Thursday, December 3, 2020

Advent Is Here & Needed | The Coming of the Lord Before, Now & Again

Advent begins in the dark, revealing that Christ comes in surprising and powerful ways to meet us in our darkness and confront evil. Jesus is our Prince of Peace, the Messiah, the everlasting Light, "the Lord is come" as "Joy to the World proclaims year after year. And in the darkness, disease, and disruptions of 2020, we still sing that even these cannot overcome Jesus plan to bring us His whole-making peace.

"A Day of Glory" is a modern hymn we tend to sing with Emmaus City Church as we draw close to the end of the year. It's one of my favorite Advent songs written in the past decade, and my kids seem to love it, too. When we sing, I continue to reflect on the lyrics that merge together Messiah Jesus' first coming with His second coming as the Church's practice of Advent has historically done throughout history. 

A Day of Glory by Austin Stone Worship, 2012 A.D. 

A day, a day of promise, a hope to end our woe,
A day that tells of triumph against our vanquished foe!
In flesh His entrance humble, the swaddling clothes His robe,
The meek displayed in power, the Prince of Peace now known!

Let angels shout the triumph as mortals raise their voice,
"Behold the Son of heav'n and earth, the King of kings is born!"

A day, a day of glory, when Jesus calls us home.
Our glorious King eternal returning for His own!

Gloria, gloria, gloria, our King has come! 

Singing these lyrics in the darkness of night not only complements what Fleming Rutledge profoundly unveils in Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ that "ultimately, our hope lies in ... the God of Advent who drew near to us in Jesus and who will come again to take away the darkness forever and be our eternal light," but also reminds me of the revealing Bible Project Video: Day of the Lord. 

In the midst of a tumultuous 2020, the "Day of the Lord" video pops all the more, and the combination of visuals and words together reminds us why we need the season of Advent to compel us to remember who truly reigns and how He came to save us in humility with hope beyond any pandemic or politics.

Perhaps this song and video will benefit you today, too, as you wonder about darkness and light, despair and hope. I invite you to listen, sing, watch, and wonder with me at Jesus' first and second coming that reveal His steadfast love, faithfulness, and power to overcome every evil for us.

Advent 2020 | The Bible Project Video: Day of the Lord and Manuscript

"The Day of the Lord," it's a phrase in the Bible that religious people use, usually when talking about the end of the world, things like Armageddon, the Apocalypse. You might be familiar with this image of Jesus returning on a white horse. He's got a sword to bring final judgment. And everyone wants to know, "How will it all go down?" 

A lot of these images come from the last book of the Bible, Revelation, but to understand them, you have to go back to the first book, Genesis. When the story begins, we watch God create an amazing world. And then He gives humans power to rule over it on His behalf. But the humans are tempted by this mysterious unhuman character who offers them a promise. You can define good and evil on your own terms and put yourselves in God's place, which is what they do. And the resulting stories are about the broken relationships and violence that results. 

This promise creates huge problems. Now everyone has to protect themselves and fight for survival. And they're all using death as this weapon to gain power. It all leads to a story about building the city of Babylon, or in Hebrew, "Babel." Everyone comes together to elevate themselves to the place of God. And God knows how devastating this could be, a whole culture redefining good and evil as if they are god. So God confuses their language and scatters them. 

Now from here on Babylon becomes like an icon in the biblical story. It's an image that represents humanity's corporate rebellion against God. And the next time we see it is in the story of ancient Egypt. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, feels threatened by these immigrant Israelites. He starts killing all of the boys and enslaving the rest. This is really evil; Egypt is like this bigger, badder Babylon. They take care of themselves at the expense of others by redefining evil as good. And so God turns Pharaoh's evil back on him. His pride drives him forward and he's swallowed up by death. 

Now after this great deliverance, the Israelites sing a song about how God is their warrior who liberated them from evil. And the Israelites referred to this moment as "The Day." The day they were rescued from a corrupt human system. And every year since then, the Israelites have celebrated "The Day" of their liberation with a symbolic meal of a sacrificial lamb. It's called Passover. 

Eventually Israel comes into their own land, have their own kings, and they face new enemies. So that past "Day of the Lord" celebrated every Passover begins to generate hope that God will bring "The Day" again to save Israel from new threats. Now out in the hills was a sheep herder named Amos. He was appointed by God as a prophet to announce shocking news to Israel. God was bringing another "Day of the Lord" against His enemies, and this time the target is Israel. Sadly, Israel's leaders had also redefined good and evil for themselves, resulting in corruption and violence. God's people have become like Babylon. The oppressed have become oppressors. Babylon seems like a trap no one can escape. 

And so the "Day of the Lord" comes upon Israel. They're conquered and taken captive in exile. And from then on, Israel suffered under the rule of continuous oppressive empires. 

This is the story Jesus was born into: in His day the oppressive empire over Israel is Rome. So is Jesus going to confront Rome, take them out? Well, no. Jesus saw the real enemy as that mysterious unhuman evil, the evil that's lured Babylon, Egypt, Rome, Israel. All of humanity has given in to evil's promise of power. This is what Jesus resisted alone in the wilderness when He was tempted to exploit His power for self interest. But He didn't.

And after that, He started to confront the effect of evil on others. He started to say that He was going to Jerusalem for Passover for a final showdown to confront the evil of Israel and Rome by dying. Dying? That feels like losing. Jesus was going to let evil exhaust all of its power on Him using its only real weapon, death. Jesus knew that God's love and life were even more powerful, that He could overcome evil by becoming the Passover lamb, giving His life in an act of love.  

Something changed that day. When Jesus defeated evil, He opened up a new way of escape from Babylon to discover this new kind of power, His new way of being human. So something changed, but the power of evil is still alive and well. We keep building new versions of Babylon. So the last book of the Bible, Revelation, points to the future and final "Day of the Lord." It's when God's Kingdom comes to confront Babylon the great, this image of all the corrupt nations of the world. This is it. Armageddon, the final judgment. How is Jesus going to finish off evil?

It's not how you'd expect. In the Revelation, the victorious Jesus is symbolized by a sacrificial bloody lamb. And then when Jesus does arrive in the end riding His white horse to confront evil, He's bloodied before the battle even starts. It's a strange image. It's because Jesus isn't out for our blood. Rather, He overcame with His blood when He died for His enemies. And the sword is in His mouth. It's a symbol of Jesus' authority to define good and evil and hold us accountable when He brings final justice once and for all.

In the meantime, the "Day of the Lord" is an invitation to resist the culture of Babylon and it's a promise that one day God will free our world from corruption and bring about the new He has in store.  

Other posts featuring overviews of the Story of God found in the Bible:

The Story of God, the World, and You | Our World Belongs to God | Creation, Crisis, Covenant, Christ, Church, (New) Creation Jesus as the "True and Better" One | The Messiah The Covenants | Heaven and Earth | God's Holiness God's Multi-Ethnic Family Hell Sacrifice and Atonement The Law The Gospel According to Mark What the Son of God Said About the Word of God | The Gospel of the Kingdom | The God Who Loves Kindness, Justice, and Righteousness | The Whole Gospel for Guilt-Innocent, Shame-Honor, and Fear-Power Cultures | Immanuel, God with Us, Has Been His Promise and Plan for Us Always | Why Humans Care About Justice

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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