A talk at Morning Prayer on 18th December 2019
Jeremiah 23.1-8 / Matthew 17.14-21
One of the four traditional themes of Advent is judgement, and specifically God’s judgement at the end of time.
It’s not a fashionable thing to talk about in many church circles and I can see why.
The idea of judgement can conjure up images of a stern judge, a harsh taskmaster, someone waiting to catch us out and punish us.
Talking about judgement also runs the risk of making it look like us Christians are obsessed with sin and judgement and finding fault with people for not living how we think they should.
So, we often set thoughts of judgement aside in Advent in favour of focusing on preparing for Christmas and Jesus being born as a baby in Bethlehem.
Preparing for Christmas is a good thing, of course, yet God’s judgement is not really the negative thing that the word might conjure up in our minds.
Take our reading from the prophet Jeremiah.
It begins with judgement on the leaders of Israel – but that judgement is not because God has taken offence on his own account but because of what these leaders have done to God’s people.
The leaders of Israel have failed to be good and wise shepherds, and so the people have been led astray and are facing exile.
God has seen this and is roused to take action.
He’s angry with those who have caused this disaster but his main concern is to help those who have been harmed.
He promises to send someone who will show true leadership by being just and righteous, which includes caring for the defenceless, helping the poor and not letting the powerful oppress and exploit those who are weak.
And God promises to bring back together the people of Israel who’ve been scattered across the world because his judgement is also about restoration.
It’s about restoring the world to how it should’ve been, to how God wants it to be, and about dealing with the effects of our broken world.
This is why when Jesus came he didn’t just say ‘start behaving or else’ but instead healed the sick, brought good news to the poor, called out injustice and hypocrisy, and offered compassion and forgiveness to those who recognised their own shortcomings.
This was God’s judgement in action, undoing the effects of sin and evil.
So, to recap, God’s judgement is about helping the helpless, stopping those who oppress others or lead them astray, and putting right the things that have gone wrong.
This, I hope, is a much more positive image of God’s judgement than we might otherwise have.
Of course, there is still the fact that none of us manages to be entirely good and just and righteous, so we might still feel that we have something to fear from judgement.
However, against that, we have a sympathetic judge on our side who understands us, forgives us and has come to Earth to make it possible for us to stand before him not in fear but with faith and confidence.
Because of Jesus we have received the grace that makes it possible for us to look forward to the coming of God’s kingdom not with fear but with joy and gratitude that God loves us, saves us, and will make everything right.