Thursday, December 21, 2017

Kiss the Son - Advent Meditation

(This is part of a set of daily Advent meditations I'll be posting. They're going up a day early so that you can use them, if you wish, for private reflection in this season of anticipation and preparation.)

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
-Revelation 19:11-16

This might seem like a strange reading for Advent – it is certainly not in keeping with the modern “Christmas spirit.” I can only imagine the scandal that would erupt if we were to send Christmas greeting cards emblazoned with this rider astride a pale horse surveying the fields of carrion left in His wake, the birds circling overhead. Much safer, my wife would remind me, to stick to pudgy babies and pastoral winter landscapes. Yet this is an image of Christ as surely as that swaddled child in a manger. This is the “Word of God,” the divine King promised by prophets of old.

Jesus in Scripture always comes bringing both grace and judgment. Psalm 2, that great Messianic promise of His coming, is a warning against the kings of the earth to repent lest they be shattered like pottery. Jesus Himself warns regularly of His return, and of those who oppose Him being cast into outer darkness and the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

There are two things we need to recognize about this future coming in judgment.

First, we must recognize that a part of us longs for it. When you see some scumbag with power get away with terrible crimes – how does that make you feel? Doesn't a part of you long for him to be brought to justice, and another part of you despair because you know, thanks to all of his money and power, it probably won't happen in this world? When you read about people in some nation ruled by a tyrant, people being oppressed and exploited, don't you just wish that his number would come up? When someone uses a position of authority or strength to abuse others – don't you long for a reckoning?

That reckoning, Advent promises, is coming. This world is broken not by accident but by the designs of crooked men. It seems an overwhelming temptation, in the face of that, to take up arms ourselves and seek to bring what justice we can. Yet down that road lies only more injustice – blood for blood until the world has been bled dry. It is only in the truth that justice is coming, truly and finally, that we can forego such violence. It is only by such a coming that the world can be healed.

Yet of course we cannot wholly cheer such a reckoning, because in Scripture we are all complicit in the world's hurts. We are all deep down such crooked men. What is remarkable about the Bible's story, once you grasp the arc of it, is not the Jesus who rides out to destroy the nations. What is remarkable is the redemption that precedes it, the offer of peace that heaven affords.

Justice is coming, but it is escapable. In His grace, God has worked so that no one must perish. We are invited, as we come in wonder to the Christ child, to name Him as our King and to receive the forgiveness He has purchased. Before He comes to spill our blood, He first offers His own blood to work salvation. Before the Lion of Judah rides out, he offers Himself as the Lamb killed for our sins.

Yet if Advent is a season of waiting and preparation, part of that preparation is to look clear-eyed at what we are preparing for. “Kiss the Son,” the Psalmist warns us, lest we be destroyed. (Psalm 2:12) May we come in adoration to His manger, lest we awaken in that hour and find that the time for peace has passed and the time for judgment has arrived.

I can see the storm descending on the hill tonight
Tall trees are bending to your will tonight
Let the mighty bow down
At the thundering sound of your voice
I can hear the howling wind and feel the rain tonight
Every drop a prophet in your name tonight
And the words that they sing
They are washing me clean, but

How long until this curtain is lifted?
How long is this the song that we sing?
How long until the reckoning?

And I know you hear the cries of every soul tonight
You see the teardrops as they roll tonight
Down the faces of saints
Who grow weary and faint in your fields
And the wicked roam the cities and the streets tonight
But when the God of love and thunder speaks tonight
Down the faces of saints
Who grow weary and faint in your fields

How long until this curtain is lifted?
How long is this the song that we sing?
How long until the reckoning?

You are holiness and grace
You are fury and rest
You are anger and love
You curse and you bless
You are mighty and weak
You are silence and song
You are plain as the day
But you have hidden your face--
For how long? How long?

And I am standing in the stillness of the reckoning
The storm is past and rest is beckoning
Mighty God, how I fear you
How I long to be near you, O Lord

How long until the burden is lifted?
How long is this the song that we sing?
How long until the reckoning?
-Andrew Peterson, The Reckoning


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