Confession time. I’m an affirmation junky.
God brought it to my attention the other day as I was coming off a time of prayer and clicked in for the twentieth time of the
week morning to check my Amazon sales. You see, I’ve got this book out on the rural church, and when the sales go up, my tale wags, but when sales drop like a double black diamond ski slope, I have to take a moment of silence to wipe up my puddle of moping.
God judged me on this. God called me onto the carpet about my need for affirmation. He did his bad cop routine and grabbed that dangling light bulb in my heart and shined it in my face and declared me guilty of misplacing my values and of having a disordered sense of self-worth.
And God was right. I needed his judgment, that bracing moment of clarity that lit up a dim back corner of my soul and made me take stock. God does that kind of thing. It’s like Jesus walking into the temple and finding it jumbled with money-changers. He flips the tables and drives out the beasts with a whip of cords. He does this not out of hatred for the temple, but out of love–for what it is, for what it should be, for what in his mercy it can become.
The Devil does his own sort of judging, but when the Devil’s involved we call it accusation. The Devil is the accuser, the Father of Lies who seeks only to steal and kill and destroy (Revelation 12:10; John 8:44; John 10:10). His accusations start in a version of the truth but end in hopeless lies–not least that God will want nothing to do with us if the nasty truth about us gets out. (So we better keep it under wraps and hushed up).
But Jesus’ judgment is different. It’s what we call conviction. It leads to “godly grief,” that sense that something has to change (2 Corinthians 7:10). It’s judgment, but judgment aimed toward the hope of our transformation and fletched with mercy.
Advent starts tomorrow. Advent is a season of introspection when we remember Jesus’ humble coming in the manger 2,000 years ago and his glorious coming in the future. We pay attention to the ways Jesus shows up in our lives right now. Advent has an edge to it, a goaded reminder that Jesus’ coming again in glory will be to judge the living and the dead, to separate the sheep from the goats, to set the house to rights again (Nicene Creed; Matthew 25:31; Mark 13:32-37). The Son of Man comes as the righteous judge.
This is good news.
You see, while we aren’t equipped to judge, He is. We’re too self-centered, our outlook too limited, our hearts too hard. We can occasionally discern right from wrong, the good course from the bad, but even that sort of run-of-the-mill judgment is a toss-up. As Proverbs put it, “Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end it is the way to death” (Proverbs 16:25). Our hearts are tricksome and devious (Jeremiah 17:9). Our desires are disordered (Psalm 14:3). Only Jesus can judge the “peoples with truth” (Psalm 96:13). And his judgment is the precursor to mercy, the scaffolding for transformation.
This was the judgment that Mary sang of in the Magnificat. God has “shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.” God has thrown down imperious rulers and lifted up the humble (Luke 1:51-52). Advent celebrates the manger that leads to the cross that bursts through to the resurrection that awaits the coming again. Advent is the beginning of the gospel–the gospel of God’s judgment…and mercy.
Thanks be to God.