God does what He has said He will do. That should come as no surprise to anyone who seriously entertains the idea that God does exist and does speak. Sometimes the words He has spoken are of judgment, sometimes of great blessing. He carries through on both counts.
Today’s Advent readings are illustrative of both kinds of messages from the Almighty One. Numbers 16:20-35; Isaiah 11:1-9; Acts 28:23-31. The first recounts God’s judgment upon a rebellious group during the exodus from Egypt; the second announces the coming of the Messiah; the third recaptures the theme of judgment upon those who rebel but extend the blessing of that same Messiah to all mankind. This was the intent of God’s calling of Israel from the beginning.
It’s tough to sell the idea of judgment in our day. It really is against the grain of the culture of easy acceptance, lowered standards, inclusiveness at the expense of truth, and dismissal of responsibility. We have refined the art of rationalizing all manner of immorality and injustice, abhorring no behavior except that which dares to witness to accountability. Or maybe we are not so different from any other generation after all. In the times of Moses, usurpers to the offices of prophet and priest wanted to redefine the expectations of God, shaping them according their own image. Today we simply cut out the messy step of tethering our preferred way of living to a deity at all.
Before anyone concludes that this is just another gloom and doom message, however, a closer look needs to be given at what has always been the result of going our own way and leading others to do the same. It always turns out badly, whether it was the ancient Hebrews, the Greeks, or the Romans. Or contemporary western cultures. As God indicated, there would always be a day of reckoning for those insensitive to the demands of justice and righteousness. But along with that announcement came the stunning word that He Himself would step into the gap, bring healing, bind up the wounds, and be with us.
That promise had gripped Paul so powerfully that he turned from the most feared of religious zealots to the most fearless of life proclaimers. Transformation indeed! The same God who carried out His threats of judgment had also followed through on His promise of bringing a new hope , not only to Paul’s native Israeli, but to all who would hear the voice of their Creator and turn toward Him, hear His word Word and accept His grace.
The final recorded words of the apostle are still spoken:”I want you to realize that this salvation from God is also available to the Gentiles, and they will accept it.” God’s promise fulfilled. It will continue to be spoken to the rebellious. And where hearts are not so hardened, ears still able to hear, and eyes willing to see the salvation He promised is still going forth. What hardens our hearts, stops our ears, and closes our eyes is any attempt at remaking God’s words and ways to conform to our own. May we be open to every softening, opening, clearing word that comes from the saving One who is coming to bring us the life we really are seeking.