We are full throttle in the run-up to Christmas, this season full of sentiment. But have you noticed that Advent involves some pretty edgy themes?
Today’s readings offer quite a mix. One common thread is the recognition that all of human life is revealed before a holy God. The prophet Isaiah points out the folly of presuming God does not see injustice and deception for what they are and does not act accordingly. The psalmist calls to God for guidance in truth; he seeks a reliable source of wisdom and trusts in God’s willingness to answer. The epistle warns against complacency and illusions of security. It draws an uncomfortable distinction between those who live for Jesus intentionally and those whose lives are undisciplined. Finally, the gospel describes disasters preceding the arrival of the Son of Man (a name for Jesus) in power and great glory. This last presents a paradox. Just when things seem at their worst, God’s people are called to “stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
What are we to make of all this? Should we be secure or afraid? Is God loving or fierce? Does God’s presence provide comfort among us or is it a judgment on us? Perhaps it is all of the above. I am reminded of the children in The Chronicles of Narnia. Although Aslan was their dearest friend, they had to remember that “he’s not a tame lion. . . . He’s not safe, but he is good.”
I’ve been blessed to know Jesus in some wonderful ways over many years. Because of that, I am often tempted to forget that God is too wild to conform to my needs or expectations. God’s love in sending Jesus to us is not a sentimental love. Just consider the bloody horror of the cross. God’s love is costly and demanding, while simultaneously being extravagant and forgiving. God wants more than our good; he is after what is best. So even if it is not “safe,” I cannot help joining my cry with the psalmist: “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” May it be so.
- Karen Strong