The Advent season has prepared us for Jesus’ arrival at Christmas. We need the reminder of Advent to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus anew, since so much of the meaning of Christmas has been erased from our national consciousness. Fleming Rutledge reminds us, however, that we are not awaiting a helpless baby Jesus, but a powerful and righteous judge. John the Baptist, one of the central figures of the advent season, uses apocalyptic language in the call to repent and fleeing from “the wrath to come.”
She reminds us that Advent, “in spite of its reputation as a season of preparation for Christmas, is that its emphasis really does not fall on the coming of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem, but rather on the coming Jesus as the Judge of all things at the end of time.” The watchword of Advent is “Maranatha” which means “come, Lord Jesus.” Rutledge astutely points out, “It is certainly not a prayer for Jesus to come again as a helpless baby; it is the longing cry of God’s people for him to return in power and glory.”
John the Baptist prophetic message creates a clash between the world’s resistance to kingdom of God in our midst, and the irresistible force of the One who is about to come. John’s voice is being heard today through the witness of Scripture. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?…Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 3:7,10).
John doesn’t seem to fit into the softer, more gentle image of the baby Jesus in a manger. John the Baptist was in the grip of what Rutledge called an “apocalyptic transvision,” – “that vision given to the church that sees through the appearances of this world to the blazing power and holiness of the coming of the Lord.” Jesus warned us of what will happen. “This is war, and there is no neutral ground. If you’re not on my side, you’re the enemy; if you’re not helping, you’re making things worse” (Matt. 12:30 – Message).
The voice of John echoes in today’s spiritual wilderness, challenges us to be open to the movement of His Spirit in our lives. “I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character is this drama – compared to him I’m a mere stagehand – will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house – make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God, everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned” (Matt. 3:11-12 – Message).
Many years ago, I remember singing a praise song based on Ps 108:13. “With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies.” When the Israelites were trapped at the Red Sea, fearful of being over taken by the Egyptians, God said to them through Moses. “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today…The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Ex. 14:13). Men, God will fight for us. Jeremiah was reassured of God presence when he said, ‘But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail” (Jer. 20:11). During Advent welcome Jesus as a warrior who will fight for us.