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Responding to Surprise

April 14, 2010 2 comments

Picture by Archie McPhee Seattle (via Creative Commons)

Responding to Surprise
by Doug Floyd

The car pulls in the driveway. A man gets out and walk up slowly to the darkened house. He nervously shakes the keys in his hand and unlocks the door. Suddenly, a clamor of voices explode from the house, “Surprise.” Lights flick on, balloons bounce out, and people pop out from every nook and corner. A surprise like this can be exciting, embarrassing, and even a bit scary.

Have you ever been surprised?

Near my 40th birthday, Kelly finally pulled off a successful surprise party after several attempts. We were going to meet her sister and brother-in-law for lunch. I was hungry and could barely wait to eat. Since the restaurant was on the lake in Dandridge, we had to drive for a few minutes while my stomach growled.

Finally in the middle of nowhere, we arrived.

Dang. The place was full! “If there’s a long wait, let’s go somewhere else!” We walked in and suddenly I was surrounded by friends and family shouting, “Surprise!” It was a magical moment.

Surprises can bring joy, fear, and even laughter. Some surprises can change our whole world.

When I was four or five, my dad performed a magic show for us in the attic of our old house. I was transfixed. He picked up a milk pitched. Pour the milk into a newspaper cone and then showered us with confetti! The milk had vanished. He could make water stop in mid-air. He could vanish coins and pull them from my ear. Everything he touched seemed full of ancient mysterious power.

One day he taught me the magic. First, he simply showed me how to vanish coin. Then milk in newspaper. He taught and bought me all my magic tricks. I practiced and practiced and practiced.

By seven years old, I was performing my first show to neighbor kids on the front porch. For the next 15 years, magic was intertwined with almost every part of my life. My dad took me to New York City, so I could visit the old magic stores with the old magic men. One man made a ball jump into my hand while my fist was closed tight. Wow!

As I grew older, performing magic shows was second nature. I performed for family gatherings, birthday parties, and eventually at local stores. The love of magic put me onto the stage performing, and by the time I entered High School, I kept on performing in plays and musicals. Instead of writing book reports, I made films with my friend Vik.

Vik and I dreamed of moving to Hollywood. In the meantime, I entered college and studied Theatre major. All the while, I earned much of my income performing magic shows.

In 1984, I took my box of magic and headed north with our church class on a spring break mission trip. While most of the mission trips were in Daytona or Puerto Rico, our church always headed north into the last remainder of winter. I guess it was a “test of faith.” Upon arriving in Clio, Michigan, we worked in the church, shared the gospel door to door, and held evening services. I was part of a drama team that usually highlighted some spiritual truth in each of our skits. But I also had my box of magic.

One night the call came.

“Doug, we want you to preach the gospel while you’re performing your show at the Nursing Home tonight.”

I was prepared to entertain. Not to preach. As soon as our drama team finished, I was whisked away in a van to a nearby Nursing Home. As I stepped into the facility, the choir was finishing their last piece.

“Doug, you’re next.”

As I stepped out in front of the crowd, I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do. And then came a surprise I could have never expected. I heard the Lord speak to me. For the next 45 minutes, he guided me, telling me what to say and showing me what to do.

This surprise change everything. I could never go back to before that night.

When I returned to Tennessee, I continued to hear Him. All through high school and into college, I had read the Bible virtually every day. And never heard anything. Now when I opened the Scripture, someone was talking to me. To me.

Jesus surprises all of us in different ways. My passion was performing. He stepped into that passion and opened my eyes to the fullness of His love in way I had never grasped.

Everything changed, and yet everything was the same.

My vision for films faded as I longed to preach. Even my beloved magic eventually slipped to the side. And yet, even I responded to the surprise of God, I was still the same person. The skills I learned in performing have been part of my whole ministry. My passion for theatre expressed itself in new ways. When Jesus encountered me, he met me, Doug. He didn’t make me Paul the Apostle.

When He encountered Saul on the road to Damascus. Paul was a Pharisee. Jesus spoke to Saul, and everything changed. Saul became Paul and began to preach the gospel. And yet, Paul became to the voice among the apostles who would write and teach and discuss how Torah changed as a result of Jesus’s resurrection. Jesus completed the call of Paul as Pharisee into a true scribe who rightly discerned the word of truth.

When Jesus surprised me, He transformed me, and yet began fulfilling the Doug he had created me to be. In the grand surprise of His love, He is calls us to become who we are. But we only become who we are in relationship with Him. We were created in and through Christ, for “without Him nothing was made that is made.”

