Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Season of Advent - Justice is Coming

Happy Thanksgiving weekend! I trust you are all sufficiently stuffed after a long weekend around the banquet table. Perhaps you told your children about the first Thanksgiving this weekend around that table. In today's politically correct environment you have to be so careful how you tell that story! Before long, we might all have to tell the story like this fourth grader. He was asked to give a report on the origins of Thanksgiving. But he wanted to be careful not to offend anyone, so here is what he wrote in his brief report…

"The pilgrims came here seeking freedom of you know what. When they landed, they gave thanks to you know who. Because of them, we can worship each Sunday, you know where."

We certainly live in a fearful world, don’t we? We are so careful not to offend anyone. But sometimes we forget that our desire not to offend is born out of fear. We live in a place and in a time when the offended often lash out and retaliate. This week, the world reached an agreement with the nation of Iran. They agreed to limit their nuclear program. The rest of the world agreed to lighten our economic sanctions against them. The response to this new agreement was immediate around the world. Some immediately celebrated the dropping oil prices, but others immediately yelled caution! Israel, in particular, is worried that lightened sanctions on Iran will send the wrong message. Their history with that nation has led them to be suspicious. Israel fears more violence in the future, and who can blame them?

Our world is filled with violence, and we live this life expecting to see more. School shootings have become the rule rather than the exception. This year alone 2 students were shot and killed in a school in Nevada, another student shot and killed in Austin, TX, 6 students killed in Santa Monica, CA, 2 more in Cambridge, MA; 17 deaths in 2013 alone. That is not even to mention the 28 that were killed in one afternoon in Newtown, Connecticut last December. Unlike many of us, our children will grow up in a world where metal detectors and x-ray machines in public places are the norm.

Do you ever crave justice in the world?

I sometimes crave real, genuine justice. I sometimes fantasize about living in a world filled with peace. No more need for Mid-East peace talks, no more need for metal detectors and x-ray machines, no school shootings, no more need for soldiers or armies, no more police. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where our defense budget could be turned back into the government, “No, you can have this back. We don’t need it anymore. Just put this money in our schools. Use this money to feed the millions of hungry people on our streets.”

It is natural, you know, that we dream about a world like that. In fact, I think we were created to crave justice. In his book, Simply Christian, N.T. Wright says our longing for justice “comes with the kit of being human.”

Our longing for justice comes with the kit of being human…Unfortunately, although we all strive for justice, we often fail to achieve it. You fall off your bicycle and break your leg. You go to the hospital and they fix it. You stagger around on crutches for awhile. Then, rather gingerly, you start to walk normally again... There is such a thing as putting something to rights, as in fixing it, as getting it back on track. You can fix a broken leg, a broken toy, a broken television. So why can't we fix injustice. It isn't for lack of trying.

And yet, in spite of failures to fix injustice, we keep dreaming that one day all broken things will be set right. Christians believe this is so because all humans have heard, deep within themselves, the echo of a voice which calls us to live with a dream for justice. And followers of Christ believe that in Jesus that voice became human and did what had to be done to bring it about.   
N. T. Wright, Simply Christian

This morning is the first Sunday in our season of Advent. Advent simply means “the arrival of a notable person or thing.” In the Christian season of Advent, followers of Jesus Christ anticipate and expect the arrival of Jesus in the world. During this season, we should not only put up our Christmas tree and colorful lights. We should express with our words and model with our lives our belief that Jesus is coming into this world, and with Jesus comes justice.

The prophet Isaiah wrote this centuries before Jesus was a thought in Mary’s mind…

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come
 the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
 and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
    Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
 to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
 and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
 and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
 He shall judge between the nations,
 and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
 and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
 neither shall they learn war any more.
 O house of Jacob,
 come, let us walk
 in the light of the LORD!
   Isaiah 2:1-5, NRSV

Isaiah didn’t even know who Jesus was! But He had confidence that one day God would enter this world in a special way and set things right. He lived in a world where people mocked God. They said religion was a farce, just a bunch of superstition. Sound familiar? But out of Zion will come the answers to all of the world’s problems. Out of Jerusalem will come justice, an end to all wars, an end to all fear, an end to all death. That is what Jesus’ arrival in this world ultimately means

It is tempting to lash out against injustice in our world. To yell and scream and fight for harsher and stricter laws, to combat violence with violence. But if this season teaches us anything it is this, God saw our injustice long before we did, and instead of lashing out and destroying the world with fire, God made Himself a man and came near to us.

One weekend, author Paul Tripp gave his teenage son permission to spend the weekend at a friend's house. But during the weekend Paul received a call from the friend's mother, informing him that Paul's son was not at her home. Her son had felt guilty about covering for Paul's son, so, he had confessed to his mom. After Paul told his wife about their son's deception, Paul said Luella could feel my anger. She said, “I think you need to pray.” I said, “I don't think I can pray for him right now.”  She said, “I didn't mean for you to pray for him; I think you need to pray for you.” Paul said he went to his bedroom to pray for God's help, and it hit him that, because of his love, God had already begun a work of rescue in my son's life. God was the one who pressed in on the conscience of my son's friend, causing him to confess to his mom. God was the one who gave her the courage to make that difficult call to me, and God was the one giving me time to get a hold of myself before my son came home. Now, rather than wanting to rip into my son, I wanted to be part of what this God of grace was doing in this moment of rebellion, deception, hurt, and disappointment.

After giving his son a couple of hours to relax upon his return, Paul asked him if they could talk. “Do you ever think about how much God loves you?” Paul asked his son. “Sometimes,” he answered. “Do you ever think how much God's grace operates in your life every day?” His son looked up but didn't speak. “Do you know how much God's grace was working in your life even this weekend?” “Who told you?” his son asked. Paul then said this to his son:

"You have lived your life in the light. You've made good choices. You've been an easy son to parent, but this weekend you took a step toward the darkness. You can live in the darkness if you want. You can learn to lie and deceive. You can use your friends as your cover … You can step over God's boundaries. Or you can determine to live in God's light. I'm pleading with you: don't live in the darkness;  live in the light."

As he was turning away, Paul heard his son’s voice. “Dad, don't go. Dad, I want to live in the light, but it's so hard. Will you help me?”

You know what, that is all God asks of us. We not only live in a fearful and violent world, we ourselves are full of fear, and we are often violent. We contribute to the darkness of which we speak so often. As we anticipate Jesus’ arrival this year, know that God is waiting to hear us, his children respond to his offer of grace. He just wants to hear you say, “Father, don’t go. I want to live in the light, but it is so hard. Will you help me?” And, in case you doubt, let me remind you, He will help you.

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