Advent: the arrival of a notable person or event. Conspiracy: a secret plan to do something harmful. The advent conspiracy: the arrival of a notable person who has a secret plan to do harm, to do harm to the way of life that people accept as normal.
God is in the house…
Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance. Therefore, the LORD says: “I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves. You will no longer walk proudly, for it will be a time of calamity. In that day men will ridicule you; they will taunt you with this mournful song: ‘We are utterly ruined; my people’s possession is divided up. He takes it from me! He assigns our fields to traitors.’ “Therefore you will have no one in the assembly of the LORD to divide the land by lot. “I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel. I will bring them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people. One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head.” Micah 2.1-5, 12-13
The advent conspiracy: let’s start our journey into this conspiracy at Yad Vashem. The Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. About 10 years ago My daughter Gayle and I walked through the doors and into the world of the Holocaust. The horrors of doctors doing experiments on human beings. The people stuffed into cattle cars and then into the gas chambers. The watching of videos of people who told their stories of survival in the camps and what it took to survive. Through it all it was somewhat possible to stay detached. To look with horror at what those people did to the Jews of Europe. Until one spot, one moment when we walked into a display of how the nations of the world reacted to the holocaust. And there it was, what has come to be known as the Voyage of the Damned. The year was 1939 and the Nazi propaganda machine came up with an idea. They would allow almost 1000 Jews to get on a ship and go to freedom in Cuba. It seemed to good to be true. And it was. When the ship arrived in Cuba, the Jews on board discovered their visas had been revoked. In desperation they went from country to country to try to find asylum. Every country refused—the United States refused to even allow the ship to enter U.S. waters. I had known the story before, but standing in Yad Vashem—in a place where the names of millions of Jews who died, where their pictures dotted the walls—one couldn’t help but feel extremely ashamed, especially when these Jewish refugees would have entered in through New York Harbor, past the statue of liberty—which speaks of huddled masses longing to be free, especially when these people ended up back in Europe where most of them lost their lives to the Nazi extermination machine, especially when Germany used this as an opportunity to proclaim to the world, “See, no one wants or cares about the Jews—so basically we can do what we want to them.”
Yad Vashem. The pictures, the stories, the horror that are revealed within it’s walls tell more than we might desire. For they tell about how peoples and nations view the world. That there are people in the world who are not worth as much as others. That it is not justice for all, but justice for some—and we get to choose the some. That it is OK to rob people of their property, their hope, the families, their future—as long as you are robbing the right people. Whether you are robbing the Native Americans in America, Jews in Nazi Germany, Women in many nations, the refugees wherever they are, as long as you are robbing and destroying the right people it’s not a problem, this is the way we have lived, this is just the way things are—and we know it, we own it, we live it every time we see great injustice and say, “Never again” and then again comes and we do nothing.
We have lived with this reality, this story of the world for thousands of years, we continue to live the story today. It is the world’s story of how life goes, even how it is supposed to go. It’s the world’s story, but it is not God’s story. God tells another story about the world, about human life, how things are supposed to go. And the truth about God’s story is that it is incompatible with this story that we have lived by—or at least acquiesced to, allowed to stand for centuries.
God’s story. It’s a story that begins with the creation of all things good, a story of the fall of a good creation into chaos, a story that ends with the renewal of all things, of all things being turned right-side up. Let’s speak some of what’s happened and what God is about using the worlds of a creed called Our World Belongs to God
Early in human history our first parents listened to the intruder’s voice. Rather than living by the Creator’s word of life they fell for Satan’s lie and sinned! They forgot their place; they tried to be like God…. While justly angry God did not turn his back on world bent on destruction; he turned his face to it in love. With patience and tender care he set out on the long road of redemption to reclaim the lost as his people and the world as his kingdom.
God is on a mission, creating an Advent Conspiracy, to make this world the way it is supposed to be. To pull it out of the chaos it is in, the horrors it perpetuates, the gutter style living and into his story of light and justice and peace.
