Justice. Righteousness. And wisdom. These are the consistent themes in our advent texts thus far, as we dedicate ourselves to the difficult but critical task of preparing anew for the coming of Christ.
Today’s texts (Isaiah 1:24-31; Luke 11:29-32; and yet again Psalm 90) will not allow us to think only of the general theme, but force us to face the specific implications of meaningful justice, righteousness, and wisdom. Where is it that we have failed as persons, as church bodies, and as a society to think in God-honoring ways about those actions and attitudes which hinder or promote justice and righteousness? Where will we turn for wise counsel regarding their execution?
Our society has no lack of people who decry injustice. We have a more than ample supply of voices pointing out the failures of others, whether in government or in private matters. We know who the perceived culprits are. It is difficult, if not impossible, to separate the news of an event from the moralizing of the reporters and editors. We easily find our own passions aroused against these perpetrators of injustice as they are shown to us by the ever-present camera. We must do something to rid ourselves of these vile persons, whether it be by voting them out of office, legislating their greed out of existence, incarcerating their sorry lives, confiscating their assets, or otherwise bringing our version of justice to bear on the misdeeds.
In the church things are all too often little different. We externalize sin with the best of them, making it a problem of those we recognize as “other.” We read scriptural standards of righteousness and justice, look everywhere else to find examples of violations, and find them all so well. Then we add our voices to the crowd and call for the hammer to be brought down upon the evil doers.
Isaiah’s words of judgment, as well as those of Jesus in Luke’s gospel, are not about the foreigner, the stranger, or the pagan. They are directed toward the household of God, where God’s judgment will be executed. The problem in both cases was that God’s calling had been turned into a status of privilege rather than of blessing; that is, it was viewed as a conferring of special entitlement instead of holy standing through which the world was to be brought from darkness to light. The world knows that wrong is being done, as the media is all so ready to announce; it does not need another shrill voice to point it out.
I am reminded of John Wesley in 18th century England. He said of his Methodist societies that it was not their business to criticize others, but to criticize themselves. He called for a renewed searching after God within the household of faith. It was not a call to withdraw from the larger society, but one to look more deliberately at the story of God’s redeeming work in the world, and to judge whether their own actions and attitudes were properly ordered according to that story. And their was an accompanying openness to the refining work of the Spirit of God to remove from the members of the movement those instances of injustice and unrighteousness that the same Spirit brought to consciousness.
Jesus pointed out that the Queen of the South had enough insight to seek out wisdom from Solomon. Let us seek wisdom from the One who is greater–a wisdom to know that judgment begins with us, and that our knowledge of what God is ultimately doing with this world. It’s not the fiscal cliff we should fear, even as congress argues and wrangles over whose fault it might be and what can be done about it. We need not solve that problem nor decide who created it. We must repent of our own unrighteous deeds. Because He is coming, with winnowing fork in hand.