And if you call upon him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

1 Peter 1: 17, 18

 

God operates like a father when it comes to us, His children in faith. His approach to this form of parenting is total, complete, and consistent. He loves us beyond all reason, and He is engaged with all aspects of our lives in ways that may even exceed our comfort but that are always what we actually need and what gives to us a grace and a wisdom that come out of heaven. We know that there will come a time, after the days of this life are completed, that we will stand before God to have Him pronounce judgement upon the way that we conducted life. This is something to hold in great awe and respect, and it is a day to consider when we make choices about how to conduct ourselves in this life.

 

Yet, we also know that Christ stands as our advocate when we face this final judgement, for the penalty for our sinfulness, for our disobedience to God and to His Word, has been paid in blood upon the cross. Still, as any good and engaged parent would do, the Father does hold us accountable for the way that we put the gift of redemption to work during the course of the life that was given to us by Christ as a gift of love, grace and mercy. At the point of conjunction between the cross and our lives, Christ’s absolute perfection of purity and holiness becomes our new identity, and we are no longer dead in sin, but we are thereafter renewed as living beings who are filled with Christ’s Spirit and placed into God’s kingdom of faith for the balance of our time upon this earth.

 

God will judge the deeds that we do during these days of our redemption. This new life that Christ has purchased for us at such a great price is what will be evaluated and that we will be held accountable for using well. God is fully aware of our weakness and of our failings, but He also understands the remarkable potential that each of His people possess. We are not strong or capable in ourselves and by our own skills and knowledge; rather, our strength, giftedness, and capability are given to us by Christ. He leads us into the expression of God’s will that is designated for us, and Christ also provides us with His Spirit to guide and to inform our journey. In Christ we are given a new opportunity to live life in a manner that is filled with God’s love, framed in by His grace, and focused on living out the Lord’s peace and justice in all places and in every way.

Who has ascended to heaven and come down?

Who has gathered the wind in his fists?

Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?

Who has established all of the ends of the earth?

What is his name, and what is his son’s name?

Surely you know!

Proverbs 30: 4

 

The answers to these questions might seem obvious to most of us who are reading them in the context of Christian faith. Even that last question in the series readily calls forth the response, Jesus, the Son of God. Yet, we know that the writer of this proverb did not have that answer in mind when he set out these words. He was probably indicating the fact that everything in this list of actions was something that only God could possibly accomplish; so, no human, whether father or son, can do the things that God has done in creating this world and in engaging in its operation. The wonders of this world are far too great to be the workmanship of mere humans, and the remarkable and intricate way that it all continues to do so is utterly outside of the capability of our chaos devising hands. But that is not all.

 

God’s Word is complex and multi-layered. There is meaning and content present within it that often takes us beyond the intent of the human author and into the heart and the mind of God, Himself, as the inspirational and the creative force behind the crafting of the words. All of these questions involve existence, the world as it was on the day that they were first written and the world as it has continued to be over the time since. I think that they also suggest the possibility of the future. They enter into God’s promise of redemption and restoration for all of Creation. All of the elements of this world that are set forth after the first question in this series and before the last one are subject to the brokenness in this world that has come about as a result of our sinful rebellion against God. All of these things which were proclaimed as good by God have become dangerous and harmful in various ways and at certain times.

 

Yet, there is a Holy God who seeks to bring all of His created world into the safety and the security of His presence. We can know this God by coming to accept and to know His Son, Jesus Christ. There is redemption to be gained in this relationship with the Father through the Son, and we can know the deep peace that comes into existence within our souls when we yield our lives to Christ and follow His will for the conduct of our days. Then, the God who manages wind and the waters of the seas and who has set into place all of the corners of the planet that we stand upon enters into the minute details of our lives and grants to us His love, grace, wisdom, and perfect will so that the life that we are living is one that now possesses the presence of the divine and is filled with the glory of that presence in all situations and circumstances. God the Father is the great creator, the Son is the perfect redeemer, and the Spirit dwells with us to grant us all knowledge of our God and to guide us into the absolute wisdom of His Word.

For in him all the. Fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1: 19, 20

 

God created the heavens and the earth with it all existing in a state of peace, and God has promised to restore Creation to that same perfect and unbroken peaceful state. What happens in between those two periods of time is not very peaceful. We are living in that between time, and we experience the restlessness of God’s peace on a daily basis. It happens in our world as forces both great and small collide and cause drama to fill our ears with their rhetoric of angry posturing and hateful name calling. This is the small-time end of the spectrum where anti-peace dwells as the other extreme of this same condition is filled with violence and death as oppression is worked upon people around the globe. All of this mirrors the rebellion that Satan led in Heaven and that he has continued to prosecute here on earth.

