Advent with Barth: The Gracious Judgment of the Nativity (A Brief Reflection on The Gracious Judgment of the Nativity)

Third Sunday in Advent, December 16, 2018

Most of us recoil at the notion of God’s judgment, not because we fear being judged by God, but because we love being the judge.

Though not always maliciously or even consciously, we fall prey to the temptation to be judge, to relentlessly compare ourselves to others, to make judgements about “us” and “them,” to mutter hostile things under our breath about that person in traffic, to be “right” rather than kind, and to justify ourselves in the sight of ourselves, whatever it takes. And we do this because to be judge is to be God. And since Eden, that’s all we’ve ever wanted. “You will be like God, knowing good and evil,” the serpent said to Eve.  We fear God’s judgment only insofar as we fear not being able to be the judge ourselves. It is the cry of Babel, to make a name for ourselves, to be in control.

In Christ, God has broken into this death cycle and said “No!” But this “no” bears with it an even greater “Yes!” The sign of this is the Virgin Mary. As Barth comments: Human virginity, far from being able to construct for itself a point of connection for divine grace, lies under its judgement. Yet it becomes, not by its nature, not of itself, but by divine grace, the sign of the judgement passed upon man, and to that extent the sign of divine grace. For if it is only the virgo who can be the mother of the Lord, if God’s grace considers her alone and is prepared to use her for His work upon man, that means that as such willing, achieving, creative sovereign man is not considered, and is not to be used for this work. Of course, man is involved, but not as God’s fellow-worker, not in his independence, not with control over what is to happen, but only – and even that because God has presented him with Himself – in his readiness for God. So thoroughly does God judge sin in the flesh by being gracious to man. (p. 192)

By the birth of Christ to a virgin, God declares to all humanity that there is no effort, willfulness, or exertion by which we can secure a relationship with God or procure our salvation. We do not find God; we are found by God. And through our union to the one born of the Virgin, God finds us to be in the right.  God’s gracious judgment is this: you don’t have to be in control! You don’t have to make a name for yourself! You don’t have to be the judge! I already love you.

Luther once said, “To be convinced in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing.”  This is so hard for me to grasp, and the evidence of this is how much time I continue to spend justifying myself before others, attempting to create my own peace, trying to forgive myself without accepting that God has already forgiven me. The birth of our Lord to the Virgin Mary reminds me that all God asks of me is readiness, availability, and openness to possibility. 

Or as Andrew Peterson sings:

“You don’t have to work so hard / You can rest easy / You don’t have to prove yourself / You’re already mine / You don’t have to hide your heart / I already love you / I hold it in mine / So you can rest easy Do not be afraid / Nothing, nothing in the world / Can come between us now.”

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