You were created in and through Christ. I was created in and through Christ. Paul was created in and through Christ. Thus, Athanasius reminds us that since He created us, He redeems. We are redeemed in and through Christ.

In the surprise of His love, He enters our world: our interests, our skills, our heritage. He is transforming it. But our lives are not all beautiful. There is ugliness. There is pain. There is confusion and doubt. In the struggle of living, we may win a prize, but we may lose a job. We may discover a new friend, but we may discover an untreatable illness. The surprises we encounter in living can weaken us.

Jesus enters into every part of our lives. Every part of my life. Every part of your life. It is only as “you” that you will fulfill what he created. When He surprises you with His love, He steps into every bit of your life past, present and future.

He is transforming us into His glory.

As I reflect upon that, I can write no more. I can only pause and bow before a love that is so wonderful, so amazing, so surprising.

Psalm 124

June 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Psalm 124

Stepping out into steady drip, drip, drip of an early morning rain, Victor walks toward home. The cool, crisp air greets him as soft water streaks down his face, reminding him that he is alive. Alive.

The greenness of the grass washes over his eyes, the sweet smell of spring flowers mixed with the earthy smells of mud and trees intoxicates him. He looks around and beholds a new world. A new creation.

Fallen trees and leaf-covered paths suggest a heavy rain had passed through this place. A deluge. But now the devastation of last night’s storm has given way to a gentle sun penetrating the soft, spring rain flowing into rivulets along the road.

Overcome with thanksgiving, he stops walking and lifts up his hands and to proclaim,

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.(Psalm 124:1-5)

This Psalm burned in Victor’s soul as he meditated upon the words day after day after day for the past 15 years. Plunged into prison for his faith, he was starved, beaten, mocked, and drugged. Despair engulfed him, darkness choked him, death drew near.

Day after day after day his confession of faith was tested. The enemy came like a flood, swallowing Victor’s faith and and hope and love. Yet the Lord was faithful even when Victor felt the last vestige of faith slipping from his soul.

He thought the world forgot and feared that God forgot. From the depths of Sheol, he cried out to the Lord. “Remember me!”

And He did. In the place of forsakenness, Victor encountered the faithful love of the Lord that lasts forever.

And strangely, in this place of pain and loneliness, he also met a company of friends. As the prison swallowed Victor alive, he remembered Jonah plunged in the bowels of the great fish. As he faced year after year of suffering and hardship, he remembered the Israelites breaking under the harsh whip of Pharaoh.

In heart of darkness, he met King David crouched and hiding in a cave; Jeremiah in a sinking dark well; and Paul being stoned and left for dead. As He descended down in the dark chasms of suffering, Victor came to realize he lived in a great company of saints. In the mystery of God’s encircling love, he rested in this family of the not forsaken.

One vague story haunted him in the dark watches of the night. Again and again his mind returned to the 3rd century story of St. Julian, an old man accused of following Christ. Tormented and crippled by gout, Julian was carried into the court for trial. This frail and broken man stood without waver in the face of judgment and destruction.

Victor dreamed. And as he dreamed, he encountered Julian.

“Get up!” The gruff voice of an old soldier wakens Julian from his momentary dozing. Stiffly and slowly his rises. His shoulder is dislocated and his swollen feet feel like clods of earth attached to his legs. Julian hobbles towards the guard with a secret smile.

Today he is going home. As he walks, his shackles fall away, and Julian is free. He is going home. He thinks of himself like a bird getting ready to fly. And he remembers an old psalm and silently sings:

Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth!
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped! (Psalm 124:6-7)

Dried blood cracks along deep cuts, and fresh streams wash down his back. Once again a secret smile. Julian remembers another washing.

Long ago in another age, he was plunged into waters of life. As Julian was immersed into the waters of life in death, he remembered and was remembered.

The Lord gathered this poor and forgotten boy into the family of God. The joy of this embrace gave him a song that never ceased. And like a bird from the heavens, he never stopped singing Psalms of thanksgiving to Lord who put him in family.

Today the song bubbles just beneath the surface. For in the great and merciful love of his Lord, Julian now enjoys the honor of another baptism. And in this great cleansing, he feels giddy like a young a boy with the fire of life.

Again and again, the dreams of Julian encouraged Victor and reminded Him of God’s unfailing love. Today as Victor leaves the prison and walks home, he envisions Julian walking home alongside him.

He soaks in the cool rain, the mud-soaked ground, and gentle mist floating over the fields. At the edge of the field stands on old stone house. Crossing the path, he walks toward two people working in the morning drizzle: the wife of his youth and his boy become a man.

A song flies upward from his mouth to the throne of God. As he sings, he tastes the sweet joy of St. Julian.

Tears of joy flood Julian’s face as he climbs the cold, stone steps one last time. The joy inside him overpowers the twisted and broken limbs and for a moment, he walks upright before the cheering crowd. Soon he will be home, but first another promised baptism. As Julian walks into the raging fire, his secret song explodes out from his lungs in a psalm of praise.

Julian’s and Victor’s voices join the chorus of David, Jeremiah, Daniel and all the people of God walking home to the Father:

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:8)

The Weakness of Love

March 20, 2009 4 comments

There are times when the symbols, the dreams, the vision of our world comes crashing down. We look for God.

But He is silent.

Throughout much of the Bible He is silent. We can remember when He spoke the Word of Life that woke our heart to love. This Word came as a fresh spring, as pure joy, as heaven’s bounty. But then in the dire anguish of suffering: silence. Nothing. Where did He go?

We grope. We ache. We wonder. We grieve. We grow weary. We may even curse and shake our fist at the heavens. Or in the blinding grip of life’s struggles, we may simply turn away and look for lesser gods. The gods of technology. The gods of sexuality. The gods of spirituality and religion. We turn to gods of our own making for comfort and satisfaction.

Strangely, these self-made gods have real power. But the power is not freeing. It does not lead us to deeper and truer love. It stirs in us lust for power. Power to control. Power to protect.

I will never hurt again if I can control this situation, this person, the job, this group, this family, this church. We seek refuge in the slavery of other gods, other pharaohs.

Sadly, the gods of our making really do enslave us. Really do cut us off from the freedom of love. Enslaved by the passions, we can no longer love or be loved. We simply lust to consume, and so we are consumed. The gods of our making not only enslave, they eventually kill us. Our families may die. Our friendships may die. Our churches may die.

Everything we once held dear may be sacrificed to the idols of our making. Our beautiful homes are filled with beautiful furniture and broken people. Families, marriages, children that have been offered to the gods of our consumption, to the ravages of passion, to the coldness of convenience.

In the pain of great loss, we may brood and rage and then repeat our deadly rituals to new gods of death and indifference.

Into the darkness of our self made tombs, the shuddering silence pierces us. The Lord extends an invitation of freedom. He speaks to the entombed heart, “Come forth!” He does not invite us to a life void of suffering. We awake to a world where hurts still hurt and pain is still very real. And His Silence is still Present.

But instead of control. Instead of a method or a god to control the pain, we are asked to simply trust. Let go of control. Let go of trying to live pain free and sorrow free. Let go into the promise of God’s faithful love.

This complete love is revealed Word-made-Flesh. Jesus the God and King who embraces our suffering, who bears our sorrows, drinks full the cup of pain and suffering that floods our world. And yet, He continues to love. Hanging from the cross of shame, He looks upon those who are taking His life and cries out, “Father forgive them.”

Some suggest this was weakness. And that our God is weak and frail and the Creator of weaklings. They are right. It is weak but not powerless. There is power in brute force and power in absolute weakness.

Brute force requires someone else to sacrifice for my satisfaction. Brute force will master and control for a short season. But it is no match for the power of absolute weakness.

Jesus reveals the absolute weakness of love.

Love completely trusts the Lover and in so doing becomes all power and all glory and all wisdom and all strength both now and forevermore.

Following the call of Jesus, does not mean learning how to control this world and avoid all pain. It means trusting in the love of the Father. The unfailing love. In this mystery of trust, we might, by His great and wondrous grace, learn to love. We might become the true and complete images of God that have moved beyond the childlike power of creating and controlling to the uncontainable power of loving relentlessly.

Then the call of God and the cry of our soul become one: “Let me love God with all that I am and love other people with all that I am.” May love prevail in thought, words, deeds.

Have mercy Lord. We are weak. Make us weaker still.

As I wrote this meditation, I was think about a quote from a book I read several years ago called, The Heart of the World by Hans Urs Von Balthasar. I think this quote is worth reading and rereading as we traverse along the Lenten byways.

And now God’s Word saw that his descent could entail nothing but his own death and ruination—that his light must sink down into the gloom—he accepted the battle and the declaration of war. And he devised the unfathomable ruse: he would plunge, like Jonas into the monster’s belly and thus penetrate death’s innermost lair; he would experience the farthest dungeon of sin’s mania and drink the cup down to the dregs; he would offer his brow to man’s incalculable craze for power and violence; in his own futile mission, he would demonstrate the futility of the wolrd; in his impotent obedience to the Father, he would visibly show the impotence of revolt; through his own weakness unto death he would bring to light the deathly weakness of such a despairing resistance to God; he would let the world do its will and thereby accomplish the will of the Father; he would grant the world its will, thereby breaking the world’s will; he would allow his own vessel to be shattered, thereby pouring himself out; by pouring out one single drop of the divine Heart’s blood he would sweeten the immense and bitter ocean. This was intended to be the most incomprehensible of exchanges: from the most extreme opposition would come the highest union, and the might of his supreme victory was to prove itself in his utter disgrace and defeat. For his weakness would already be the victory of his love for the Father, and as a deed of his supreme strength, this weakness would far surpass and sustain in itself the world’s pitiful feebleness. He alone would henceforth be the measure and thus also the meaning of all impotence. He wanted to sink to low that in the future all falling would be a falling into him, and every streamlet of bitterness and despair would henceforth run down into his lowermost abyss.
No fighter is more divine than the one who can achieve victory through defeat. In the instant when he receives the deadly wound, his opponent falls to the ground, himself struck a final blow. For he strikes love and is thus himself struck by love. And by letting itself be struck, love proves what had to be proven: that it is indeed love. Once struck, the hate-filled opponent recognizes his boundaries and understands: behave as he pleases, nevertheless he is bounded on every side by a love that is great than he. Everything he may fling at love—insults, indifference, contempt, scornful derision, murderous silence, demonic slander—all of it can ever but prove love’s superiority; and the black the night, the more radiant does love shine.
Hans Urs Von Balthasar from “The Heart of the World”

On Gifts and Calling

October 24, 2008 2 comments

In my wistful moments, I’ve dreamt of being a poet. And in the gentle mornings hours, there’ve been times when that dream took form in words and cadence and poor articulations from a voice that longs to speak something real in iron and stone.

But my poetic voice comes and goes, and I realized at some point that while I delighted in the expression, my writing was not great art. But rather scribblings of soul trying to follow in faltering steps a call that haunts me.

I once dreamed of speaking to large crowds who would sway and fall under the weight of my words. But those large crowds have often taken form in a handful of folks in my living room or in one friend during an extended lunch.

It seems that when God called me, He called me out from the successful and ever-growing church as I knew it, and into the lonely quiet of caves (better known as cubicles).

For a season I fought this exile by reminding myself that my intellect would one day reap great acclaim from audiences far and near. Over time, I’ve come to realize that I know far less than most people and understand even less of what I know. My only formal training was rhetoric, and I am a dismal failure as a rhetorician.

Whether in writing or speaking or thinking, I’ve come to peace with the limitations of my abilities and opportunities. And yet, following Chesterton’s advice, I continue to delight in all three because “if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

Every so often I am reminded of the gifts and calling that I bear. Rather than being called to soar to great heights of profound erudition, I’ve been given the simple gifts of laughter and tears.

These are the two small gifts that I can give to the world. As I grow older, the tears fall more and more easily and often in embarrassing moments (when I would like to restrain). And oddly enough, I might be unaware of the laughter if it were not for people turning there heads toward the sound of my voice.

It is in laughter and tears where I am most vulnerable and most human. The sheer joy of being alive is not something I actively cultivate but something that overflows as a gift from the Father above. And that joy only stops when I fill the well with dirt because of my own pains and self-focus.

The tears flow as reminders that I live and breathe and enjoy as gift gracious gift from my Father above.

In the quietness of this moment, I am fully aware that beside the gifts of laughter and tears, I offer little to the world around me. And I am at peace with God’s grace working in the midst of that. Yet I know that a few hours from now, I will struggle once again with longing for respectability and honor and glory from the people around me.

By God’s grace, I would pray that I “would not think of myself more highly than I ought” but rest in the form which the Lord Himself has created and called forth into His glory. And may I live but for the word and blessing and acceptance from my good and gracious Lord.

Categories: meditation Tags: , , , , , ,

Dreaming

August 28, 2008 Leave a comment

My mind wanders.

I remember it quietly wandering off during the sing-song rhythm of the speaker’s voice. And that was last Sunday. As a child, my imagination moved so easily between dreaming that my teacher’s and parent’s might say, “Come on Dougie, keep up with us.”

