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.
The normal way of nations. 701 B.C. A time of darkness for the little nation of Judah. Reports are coming back to Jerusalem about the Assyrian invasion—reports of town after town falling—46 in all. And each time a town falls the people in Jerusalem shudder. Shudder because they know how the Assyrian war machine works. It was a machine of terror. In the countryside not only crops and farms were burned, but so were those who farmed the crops. When a city fell the women of the city were abused, the men tortured, a goodly number of them impaled on huge stakes, the leaders of the defeated city were flayed alive. The king and his troops then held a gruesome banquet that reflected all this terror. For those who survived there was yet another terror. For Assyria did something no other nation had done before them, they deported the people of the land, took them from their homes and sent them to a place they did not know. Each time another report came of an area of Judah that had fallen the people knew what had happened, it made them shudder.
The normal way of nations. God takes us on a journey of the normal ways of nations in the book of Amos. Let’s join that journey in Amos 1.3
This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath . Because she threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth…
Threshed Gilead. A really nasty deal. You made people lay on the ground and your ran a threshing machine over them. But here’s what we want to get out of this. Nations want to be able to do in war, pursue war any way they want to. If terrorism is the way, so be it. If torture is your thing, torture away. If innocent people are killed by the thousands—which by the way is the way of nations, between 50 and 90% of people killed in wars today are civilians, but that’s just too bad. Nations want to pursue war in any way they desire.
Back to Amos 1.6
This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Gaza, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath . Because she took captive whole communities and sold them to Edom…
Sold them…traded people like cattle to other nations. For centuries nations did this, but then something happened. People, Christians began to say—this isn’t right, you can’t sell people that way. And that voice was heard and it changed the world. It’s a change that continues to be needed today—for the more than 30 million who are still enslaved. But the amazing thing is when God’s people stood up and called the nations to God’s abnormal way, many nations changed their ways.
More from Amos, 1.9
This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Tyre, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath . Because she sold whole communities of captives to Edom, disregarding a treaty of brotherhood,
Disregarding a treaty—nations want to be able to break their treaties, their promises to other nations. If a treaty is a good thing, then you keep it, if you don’t like it anymore you dump it. God is not so soft on such things. His deal is, you made a treaty, you do everything you can to stick to it.
A bit more insight from Amos, 1.11
This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Edom, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath . Because he pursued his brother with a sword, stifling all compassion, because his anger raged continually and his fury flamed unchecked,
Stifling all compassion. Nations, even in times of war, are to be marked by compassion for their enemies. War does not allow a nation to forget that the people on the other side are people created in the image of God. War does not allow a nation to become so enraged that it can not think clearly, justly, righteously. Nations don’t like that. They want to be able to demonize the enemy, act with cruelty. When God says, “that’s not the way, you need to keep compassion alive, nations dump God.”
One last one, Amos 2.6
This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. 7 They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name.
They sell, they trample, they deny, they use. The weakest in society are abused. It’s not just that they are not taken care of, it’s that they are harmed, mistreated. The simple truth about nations is that they rarely are deeply concerned about the weakest in society. Those in positions of power don’t go around looking out for the weakest in society. The weakest, the poorest have the smallest voice. Even in a democratic society, the weakest and poorest most often have the smallest voice. For they have neither the resources nor the connections nor the clout to be heard.
Here is a troubling question what do we do about our own history as a nation in this. For in each of these we look in a mirror. We have enslaved and the legacy of that enslavement still impacts us today, we have broken treaty after treaty—as the Chief Red Cloud of the Lakota said,
“They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they kept only one; they promised to take our land, and they did.”
When it comes to war, even what many call the good war of WW II, we look in the mirror and see leaders who approved the firebombing of Japanese cities. Cities that were constructed of wood and paper. The result was the deaths of more than 500,000 civilians and 5 million left homeless. The entire idea of a just war that the tradition that many of us hold to is nowhere to be found in this kind of bombing. In fact, Curtis LeMay who was the one who put this kind of bombing in place said that if the U.S. lost the war he was sure he would be tried for war crimes.
