Monday, December 04, 2006

Advent, Week 1: Tuesday

Recommended readings from the first Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Jeremiah 33:15 reads, "In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land." (NRSV)

There are times that I long for the Day of the Lord, that long-promised day when all that is wrong will be set to rights, when Jesus comes and (pardon the Texas euphemism here) opens up a can of whup-*ss on all the sorry folks who refuse to do what's right. Religiously popular theology tells us that when the world is at its nasty, sinful worst, we should piously pray for Jesus to come quickly.

Problem is, that's not the way it works. Jesus didn't call us (the church) his body for nothing. Jesus came and showed us quite definitively what it takes to turn this bad old world upside down and right-side up. He already won the victory over sin and death! Our job is supposed to be a bright, salty one in which we "infect" this world with the righteousness of Christ, which is his gracious gift to us. Jesus IS our Righteousness. So what are we doing with that righteousness?

It seems to me that we Christians too often separate ourselves from any inconvenient hint of the evil of the outside "heathen" world, creating a "Christian" safety zone for us and ours. Unfortunately, when we do that, virtually nothing gets done about the work Christ commanded us to do: give up our own lives in order to serve those the Lord died to save. We're so busy saving our lives that we forget we're supposed to lose them! Meanwhile, unrighteous people never even know there's a different way to live, because they never see it in us. We hide behind the doors of our homes and churches and workplaces, trying to keep ourselves as pure as possible by avoiding the messiness of ordinary people just trying to survive in a cutthroat world.

It's good to remember that entire nations are judged by the righteousness of their people, according to Matthew 25:31-46. If we Christians guard ourselves and our perception of our own righteousness so zealously that we don't "do justly" to those around us, I don't see any way that our individual nations are going to become righteous. Justice and righteousness are paired together in the Jeremiah text for a good reason: there is no righteousness where there is no justice, and vice versa.

A "justice" system is simply an elaborate means of exacting vengeance when it is the tool of unrighteous people. When a theological or philosophical worldview requires the subjugation of one class of people by another in the name of "biblical righteousness," it proves itself both unbiblical and unrighteous by its inherent injustice. When we proudly proclaim ourselves righteous yet engage in unjust behavior toward others, we are deceived at best, and are more likely simply liars. We dare not excuse our unjust behavior then hide behind "Jesus is my Righteousness." The just humbly follow God and are genuinely kind toward their neighbors (Micah 6:8). In other words, true justice naturally follows when we embrace the humility required by the practice of godly grace. If we desire justice and kindness from God, we must "go and do likewise."

Advent reminds us that Christ is coming. We cannot know when, though the signs will be clear. There is nothing wrong with praying along with the ancient church, "Come, Lord Jesus!" But let us do so while engaged wholeheartedly in emulating the humble righteousness of the Lord we claim to follow. Let us be his hands and feet and voice and heart in the midst of the sinful world he considered worth everything he had to give. May our prayer be active and effective as we spend ourselves in service to the least and the lost.

No comments: