Monday, December 24, 2012

Advent Homily: Salvation is of the Law (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; He will save us." Is. 33:22

Here we see two simple yet staunch truths, one offensive and the other startling (and perhaps even more offensive). The offensive truth is that God, far from being a mere authority, is revealed as the absolute authority (of Israel specifically and by extension all things). The titles that He is given in this verse form a pattern that shows His authority to be all-encompassing.

As the "judge," He is the one who enforces the law: He passes sentence either to vindicate or punish, to deliver or destroy. As the "lawgiver," He is the one who makes the law: He (literally in Hebrew) "engraves" the law on tablets of stone, declaring forever what is right and wrong, just and unjust. And as the "king," He is the Law: He embodies its very essence and is its very reality, for the law is not the result of His arbitrary whims but the reflection of His perfect character. In sum, He is all-in-one the application of the reflection of the will that made and maintains and runs and rules all things. He is the one who is greater than us: greater than our notions and nations, greater than all our fads and fashions, greater than all our meta-narratives or private interpretations, and greater than all our Sin.

That last phrase points to the more starting truth: "He will save us." What's startling about this is that His identity as Savior is a direct result of His identity as the Absolute Authority. To put it simply, He can save us because He is in charge, because He has the power and the right to do so. Now, we often treat salvation as a category unto itself: God does save us, maybe not in spite of Himself, but at least in isolation from Himself, as though God took a holiday from His other attributes. ("Despite His sense of justice and holiness, God saved us anyway.") Scripture shows such well-intended thinking to be false: God's role as Savior is right in line and in accord with all His attributes, viz., His role as Absolute Authority. It is all linked together in one brilliant pattern that is God.

I suspect that we do not like this. Of course, we do not like the idea of absolute authority, but how much less will we like the idea of absolute authority being the grounds for heroism? It is bad enough that we have a king, but now we find that only the king can save us. And why? Because we have broken the law. Rebellion will not save us; rebellion is what's killing us. It is the height of idiocy to say that we must rebel against God in order to be free. We have rebelled against God, and we are not free but instead are enslaved to other masters, ones armed with cruel hate: the Devil and Sin and Death. It is vain to speak of questioning authority; we have questioned it. It is vain to speak of transgressing the boundaries; we have transgressed them. We have breached the wall, we have scaled the city, we have cast down the thrones of universal law, and we have paid for it with our souls, for in Adam we all died (I Cor. 15:22a), and all our talk is the rigor mortis setting in further and further and further. This rot will be purged with wrath, and we will be consumed in the purging, for the wages of Sin is death (Rom. 6:23a).

The only one who can save us from the wrath of the law is the Law Himself, the Law-giver and Law-applier, the only one who knows how to satisfy it. And He did satisfy it. He breached the walls of our insurrection to satisfy it. He mingled with the dust so that He might rebel against our rebellion. For this He was manifested: that He might destroy the works of the Devil (I John 3:8), the scheming, lying, son of perdition, whose trick have wasted the world. The King of kings met our anarchy with a little Anarchy of his own: the anarchy of righteousness against evil, of light against darkness, of order against chaos. That is the meaning of Christmas: the Law is our Savior, the King is our Hero. Amen.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

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