I wrote this weekend that the king’s coming will bring salvation for some and destruction for others. Advent’s message is, among other things, a warning. He will slay the wicked (Isaiah 11:4). He will cut down the worthless tree (Matthew 3:10). He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12).
Perhaps I should have written that Christ’s advent brings death for all and life for some. The prophets’ words don’t just apply to outsiders. The almighty king is coming to destroy everything harmful and destructive on his holy mountain. Unfortunately, that includes me.
You may have heard the story of the newspaper that asked its readers, “What’s Wrong with the World?” Catholic author G. K. Chesterton offered a two word reply: “Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely Yours, G. K. Chesterton.”
I am so enmeshed in this evil age that everything about me needs to go, to die, to be buried. The wicked whom the king will slay includes me. The tree being cut down at the root is me. The chaff being cast into the fire is me. Not part of me, but all of me.
For outsiders, the prophets’ message is a warning and a call to repentance. But even for insiders – those already united to Christ – it is a reminder that our sinful selves are part of the world’s problem and destined for destruction.
I don’t need a little renewal or reformation; I need resurrection and rebirth. Only the dead can be raised to new life.
The self enslaved to sin must die, and with or without Christ it will. Only in union with Christ, however, will it rise again to the new life of the kingdom. The apostle Paul writes:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. Romans 6:3-8
In my baptism, I have been united to Christ in his death so that I may also be united to Christ in his life.The work of raising up new creatures in Christ is God’s alone, but Paul still tells the Roman Christians that they should do certain things anyway.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:11-14
Consider yourselves dead to sin. Don’t let sin rule your lives. Don’t orient your life toward sin or willingly give yourself to sinful deeds. Rather, consider yourselves alive in Christ. Orient your life toward him. Offer yourself to God as an instrument for good. This is what those who know the destructiveness of their own sin, and the life-giving power of God’s mercy in Christ, will do.