We are not aware what Noah did for a living before he heard from God, but following that encounter he became an accomplished carpenter, builder and woodworker. Noah was a righteous man, obedient and faithful. In spite of his concerned admonitions and warnings, Noah was not able to convince his neighbors, friends and extended family to repent. As a result they were all drowned in the flood. Noah's faithful obedience saved not only his own life but those of his wife and children.
The sound of muffled weeping awakens the woman. Reaching out, she gently touches her husband's shoulder. Pulling her body close to his, she holds him until the sobbing subsides. No words are spoken. No explanation is necessary. Over the years she had watched her husband become more and more isolated from his family and friends. His righteous life was enough to keep him at arm's length from most people. But he heard God's voice and undertook the most massive - and ridiculous - building project in human history. Her husband was building a colossal enormous boat in their backyard.
She had questioned him many times, gently at first, then more and more pointedly and intensely as the years pass. Frankly, this undertaking had been an embarrassment to her. But in time she learns to trust her husband and their God, so she supports and loves Noah.
This night she holds him close as she had through the years of frustration and fear and wakeful nights. This time, however, the methodical rocking motion of the boat in which they were lying brings them welcomed sleep.
From the time his father Lamech taught him about the eternal God and the need to live righteously, Noah sought to be obedient and to follow the God of his father. Most of the time Noah could ignore the derision and segregation from others who noted his loyalty to the ways of God and hated him for it, but sometimes the loneliness became too much to bear, especially during the solitude of the night.
Nine generations had passed since the tragedy of Eden. The unsullied garden and the pristine world surrounding it had become a literal cesspool of debauchery and sin; violence, corruption and sexual lewdness were not only commonplace, but were so prevalent they were going unnoticed by all who were immersed in them except the mournful eye of the Creator himself.
Early one day as Noah walked through the morning mist, he heard the voice of Almighty God. There had been other times when Noah sensed or felt the voice of the Lord, but this time was different. This time the voice was audible and distinctly clear and the words were alarming and shocking. "I am going to put an end to all people, for earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth." Then the Lord laid out his plan to his servant, who cowered in fear of God's dreadful words and crazy directions. "Collect your tools ... gather supplies... and build a boat, a very big boat. I am going to bring flood waters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, to wash away the filth man has introduced into pristine creation, every creature that has the breath of life in it has been defiled by man's sin. Everything on earth will be destroyed and perish."
Noah struggled to comprehend such a thought. Total destruction of the earth? But God was still not finished. God instructed Noah to finally collect two of every kind of bird and land animal and place them in the boat along with his family. Completely dazed by what he hears but determined to be obedient, Noah did everything commanded him without question. But as the days melted into weeks and then into months ... and the months added up to years, then piled up to fill some one hundred years, Noah grew tired. The physical labor took is toll on the man, but the incessant mocking from many whom he had once called friends, found a foothold in his soul.
"What's the matter, Noah?" they jeered. "Did you forget that you live in a desert? How are you going to get that monstrosity to the sea? Hey "Noah, have you gone mad? Lunatic, has the sun so adversely affected you?" Noah wondered from time to time if they were right. But over and over again, he went back to the words he heard from God, determined to remain true to his original mission. Decades passed and finally the work was finished. Built to God's own precise specifications, the ark was ready for its occupants and of course, to float on the waters of the flooded earth.
Diligently Noah collected two of every creature, shepherding them into the craft carefully prepared to receive them. Finally the enormous task was complete. Each living thing nestled in its rightful cubicle in the massive boat. Noah's ark rose from the desert floor like a great and mighty monument to his obedience. Noah never forgets because he is always obedient, that he is able to construct this unheard of monument to obedience and submission to God's will. Then the Lord speaks to his faithful servant, "Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation ... Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made. Submerged will man be in the water because he submerged himself in the morass of sinfulness. Man has degenerated and become so depraved I am sorry I created him. He is not worthy to grace the world I created."
Finally, once everyone - including Noah's own precious children - was on board, the Lord safely shut him in. Imagine, in all the world, only Noah and his wife, his three sons and their wives are the only ones worthy to be protected from the devastating flood. Eight souls from all the population of the world! Amazing and unbelievable!
And the rains fell.
Noah's gleeful neighbors, friends and cousins who were so ecstatic just a few days earlier as they pursued their own hedonistic nonsense, now became very serious and pre-occupied with saving themselves. Pleasure of the flesh was no longer their sole concern; they climbed the highest hills, got to the tree tops and were pleadingly yelling to him to admit them into the safety of the boat. But they died, groping for air, some clinging to its sides until they could no longer hold on. Now every single one of them who never deserved life in the first place, were drowning and gone. Their miserable lives were ended. They were long ago spiritually dead, so our God decided to acknowledge their condition and desire and simply took away their physical lives as well. And in the darkness of the night, aboard a massive, noisy creaking ship floating on an endless sea, the thoughts of all that past one hundred years brought heavy tears to Noah.