One day while walking with my family at a shopping center, I soon began to drift and dream. My body kept moving as my eyes followed the legs in front of me moving back and forth, back and forth. A few steps into Gimbels and I realized that I was following the wrong set of legs.

After a short panic, my parents arrived in the store and found me. They had walked into another store, but I was drifting off elsewhere and just kept following whoever was walking in front of me.

As I drifted, I was dreaming in “what ifs.” What if I could walk through that glass? What if I could climb up in the church’s rafters and fly from beam to beam? My imagination would ask a question and soon my reason was working alongside my imagination to construct whatever dreamy world I created.

The human imagination can ask all sorts of fantastic questions, and the human reason can build a logical though self-contained world from that question. Lewis Carroll asked, “What if you could walk through a mirror, and enter into another world?” Then he wrote “Through the Looking Glass” to answer that question.

Both “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” are imaginative worlds that Lewis Carroll created with the richness of his imaginations and the precision of his logic. You see, these fantasy worlds were not illogical. They were perfectly logical. In fact, Lewis Carroll was not primarily a children’s author, but a logician.

He applied his logical mind to building these imaginative worlds. Each chapter in “Through the Looking Glass” is a move on a chess board. And yet, the story is not physically real.

This is both the gift and the danger of the mind. Reason working alongside imagination can answer all sorts of questions, but the answer may or may not be true. In addition to my dreamy magical worlds of walking through walls and flying in the rafters, I asked other questions like “What if I am kidnapped?” “What if there’s a ghost in the basement?” Or “What if my parents are raptured and I am left behind?”

The same imagination that brought such delight also filled me with terror. Because once my imagination set the question in motion, I began looking for clues as to why that might be true. A sound in the basement and a flash of light suddenly grows into a terrifying goblin living beneath us.

The gift of reasonable minds and active imaginations have helped us discover news worlds, land on the moon, write amazing literature, and find cures to diseases. But the same gift can also lead to terror and fear and evil worlds like terrorism and fascism and racism. Left unchecked, the mind will draw from its rich resources to churn out perfectly reasonable answers. But these reasonable answers may be wrong and even be disastrous upon my power to think

Our minds may ask questions like “What if there is no God?” “Or what if God is evil?” If I start with the idea that God is absent, a mere phantom, then my mind and imagination will work outward from the supposition to find reasonable assurance that I am right. While we all may face doubts at times, if we continually apply our skills of reason and imagination to doubt, then we will end up where we start–in doubt. The starting point of reason makes all the difference.

C.S. Lewis once suggested that a man who doesn’t believe in miracles will not be convinced of miracles because he sees one. His mind will build a case as to why he didn’t see a miracle at all. So while the mind is an amazing gift for processing, imagining and rationalizing, it fails in the initial act of discovery.

The human relationship with God is built on trusting God’s faithfulness in both the seen and the unseen. In one sense, this relationship is similar to human relationships that require trust as a fundamental starting point. Think of a husband and wife.Trust allows them freedom to rest in their shared love without the need for constant reaffirmation.

In this trusting relationship, the presence of the beloved brings a sense of peace and joy. While dramatic gestures of love may reaffirm presence, there are many steady, quiet affirmations through little actions. A shared conversation. A quiet walk.

Presence for me is often found in the gentle touching of one foot brushing up against the other’s foot during a night of sleep. This quiet assurance brings peace and a reminder that my love is there. A trust in the covenant faithfulness of my spouse allows me to rest in her presence and away from her presence. But that trust can be damaged. If the imagination begins to ask, “What if my spouse is unfaithful?” The mind can easily begin to question every action, every word.

This leads to fear of the unseen. For as soon as the spouse is not present the imagination begins reeling. Where are they headed? What are they doing? The mind requires constant reassurance of the spouse’s faithfulness. This is why we guard the trust our spouse puts in us. Once lost it so difficult to regain.

This is also why the Psalmist writes again and again and again about trusting the Lord instead trusting the arm of the flesh. As our trust grows more and more in my reason and the reasonableness of the world around me, the power of “what ifs” can begin to plague me. Like a jealous spouse, I begin discovering clues everywhere that reinforce the absence of God.

This dark hole of doubting chokes and smothers the joy of the soul. We need signs and constant reassurance that God is there. “Why can’t He just appear and take away my doubts?” But he is inviting me to trust in His covenant faithfulness—both seen and unseen.

