See, days are coming—oracle of the LORD—
when I will raise up a righteous branch for David;
As king he shall reign and govern wisely,
he shall do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah shall be saved,
Israel shall dwell in security.
This is the name to be given him:
“The LORD our justice.”
Therefore, the days are coming—oracle of the LORD—when they shall no longer say, “As the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt”; but rather, “As the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of the house of Israel up from the land of the north”—and from all the lands to which I banished them; they shall again live on their own soil.
Jeremiah 23: 5-8
In the jollity of the Christmas season, we often neglect the doubled-edged nature of Advent. Though this colossal event of Jesus’ birth means only good news for those who accept his lordship, for a certain newborn baby it meant thirty-three years of exile and affliction. When Jesus became human, not only was he sending himself to free the oppressed and those captive to sin, but also to become oppressed by that same weight himself, a cumulative weight which only he could carry. The justice and righteousness with which he will reign (Jeremiah 23:5) came at the price of injustice and evil done to himself.
One aspect of Jesus’ redemptive reversal is to turn back time, to reverse the effects of the fall, in this case (v. 8) perhaps to unify all peoples who were scattered in banishment at the Tower of Babel (cf. Genesis 11). We might wonder why this reversal is taking so long. God is working, easing up the effects of sin in your life, and in the lives of the Church, but it does not all happen at once.
We are oppressed by sin (Psalms 72:2), and our sin has brought us into rebellion against God, and against each other. When God scattered humanity at the Tower of Babel, he was not merely executing his judgment on us, but keeping us from worse sin, from further pride and idolatry. Now, through the Holy Spirit God is slowly knitting humankind back together, reconciling relationships, and restoring acts of genuine love. Advent leads us to wonder at the astonishing way in which God chose to orchestrate this.
Christ did not come to save us from hunger, from oppression, from all suffering—yet. He came to accomplish much more, and in fact to work on a cosmic scale. Though the ancient geocentrists made the wrong conclusion from their observations, they were most correct on the day of Christ’s Advent. At the moment of Jesus’ birth, one can imagine the universe holding its breath in anticipation, struggling to conceal its joy that the Savior, its Savior, would come to wind back the clock on symptoms of sin. For though God surely was made manifest as a human, in a species which was already image bearer of the Lord, it is incorrect to view Christ’s arrival as being only for the benefit of humankind. Even the natural world longed for its renewal by Christ’s work, as would become evident at his death, when darkness would come upon the land and the dead would break out of their graves and walk on the earth for a time. God’s justice (Psalm 72:2) had come to bear not only on the smallest scale, in each and every act which had before been wrought with sin, but through nations, through nature, and throughout the cosmos.
All the while, what was for humankind, and all of Creation, a sort of homecoming, as in verse 8, was for Christ an alienation. This life, which we celebrate in the Christmas season, that began so humbly in the nowhere town of Bethlehem, ended with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)–not to be taken for granted.
As in the first coming, so in the second coming of Christ there is a double significance, both positive and negative. The name given Jesus in Jeremiah 23, “the Lord is our justice,” hearkens even further in the future than the first advent of Christ, to his second coming, when his justice will be made complete. Undoubtedly, we ought to anticipate that day with hope for its nearness, but justice too is a double-edged sword. For those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb, justice means restoration. For those who have not acknowledged Christ as Lord over all creation, though, that day means separation from God’s presence. Our reaction to this dual reality should be at once, “Come soon, Lord!” and “But please bring ____ into your fold first!“
Bryce McDonald ‘21, is a Classics and Philosophy concentrator in Leverett House.