 

God answered that heavenly rebellion, and He responds to all of ours in a manner that is fully engaged with bringing about the restoration of our relationship with Him while it brings conclusion to all rebellion and the elimination of all that is broken by sin in our world. The peace that follows this final removal of sin will be won through great effort, and it will come about after a conflict of a type and with intensity that is far greater than any that our world has seen before. Christ’s peace is deep and it is dense, but those who oppose God will not readily or willingly accept it. Although we live in a time where that same peace is available to us through the acceptance of Christ, we can observe daily the tenuous and the fragile nature of peace’s presence in our world as every corner of it has the potential to erupt into a human or a nature caused battleground.

 

The peace that we can know today came about through His sacrifice that was carried out under conditions that were extremely violent. Christ bled so that we could be restored to a form of peaceful intimacy with God that is the perfect expression of God’s heartfelt desire. The Father and Creator of all wants to dwell in close connection with the entirety of His Creation, and He will bring about that renewal of perfection in His own time. Until then, we reside in a world that knows both peace and conflict on an ongoing and a continual basis. So, the peace that Christ has won for us and that He grants to each of His people is a state of being that settles deep into the soul and that fills us with its calm voice and its gift of deep truth. It is often hard to listen and to truly hear these words of grace and love when the loud voice of turmoil and distress is shouting into our ears, but Christ’s hard-earned peace is ours if we will listen as our first priority to Him and to His words of life throughout each and every day.

I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind, I am like a broken vessel.

Psalm 31: 12

 

I know that, in Christ, I am supposed to be strong, capable of enduring what comes my way, and able to stand solidly upon the truth of God’s word without wavering or drifting into doubt or uncertainty. If I am being honest, I must also admit that all of these less than stellar conditions of the heart and mind are ones that I experience. There are times when I feel the blows of life’s hammer striking my shoulders, the winds of disappointment blow fiercely and they drive the abrasive sand of the desert wilderness into my face, and I lose my grip on God’s perfect truth. Then, I fall to the ground with a force that shatters. It is very easy to start to feel like an old pot that has been dropped so many times that there is nothing left except for some barely recognizable, roughly glued together shards.

 

Yet, when I am like this, when I am reduced to being nothing but a few scattered fragments, then I am also most open to the miraculous. For God never sees me as debris that needs to be cleaned up and cleared away. Rather, He sees the beautiful colors and the subtle shading of the glazes that He applied to my sides. The Lord looks at the artful curves that His fingers fashioned as He turned me on His wheel. Then, His Spirit begins to perform a work that no one else is capable of doing. The Holy Spirit gathers up all of the pieces, and He does something that is quite amazing, for He doesn’t just use glue to put them back together as best as can be done with all of the missing chips and large gaps. The touch of my Lord’s hands on my shattered life restores the form and remakes the vessel into something that is even more exquisite than before.

 

God brings people into our lives who lovingly pick us up and help us to see Christ’s face through the tears of fatigue and pain. He provides us with relationships that help to complete our understanding of Him. Then the Lord shows us His plan for using us to serve the glory of His Kingdom in this life, and He holds us up and shows us off with the pride of the Father that He truly is. When my hours and days are filled with a feeling of broken emptiness and stolen usefulness, I can turn the energy that I have toward God’s truth and turn off my own voice of despair. Then I am listening to the Lord’s words of hope, and He guides me to look around with openness to the needs of others so that I can become the one that Christ uses to pick up the shattered remnants in someone else’s life.

 

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Matthew 11: 25, 26

 

During the Christmas season people can develop a mistaken understanding of Jesus. We get caught up in the images of Him as a baby and even ascribe to that infant some sort of otherworldly perfection, calm, and ease of care that are without question unrelated to what actually occurred. Jesus was a baby who did what babies do in all ways and senses. Even if that sweetness and easy-going spirit had been fully true when He was small, they did not define the totality of the man. Jesus was bold in ways that no one else has ever been bold, and He was direct with a truth that penetrated to the heart of all matters. Jesus also spoke to the reality of true need in ways that were intended to be redemptive and restorative both in the moment and for all of time to come. Jesus brought the offer of life from God, the Father, and many people refused to listen to the message and to hear its call to repentance and life anew.

 

In this instance, the wise and the learned people in the cities of His day had been among those who turned away from Jesus and refused to hear His plea for them to turn toward God with hearts submitted to the will of the Father. They had responded, or more accurately failed to respond, to the last of the prophets in John the Baptist, and this was much the same disinterested dismissal as they had given to all of the prophets from before. Now Jesus was confronting the same hardness of heart that had been formed up in an atmosphere of self-confidence, arrogant independence, and loyalty to this world’s order and rule. God’s message of repentance and return to righteousness was being heard and accepted by the humble, the downtrodden, and the poor of body and spirit in the countryside far more readily than it was by those in positions of strength, power, and leadership.

 

The stern words that the living Christ had to say to those people in His days on earth apply to us and to our times. We tend to be focused on what we believe to be best, true, and wise in the light of our own interests and desires. Yet, these understandings are too often formed up in the absence of God’s word of truth and revelation, for our thinking is frequently developed out of a combination of fear of loss of power or entitlement and out of a desire to rule over others in a manner that exploits our strength and increases their weakness. This is very much like the worldly view of successful living that Jesus was so dismayed by. Rather, when we live like the “little children” that Jesus recognized as the ones who had actually entered into the Father’s will, we submit our lives in humility and with repentant hearts to Christ seeking to love others as He does, to embrace the weak and the world-weary with caring actions, and to bring the peace and the reconciliation of Christ to the center of all forms of engagement with our world. Then we have entered into living out God’s gracious will.

