for what is permissible in some spaces and not permissible in others, including parking, dormitories, and gymnasiums.
The origin of the word “Orient” derives from one of the Cardinal Directions, “the East.” While it is now the case that most maps and GPS coordinates use “North” as the Cardinal direction, it was the case that East oriented the world in an earlier time, when any person on any content could look to the “East” and “orient” their directions to the rising of the Sun, with its cyclic pattern and routine precision.
Orientation therefore is about understanding where one is in space and time, in sequence and reference to other objects and persons all around each person.
Being properly oriented is important.
Not having a proper orientation in some jobs, can lead to cataclysmic consequences – if, for example a nuclear reactor is not (dis)engaged correctly! (This is part of what happened in the crisis of Chernobyl!) Not having the proper orientation, in many outdoor settings, can lead to the difference between life and death as errantly wandering into the wrong ravine can lead to a dangerous fall or simply being lost without sustaining resources in order to be able to survive.
Being properly oriented, then, can be a matter of life or death.
Joel, in some ways, is about orientation. The language of Joel does not use the terminology of orientation, though the conceptual ideas of what Joel beckons from his audience is about an orientation. Except! Except Joel is about a re-orientation.
Where orientation takes place at the start of one’s journey or experience – IF a person is misguided or heading in the wrong direction, a re-orientation is necessary. Re-orientation is about remembering and being framed and set correctly in the correct direction. Re-orientation is about being oriented, though, it comes in a secondary way, at a later time, when recollection and remembrance is needed to guide a (group of) person(s) back to the behaviors, habits, requirements expected of them from their original point of orientation and beginning.
Joel’s call, more than anything else, is a radical call of required reorientation.
It is a re-orientation that will be forced on Joel’s audience, whether they want it or not – as a point of recollection and reframing of their lives *back* to the order and integrity of God’s intention.
Most of the scholarly commentaries and articles on Joel spend a considerable amount of time discerning key themes in Joel, centered on the Day of the LORD and the role/place of the locusts in the coming Day of the LORD. Scholars debate the time of Joel (we know next to nothing about him as a person) and scholars debate the time of Joel’s writing and the time of the Day of the LORD’s arrival as Joel announces it. And these matters are important for a full understanding of the complexity of thematic issues that the Book of Joel encounters, though once a person moves beyond the interpretive work of trying to discern the ‘Who, What, When, and Where’ of the Day of the LORD and the locusts – one must ultimately come to the ‘Why’ of this Day! And the ‘Why’ is clearly framed in the two sections where the Day of the LORD is announced as destruction with the hope that the Day of the LORD need not arrive if people will ‘return!”
‘Why is the Day of the LORD coming?’ Because God’s people have not returned in order to be reoriented.
The repeated refrain on “return” and reorientation made as declarations and claims in 2:12-13 are wrapped around a central affirmation of God’s being. In these verses, Joel uses a claim made about God from the Exodus which ties back to an important theophany of God’s self-revelation made in Exodus 34:6-7. Joel uses this important passage from Exodus to remind God’s people of the fundamental identity and point of orientation of Who God Is! Joel writes: 12 “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” 13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (NRSV).
While the Day of the LORD is approaching and while trumpets blast the announcement, as calamitous ruin is imminent, the Bible does not assert that God hopes to be wrathful. Rather, the LORD comes in order to orient and reorient God’s people to become who they are supposed to be in light of Who God Is? If and when the Creation is out of line with the Creators purpose, the Creator must come to set things right, to put things in order, to align things afresh, and to create an environment where God’s Good purpose can be made know for all of Creation.
In order for Israel, Judah, Jerusalem – Joel’s audience – to be in alignment with God and to be oriented to God’s purpose, they need to reframe their identity. They need to “return” and reorient so that they will be in alignment with God’s purpose in the world.
Let me return to one example of orientation used here: Prior to becoming a certified snow-plow driver, the driver would be given job-training and orientation to avoid obstacles in the road for safety. And yet, if a driver were veering off the road in a dangerous way, one would expect that “the company” and a “Supervisor” would alert the driver to their dis-orientation and guide them back to safe driving practices on the road.
Joel – with a resounding blast and declarative pronouncement – functions to orient God’s people. Why? In order that they might become again God’s agents of God’s purpose in the world.
The Day of the LORD is not to be seen as hope-filled and joyous, as it is jarring and has a disorienting feature to it! And yet, the Day of the LORD disorients a person from their disorientation and RETURNS them to the orientation of God’s intended purpose.
When we become disciples in the Kingdom of God, we are all called to obedience and self-sacrifice and perhaps Joel can be for you a call to be reoriented to God’s purpose.
What kind of reorientation do you need in your life?
In what way is your life out of sync with the Creators intention to bring about a world characterized by goodness and generosity and care?
In what ways do you need someone to “take the steering wheel of your life” and re-direct you now?
In what ways do you need to recall God’s original purpose in your “vocation” in God’s work?
Joel demands that his audience, young and old, reorient themselves to God’s purpose.
In our world, humans have a tendency toward living less active and less healthy lives in their latter years. A formerly healthy person with good aerobic activity and cardiovascular health, can get lazy and lethargic and overweight. For this person, they can never get healthy again by maintaining unhealthy habits. Rather, this person needs new practices of exercise and attention to food consumption, weekly – if not daily – in order to “return” to their origin in being healthy. The practices of their life will lead them to obesity and disease – or – new practices and habits will orient them health and wellness. A person *can * choose to orient toward healthy habits of living. And, in the face of potential impending unhealthy spiritual living, Joel offers a prescription for reoriented spiritual living and reoriented spiritual habits. Joel warns clearly of what the unhealthy future might look like with the Day of the LORD though Joel offers the possibility for a different future that can come about through prayer and fasting, a return to the LORD so that the God’s people can live healthy lives with God, their future, and the future of the world.
How healthy are your spiritual habits as you age?
Do you pray enough?
Do you fast? ever?
Do the habits of your daily life demonstrate that you are oriented to God’s purpose? In obedience? Scripture reading? Service to persons in need?
Joel teaches us.
Now do this: Return! (2:12) Fast. (2:12) Weep. (2:12) Mourn. (2:12) Soften your hearts. (2:13) Return! (2:13)
Remember this: God is gracious. (2:13) God is merciful. (2:13) God is slow to anger (2:13) God is abounding in steadfast love (2:13) God relents from punishing (2:13) God may leave a blessing (2:14)
God wants you to: Reorient to God’s City! (2:15) Engage in Holy Habits (2:15) Participate in sacred activity together (2:15) Gather! with other disciples (2:16) Be Holy as a group! (2:16)
Who is welcome?: Bring the Old! (2:16) The Young are invited, too! (2:16) Even newborns should be present! (2:16) Grooms and Brides! All are welcome! (2:16) Yes, Priest, too – Welcome! Gathered.(2:17)
“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart . . . Return to the Lord your God . . .” (NRSV).