What if Judgement is Actually Good News?

Holiday angst has rolled into our collective psyche again, almost on cue. This year, a major source of our angst is the hubbub surrounding the emergence of “fake news stories.”

A portion of the population has been shaken to the core by the seemingly widespread impact of fake news stories and the extent to which these stories have shaped public opinion. A different portion of the population downplays or denies the impact.

Both sides are incredulous, and disagreement abounds as to what qualifies as fake.

The phenomenon of “fake news” reveals the ongoing erosion of confidence in our ability to access reality. Everyone, it seems, is interested. Even the clearest analysis bears the image of prior allegiances and commitments.

Whose voice can we trust to tell us the truth about who we are and how things really are, anyway?

And what about us, the consumers of news? No matter what or how the world is communicated to us, do we not hear what we want to hear and see what we want to see? The spin cuts both directions, doesn’t it? Whose voice can we trust to tell us the truth about how things really are, anyway? Click To Tweet

The phenomenon of fake news also reveals the ongoing erosion of the fantasy that we are purely rational creatures, who can coolly sift the truth from the grime of falsehood. Our desires and affections, which have already been shaped by media, are triggered before and more often than we realize when information is presented to us. We listen and watch with our heart before our head.

How can we be sure that we’re not delusional, anyway?

In a world of fake news, we need the Advent of God’s judgment.

Does Judgment Belong in Advent?

The arrival of divine judgment is a central theme during Advent, but it is often passed over and under-emphasized. It’s inconvenient, really. During the “holiday season,” our pallets are trained for different fare—something a bit nicer, brighter, or even melancholy, but not something as heavy and sharp as judgment.

Divine judgment lacks the necessary twinkle to fit well with the season.

Can’t we save it for Lent? Isn’t there a better way to kick-off the beginning of the year?

We can’t miss it though. Nearly all of the relevant Lectionary readings for Advent are littered with the promise of coming judgment. (Isaiah 2; Isaiah 11; Psalm 72 Matthew 24; Matthew 3; James 5:9 – all readings from the first few weeks of Advent this year). That’s important because it means Christians have embraced divine judgment during Advent for as long as they’ve observed Advent as a distinct liturgical season.

In a world of fake news, it’s notable that Advent itself can often feel fake, like a seasonal escape from reality. The impermanence of the holiday façade is felt especially on December 26 when the real world, absent of twinkling lights, moves in again over our lives. In a world of fake news, #Advent itself can feel fake, like a seasonal escape from reality. Click To Tweet

God’s Judgment Exposes Reality

Divine judgment is needed in a world of fake news because the arrival of God’s judgment in Christ is all about the unveiling of reality, the truth about our identity and how the world is meant to be.

We are not stuck in an endless feedback loop of bias and propaganda, hopelessly hamstrung by self-delusion. In Christ, God is cracking open the façade with the fullness of his presence, which always comes in the form of cruciform love.

In biblical terms, when God’s judgment arrives, all things are shaken. The edifices of quasi-reality – governments, rulers, economies, ideologies – everything that competes for that place of ultimate significance – are shaken loose and laid bare. Everything is exposed for what it is, even our very lives.

God shakes loose the residual, fake junk in us and in the world in order to reveal true reality and make room for renewal in Christ. This renewal process began with Christ’s first Advent and is unfolding among those who surrender to it.

So, during the season of Advent, we celebrate the Great Shaking in Christ as a way out of disorientation and delusion. We celebrate that we have now have access to Reality as our biased affections are (and will be in the Second Advent) renewed and reoriented in Christ.

God’s Judgment Brings God’s Justice

In order to fully understand Advent, we must also recognize that judgment is, in a sense, inevitable. Somebody is going to do the judging. One of the reasons we are able to judge that news is fake or not is because we trust somebody’s judgment about what counts as true.

We are all already affected by the judgments issued under somebody’s version of right and wrong.

That means God’s judgment in Christ is good news because it means the arrival of true justice. This is not just anybody’s justice, but the justice meted out by the faithful God, who is sends the One in whom all wisdom, righteousness, and peace dwells.

That’s why the announcement of impending judgment struck a chord of hope and joy to those Christians who comprised the worshiping communities in the first century, and those Christians who presently live under the threat of the sword.

They trust that God’s judgment in Christ is infinitely better than Caesar’s judgment.

Caesar’s judgment is meted out by the crucifixion of his enemies. God’s judgment is meted out by submitting to crucifixion at the hands of his enemies. Caesar issues judgment in the interest of preserving the State and its power brokers. This is insecurity grounded in the need to maintain power at all costs. God issues judgment from below – first by giving up power for the sake of others.

Judgment means vindication of the oppressed and marginalized, those who feel the effect of fake news in the concrete details of their life, not just the world of ideas.

That means our lack of intuitive longing for God’s judgment to arrive and neutering of that message from Advent might mean we have become the ones from whom the oppressed need to be delivered.

Lord, have mercy.

The weight of that reality may feel too heavy during a season like Advent. That’s okay. Some of us especially need to feel that weight. Let’s step back, take a deep breath, and remember that is why we do this every year, so that God will illumine the dark places with the Light of his Life. Trust that God’s judgment in Christ is infinitely better than Caesar’s judgment. Click To Tweet

Let’s Begin the Year Aching for God’s Judgment

A hopeful expectation for the arrival of God’s judgment in Christ is a great posture in which to start the rhythms of our year. This looks like learning to begin (again) right where we truly are, and we can’t begin where we really are without acknowledging and confronting the darkness in our world and in our lives.

This ache for Christ to come as judge comes from a sober awareness of what our lives actually look like without all the decoration and slick marketing. The sooner all the residual junk gets shaken loose, the sooner we can heal from our disorientation and delusion and experience renewal under Christ’s Lordship.

Come Lord Jesus, and shake loose the fantasy of falsehood in our world and our hearts today.

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