Advent 2012, justice, and God stuff

Advent really starts in a couple of days, but I’m already thinking about it. Here’s my thought for the season. Feel free to ignore this if it isn’t your thing. If my religious post makes you feel a little grumpy, please read it in the light of my post from 2007 about Holiday Greetings and hyper sensitivity.

The season of Advent is about waiting and anticipation. We believe these things, but are waiting for their full arrival…just as we believe in faith that Christ’s actions brought about our justification, but we are still waiting for the completion.

Christianity too often seems to teach the Gospel in terms of punitive justice, as if to say that because God is being kind, he chose through Christ to die in your place and take the punishment you deserve.

What if the real message is one of restorative justice, one that turns the entire idea of “an eye for an eye” upside down? What if the real message is that God saw the problems that result from sin and chose to come through Christ and take all those problems upon himself, along with the sin that causes them, and have them die with him?

The upshot then is that we can be justified, not merely in the sense of “the jury decided to call you innocent,” but in the sense that we who were unclean were loved and accepted and cleaned from the inside out so that there is no longer anything within us that keeps us from being with God?

That is a much more beautiful reading of the Gospels, of Romans, of the entire message of the Bible.

I think it is also the message Christ taught and which earned him the moniker “friend of sinners,” originally intended as an insult, and that message is a large part of why he was perceived as a threat by the religious powers of his day.

I think it is the real message intended by Saint Paul for the readers of his letter to the Romans and why he felt he had to so strongly and completely renounce his former belief in religiously motivated violence.

In my opinion, this is the beauty of Advent and this time of year–God sees each of us as we are, loves and accepts each of us, and as we let him, gently changes us to become more and more pure, as we allow ourselves to die with Christ so that Christ may live in and through us.

I once heard an Eastern Orthodox priest say that God has sanctified us (made us holy), God is sanctifying us (is making us holy), and that God will sanctify us (will make us holy). For one outside of time, these can happen “concurrently.” For those of us bound by time, that is nearly inconceivable. I think the phrase in the first sentence sums it up as well as it is possible to sum it up. Advent is a beautiful celebration of that mystery, of waiting for what will come even though it has already happened (and is happening). It celebrates anticipation and hope, expectation and wonder, a looking past the flawed things that are and toward an ideal hoped for future, both personally and for those around us.

Whether you believe the same as me or not, I hope that I can display to you the same love, acceptance, and gentle desire for ever-improving good things for you. This is my wish for this time of year.

4 thoughts on “Advent 2012, justice, and God stuff

  1. Matthew,

    I think you got it right. We should never forget that the Gospel first of all means “good news.”

    This was a very pleasant post — and even more surprising to find it on Planet Ubuntu.

    God bless you,
    Christoph

  2. I think you’re spot on with your assessment. For a while now, I’ve thought the way justice is handled by some sectors of Christendom has left us with either a very dark picture of God or else a picture that is at best confused and at worst schizophrenic.
    In my experience, some of us have communicated (intentionally and unintentionally) that grace and mercy were somehow exceptions to God’s justice. It’s nothing original, but I see grace and mercy as being the logical, necessary outworking of God’s justice.

  3. I love the quote about “one outside of time”. I am a pastor and have used an original illustration a few times…..

    To us life is like a book. One page follows the other and we can not look ahead or behind. All we see is the stuff on the current page and we know the stuff we already read.

    To God, our life is more like a map. He can look at the start and the end all in one glance. He can compare the entire process. That does not negate free-will, it just causes more forks in the road on the map.

    In this manner, Christ is ALWAYS paying the price for sin.
    Just a Thought.
    Thanks,
    Jeremy Bays

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