And then there is that focus on the weakest of society. In the 1960s Vice President Hubert Humphrey spoke about the treatment of the weakest members of society as a reflection of a government:
“the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
The Psalmist in Psalm 72 says it this way,
“For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.” (Psalms 72:12–14 ESV)
Does this care of the weak form one of the core concerns of our leaders?
The normal way of nations. We see it in Micah, it gets laid out in uncomfortable ways in Amos. And then comes God’s advent conspiracy, God’a abnormal way of nations. God expects that nations will use their power not for the gain of those in power but to bring about justice in support of human flourishing. Nations, Governments aren’t responsible to make every person flourish, but they are responsible to see that their part of making human flourishing possible is done, and their part is justice. Justice in war, in treaties, in slavery, in dealing with the weakest in society. Nations don’t like that kind of talk, they want to do what they want, when they way.
God’s advent conspiracy when it comes to nations. A conspiracy that he puts in place by sending his king.
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
[He] shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
(Psalms 2:1–10 ESV)
Nations want to throw off God’s way of being nations, they want to throw off the cords that would hold them to God’s ways for nations—but he sends his king into the world, to make the nations his heritage, to break them with a rod of iron and dash them to pieces like a potters vessel…but while all of rings with a violent crushing, the way it all comes together is most unexpected.
Nations are doing their normal, Assyria is doing its normal so that the nation and cities of Judah lie scorched, nations are acting like nations, taking up sword and spear and weapon, destroying rather than building up, come words of the prophet Micah.
In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.
To a people who are watching nations act in their normal ways, who are shuddering as these nations act in their normal ways, Micah gives them an inside look at not how things are but how things will be. Micah tells the people that the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains i.e. God will be supreme: he rules, he has unlimited power and authority and finally all nations will bow before him.
Not only does he rule and win but these nations that are bent on destroying one another and destroying his people will one day come to him.
2 Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
In a startling shift instead of coming to invade Judah, nations are going to stream to Judah to be taught God’s law, or in Hebrew his Torah. This same Assyria that is coming to rape and pillage, will be streaming to the city of Jerusalem to learn how to live according to God’s way. Instead of the gate being bolted shut it will be wide open and there will be an air of expectation, joy. The way that Jesus breaks the nations is by teaching them his ways so that they walk in his paths. He redeems the nations.
And judges between the nations. Here’s the picture. God brings together Japan and the United States and hears what both have to say and then because he knows the nations, their hearts, what’s really going on, he renders judgment and all who hear it know that God has gotten to the heart of the matter and they all accept his judgment. God brings together Israelis and the Palestinians. They all sit around the same table. They speak their grievances, their anger, their hurt. God takes it all in and brings a judgment that brings peace to a place no one has been able to bring peace to for thousands of years. Nation after nation comes before Jesus and he renders judgment that every nation respects and honors, because they respect and honor Jesus. Respect and honor him in a way that the people of Israel, in the way that Christ followers today only dream of, in a way that the people of the nations desperately need.
Desperately need. A few years ago my daughter Gayle spent a summer in Israel. It was a summer when there was another conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. She told me that she and her friends could hear the sound of the bombing when they lay in bed at night, when they were in class during the day, when they ate t their meals in the dining hall. They could hear the sound of the bombs—falling 60 miles away. She said for the first time in her life she had the smallest sense of what it is like to live in a war zone. If she felt that 60 miles away how much more those who are living in the midst of it. How much more must they desperately need the God who judges all things so that the nations listen and respond to his judgment. Listen:
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. 4Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken.
How appealing those words must have been to the people of Jerusalem as the armies of Assyria approached, to know that as God pulled back the curtain, that behind it stood a day when Nation would no longer take up sword against nation. How appealing is that today.
God is unleashing his advent conspiracy where he is leading nations to act in abnormal ways. An advent conspiracy that he calls us in to.
We long for the day when sword are turned into ploughshares, when nations act as they are supposed to, but we don’t simply wait around and say, “well the day is coming”, no we know that Jesus’ advent has come and with it comes the beginning of the call to the nations, the shaping of nations to live out God’s vision for nations and rulers. We know that all who belong to Jesus are called to be part of this advent conspiracy of working in their nations to live in the ways of justice, concern for the least, concern for doing things rightly even in the midst of war, and all the other things that God spoke of in Amos.
