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Advent Reflections

jesusasjudge clipped

God Exists, God Sees, God Remembers by Jared Adams

Daily Lectionary Readings for December 2nd: AM Psalms 5 and 6; PM Psalms: 10 and 11; Isaiah 1:21-31; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Luke 20:9 – 18

“There is no God,” say the wicked of Psalm 10. “God has forgotten. He hides His face and will never see. He will not demand an account.”

This statement of disbelief sounds pretty modern, doesn’t it? Wickedness doesn’t change; it just cycles through different fashions.

And so we ask with the Psalmist even today, “Lord, why do you stand so far away?” Can’t you be more obvious? Can’t you be more overt? Can’t you give us some miraculous sign?

In answer to this question, God gives us Jesus, a real, physical person that is also really, truly God. It is proof that God has not forgotten humanity, proof that the universe isn’t some cosmic clock that was created and then abandoned to tick away into eternity.

At Christmastime, this answer from God is often thought of as a comforting thing. Joy to the world, and all that. But the readings listed above show a different side to the appearance of Jesus.

His birth is not just comforting, it’s also frightening.

“God with us” sounds pretty good when he’s personified by a Christmas tree and eggnog and visits with loved ones. “God with us” starts getting a little scary when he’s “calling wickedness into account until nothing remains of it.” (Psalm 10:15)

The scary part is clear in the parable of the vineyard owner (Luke 20:9-18). In this parable, God is clearly the titular owner. He rents out his vineyard to some farmers, then leaves. Not being able to physically see the vineyard owner anymore, the farmers begin to think that they have a right to their rented land, so much so that they refuse to pay “rent” (ie a portion of the harvest), and beat up the vineyard owner’s servants.

In this, the tenants make the same mistake as the wicked men of Psalm 10. They assume that because they cannot see the vineyard owner, that he is impotent. They assume that they will not be held into account for their actions.

The owner then sends his own son, one who bears not only the authority of the owner, but also (presumably) a physical resemblance.

Two things could have happened at this point in the story. What actually happened was that the tenants killed him. But the other option was that the tenants respected the son, just as the father had hoped. And the implication seems to be that if they had respected the son and paid what was owed, then they would have been allowed to stay on the land.

Which is pretty amazing, considering their track record. No one would have blamed the owner if he came back, beat the farmers, and threw them out just as they did the servants. He’d given them three shots, after all, and they failed each time. Instead, the owner decided to judge them on one final thing: their treatment of his son.

This is the frightening aspect to Jesus’ coming. The vineyard owner sent his son as a test, and on this test hung the farmers’ very lives.

That little baby in the manger can mean salvation from our sinfulness if we come to him in repentance and faith, but it can also mean our destruction if we do not.

Ponder that the next time you come across a nativity scene. Jesus was a human baby, yes. He probably wasn’t quite as pudgy and quite as Caucasian as he’s depicted nowadays, but he was a precious little child nonetheless. He was probably cute.

But he was also the Lord God Almighty. In one tiny hand, he held eternal life, and in the other he held an iron justice capable of shattering every human soul.

Image from center panel from Memling’s triptych Last Judgment (c. 1467–71).