Here’s how the conspiracy begins: he calls a people to himself—Israel. He teaches this nation what it means to do justice, to care for the poor, the broken in their midst. He makes it clear that when it comes to the stuff of this world that they are caretakers, stewards—that nothing belongs to them, it all belongs to God. He makes it clear that the inheritance he gives in terms of land is to be passed from generation to generation, so each generation has the opportunity to be part of the community, has a place in that community. He sets all of this up and more and then lets it be known to this nation of Israel that they are to be a light to the nations. That they are to so live their lives before the world that all the nations of the world will see what it means to live God’s story and in seeing the wonder of that story that they will be drawn to it, want it for themselves. Moses says to the people of Israel in Dt. 4.
See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?
Surely the nations will says this is a great nation, a wise and understanding people. And in saying it there is the understanding that they will want this wisdom, this wise way of doing life for themselves.
God sets off on the long road to redeem people and the world. He sets off by choosing Israel to be a light to the nations. They fail—miserably. Micah 2 reveals the failure
Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance.
The wealthy in Israel have become just the people that God has told them not to be, instead of being part of the conspiracy, they’ve joined the other side. They joined the system and competed in the system rather than challenging it. They have not influenced the world with God’s story, rather the story of the world has gotten hold of them so they believe that it is just fine to rob certain people—certain people meaning those they have the power to rob, who can’t retaliate. Interestingly those words “Because it is in their power to do it” literally says, “because their hand is god” – these people are acting like gods in their own little kingdom and being gods in their own little kingdom means they may do what they want, rob whom they will.
Two things we want to catch. Thing one: Those who are being robbed are being robbed of their inheritance. This is the inheritance that was given to them by God during the time of Joshua when God divided up the land to the people of Israel. To lose this inheritance isn’t simply to lose a piece of land. It’s to lose your place in the community because your place was connected with your family, your land, your inheritance. And to lose your place in the community meant that you became penniless, powerless, a person without connections, a person without a future, a family without a future. Let that sink in for a moment. Imagine knowing that from generation to generation that yours is going to be a family without a future because you lost the one thing, were robbed of the one thing that made that future possible. This is exactly the kind of thing that God detests, this is exactly the kind of thing that God is working to end.
Which leads us to thing two: God has designed all his directions for doing life for the people of Israel so that they will act as a shining light to the nations, so that they will lead the nations in justice—so the failure of Israel in doing so is not just an internal failure, it is a failure before the nations, it robs the nations of the example that they so desperately need to do life rightly for God’s heart is not only that the powerful of Israel do justice, that the poor are so cared for that they have a hope and a future, but that the powerful of all nations do justice—and when they are wondering what that looks like they can look to Israel for direction. The miserable failure of Israel to live up to and live into God’s story of how things are to be not only causes great pain to the poor of that nation, but it has an impact that sends ripples through God’s entire creation.
God is not amused. Look at verse 3
Therefore, the LORD says: “I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves. You will no longer walk proudly, for it will be a time of calamity. In that day men will ridicule you; they will taunt you with this mournful song: ‘We are utterly ruined; my people’s possession is divided up. He takes it from me! He assigns our fields to traitors.’
Interpreted: I will do to you want you did to the poor, I will take all of these fields that you stole from the weak away from you so that you become poor and weak and a people without a future. In words that can send shivers down our spine, God says, I will treat you like you have treated them.
New Testament. City of Corinth. The church there has a mixture of rich and poor. When the church gathered for worship and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper one of the really great things was they had an all church meal—and that meant that once a week the poor would be assured of eating well. But after a while a change took place. The poor who couldn’t get there right away discovered that the rich were eating all the food, even getting drunk. So that when the poor came they felt like second class citizens. Paul writes this church, the rich of this church and tells them that how they are treating the poor show that they despise God’s church, the body of the Lord. And then he says,
A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. 1 Cor. 11.28-32
God was not amused in the Old Testament, he is not amused in the New Testament when people don’t live his story, when we don’t fit our lives into his story.
Fit our lives into his story, into the way God wants the world to be. Israel fails miserably at this, but God is not about to give up, he is on a long road to redeem people and an entire universe, he is bring his conspiracy into the world. And so Micah begins to talk about a day when God will call a people to himself who will live into and live out God’s grand story of redemption, a people who will be part of his conspiracy, a story where people are no longer robbed, where certain groups of people are not expendable, where God’s people cry out when people are being robbed of their hope and future. Back to Micah
12 “I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel. I will bring them together like sheep in a pen, like a flock in its pasture; the place will throng with people. 13 One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head.”
