Advent looks back, building up awe and gratitude at the prophecies that first pointed to the birth of the gentle Savior.
But it also looks ahead, with promises and warnings about the Savior’s return as the Almighty Lord,
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Revelation 1:7 ESV)
“Those who pierced him” are not limited to a handful of Romans and Jewish Temple Priests complicit in his crucifixion. Christian faith sees all of us walking around with hammers in hand. While Jesus’ Apostles said that ignorance was an excuse for his historic executioners, they also warned how those who’ve lived in the light of his resurrection have no such out,
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:4-6 ESV)
God’s love is such that justice is delayed and hope held out to the worst of us – but the call to accept mercy on God’s terms is ultimate and urgent,
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. (2 Peter 3:8-10 NRSV)
Repentance means turning away from our evil, ceasing to practice it or, if it is something we stopped some time ago, ceasing our efforts to justify or rationalize it away. Christ “erases” whatever sins label us when we confess them and accept his sacrifice as our only possible justification.
If we don’t repent and accept the only offering that erases our record of evil, we continue to wear the labels and suffer eternal consequences,
But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8 NASB)
You might have lived a life of sexual license, but in confessing this and laying it at the cross of Christ, you cease to be an “immoral person” in God’s eyes. You might have wimped out under peer pressure, but if you repent God ceases to see you as a coward. You might be sitting in prison for a murder, but God will cease to label you a murderer if you are in Christ.
This week two terrorists, espousing a faith in justification by human works rather than by Christ’s sacrifice, murdered 14 other people. They did not repent – they died trying to kill even more.
They burn in hell. Forever.
The message of Advent is urgent. The righteous Judge is coming. This will be good news for those who’ve confessed their sinful lives and entrusted themselves to the mercy he offers; it will be absolute horror for those who’ve trusted some form of self-justification or ignored the issue altogether to wallow in sin.
We can lose our labels, or we can wear them forever.