This Is No Gentle Jesus
“Then they will see
‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’
with power and great glory.”
Advent begins. And this is not the season of a gentle Jesus.
Israel and the prophets didn’t imagine a feel-good, gentle, and meek Messiah. Jeremiah writes, and we read, that the promise that God makes to Israel and Judah is that “In those days and at that time [God] will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he will execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
And Luke, too—a Gospel that give us the story of the baby Jesus, the shepherds and all that—even Luke writes of the Son of Man descending on a cloud with power and great glory, of distress among the nations, of foreboding, of the powers of heaven themselves being shaken.
This is Advent. And this is not the season of a gentle Jesus.
We will get there, in a way. We are making our way closer and closer to Christmas, where we will discover that God’s life in the world, in Jesus, begins as a child, born in a backwater town, to a teenager. Vulnerable. Powerless. Without wealth of his own. As a child.
But we aren’t there yet. We are not yet at Christmas—the Church is in Advent, a time when we look forward to Jesus’s return, the time when our Lord will execute justice and righteousness in the land; when the Son of Man will descend on a cloud, with power and great glory.
When people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, and when the powers of the heavens themselves will be shaken. And redemption will draw near.
This is no gentle Jesus.
Advent offers another vision of Jesus, and it’s certainly not one you’ll find at the mall this December. (And just to say, I have my own Christmas pleasures … I can’t wait to watch the Will Ferrell move Elf—a totally guilty pleasure, full of the schlockiest Christmas stuff you can imagine.)
Advent offers another vision, drawing on the parts of the Bible that describe a world that resists, and of people who resist, a Gospel that is radically transformative, a Gospel that would transform not only us as persons but all the ways we live together too.
Advent describes a Gospel that reorients our lives toward a God who comes to set all things right, who shows strength with his arm, who scatters the proud, who puts down the mighty from their thrones, who sends the rich away empty.
A God who exalts the lowly, and fills the hungry with good things.
Advent is not about the gentle Jesus, but about the God who demands that we see, and come to terms, with all the ways that we resist the gospel, and all the ways that even our best efforts are corrupted without him.
I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise. Just the history of the last 100 years tells this story—the story of how even our own best efforts are corrupted by powers beyond our control.
The Great War, the War to end all Wars came to an end with the peace of Versailles—a peace that was good—but with a treaty that sowed the seeds for Hitler, for the Holocaust, and eventually for the Second World War.
Even as that war comes to an end with peace—Peace! It was an end that sowed the seeds of nuclear proliferation, sowed the seeds of the Cold War, and the threat of Mutually Assured Nuclear Destruction.
And now, for us, the good that was the end of the Soviet Gulag has collapsed into a renewed Russian Oligarchy intent on disrupting Western democracy.
Much that was good in that post-war settlement, peace among the nations, all the efforts toward inclusion and care of the migrant, has perversely resulted in a fear of others, resulting in a rise of renewed nationalism across the globe, a renewed rise of anti-semitism, and a fear of Islam.
The post-war economic boom, the great boon of wealth and development that was shared in countries like ours, and ushered in wealth for many, has unleashed a perverse appetite for wealth that has resulted in a new season of austerity for the poor and welfare for the rich, a perverse appetite for wealth that raids any and every public institution of its assets, and has resulted in a massive redirection of wealth out of public hands and into private ones. This appetite for wealth has resulted in an economy increasingly uninterested in stable work for most of us, and corporations with very little sense of civic duty or much sense of obligation to care for the environment.
That’s all to say: we should be familiar with this by now.
Every good, and worthy effort—efforts for peace, efforts for the care of the excluded and of the migrant, efforts for shared prosperity and wealth, simply haven’t lasted. And even our best efforts for the good are twisted, disfigured, corrupted.
So why would we look to a gentle Jesus, meek and mild?
Advent is the season where we recognise that the battle for the Gospel, the battle for the good, the battle over our own appetites needs a radical, divine intervention into the life of the world, and a radical, divine intervention into our own lives.
And so we have a season when we look forward, not to the creche, but to a future where God enters the world to finish the work of making all things right: a season when we recognise our own resistance to the Good News, our shared resistance to the redemption of the world. And we look forward to a time when we will find our redemption, a time when we will be set free from all those things that oppress us—as persons, as communities, as a planet—we look forward to a time when justice is executed, and there is righteousness in the land.
It is important to say, that to look to our redemption is not to look to God to solve all our problems in some distant future. Not at all. We aren’t off the hook here.
Advent gives us a vision of a world made right, a vision which we can live into. As we recognise that our God is a God of righteousness, a God of justice, we too take part in that cosmic struggle to put God’s vision for the world in place—we strive for a world that is just and good.
We work for peace.
We work for the fair distribution of goods.
We fight the forces that dehumanise, that destroy, that disenfranchise, that impoverish.
As we do, we will recognise, though, that the powers that resist the gospel have a resilience that we cannot overcome on our own. And that we do, in fact, need a God who invades the world as it is, a God that comes with power, and with great glory, a power and glory so great that even the heavens will be shaken by the might of the Lord who says to us:
“Stand up. Stay awake. Be attentive. And raise your heads.
Because your redemption is drawing near.”