So we see in human history, every once in a while a man comes along who is not afraid to obey, who has the self-confidence of faith to collaborate with the God of heaven for salvation of his soul.
We cannot totally imagine what it must have been like to be Noah, living in a culture so much like our own here and now which is corrupted by immorality and violence, thievery and lack of truth, national leaders who are bankrupt of soul and bereft of self-respect, of abounding situation ethics and pillaging and crime. According to this story, the earth is literally "full" of itself just as it was then. So reprehensible were the lives of people that our heavenly Father regrets having made them. Created in the image of the divine, man stops aspiring after virtue and falls and falls, and seemingly desires to plunge even lower than he can ever imagine. God is so grieved and offended He decides to remove man from the face of the earth, with the enraged anger of a man clearing a table with the back of his hand. Who can you imagine this happening?
But on his way to starting all over again, our heavenly Father looks at Noah. His life is so exemplary that in the middle of all this debauchery, this worst than dog-like animal existence man has appropriated and chosen for himself, Noah finds favor in the eyes of God. This man, Noah is righteous and blameless among the people of his time. Because of his faithfulness, this is one man whom the Lord chooses not to destroy because He cannot destroy him. The virtue of his heart and soul protect him.
We do not have to look very far to find a lesson in his man's life. Like Noah's culture, the one that surrounds us is drowning in immorality, corruption, and violence. So many parents have become the worst enemies of their children. Children rebel because they see parents at odds with God's revelation and try to outdo parental sin. And like Noah we can choose to stand against society's values or capitulate to the devil. Once we decide to stand firm, to live in obedience to our heavenly Father, the tricky part comes with trying to understand precisely how. What does submission to the will of the eternal Father mean, what does it look like? And what should we expect as a result of this obedience?
Tucked away in this story is the secret to Noah's success. Noah walked with God. For Noah, surrender was not a single decision or one worthy event; it was a process, an on-going process, a routine, a journey, a walk, a pilgrimage of faith; it was the story of his life) Obedience was the natural result of this methodical approach. Walking with God means knowing him. Knowing him means loving him. Loving him means hearing, studying, serving, obeying in a continuum that spans a lifetime.
And obeying God means salvation.
We can just imagine that decades of repeated subtle and overt ridicule may have led Noah to question God. There had to have been moments of loneliness and genuine doubt. But taking one step at a time along the path God laid out for him kept Noah on track. He avidly resisted the temptations of the dirty devil.
Noah's obedience led to preservation not only of his own life, but that of the lives of his wife and children and their wives as well. Once the project was complete and everyone around him outright rejected the notion that God would actually destroy the earth with a catastrophic flood, Noah and his whole family entered the safety of the ark. Then the Lord shut him in. Noah's obedience not only led to the preservation of his own life, but that of the human race which was generated from them. In fact, Noah's faithfulness - in the form of building this great ark - became one of the early Church's symbols for safety and refuge. In the Church we have the safety of Noah if we remain obedient. The interiors of so many great cathedrals are built to resemble the inside of a boat, a shelter in the time of storm, a reminder of an obedient man who was sent before us and was saved in a boat which carries us safely on tempestuous seas from one destination to another, from earth to eternal paradise with our God.
So this evening during the Nativity Fast, let us think about how our Creator God thinks when we distort his image in us by our selfishness, greed and violence. Put yourself in Noah's place. What does it feel like to follow God even though everyone around you is heading in the opposite direction? Our God did not completely destroy the world but carried out a plan to renew it. What does this say about his mercy? What does it say about the vocation of his Church which is often symbolized as the ark? How can we reflect mercy to those who are not living for God? God saved not only Noah but his wife, sons and their wives. What does that say about the ways God's blessing works within a family? How have you experienced God's blessings on your family?
Our God promises to remember his covenant whenever a rainbow appears in the sky. To remember in God's revelation to us refers to not simply recalling something, but to being concerned for or caring about it. How does Noah's story speak of God's care for the world after the flood? How does it speak for his Church in the world and the work it does leading man to salvation?
It is tempting to dismiss genealogies in Scripture as long boring lists of unfamiliar names. But careful reading, even studying, often yields interesting insights. The most important names are usually the first and last, in this case, Adam and Noah. The meaning of Noah's name is connected to the idea of "rest" or bringing "relief" When Noah's father named him he associated the name with relief from the curse originally placed on Adam.
Olive trees as we know, grow only at lower altitudes. When the dove returned to the ark with a freshly plucked olive leaf, Noah readily understood how far the waters had receded. The dove with an olive branch in its beak has become a universally recognized symbol of peace. Now that peace is returned to earth with the recession of waters, we can gladly recall the promise made by our God "There is a future for a man of peace" Psalms 37: 37; "Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be moved, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord who has compassion you" Isaiah 54: 10.