the hopeful judgment of advent

We typically don’t associate Christmas with bad or negative news. I mean, from a Christian perspective, the incarnation of Christ is the beginning of “the good news” - Immanuel (“God-with-us”) is a reality!

Yet one of the Advent texts in Isaiah goes like this:

The LORD Almighty has a day in store
for all the proud and lofty,

for all that is exalted

(and they will be humbled),

for all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty,

and all the oaks of Bashan,

for all the towering mountains

and all the high hills,

for every lofty tower

and every fortified wall,

for every trading ship[a]

and every stately vessel.

The arrogance of man will be brought low

and human pride humbled;

the LORD alone will be exalted in that day,

and the idols will totally disappear.

People will flee to caves in the rocks

and to holes in the ground

from the fearful presence of the LORD

and the splendor of his majesty,

when he rises to shake the earth.

In that day people will throw away

to the moles and bats

their idols of silver and idols of gold,

which they made to worship.

They will flee to caverns in the rocks

and to the overhanging crags

from the fearful presence of the LORD

and the splendor of his majesty,

when he rises to shake the earth.

Stop trusting in mere humans,

who have but a breath in their nostrils.

Why hold them in esteem?

(Isaiah 2:12-22 NIV)

Hmm. That’s not very Christmasy, is it? Well, I read a reflection this week that stated the good news of Christmas must include the "hopeful judgment" of this Isaiah passage. Read this piece carefully, as I think it helpfully nuances a positive view of judgment (literally, “making things right”):

The problem is that good news without prophetic critique invariably is a cover-up. Good news that will not openly and honestly confront that which perpetuates brokenness and sin is not good news at all. An Advent without judgment isn’t Advent at all. It is a secular Christmas with store-bought peace.

Isaiah will have nothing of such cheap grace. If the day of the Lord will be a day of justice, mercy and shalom, then it must be a day against all cultural life that fosters injustice, cruelty and war...

And so we must discern what the day of the Lord is against in our culture. What are our symbols of cultural prestige--a BMW? Our places of idol worship--the shopping malls and the stock exchange? Our structures of autonomous security--skyscrapers and military systems? Our implements of economic prosperity--NAFTA? Do these dimensions of our cultural lives arise out of a worldview pimped by idols? If they do, then they with their idols will all utterly pass away on the terrible day of the Lord.

But is that really bad news? Is all of this against language really as depressing as it at first appears? Or is there a profound hope in this prophecy of a day of judgment?...this abandonment of idolatry is fundamentally good news...

To live with an Advent hope is to anticipate the day when idols will pass away and we will no longer feel compelled to pay them homage. Such a hope engenders faithful living now, no longer subject to false gods of death and oppression because we are subjects of a coming kingdom of life and liberation.

Not unlike Mary in my previous post, Advent confronts us with a challenge of allegiance - who/what will we worship?


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