Taking Advent on Its Own Terms (1 of 4)

Subtitle: God’s Judgment

A meditation for the first week of Advent based on Matthew 24.36-44

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courtroom

How would we react if, suddenly, there was a knock at our door and a bailiff handed us a summons to appear in court to answer a charge brought against us?

Would we be confused? Terrified? Or relieved? Even joyful?

In Advent, Christians, in preparing for the annual Christmas celebration of Jesus’ birth, necessarily must contemplate his second coming.

Jesus foretells “the coming of the Son of Man…(who) is coming at an unexpected hour.” I also think of those stirring words of Jesus in the final book of the Bible where he renews this promise: “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work…Surely I am coming soon.” The response? “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”(1)

The people of the Bible did not fear, but rejoiced in the proverbial knock at the door. Why?

Perhaps because they were oppressed and exploited people. In New Testament times, by the Roman Empire. Injustice oft evokes the cry for judgment, especially if that judgment is believed to be righteous. Yet the demand for justice only cannot explain why biblical folk longed for God’s judgment. For one can be in the right, yet unjust in demanding that right.

Then, perhaps, because God’s judgment always was understood to be a searching, searing inquiry, asking, demanding an answer to the question: What kind of person are you? Yet the demand for judgment only is no hopeful prospect. For, from the dawn of creation, human beings have been, are, and will be a curious, cosmic admixture of righteousness and sinfulness.

So, the psalmist cried:

Hear my prayer, O Lord;
give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness;
answer me in your righteousness.
Do not enter into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.(2)

So, again, why did the ancients cry out for the justice of divine judgment?

My favorite seminary professor, Richard Norris, Jr.,(3) was a brilliant man who demanded the most of his students. If he detected an error in our thinking or writing or the slightest trace of arrogance, his glare was humbling. Yet his classes always were filled to bursting. Why? Because we knew that he loved us. And, knowing that, we wanted to be shaped, led, sometimes, painfully, to be like him. We wanted his judgment of our efforts, for it gave us an indication of how far we were from the goal of becoming theologians.

This is one of my earthly paradigms for the second coming of Jesus, which will tell us something about our relationship with God, which is not the subject of terror, but rather good news. God is love unconditional and love unconditional is both the seed and the fruit of divine judgment.

The Second Coming of Jesus, Greek icon (c. 1700)

Therefore, speaking always and only for myself, I, with my biblical forebears, say, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” Come to judge the world. Come to judge me. Come to establish your kingdom everywhere and in me. And, in my desire for your coming, may I, in the strength of your Spirit, labor now to be like you.

 

Footnotes:
(1) Revelation 22.12, 20a (my emphasis) and Revelation 22.20.b
(2) Psalm 143.1-2 (my emphasis)
(3) The Reverend Canon Dr. Richard A. Norris, Jr. (1930-2005)

Illustration: The Second Coming of Jesus, Greek icon (c. 1700)

4 thoughts on “Taking Advent on Its Own Terms (1 of 4)

  1. Paul,

    Now you know I watch a lot of crime tv on the Investigations Channel. There’s often a situation where a criminal / suspect who had been on the run for a long time. When the police arrive and knock on the door, the criminal says “I’ve been waiting for this knock on the door”. And sometimes there is relief that the run is over and there’s no more looking over their shoulder.

    The rest of us think we’re all waiting for that knock on the door, but we are afraid of what or who is going to be on the other side.

    I’m ready for the knock and whatever is on the other side, because you pointed out that there’s good on the other side. If it’s God no matter we’ve done it’s gonna be ok because there is unconditional love waiting for us. It’s a freeing thought because maybe now we can stop running or being afraid to open the door!! I’M READY!!!

    Much love!

    Like

  2. Loretta, your comment – “I’m ready for the knock and whatever is on the other side, because you pointed out that there’s good on the other side. If it’s God no matter we’ve done it’s gonna be ok because there is unconditional love waiting for us. It’s a freeing thought because maybe now we can stop running or being afraid to open the door!! I’M READY!!!” – stirs up in my mind an alternate image (What else is new? For that’s how oddly my mind works!) of a prison cell in which I sit. All the while, I yearn to be free and I know that the cell door is unlocked because God in Christ has liberated me. BUT, afraid to venture out in faith, there I remain in my cell.

    So, now, where my mind runs is in a realization that both images involve judgment. In the first, the one I proposed in my blog post about a knock at the door, it is God’s judgment of us. In the second, it is my judgment, indeed, my fear of myself; that is, that should I step out of my cell in freedom, I will make mistakes (e.g., poor and hurtful choices that harm others and myself and, just as bad, poor and hurtful non-choices when I choose not to act to help others) that will land me back in jail. In this scenario, my sense would be that I, having returned to incarceration, will be irredeemable. That nothing would be, could be done to save me…

    Now, in writing this, by faith, I believe, that I am not – that I never am – irredeemable. BUT that’s the rub, the hard part, isn’t it? My choosing – or NOT choosing – to act on faith.

    Hmmm, there may be another blog post in all of this.

    Love ya’!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow!!! Thank you for this response!! Awesome!

    Love ya back!!

    Like

  4. You, my dear sister, are welcome. And I so love it when one idea sparks a response, which, in turn, sparks another idea. This kind of stimulating dialogue – or dialogue that stimulates new ideas – is what, I believe, engagement with others is intended to produce at its best. So, I thank you with love

    Like

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