This year, Advent is 23 days long, December 2-24. So technically, I’m done.
But I have a few more thoughts I want to share and I’m not very good at following rules, so this will be the final post of my Advent series. If you’ve read all the way through with me, I’m sincerely grateful. I hope you felt a little closer to God, experienced a little more peace, or could see Jesus a little clearer through these reflections. Writing them has done me good.*
We sang “Joy to the World” at the Christmas Eve service we attended tonight. We’d never been to that church before, all six of us plus five extended family members attended, and I kept thinking how we appeared exactly as once-a-year visitors. We shared communion, Corin had his first swallow of wine, and his takeaway was, “That’s disgusting.” I hadn’t thought about it for years, but I told him on our way home that my first mouthful of wine came the exact same way. I also thought it tasted awful. No profound symbolism here, just a funny generational coincidence.
He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonder wonders of His love
It doesn’t look like God rules the world. It looks, from outward appearances, that rich, powerful, and all too often evil people rule the world.
But God’s ruling the world looks like this: a helpless baby kicks and flails in a cow feeder while his exhausted mother takes a moment to rest. Then his father stands up to hear who is making all that noise–there isn’t exactly a door to close and lock; they’re in a barn, just a shelter, not a room or a home, not an inn–and honest to God, a group of shepherds come crowding in. Some are carrying their staffs, others have their rods, none of them have bathed. They smell worse than the animals. But their smiles! What are they laughing about? Oh, because a baby is in a manger? No–because they were told a baby would be in a manger by…by what? By a cloud of angels? So these are drunk shepherds?
Nope. Happy shepherds. Joyful shepherds. God’s rule looks exactly thus: helpless looking baby who is Messiah, exhausted teenage mom who carried God incarnate in her body, smelly, sometimes drunk guys barging in to celebrate the wonders of His love.
He rules the world with a heavy hand and cold justice?
No. He rules with the world with truth and grace.
I think we have to understand two things in order to believe God rules the world with truth and grace.
First, the acknowledged human power structures of the world must not be the most important things happening on planet earth. If God really rules this world with truth and grace, then it’s in spite of appearances that God is in power and, in fact, carrying out his rule right now.
I believe that. We call it “God’s Kingdom” and “God’s reign.”
God has chosen not to rule the world through the human-designed power structures. If you believe in Jesus’ Advent, this seems obvious. God in the flesh did not come and take power. Satan tempted him to and Jesus said “no.”
God right now is ruling the world with truth and grace, and Jesus incarnates both. Jesus is truth (he says so, actually: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”) and his death and resurrection for us are grace.
The miracle I want you to believe for Christmas is that this baby came to give you grace with his very life. As for that keeping score of how much good or bad you’ve done, God says, “Naw, let’s not do that. Instead, I will love you and work good through all the bad things. Yes, all of them. Yes, I know how bad they are. What do I want in return? I want you to stop killing yourself.”
Crazy, huh? How do I know this?
Um, God told me.
I know, that part’s crazy, too. But think of me as the equivalent of these shepherds–an unlikely source for this message, an improbable choice for God to make a witness to Jesus. Yet here I am, only by the grace of God.
Okay, first thing we understand: “God is not ruling through the established power structures.” Turns out God’s M.O. is quite different. Truth and grace are the undercurrent, through which God does the most important stuff, the Kingdom business, even though this isn’t always visible to the naked, unspiritual eye. Lord, give us eyes to see.
Second, in the end truth and grace will have the final say. God rules the world through a Kingdom present in our world–miracles happening every day, evil people experiencing love and choosing life over death–but not yet fully present. By “not fully present” I mean Jesus is God and Messiah and Lord, but not everyone acknowledges those. Believing is seeing. When God makes this Kingdom fully present, fully manifest in our world, all will know because all will see.
Some people love the idea that God will come back and make his enemies grovel. “They’ll get theirs!”
I love that when God comes back–misnomer, God didn’t leave–when Jesus in fullness defeats death, this will happen:
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
God’s grace, of which we have just begun to grasp the first hint, will fill our world.
That’s Christmas: God’s plan in motion to fill our world with grace, to love enemies and help them recognize themselves as beloved children.
Sorry–to love us and help us recognize ourselves as beloved children.
Then, as we grasp who we are, Jesus leads us out to love others: dirty children, unwanted expectant mothers, and would-be enemies.
“And wonders of his love, and wonders of his love, and wonders, wonders of his love.”
Go, tell that on the mountain.
*Cost me sleep, yes, but I might have squandered that on things of much less lasting value.