Advent Day 18: Zephaniah and Rejoicing

Zephaniah 1:14-16.
14 The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;
the mighty man cries aloud there.
15 A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.

Like the other prophets, Zephaniah sees the coming day of the Lord as a day of darkness and judgment. Judgment on all of Judah’s enemies (chapter 2) but also judgment on Judah herself.
Zephaniah 1:4.
“I will stretch out my hand against Judah
and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;

But then suddenly Zephaniah’s message to Judah turns into one of hope.

Zephaniah 3:14-17.
14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

And so Advent turns from darkness, gloom, and judgment to singing, rejoicing, and salvation. How is this even possible? Why the two dramatically different messages from the prophet?

When war turned to peace

The answer is of course the incarnation and the cross. In Christ’s humanity and dying he has taken the wrath of God against Judah, the distress and anguish. The ruin and devastation. The darkness and gloom. And it is because of the cross and the resurrection that God can sing over Jerusalem.

The incarnation is Christ’s union with Israel. Jesus took the place of Israel by taking the wrath that they deserved (and all of humanity for that matter), and he experienced the day of the Lord on the cross. Now, Israel can experience God’s forgiveness – The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies.

Our union with Christ is our union with Israel. We too are free from the judgments of God. We too are clear of our enemies. We too shall never again fear evil. We too have the Lord God in our midst. We too are sung over by the Lord with gladness. This is “to live is Christ.” This is our Advent. Rejoicing. Yes, its dark around us. Yes, waiting is full of sorrow. But Jesus Christ has brought rejoicing into our sorrow. He has brought peace with God. He has brought a day of the Lord full of rejoicing not reeling. The Lord our God is singing over us. Loudly.

Are you able to rejoice in your Advent? How does your union with Christ (and thus with Israel) allow you to find joy in the thought of the return of the Lord?

Advent Day 17: Habakkuk and Faith

Habakkuk 1:1-3.

The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.

2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,

and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.

Habakkuk 2:1-5.

I will take my stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
and what I will answer concerning my complaint.

2 And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
3 For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.

4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.

5 “Moreover, wine is a traitor,
an arrogant man who is never at rest.
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations
and collects as his own all peoples.”

Habakkuk is a dialogue. The prophet and God are talking. Maybe more like yelling. There is obvious frustration in the prophet’s voice. Chapter one is the complaint. Why God are you silent? Why are you letting evil reign? Why do you ignore my cry for help? In chapter 2 he goes up into the watchtower to wait for the response from God.

Habakkuk 2:4 is God’s response. The righteous shall live by faith.

This is, of course the phrase that the Apostle Paul uses in his theology of our salvation. We are saved by grace through faith.

Romans 1:17. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Galatians 3:11. Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Paul made Habakkuk 2:4 the very foundation of the gospel. But what is this faith? Faith that dies on a beach? Faith that accepts ridicule and scorn? Faith that goes to jail for going to church? Faith that believes even in a place where it is becoming really hard to believe?

Charlie Brown losing faith

Faith that says God is a better bet than man? (Fleming Rutledge)

Maybe it’s faith that says, “I will trust God no matter what.”

Habakkuk 3:17-18. Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

Faith is total and complete reliance on God. God as he actually is. The true God. The God of the Advent. The God of the incarnation. The God of the cross. The God of “to live is Christ.”

For Paul, Habakkuk 2:4 meant the God of imputed righteousness. Righteousness comes by faith. Faith in what? Faith in the propitiation of Christ. Faith in his life being given to us. Faith is where Advent must land us. Waiting in faith. Faith in the God of our salvation.

How would you define faith? How does our faith in our union with Christ change how we wait for Christ’s return?

This song is saying almost the complete opposite of Habakkuk and Paul… but it’s Josh Groban so…

Advent Day 16: Amos and Security

Amos 5:18-24.

18 Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!
    Why would you have the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, and not light,
19     as if a man fled from a lion,
    and a bear met him,
or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
    and a serpent bit him.
20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light,
    and gloom with no brightness in it?

21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
    I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
    to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

The people of the Old Testament were waiting. Waiting for the Advent (arrival) of the Lord and of his Messiah. Amos is asking why? Why are you looking forward to this day Israel? Why do you think it will be a day of light, when it will be a day of darkness?

Why this crushing condemnation from the prophet? Because the people have failed to do justice. To love mercy. To walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). And so they should NOT be looking forward to the day of the Lord.

The day of the Lord was supposed to be the day God returns to crush all of his enemies, all of THEIR enemies. Assyrians, Babylonians, Philisitines, Moabites, Edomites. Anyone that opposed God. But Amos is saying that THEY also opposed God. They did not do his righteousness and justice (yes righteousness and justice are something you do).

