Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent: Waiting, Worshiping, & Working in a Groaning Creation

In the previous entry to Oikonomia, we cited examples of turmoil and injustice that can make us wonder, “Where is God?”  We cited the violent storms of creation, the storming hoards of terrorists killing innocent people, the disappointing hurts that occur even in our churches, and the death of God’s non-human creatures all around us.   Now, let’s revisit these troubling examples—this time looking for the Hope that shines through when we apply the lens of God’s Word.

Advent wreath and candles aid our waiting and worship.
What better time than the Season of Advent to apply a biblical perspective to the storms, storming hoards, personal disappointments, and groans of creation?   Advent draws our attention to the anticipated coming of Jesus Christ the Savior that we celebrate on Christmas.  Just as people of faith before Christ’s coming awaited the coming Messiah, so now by faith we are encouraged through Advent to develop a “theology of waiting” as we follow the weekly Advent themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, culminating in the lighting of the Christ candle on Christmas Day.

First, in the context of Advent, let’s return to our neighbor’s Nativity that was strewn about their front yard.  Although they were saddened by the destruction, it turns out that the Nativity was scattered, not be evil intent, but by a wind storm—a storm that God allowed.  Such stormy events are small in comparison to the larger disruptions their children will no doubt face during their lives.  Storms of life disrupt our Hope and our Peace; but Advent can teach us to view these storms in the context of waiting upon God for His peace and provision.  For the person who has never known God’s forgiveness for sin, storms can be a wake-up call to surrender and be reconciled through the atoning death of Christ (Romans 3: 23; 6:23).

According to John Piper (WORLD Magazine, "Mercy for the Living," Jan. 15, 2005), “Every deadly calamity is a merciful call from God for the living to repent.  Proof that God wants us to reflect seriously and learn from creation’s calamities is seen in Jesus’ comments when 18 people were crushed to death by the fall of the tower of Siloam, Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:4-5).  

Principle #1:  While we await Christ’s return, the storms of life can bring us to mourn our sin and the sins of others, and repent of our sins, and become new creatures who can lead others to God.  

Piper says it well:
Repent. Let our hearts be broken that God means so little to us. Grieve that He is a whipping boy to be blamed for pain, but not praised for pleasure. Lament that He makes headlines only when man mocks His power, but no headlines for 10,000 days of wrath withheld. Let us rend our hearts that we love life more than we love Jesus Christ. Let us cast ourselves on the mercy of our Maker. He offers it through the death and resurrection of His Son.

Some disasters are as much "acts of man" as "acts of God."
But not all calamities of creation are simply “acts of God.”  Although God is ultimately in control, some calamities are “acts of man”—violations of God’s laws of creation.  Mudslides that destroy whole villages downstream are the result of deforestation that increases soil erosion and soil instability.   Likewise, man-made dams create reservoirs that eventually fill with eroded soil.  When a weakened dam breaks, sediment-laden water escapes in a destructive torrent that destroys people and possessions in its path. 

Principle #2:  While we await Christ’s return, storms and devastation in creation remind us that we are God’s stewards called to serve with creation based on “good science” so that devastations are minimized and Earth can yield its bounty in a sustainable way.  [See Fundamentals of Conservation]

But what about other storms in today’s world?  God is now permitting the storming hoards of Islamic terrorists in the Middle East to disrupt and destroy the lives of His children who stand boldly for their faith in Christ.  How should a “theology of waiting” during this Advent season affect our reaction to the disruptions of life being caused by Islamic terrorists?  Perhaps like me, at times you are tempted to doubt God’s providential care for His people, Jew and Gentile alike.  However, realize today’s news is not unusual when we recall the long and interrupted history of conflict between godless people and the people of faith (e.g. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Rahab, Ruth, and the prophets).   In fact, after the writer of Hebrews 11 recounts the acts of such men and women of faith by name, he gives a shocking list of the forms of persecution and execution suffered by unnamed believers down through history, and concludes with this powerful claim (Hebrews 11:  39-40):

And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised,  because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.

