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An Unusual Christmas Theme

"Don't judge me!"

     I don't know where she learned the phrase, but a few years ago, someone, somewhere, taught my daughter those words. She was too young to understand what they really meant, all she knew was that they made the perfect comeback when Mom or Dad tried to correct her.

"Honey, it's time for bed."

"Don't judge me!"

"Can you put your dirty clothes in the laundry room?"

"Don't judge me!"

"No, you may not take a slug to school for show and tell."

"Don't! Judge! Me!"

     Judgment gets a bad rap. The word "judgmental," which originally meant "having to do with the use of judgment" has now come to be a biting rebuke, referring to an attitude of excessive criticism. Perhaps there is some warrant for that. Jesus himself cautioned us to "judge not, lest you be judged" and to first remove the plank of wood from our own eye before addressing the speck in someone else's eye.

     But that does not mean that judgment in itself is wrong. What Scripture warns us against is being unnecessarily critical. Of holding people to a standard that we ourselves to do note keep. Of judging when we have no business to be judging. And there are times when Scripture calls us to judge - even to judge one another (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)!  

     But the true redemption of judgment lies in the fact that God is the judge. Though we may bristle at the thought of a religion that speaks of God as a harsh, condemning judge, we cannot escape the Scriptural testimony that God judges. Neither can we hurry past this attribute, as if the grace given through Jesus Christ makes all this talk of the Righteous Judge unnecessary. If that is our intent, then we have to skip over the words of Jesus himself (John 5:27-29). Judgment is not made irrelevant by Jesus: it is a part of what he does. 

     Because the judgment of God is a good thing.

     We want God's judgment, really. We want to know that hatred, abuse, violence, rape, racism, and every ugly deed will not only be ended but will be punished. This was the hope of Israel in exile - that her oppressors would be overthrown and God's people restored (see Obadiah, Nahum, and many other prophetic voices). This was the theme of the celebrations surrounding the birth of the Messiah (see Luke 1). The Day of the Lord was coming.

     The Day of the Lord - the day when God would rise up and punish the disobedient and rescue his people. The Day of the Lord was something to anticipate, something to long for, something to look forward to. And it would come when the Messiah arrived. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, the church has often taken time to focus on that sense of longing, that sense of anticipation. And as we do so this year, at TCPC we will be focusing on the longing for judgment. Because the judgment of God is merciful. It overthrows our enemies. It restores his people. It motivates us to remain faithful. It protects us from destructive behaviors and harmful paths.

     The people of God in the Old Testament looked forward to that day when the Messiah would come and usher in the Day of the Lord. But when he arrived, he was not the Messiah they expected.  He had come to bear judgment, to experience the wrath of God in place of his people.  He inaugurated the Day of the Lord, but he did not bring it to completion.

     We still await the full judgment and deliverance that he has promised. And so at advent, we not only remember his birth, but we anticipate his second coming. And so, like the faithful saints of the Old Testament, we await the coming of the Lord in judgment and deliverance.

     During this Advent season, we will be introducing an old song that will be new to most of us, a song not commonly associated with advent or Christmas, but which captures this spirit of longing and anticipation. Read the lyrics to "O Quickly Come, Dread Judge of All" and consider how our hearts yearn for the Day of the Lord:

O quickly come, dread Judge of all; for, awful though your advent be,
 All shadows from the truth will fall, and falsehood die, in sight of thee.                         O quickly come; for doubt and fear, like clouds dissolve when you are near.

O quickly come, great King of all; reign all around us, and within;
 Let sin no more our souls enthrall, let pain and sorrow die with sin.                             O quickly come; for you alone can make your scattered people one.

O quickly come, true Life of all; for death is mighty all around;                                     On ev'ry home his shadows fall, on ev'ry heart his mark is found.                                       O quickly come; for grief and pain can never cloud your glorious reign.

O quickly come, sure Light of all; for gloomy night broods o'er our way;
 And our weak souls begin to fall with weary watching for the day.                                 O quickly come; for round your throne, no eye is blind, no night is known.

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