Here’s the picture, when a shepherd would gather his sheep together he would set up a temporary pen made of stones to keep the sheep from wandering off. In the morning he would go and break a hole in the wall and the sheep, anxious to get out into the field would rush through the hole and as they did they would make it bigger. Head to the New Testament with me, Matthew 11.10-12 Jesus is talking about John the Baptist and he says,
This is the one about whom it is written: ” ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.
A little unpacking. The idea that the kingdom is forcefully advancing means that it is breaking forth, it is bursting on to the scene. The idea of forceful men means they are breaking things open even wider. Here’s what Jesus is saying: God’s conspiracy has come, God’s advent conspiracy is moving into full swing—the words of Micah 2.12-13 are coming true. John has broken the hole in the wall and now Jesus and his followers are breaking an even bigger hole in the wall, they are breaking into the world with the good news of the kingdom, the good news of God’s story. It is good news that comes to a time when news is bad. Poverty is overwhelming. Justice is hard to find. Slavery is rampant. Slaves are seen as that class that you can treat however you wish, as are women, as are children.
It is good news that isn’t just spoken, it’s good news that is lived. Jesus doesn’t just talk about feeding the hungry or giving sight to the blind or setting the oppressed free—he does it. He doesn’t just talk about forgiveness, he makes forgiveness possible by spreading his arms on a darkened Friday afternoon.
Jesus breaks a bigger hole in the wall and his followers are supposed to keep making that hole bigger and bigger as they live out God’s story of redeeming people and an entire universe, as they join in the advent conspiracy. A conspiracy because it is directly in conflict with the story that so many have lived—that it is fine to rob certain people, to take away their hope and their future.
As we step into this advent conspiracy, as we keep making the hole bigger we hold to a couple of things. First, we join this advent conspiracy rooted in Jesus’ deep sacrifice for us. Jesus who was rich became poor for our sakes so that we might become rich. He who was in the very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, he was born as a human being, he was obedient to the point of death on the cross. We see the sacrifice that Christ made for us so that we can know the riches of God, be connected to God and know the wonder of living a life that is truly life. Second we know that God is all about unleashing this advent conspiracy in the world—and because he has given so much to us, because our action or inaction in the world aren’t just about us—but about the world not having an example to follow of where the world needs to go, because of this and more the call to sell out to conspiracy is a call to think deeply on how we can be part of this conspiracy.
Five quick snapshots
How we can be a part in our giving. Tom came up Jason after a talk on the need for justice in the world. Tom and his wife had been thinking deeply about the connection between generosity and justice. They had seen the needs in the world and they could no longer hold back. In his pocket Tom had a check for $50,000: their retirement account. Tom and his wife had decided that the needs of the world, the need to break a bigger hole in the wall outweighed their need to have a safe retirement in place.
God doesn’t put the same call on all of us. But as we make our way through this Advent Conspiracy, how does your giving fit into God’s conspiracy?
How we can be a part in our work. We finished FreeBird a few weeks ago. That look at how our faith and our work come together. That look that reminded us that we spend that vast majority of our lives at work and we need to figure out how our work and faith come together. Or in this case, how God’s advent conspiracy, how breaking a bigger hole in the wall can flow from your work. In her book, Kingdom Calling Amy Sherman talks about vocational stewardship. She writes,
By vocational stewardship, I mean the intentional and strategic deployment of our vocational power-knowledge, platform, networks, position, influence, skills and reputation to advance foretastes of God’s kingdom.
How are you stewarding your vocation to be part of God’s advent conspiracy. By the way, we’ll be talking more about that in couple of weeks.
How we can be a part in our giving, our work, in prayer?
How we can be a part in our giving, our work, our prayer during this Christmas season. How will your Christmas look different this year because you are giving yourself to the advent conspiracy of God?
Back to Yad Vashem, it tells us more than we want to know. It tells us that too many people see the world and believe it is OK to rob people—as long as your rob the right people. But as you go through Yad Vashem you find something else. A place where we’re told about the righteous gentiles—those who refused to follow the Nazi story and did all they could to protect the Jews. Their efforts saved the lives of 1000’s. May we tell the story as well as they did.