Amos is writing to wealthy and pious people. They practice religion and rest their security in their possessions and riches. But their security is short lived. They escape the lion but get eaten by the bear. They make it into the house but get bit by a serpent. They rely on their offerings to God, but God hates those offerings. They think they live in the light but they live in the dark. They think they are praising God but it’s all just a noise.

We are no different. Our security is also our darkness. Nostalgia, past successes, religious practices. These are our security. These save us from God himself. Or so we think. These keep us feeling safe. But they are actually our darkness. They are deceptive. They are noise. They are actions and intentions without true love (1 Corinthians 13).

Jesus, put a little love in our hearts. 

What the Israelites don’t know is that the day of the Lord will occur in two phases. The first phase has already happened 2000 years ago in Bethlehem when Jesus Christ was born. The birth of Christ was the day of the Lord. In God’s mercy it was a day of light not darkness. Jesus is the Light. He IS God’s justice rolling down like water, and he is God’s righteousness like a mighty stream. He is everything Israel was not.

How? Jesus became the curse of Amos. He took the serpent’s bite. He was mauled by the wild animals. He entered the darkness. He became the burnt offering and the grain offering. So that we might be come the righteousness of God just as he is.

2 Corinthians 5:21. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

“To live is Christ” means having the justice and righteousness of God imputed to us in spite of us. Now God can receive our pure hearted praise. Now there is no more woe. Only blessing. Light not darkness. Now we can look forward in our Advent to the day of the Lord phase two. The day of judgment. Why? Because we have already passed through judgment and been granted the forgiveness and grace of our Savior.

Where is your security found? Like the Israelites of Amos’ day is it in your religious practices or past glories? Or is it in your imputed righteousness from union with Christ?

It’s not a Christmas song, but it is an Amos 5 song. 

Advent Day 15: Joel and Warfare

Joel 3:9-16.

Proclaim this among the nations:
Consecrate for war;
    stir up the mighty men.
Let all the men of war draw near;
    let them come up.
10 Beat your plowshares into swords,
    and your pruning hooks into spears;
    let the weak say, “I am a warrior.”

11 Hasten and come,
    all you surrounding nations,
    and gather yourselves there.
Bring down your warriors, O Lord.
12 Let the nations stir themselves up
    and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
    all the surrounding nations.

13 Put in the sickle,
    for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
    for the winepress is full.
The vats overflow,
    for their evil is great.

14 Multitudes, multitudes,
    in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
    in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and the moon are darkened,
    and the stars withdraw their shining.

16 The Lord roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
    and the heavens and the earth quake.
But the Lord is a refuge to his people,
    a stronghold to the people of Israel.

The prophet Joel is describing the final apocalyptic war that God will bring at the end of time upon his enemies. The hidden God will be revealed. And it won’t be pretty. It won’t be a little baby in a manger we love you. It will be darkened moon and quaking earth.

Since the dawn of time the enemies of God have been waging war against his people. God’s enemies know they can’t actually touch him, so they pick on us. First the Israelites and now the church. This is the war that you and I live in every day. But it will come to a culmination.

Christmas – the season of warfare.

Theologian and author Fleming Rutledge says our role today is two-fold: 1) Active resistance and 2) patient endurance.

Active resistance. Beat your plowshares into swords. Get ready for war. Let the weak say “I am a warrior.” The enemies of God are real and they are evil. They must be resisted by the church. As our brothers and sisters in China are doing right now.

Patient waiting. Hope. The way we wage this spiritual war is by waiting. Waiting for Christ to return and living in hope of that day. We fight by resting. We fight by standing still. We take up a cross not a sword. We are being killed yet conquerors (Rom. 8:36-37).

The day of the Lord is near (Joel 3:14). 

This is our Advent. Waiting for the war. Resisting. Enduring. This is “to live is Christ.” We are behind enemy lines wearing the armor of God. The armor of love and righteousness against the enemies of the Kingdom of Light.

What will this war look like for you today? How can you resist and endure? How does your union with Christ strengthen you for this daily war and fill you for hope for the final battle against evil?

Another apocalyptic song of Christ’s final victory!

Advent Day 14: Daniel and the Apocalypse

Daniel 7:9-13
9 “As I looked,

thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.

11 “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.

13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Daniel is describing an apocalypse. Apocalypse is a fancy theology word that means God is breaking into time, space, and history in a supernatural way. Apocalyptic deals with God’s response to evil and suffering, his rule over heaven and earth, and the ultimate reality that is usually hidden from mankind. In Daniel 7, he foresees the return of Jesus to earth. From the clouds to the land. From a fiery throne in Heaven, to an everlasting earthly dominion. A truth that was hidden is revealed. God wins. God rules. Evil is defeated.