And like a foot poking across the bed, His Word pokes across the space between heaven and earth. Again and again and again, He quietly calms my souls in the gentle intimacy of His Word. The Psalmist reminds me of how prone I am to trust in the unfaithfulness of my own mind—which can easily create fictions upon fictions.

Thus I am reminded to trust in something, someone outside myself. Ultimately, this trust is a gift. When I trust in the Word and trust in the Lord of the Word, I come to realize that I have been given a precious gift. I can use that gift to dream like a newlywed uses the gift of their new love to dream. They imagine a life together. They dream of children and home and a life of new possibilities. I can approach the Word as a dream. And wrap my open mind around the words and stories contained within.

I can learn to dream fantastic dreams like the prophet Ezekiel. This strange man ended up in exile in Babylon. Everything he saw around him suggested that the God of Israel was defeated by the gods of Babylon. In the midst of a crushing empire that dominated other nations by power and oppression, Ezekiel trusts the Lord. Thus his “what ifs” wrap around the faithfulness of God.

With an imagination immersed the commandments of the Lord, the covenant of the Lord, and the promises of the Lord, He begins to dream. And in the land of exile, he dreams of returning home and rebuilding the temple. He dreams of a stream flowing from that temple that will bring healing to all nations. His dream rooted in relational trust gave energy and hope to the exiled Jews. They joined in his dreams. And eventually, his dreams led them home.

That was over 2,000 years ago. The great and mighty Babylonian gods have long faded from sight. But the dreams of Ezekiel still inspire. In his dreams, we hear the God of Israel still speaking, encouraging, and challenging us.

So I’m kinda glad my mind wanders. By God’s grace, I want to let it wander in the garden of His Word. I want to dream even more dreams and not simply dreams of flying through the rafters and walking through glass. But dreams of justice and peace and kindness and love.

By God’s grace may the stories and songs of Scripture come alive in our imagination. And may we dream the dreams of God.

Categories: faith, meditation Tags: , , , ,

Advent and the Justice of God

December 12, 2007 Leave a comment

“Truly God is good to Israel,
To such that are pure in heart.
But as for me,
My step had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
(Psalm 73:1-2)

In his confusion, the psalmist cries out to God. The great high God of Israel seems to turn a blind eye to those who mock his name. The people of God falter while the wicked appear to be exalted.

The psalmist’s anguished question still rings in the hearts of God’s people. From businesses to families to nations, we watch evil people prosper. We see the people who take shortcuts move ahead. And it seems like those who try to walk right often fail.

Then the psalmist beholds the coming judgment, and he realizes that a day of accounting is coming. He rests in the fact that God will make things right.

The Christian Celts anticipated judgment day. In St. Patrick’s Breastplate they pray that they might be clothed “with the power of His descent to pronounce judgment of Doomsday.” In their manuscripts and crosses, Jesus is sometimes depicted at the “dread judge” coming to hold all men accountable for their evil deeds.

During Advent, we actually look to the coming Judgment Day. We expect a righting of wrongs, a day of rectitude. We may look toward this day, like ancient Israel, as a day when we will be proved right and those who opposed us will be exposed as in the wrong. We may expect this as a time when we will finally be vindicated.

As we look toward the coming day of days, we behold a day that came. The great day of woe was realized when the baby born in a manger grew up to be the man who bore the weight of sin and death. Jesus entered into the final judgment. He bore the crushing weight of woe upon himself.

This act of absolute justice strikes to the heart of evil. The cross heals my blinded eyes to see that I am not on the side of the righteous but on the side of the oppressors. While I cried out for justice, my own evil betrayed me as the offender. While I longed for my enemies to be exposed and humiliated and conquered, I was exposed as the one clothed in filthy rags.

Only then can I realize that what appears to be God’s blindness to evil is actually his longsuffering mercy. While some people think the God of the Old Testament is the God of vengeance, they are mistaken. The story actually reveals a God who is longsuffering, who continues to show mercy to evildoers, who withholds judgment again and again and again. Finally when he does bring judgment, He also brings a hope of restoration and redemption.

In the midst of revealing God’s judgment upon the evil in Israel, Zephaniah pictures a God who restores in gentle, lovingkindess.

The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save:
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)

As I look to the final unveiling of God’s justice, I no longer look with a fist of anger at those who cheated me, betrayed me, hurt me. Rather, I anticipate the complete unveiling of God’s glory with humility, realizing my own failures, my own tendency to hurt and cheat and betray. During this season of Advent, I look toward the end of all things and cry out with the publican, “Lord have mercy.”

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