We are among the people described in this Scripture for whom God has provided something better.  Before the coming of Christ the Messiah, people of faith did not know or experience fully the completed plan of redemption provided through the death of Christ for the sins of both Jew and Gentile.   Now, God is at work building His church composed of those who accept His Son by faith and are willing to deny themselves, take up His cross, and follow Him (Matthew 16: 24).  For increasing numbers today, taking up the cross and following can require emotional and physical suffering, and even death.

Even in the relative safety of our own neighborhoods and especially in our churches, we are not free from harsh words and even weapons that can hurt us.  Recall we illustrated this point by the young couple whose invitee to church was very unwelcome.  Nevertheless, our task as God’s people is to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (I Peter 3: 15).   We may have to earn the privilege of “giving and account” by first acting in a Christ-like manner in the midst of trying and even life-threatening situations.   In so doing, we are drawn closer to the sufferings of Christ as the Apostle Paul teaches us when he wrote to the Christians in the city of Corinth, you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort (2 Corinthians 1: 7).

Shakir Wahiyi (face uncovered) and other ISIS enforcers.
Pray that God's love will break into hearts full of evil and hate.
Although the universal body of Christ is spread around the world, today internet access can provide immediate information and communication links to our brethren, many of whom are under siege in very hard places such as Syria and Iraq.  Voice of the Martyrs and Samaritan’s Purse are two organizations that provide access to information about prayer needs and helpful guides to prayer and ways to help our fellow Christians living under persecution.  Perhaps the most difficult task for me is to pray for the Islamic terrorists who are pillaging and murdering innocent people in the Middle East and in Africa.  But I’ve been encouraged to pray that the “eyes and ears of the consciences” of the slayers will not cease to reveal the Love of God that can pierce even the  most evil hearts.

Voice of the Martyrs provides a helpful prayer guide.
Principle #3:  While we await Christ’s return, our responsibility is to intercede at the throne of God for our brothers and sisters facing brutal persecution, and to pray that God will use the blood of the martyrs and the power of the cross of Christ to open the hearts of their Islamic persecutors.

Following our examples of turmoil and injustice in this world, I’m hesitant to add the incident of the cat and the squirrel in which the latter became dinner for the former.  Recall that once the squirrel became prey, I heard what appeared to be an outburst of anger by nearby squirrels; then, a period of solemn mourning by its mate.  Even a squirrel moaning the loss of her mate speaks of the cloud of sadness and despair that often characterizes God’s fallen creation. 

Although the groaning of creation is evident in the deaths of animals, it is also troubling to see the needless deaths of helpless unborn babies by abortion while the elderly and infirm are often poorly treated and forgotten by their families.  Those who do not recognize the authority of Scripture find it difficult to distribute their “compassion” among a groaning world of violent storms, murderous hoards of terrorists, and the deaths of animals by predation and disease.  Only a biblical worldview can provide a logical cause and a satisfying explanation of the future direction of this groaning world.

In Romans 8: 22-23, the God reveals to us that

the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

Do you see in this Scripture that, although all creation groans, and we groan; yet, we have reason to be “waiting eagerly?” For Christ has come!  He has purchased our redemption from the fall if we accept His sacrifice for our sins which guarantees that we have the adoption as sons into God’s family.  In the context of the troubling examples of violent storms in nature and the trying storms, suffering, and death all around us we are asked to wait for Christ’s coming—His Second Advent.  He promised, in the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16: 33).  Thankfully, we can claim the truth of what I will label Principle #4:

Christ came humbly into the world, God in flesh appearing.
While creation groans, we work and wait until He returns.
Principle #4:  While we await Christ’s return, celebrating Christmas in the context of Advent can help us face the storms, sufferings, and deaths in the context of the Hope of Christ’s return, while gaining His Peace and Joy for our stewardly work and our prayers, and the Gift of the Love of God which is ours to share with others. 

The Nativity in our neighbor’s lawn has been restored to its order after the storm, and now tells the story of Christ’s first coming as we observe it on this quiet December night.  And, we are all ready to light the fourth Advent candle to celebrate the Love of God—Love that saved us (John 3: 16) and moves us to work and pray as we eagerly await Christ’s Second Advent.

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