Santa’s apocalypse – will evil Jack Frost be defeated?

This apocalyptic vision in Daniel 7 has not happened yet. This is the Advent that you and I are waiting for. Daniel is describing our hope. Our longing. The day the Son of Man sets up his rule on earth. When the beasts (those that opposed God) are destroyed.

It’s hard to believe that Daniel is describing the little baby in my nativity scene. The “sweet little Jesus boy” is the Son of Man. The baby in the manger is this woolen haired, angel worshipped, book opening, nation ruling, Ancient of Days. An ancient baby? Now that is apocalyptic.

The first Christmas is just as much an apocalyptic event as will be the return of Christ. At the birth of Christ in a manger, humanity saw the beginning of the apocalyptic end. The veil was removed from our understanding. God broke into time, space, and history in the most supernatural of ways – he became one of us. Why such a dramatic entrance? Because our darkness demands it. A supernatural entrance was needed because the natural alone would never do. Plagues, sea crossings, water from a rock, bread from heaven, leprosy healed, even the dead raised. These all solved some problems and even “saved” God’s people for a time. But these miraculous yet natural acts would not solve our ultimate problem – sin. This would require an apocalypse. God would have to not only use the natural, he would have to become the natural. The Son of God had to become the Son of Man.

And so, as we said, now we wait for another great apocalyptic event. When God will enter into history again as the ruler of the earth, ending injustice and bringing his everlasting dominion to earth.

Where does this leave us today? As those who are in Christ, we are living apocalyptics. God has broken into time, space, and history in our very own lives. In the living church, God lives. God doesn’t just speak to us from a mountain top outside of us, or manipulate nature for the benefit of his will. He has invaded our lives, our very beings. The Ancient of Days lives in me. The Son of Man rules my heart. My life is his fiery throne. The beasts of my heart have been crushed. The kingdom of my soul is his indestructible kingdom. Now that’s apocalyptic. That’s “to live is Christ.”

Do you see yourself as part of God’s apocalypse? How does union with Christ join you to Daniel 7:9-14? Do you long for Christ’s return? How has his return already begun in our lives?

The humanity yet the apocalypse – “we didn’t know who you were”

Advent Day 13: Jeremiah and Righteousness

Jeremiah 33:14-16. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 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.16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

Righteousness is the opposite of sinfulness. Sinfulness is destroying us as we destroy each other. Sinfulness oppresses. Sinfulness steals. Sinfulness withholds what is owed. Sinfulness seeks self gain at the expense of others.

But God is righteous. He is just. He seeks to lift up the oppressed, the poor, the needy, the downtrodden. His righteousness is a standard; his justice moves people to that standard. His justice raises us up. It feeds the widow and orphan. It welcomes the displaced. It visits the imprisoned. It pays a fair wage. It doesn’t steal, harm, lie, or murder. It offers help and never pushes others down.

David’s kingdom was to be a kingdom of justice and righteousness. It never was fully realized, but here in Jeremiah we have a promise to see it restored by the righteous Branch. This is a prophetic term used to describe the coming Messiah – the one promised since the beginning of time in the protoevangelium. God declares that the days are coming. What days? The days of fulfilled promise. The days of the restoration of the throne of David. The days promised in the Davidic Covenant. The return of the King.

A righteous branch that will execute justice and righteousness.

This is what they’ve been waiting for for thousands of years. This is what we still wait for today isn’t it? Righteousness. Justice.

Jesus, the offspring of David, will restore justice and righteousness to the world. The thing we need most. Think about the ministry of Jesus. It was one of righteousness and restorative justice. The exalted he humbled and the humble he exalted. The poor he fed. The sick he healed. The forgotten he remembered. The forsaken he accepted. Truly he executed justice and righteousness in the land.

This is our hope. This is what we wait for today. The return of the King to restore justice and righteousness in the land.

Scrooge restores justice

This is the message of Christmas – we cannot do it ourselves. We are so lost, and so far away, and so rebellious that, apart from an invasion of righteousness from God himself, we are doomed. This is why the righteous Branch had to come. We cannot accomplish righteousness and justice on our own. Yes, we’ve tried. But we always fall short. Organizations created to help the poor are riddled with scandal. Well intentioned ministries that do more harm in a community than good. We are so very good at identifying the problems, and so very bad at doing the hard work of restorative justice, which includes forgiveness. Even the church, in its desire to preach forgiveness, has forsaken justice so many times.

