The Immense Joy of Christ’s Victory
Slow Church Daily Advent Reflection.
Tuesday November 29, 2011
|Joy to the world! The Lord is come|
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing
|Joy to the earth! The Saviour reigns|
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
These daily Slow Church Advent Reflections are based on the Daily Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year B). We love for you to read and reflect along with us!
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Yesterday, we began our series of these Advent reflections by reflecting on the fears that drive the pace of our lives ever faster and Micah’s vision of the eschatological people of God who shall be made afraid by no one. Today’s passage reminds us of the reason why we are not to be afraid, here we see the heavens rejoicing in the last days that Babylon has fallen. Babylon, the empire, the image of rebellion against God, has been conquered through the work of Christ. The powers that are centralized in Babylon have been conquered by Christ; he disarmed them and made a spectacle of them (Col. 2:15). Because they have ultimately been disarmed in Christ, and because in the here and now, the resurrection of Christ triumphs over any death threats that they may issue us, we have no reason to fear. And because we have no reason to fear, we are free to live the slow and attentive life of communion that Jesus himself lived on earth.
As Scot McKnight has explored in great detail in his newest book The King Jesus Gospel, this work of Jesus is good news; it is the gospel we proclaim in our words and embody in our life together. The tendency in evangelicalism over the last several decades has been to reduce the scope of the Gospel, but Scot argues persuasively that the Gospel is full story of Christ’s creation, from the moment he spoke it into being until the end when all things will be reconciled. We so often get bogged down in the deep brokenness of our times, that we lose sight of the hope that is found in the end of the story as it is portrayed in The Revelation, in the conquering of Babylon (as we read in today’s passage) and the establishment of the New Jerusalem. This all-encompassing story compels us to turn from the false gods of our time and to “walk in the Name of the LORD our God forever” (Micah 4:5).
One of the most striking things about Revelation 18, however, is the contrast it paints between driving forces of the powers that are centralized in Babylon and those of Christ. There are three groups of people that are depicted here as mourning, the kings (v. 9-10), the merchants (v. 11-17a) and the shipmasters (v. 17b-19). Why are they mourning? They weep because they have been operating out of self-interest, and their interests have been destroyed in Babylon. The nature of Christ, in contrast, was to empty himself (Phil. 2:7), and likewise he called his disciples, above all, to deny themselves (Mark 8:34). At the very heart of the incarnation, Christ’s coming to earth, which we remember in this Advent season, is the embodying of Christ’s selfless love for humanity and all creation. “Though he was in the form of God,” the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 2, “[He] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”
That Christ has conquered the powers of Babylon is extraordinary news – it is the joy that we proclaim to the world in this Advent season and throughout the year – but all too often we are deaf to this good news because we don’t want to hear the accompanying bad news that our selfish interests have also been obliterated in Christ. It seems to me that part of what rings hollow about our celebrations of the birth of Jesus, is that we do not slow down and prepare room for the Christ child in our hearts and minds, submitting ourselves in full, all of our hopes, our dreams, our selfish interests to the transforming Kingdom of God. “Heaven and nature sing,” and “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy,” as the songwriter so eloquently penned, precisely because they will ultimately no longer be exploited by the selfish lusts of humanity. It is indeed great news for humanity and all creation, but we can celebrate it only to the extent that we’re willing to release our selfish desires. May we in the stillness of this Advent season, prepare room in our lives (and in our life together as church communities) for Christ the King, by releasing some of the selfish desires that clutter and enslave our being! Letting go in this way may be painful, but ultimately we will find a deeper joy, a joy that sings with a choir of heavens and earth of the immense joy of Christ’s victory.
Chris Smith is co-writing Slow Church (forthcoming Likewise/IVP Books) with John Pattison. He is editor of The Englewood Review of Books, and a member of The Englewood Christian Church community on the urban Near Eastside of Indianapolis.