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power,

and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.

His way is in whirlwind and storm,

and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

Nahum 1: 3

 

During this season of Advent we tend to picture Jesus as a soft and cuddly baby, for that is how He came into this world in human form. There is something that is both comforting and is also quite extraordinarily powerful in that image. It conveys, among other things, the fact that God, Himself, was willing to enter into the same life that each of us lives in order to become the perfect and singularly acceptable sacrifice for all of the sins of humanity. It also portrays the reality that Jesus is subordinate to the will of the Father so that each of us who follow Christ are shown that we are to do likewise and seek out the will of God in all matters. But these humble and submissive images are not the totality of the ways that God is present in our world. This aspect of the account of God’s interaction with this world is not even close to the complete description of what advent involves.

 

God is truly with us. He has always been so, for this is true from a point in time that precedes all of the processes of creation that brought the heavens and this world into existence. God, as described by the prophet here, is mighty, patient, gracious, and righteous. He is not quick to judge as He desires for people to turn away from wrong-doing as they embrace His truth and His way of living; yet, He is also willing and able to enter into a judgement that is both swift and terrible for those who reject Him and His way of thinking and living. It is not easy for us to connect the reality of judgement with the image of the baby Jesus, but that is something that we must do. Jesus the Christ is the Savior of all of humanity, and He is also our judge. His justice is the foundational truth that underpins all of Creation. His righteousness is perfect and as such is beyond any of our ability or capacity to grasp except by and through the redemptive grace that Christ pours over and into all who submit to Him as Savior and Lord.

 

So, as we celebrate the joyousness of this season, we should also be entering into a time of reflection, confession, repentance, and acceptance of that grace. Christ came to us, and He did so in the most vulnerable of all possible manners, but that was done so that God could fully demonstrate His sovereignty, might, and unrelenting heart for justice in our world. God took that infant and raised Him up to be the only absolutely significant person to ever walk upon this earth, the Father accepted the grief of brutal loss so that sin could be extinguished, and He poured out His infinite power and might in the resurrection so that we would all see the Lord’s mastery over the elemental forces of this world. Advent can mean renewal, a form of revival for followers of Christ when we turn away from all that holds us back from fully participating in Christ and in His righteousness during our days. We know that Christ will judge the wickedness of this world; so, we are called upon by Him to live righteously, to proclaim God’s justice and peace, and to love all people and each aspect of creation with the same unceasing passion that the Father has lavished upon us.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

 

This is the sort of thing that we hear a lot in the world of Christian thought and direction for life. Yet, does this really make any sense? Is this a reasonable or even a reasonably human reaction to the sorts of things that happen to us? Even God tells us that He wants to hear our fears, doubts, concerns, pain, and grief. The Bible is laced through with examples of godly people who pour out their agony and dread to the Lord in the hope of relief or comfort or salvation. So, going about life with thanks to God on the tip of the tongue and praise for the Lord as the instant response to bone-crushing situations seems to me to be utterly crazy and not even close to reality. However, if Paul was anything at all, he was a realist. He knew his way through the harder sides of life, and he had experienced Christ’s redemption in a profoundly real and life-altering manner.

 

For Paul and for each of us, the difference maker in all of this is Christ Jesus. Paul knew of and about God. He was devoted as fully as any human had ever been to the pursuit of that knowledge and to the carrying out of God’s will as he perceived it. Yet, without Christ he did not truly and actually know God, and he was not capable of living out the will of this Father who he did not know. This is true for all people. Many of us think that we are following God, and we may consider that we possess all that we need in order to do so. However, God’s Word makes it very clear that there is one and only one way to enter into the sort of relationship that leads to the close, intimate, and life-giving connection that God desires to have with people and that is by and through Jesus the Christ.

 

So, in Christ everything is changed. Life is ours, and this new life is one that fills our days here and now, and it grants to us the fullness of eternity with God. Christ transforms the perspective that we have on the world where we live as He grants to us His vision of it all as the dwelling place of the Lord and of His heavenly host of angelic beings. As Christ is in me and His Spirit counsels, guides, and directs my reaction to the world and engagement in it, everything looks and feels different. Pain, hurt, disappointment, fear, and grief are not eliminated, but the Lord’s strength and comfort overcome their power over me, and my heart and mind are set free from the oppressive hold that the author of all loss is attempting to gain on me. Christ makes it reasonable and even rational to be thankful in the midst of great trials. As I surrender to God’s will in Christ Jesus, He brings every day of this life into conformity with His desire for me to live with the internal peace and calm reassurance of His presence filling me to overflowing with thanksgiving and with praise.