O Come, O Come Emmanuel

It is Christmas season, and Advent begins with a meditation what it means to wait for the Messiah. Christ came out of the darkness of a long time during which the Jewish people waited for a savior. For long centuries, the Assyrians, Babylonians, Medo-Persians, Greeks and Romans ruled over their land and people. In the end, nearly 1000 years had passed since David created the Kingdom of Israel and ruled. After David, his family and Israel were not loyal to God, nor were they loyal to each other, nor were they wise. In the end, Jeremiah records that, “…because of the anger of the Lordit came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence” (Jeremiah 52:3). These are tragic words: after a long time of national unfaithfulness and sin by the leaders and the people, it finally came to the point where God had no choice but to let kingdoms far more violent and far worse rule over his people. This began a long period of waiting that lasted hundreds of years. During that time, the Jewish people looked for a national savior. When Jesus came, they were not looking for the savior God was sending them.

This forces us to ask ourselves, “What kind of a Messiah are we looking for?” Are we looking for a Messiah who will judge other people, or the bad people,  or one who is going to judge everyone, including Christians? Are we looking for a Messiah who will be the Messiah of my church, or my social group, or my race, or my political party or a Messiah for the whole world who will even judge us? A good bit of the time, I think we are looking for the former. We think that when Jesus returns, our group will finally “win”—and a good bit of popular Christianity and End-Times theorizing encourages this line of thinking.

On the surface of things, God intends to deal with corruption, greed, pride, violence, wickedness, and the like at the of time. Surely the grosser forms of corruption and unrighteousness will be dealt with by the returning Messiah. Surely as Jesus teaches all the kingdoms of the world will be placed before the court of God and brought to justice (Matthew 25:31-46). Yet, that leaves a question, “What about me?” The first volume of The Nature and Destiny of Mandeals with human nature. The second volume deals with human destiny and about the promised Kingdom of God, which is our Christmas meditation. In this volume he makes a very perceptive comment:

“The final enigma of history is therefore not how the righteous will gain victory over the unrighteous, but how the evil in every good and the unrighteousness of the righteous is to be overcome. [1]

In other words, the final question of history is not, “How God is going to judge other people?” The final question is, “How is God going to judge me?” Now there is a sobering thought.

In Isaiah we read, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth” (Isaiah 11:1-4). These verses alert the reader to the fact that the Messiah is not going to be just a king like David or even a king better than David who judges in the same manner and in the same way an earthly king judges but better.

The Savior we look for is completely righteous, completely holy, completely unlike the Kings, Premiers,  Prime Ministers, Presidents, and the like which whom we are familiar. It does not matter what my political party is, Jesus does not belong to it, nor does he judge as my favorite leader judges. Jesus judges with a kind of wisdom that is beyond this world and that has to be the Messiah for whom we are looking.

The first step towards a Merry Christmas and a spiritually enhancing trip to the Manger is getting our minds ready to receive a Messiah who is born in obscurity, lives a short life, is not successful in the way this world counts success, and then dies a terrible death on a cross crying out “Father forgive them for the know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The first step in seeing Christmas clearly is to see ourselves as those who need to be forgiven, for we too have fallen under the judgement of God.

[1] Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man Vol. 2 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1986), 43.