Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Blazing Christ

Revelation 1:13-16 “I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.”

Today begins the Advent season. It is New Year’s in the Christian churches as we go back to the beginning of the Christian story by preparing the way for Christ’s birth. In this season, it’s hard to get Jesus out of the manger, which is actually quite handy. The baby Jesus doesn’t talk back, doesn’t tell us to sell all we have and give to the poor, doesn’t embarrass us by hanging out with the riff raff, and doesn’t make strange predictions about his own death, the destruction of religious establishments, or the end of the world. If you believe the carols, he doesn’t even cry. He just makes cute baby sounds and looks lovingly at the sheep whose feeding trough he occupies.

How different is our Christmas Jesus from this image in the book of Revelation! And yet as events in the world unfolded on this holiday weekend, I found it was this formidable Jesus, the one with the double-edged sword coming out of his mouth, that I wanted. Three days of terror in Mumbai with gunman shooting everyone and anyone. And here in the US shoppers at a New York WalMart actually knocked down a door to get into the store, trampling a worker to death so that they could get a deal on a big screen TV or some other wanted sale item. They not only killed the young man, they obstructed the medical help. Finally, when the announcement came over the loudspeaker that someone had been killed and that the store would be closing for a few hours, they complained! “But I’ve been in line since yesterday!” one woman griped.

Perhaps it is just my unforgiving soul. But when those shoppers got home, angry at their thwarted desires and unconcerned that someone had died because of their greed, I didn’t want the baby Jesus waiting for them. I wanted the burnished bronze, double-edged sword guy there, just to add a little perspective. While they’re not in the same league as the shoppers, that’s also the guy I want waiting for the Mumbai terrorists and the guy that Osama bin Laden sees in his dreams. For the oppressed, for the brutalized, for the babies that Herod massacred in Bethlehem and the babies being raped today in the Congo; for all of them, a cooing baby in a feeding trough is no use. They need the one whose face shines with such force that it hurts to look and whose voice thunders like the waters of Niagara.

Of course the Bible is clear that the nature of God, even the blazing, sword-speaking version, is love. I don’t know about you, but I get a much better sense of how God’s mercy might also bring justice from the image in Revelation than I do from the baby in the manger. And that brings it’s own sense of comfort. There will be justice as well as mercy, even if I never see it.

I often wonder if balancing the good-shepherd Christ from our Sunday School days with the blazing Christ from Revelation might stop us from thinking we need to take justice into our own hands. Maybe we wouldn’t think we needed capital punishment, torture, or rendition if we trusted in the fiery Christ as well as in the one who spoke not a word on his way to the Cross. Maybe we would be more likely to trust God to handle it. I know I am.


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