And so we rejoice with the last line of our text above: And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

The Lord IS our righteousness. You see the situation is so desperate because unrighteousness or sinfulness is not just an external problem, it is internal. We are by nature unrighteous. Therefore the solution can never simply be for a new King to arrive and execute justice. This would only be a band-aid. The real solution is for us to be made righteous ourselves.

And this is what God has done. The Lord IS our righteousness. How can this be? How can God go beyond doing righteous deeds to actually being our righteousness? The answer is of course our union with Christ. The incarnation. “To live is Christ.” Our union with Christ is our righteousness. That is what we were really waiting for, even though we didn’t even know it. But now, in Christ, we do. We know and we believe that in him the righteousness of God is fulfilled in us. And that was worth waiting for.

What is the difference between the Lord being your righteousness and you being your own righteousness? How is it different from the Lord doing righteous things? How does your union with Christ make the Lord your righteousness?

Hail the Son of Righteousness!

Advent Day 12: Isaiah and the Hiddenness of God

Isaiah 64:7-12. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lordand remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people. 10 Your holy cities have become a wilderness; Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. 11 Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins. 12 Will you restrain yourself at these things, O Lord? Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly?

I am reminded over and over again of just how dark Advent really is. Outside there are lights everywhere but I’m not fooled. The darkness is thick inside. In the last 24 hours I have talked to people about suicide, marital collapse, sexual brokenness, and depression. We are planning the funeral of a beloved sister in Christ, and I will help a family bury their six week old child later this week.

Then in despair I bowed my head. “There is no peace on earth I said.” 

The lament of Isaiah 64 is one that is created by the hiddenness of God. The hiddenness of God is the idea that God has not made himself as visible and obvious to us as we might like him to. Divine hiddenness means we can’t directly see and hear God. He is invisible.

God is hidden. There is no doubt about it. Pascal said, “any religion that denies the hiddenness of God is not true.” Yes there are things that reveal God to us – nature, morality, miracles, scripture. And these bring some comfort. But look at Isaiah again. In times of great distress and despair, who hasn’t wondered “where is God?” Who hasn’t said “God has hidden his face from us.” We long to hear God. We long to see him. We want him to be near. In fact, look at verse 12 again. The silence of God IS our affliction.

Isaiah 64 laments this hiddenness and silence of God. But it is a hiddenness and silence of our own making as humanity. We melt in the hand of our iniquities. As long as there is sin on earth God will be hidden. As long as we practice iniquity, God cannot be fully present.

Isaiah 64:5b-6. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

This is Advent, the waiting. God must remain hidden because even in our best moments we are polluted garments, and fading leaves. 

And so we pray: Be not so terribly angry, O Lordand remember not iniquity forever.

And God remembers and God responds. The hidden God does not stay hidden forever. For 400 years God was hidden until he revealed himself in a burning bush and in a glorious rescue mission through the sea. For 400 years God was silent until he revealed himself in the birth of a baby in a feed trough. God remembered and God acted. God spoke. God revealed himself. Why? Because…

Isaiah 64:5a. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.

God will reveal himself to those who joyfully work righteousness. But who is this? The very next verse says that we are all sinners and corrupt (64:6). None of us are joyfully righteous. Quite the opposite. So unless something dramatic happens God will remain hidden and silent forever?!?!

But the hiddenness of God ended with the greatest revelation of God – the incarnation. He became a human that joyfully works righteousness. God took on flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory. God met us. We saw God.

But even in this revelation 2000 years ago, God was hidden. A human? A baby? A construction worker? A cross? The greatest revelation of God is still veiled. Veiled in flesh. Veiled in the nativity. Veiled in the crucifixion.

Why?

Because it is IN the veiling that we truly see and hear God. Yes God is hidden. But it is his hiddenness that truly reveals him to us. In the incarnation God was hidden in flesh. But that very hiddenness revealed the true heart of God to us.

At the cross God was both hidden and silent. Jesus cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” But at that very same moment God the Son was exposed for all to see. His cries broke the silence for all to hear. The love and holiness and grace of the Trinity was most visible in the hiddenness of the cross. The silence of the cross.

And now God is veiled in us. Our union with Christ means that God is no longer hidden and silent. He is present and speaking in and through us. This is “to live is Christ.”

And yet we still long and wait for the full revelation of God. God remains hidden. Just like at the cross, in us, the presence of God and the hiddenness of God meet. We have him. But we don’t fully have him. We are joyfully righteous and yet still corrupt garments. This is our Advent. Our waiting. It is a place where we are meant to see and experience God IN the hiddenness and through the silence.

Has God felt hidden to you? Silent? How does your union with the cross allow you to experience God even when he is veiled?