Here is the thing. We don’t expect our nation to be a Christian nation. We don’t expect our nation to perfectly reflect what God desires. We live in a sinful and broken world. We get that. But we know from Amos God calls all nations to a certain way of doing life as a nation. It is that life that we call our nation to, but before we do that we call ourselves to it, as individuals and as a community of faith. Ray Pennings in his article, What’s to be done in the Public Square writes,
Christians who take their faith seriously, today, constitute a small minority. North American society is such that North American Christians in general are apathetic and hedonistic, and as such are generally satisfied to live in the culture as it is without seeking to effect cultural renewal.
And so renewal begins with us. Begins with us as we own God’s advent conspiracy and own his priorities knowing that when we do that a some odd things are going to be true of us.
Odd thing number one: we will take very seriously being part of a community of faith, a local church—not just saying we are a part, but invested in that community. Ray Pennings writes,
“Vibrant churches with biblical and confessional grit, sacramental heft, and serious moral discipleship are central to any cultural strategy.”
Being part of a local church where we learn about God, where we become passionate followers of Jesus who long to see lives, communities, nations transformed according to God’s agenda is essential if we are going to speak God’s heart to our nation.
Odd thing number two: we will not be fully on the right or on the left. We will not be because neither the right or the left full capture God’s agenda for nations. At times we will find that the left speaks better to that agenda, at times the right speaks better to that agenda, and sometimes we will find that neither the right or the left bring a perspective that reflects God’s agenda for nations. Now even thought we aren’t fully on the right or left that doesn’t mean we don’t get involved in the work of a political party. What it does mean is that we are always very careful not to wholly own the agenda even as we participate and push back when that agenda doesn’t reflect God’s agenda for the nations.
Odd thing number three: we are involved politics, including voting, for the sake of others. We take knowing candidates and their positions very seriously because we want to vote wisely for the sake of others. We want to know the best policies, the programs that work in government, the way the government uses its resources not because we are concerned that we get our share, but because we are concerned for others. And the others we are most concerned for are those God is most concerned for—both in our own nation and the world. The widow, the orphan, the poor, the oppressed, the refugee, the least and least powerful in any society.
Odd thing number four: we have to begin to fill our lives with alternative ways of seeing the world. We live in a culture where violence is seen as a solution for everything. Movies, Television, Video games all hype us up on violence. We don’t find video games that we play Doctors without Boarders or try to bring food to the hungry. We win by violence. All of this can take shape us in the way we see the rest of the world. We need to be willing to put aside a view of violence as the solution for our problems and fill our lives with other solutions that more powerfully reflect God’s peaceable kingdom.
Odd thing number five: we can do all of this because we trust in God and his promise of living under our vine and fig tree—that’s what we heard in Micah 4. Vine and fig tree—it’s a symbol of living a sweet life and a protected one. It’s a symbol of God living in covenant with his people where he gives them prosperity and security. It’s a symbol of the good life—settledness, joy, peace. God’s promise is that for all who believe in his Son, Jesus the prince of peace, this will one day be our reality—because that will be our reality we can risk now for the good of others for our future is assured.
Odd thing number six: to live this kind of life is actually to discover life, to live a life that is truly life. For in this life we are living the ways of the king of the universe who longs for us to have life and have it abundantly. The way to life is not the ways of the nations that want to burst their chords, but to join with God in his way of life, in his challenging what nations call normal. Now let’s admit that this may not feel like it is the case. To challenge governments calling them to God’s pattern of ruling, to use our political life for the sake of others rather than ourselves may all feel like we are robbing ourselves of life. But God’s commands and God’s ways are always designed to bring us to life. Moses says to the people of Israel,
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days,”
(Deuteronomy 30:19–20 ESV)
Jesus says it this way,
“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
(John 12:25–26 ESV)
The way to live a life that is truly life is to belong to Jesus Christ and to live out his advent conspiracy.
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, that nations accept as normal.
How will you join with others in this Christmas season in doing harm to the ways that nations accept as normal?