At advent let’s think about sorrow
Yes, it is advent. Instead of a sentimental baby story, this week I will be preaching on what is probably the most horrific scene in the Bible. Judges 19-21 tell a story about abuse on a level that is almost unspeakable. I still struggle when I think of what words I will use to explain this scene to my church family in just a few days.
A woman is betrayed by her father because she is considered property. She is betrayed by her lover because she is considered property. She is brutally raped and abused, literally to the point of death by a gang of merciless thugs. And this scene is recorded in the bible that we carry into church, that we call God’s written word, the book that says “holy” right there on the front.
This is shocking. And usually when people discover that this story is in the bible they are shocked and horrified.
They should be.
It is shocking and horrifying.
But let’s dispense with the first problem people have with the story. Sometimes people think the Bible is a magical booklet of rules. They imagine it is a set of points that lay out how we can better improve our lives. And so, we struggle to interpret a story like this in a document that is supposed to tell us how to live.
The problem isn’t in the story or the fact that the story is recorded in the Bible. The problem is that we have misunderstood the Bible. This story is recounted in the book of Judges. The writer of Judges is doing something. He is demonstrating what happens to people and to a society that has abandoned and forgotten God. We are supposed to be repulsed, revolted, shocked and horrified at the story.
In fact, much of the Bible is supposed to shock and horrify us.
You know why? Because we so easily become comfortable in our morally upright and comfortable lives.
There are people in our state, even in our own city right now that are living lives not too far removed from the poor woman whose death is recorded in Judges 19.
You may have a similar story of being used and abused.
You may be an abuser who is currently destroying someone’s life.
Maybe your story involves addiction, neglect, death, and heartache. In fact chances are pretty strong that it does, because for many of us walking the earth sorrow is an inescapable reality.
The Law that God gave to his people was intended to combat the violence that we do to ourselves and others.
Jesus repeatedly summarized all of the law as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
We aren’t great at that.
We love ourselves most, others second, and usually (if we love him at all) God last. This is what leads us to violence and sorrow.
This is what advent is really about. Advent is about the violence that we bring down upon ourselves.
Please don’t get through this advent season without confronting these two important questions: What violence has been done to me? And what violence have I perpetrated?
Advent is not about sentimentality and greenery. Advent is not about a sweet, angelic child being born on a cold winter’s night.
Advent is about the violence we participate in and God’s plans to bring an end to it.
You an I cannot end the violence we bring upon ourselves! Ask anyone who has worked the 12 steps what the first step is – you are powerless!
Go ahead, knuckle down and try harder. You will either fail and suffer depression for your failure or you will wound everyone around you – quite possibly both.
No, you cannot end it.
No earthly ruler can end it either. If you are worried about who sits in the oval office, take heart, we have had 44 different presidents to date and yet we live in a culture that is arguably more divisive than ever. No, no earthly ruler will spare you from the violence that is in your life.
We need to be invaded. We need to be conquered by a ruler who truly loves us and seeks what is best for us. We need a ruler who not only will restrain us from violence, but will alter our very hearts so that we no longer want to commit treachery upon ourselves and others.
The cute little angelic baby in the manger is way different than even the most edgy nativity scene could ever represent. This baby is both the lamb that came to die and the mighty warrior who returns with a sword in his hand to bring justice to our violence.
The abuse you may have perpetrated, and the violence you may have been forced to suffer will be made right.
If you are an abuser, please know justice comes and it comes swiftly. You cannot run. God has said more than once that the blood of the persecuted cries out to him from the ground. He plans to bring about what is right. He intends to sweep you from the very face of the earth. As much as it pains me to say it, you need to know that there is one hiding place for you. You come to the cross! Don’t walk, RUN! Come quickly to Jesus, confess your abuse, repent, even if it means jail time, you do it! Trust me, you would much rather face the state penitentiary than the sword of almighty God!
If you have been abused, if you have suffered injury to yourself, your body, your soul or your heart. Please know this – Jesus weeps with you. Jesus weeps for you and over you. He has not merely suffered you on the cross, but he has suffered for you in heaven. But please also know, he will not suffer forever. We have been given a promise that Justice will roll down from the hills like water. This water of justice will come rushing in, refreshing the hurting even as it sweeps away the violent.
If you have committed violence to yourself, if you have been stuck in addiction or pride and wounded those who love you because you have loved yourself more than anyone else. You have protected yourself, you have served yourself, you have fed your own needs regardless of the consequences. You need to know that there is room in the stable of Jesus for you. He did not come to save those who were “pretty good.” Far too often those who are “pretty good” fail to realize just how badly they need his rescue. No, he came for the broken and beat up. He came for the addicts and the abused. He came to change our very hearts so that we are able to do those two things. Love the Lord with all our hearts, and love our neighbor as ourselves.
You can’t get yourself there. Come to the baby in the stable, and see the man on the cross looking you in the eyes, saying “come to me, you who are weary.” Come to the baby in the stable and see the mighty warrior with a sword covered in blood, bringing about what is right. Fixing all injustice and restoring all that we have ruined.
Advent is not about a baby in a manger, it is about something way bigger than that.
Advent is about an invasion. Advent is about God invading our violence. Advent is about Jesus coming to conquer what is rightfully his. You and I are rightfully his. This world is rightfully his. Both the abused and the abuser are HIS! When we rebel against that we destroy ourselves and each other, and he will have justice!
Lay down your violence, lay down your shame, lay down your addictions and your pride, run to Jesus accept his right to reign on earth.