THE HOLY GOD IS THE LOVING GOD
As you can tell, the readings for this Advent focus inevitably on the rather threatening sense of God’s arrival. Ironically this is the Sunday when the theme is usually peace
I’m not sure about you, but most of us know that now slightly old-fashioned sense of trepidation when an important visitor is about to arrive, not peace.
I may have mentioned this before but my father in his younger days worked for a forestry company. Every once in a while his superior would arrive on a visit. I think my father was more nervous than my mother on these occasions. She was at ease with anyone and would chat away on any topic under the sun.
There was always a sense of trepidation as one never knew what new-fangled scheme Head Office would arrive with next, and Dad seemed to have his district chosen for experimentation. This was especially so when the head of research, Dr Beard, would be along for the ride. I remember one experiment, an attempt at growing castor oil. It didn’t last long. Another did, and that was the growing of Phormium tenax, otherwise known as New Zealand flax.
Now unlike the head office of my father’s company, God does not experiment with us. But there is always a sense of trepidation at the idea of a perfect God arriving in a fallen world.
You see, sin is not simply something we tend to fall into and that gets us offside in a legal sense: sin affects our character. It erodes the healthy beings God created us to be. It negatively affects our attitude towards God and so the thought of God arriving can be a tad threatening because none of us is perfect; and Advent readings always reflect this sense.
I’ve recently been reading a great deal of Prof Jordan Peterson (the Canadian Clinical Psychologist who has been described as the nearest thing to an academic rock star). Dr Peterson makes a great deal of the need to be honest with both ourselves and others, something he claims is rare in the human condition. He also speaks of the devastating consequences for us when we are not. Sin has the same effect. It is inauthentic thinking and behaviour that undermines us significantly.
I suppose what I am leading up to is this: judgement is something we instinctively fear for any of a number of three reasons, possibly the most common of which are:
- There is sin we are holding on to
- We have a misapprehension as to the nature of God, or are not fully aware of who we are in Christ
- We are not happy to be changed by Christ
The word judge in Hebrew is associated with deliverance. God’s judgement is designed to deliver us. It is profoundly loving. The end result of the coming of God in Jesus is that 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God as we read in our Gospel reading earlier.
You see God’s love is not a kind of product available to us, which we can apply to ourselves like a salve when we feel we need it. God and his love are not separate. The love of God comes with God himself.
And here’s the thing: God’s love changes us. As Paul says to the Philippians: 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
And as the prophet Malachi says, 2But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi
So the Advent sense of trepidation is a wholesome one. It brings us up short. But God’s love is not like the visit of one’s boss that could result in good or bad, depending upon any number of factors.
God’s love takes us from the dangerous territory we may be in, and in leading us onto safer ground, equips us for changed circumstances.
My father had the ability to refuse changes to the core business of the forestry company he worked for, but he chose to go with growing New Zealand flax and it opened up a very successful side to the company’s business.
Sometimes we can’t see the cul-de-sacs sin leads us into. We certainly find it difficult to see how we need to change in order to receive the fullness of life God longs to impart to us. But opening ourselves up to the loving judgment of God is identical to making room for the love of God.
There’s that old saying about someone looking for love in all the wrong places. The advice we give our children is to look for the right people and we will find the right love.
It is exactly the same with God. When we prepare to meet the holy God (the righteous God), we find the loving God.
Human beings seek for love more even than they seek for meaning. Love is not a disembodied force – a drug we take to make us feel good or to solve our problems. Love is God, for as 1 John 4:8b tells us, God is love.
How do I allow God’s love to permeate me?
Well, it’s similar falling in love. When you first meet the person who is now your beloved, you may not be overly impressed with them. You may not have much in common with them. In fact, someone may have had to twist your arm to have anything to do with them at all.
But when you do meet them, and you don’t reject them outright, the potential for love remains.
The more time you spend with them, the more your attraction grows. The more you open yourself up to join in different activities with them, the more you see of them and the more you get to know them. Before long you realise you have feelings for the person, and if nurtured, they grow.
It’s no co-incidence that people who join parish activity groups, home groups, who attend Alpha courses, who go on Christian camps, who involve themselves in a variety of ministries and activities in addition to simple attendance at services, grow in love for the Lord.
And that love begins to evidence itself in a supportive rather than critical attitude. In other words it begins to overflow as love towards other people.
At Advent, God is looking to challenge the boring, suffocating, self-centred and defensive you and me. He is looking to bring out the best in us, to bring it to life. He wants to take us to places we have never been before.
Let us not condemn John the Baptist to being an eternal voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Let us come to the Christ he points towards, draw near to the one who comes to us, who, though born as a baby in Bethlehem, goes on through Galilee to Jerusalem and a cross that presented him with a love-test the bravest would have failed, a test he passed so that you and I could be enveloped in God’s love.
That is how we find peace.
God bless you.