“Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;

it will come like destruction from the Almighty!

Therefore all hands will be feeble,

and every human heart will melt,

and they will be dismayed.

Pangs and agony will seize them;

they will be in anguish like a woman in labor.

They will look aghast at one another;

their faces will be aflame.

See, the day of the Lord comes,

cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,

to make the earth a desolation,

and to destroy its sinners from it.

For the stars of the heavens and their constellations

will not give their light;

the sun will be dark at its rising,

and the moon will not shed its light.

I will punish the world for its evil,

and the wicked for their iniquity;

I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant,

and lay low the insolence of tyrants.

I will make mortals more rare than fine gold,

and humans than the gold of Ophir.

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,

and the earth will be shaken out of its place,

at the wrath of the Lord of hosts

in the day of his fierce anger. “ Isaiah 13.6-13 (NRSV)

There is a difference between punishment and payback. Punishment involves correction. In a way, it is only done when the victim sees more in the perpetrator than that perpetrators sees in themselves. Punishment requires some hope of restoration and redemption in both parties – even if whatever was taken or destroyed cannot be brought back.

I heard a story a few months back about two women who travel the country doing church revivals and raising awareness of drunk driving. One of the women lost a son to a drunk driver. The other woman was the drunk driver who took her son’s life. There was punishment meted out, fines and prison time served, but relationships are restored and redeemed and now both women work to make sure it does not happen again.

Payback is something else. Payback dehumanizes the perpetrator and seeks only to do to them what had been done to their victim. There is no hope for restoration or redemption. It is exemplified in the phrase, “an eye for an eye” which Mahatma Ghandi taught that when followed, “leaves everyone blind”. Incidently, Ghandi may have taken his cues from Jesus here….

God punishes those who disobedient, particularly those who disobey him to the point of causing harm. Not just intentional harm either. A big part of God’s law is to prevent us from even accidentally causing harm. We harm one another when we let our arrogance and envy get in the way of looking out for one another. The best cure for an arrogant or envious community is to be shaken up, so they are forced to reassess what they already have and should be grateful for, as well as who they should be grateful to. God’s punishment involves shaking things up so that those who put their trust in things other than God see them fall away, leaving only God left standing. God does not punish out of spite or cruelty… He simply wants us to see the truth that He is the only one we can truly count on.

This Advent season we remember the justice of God and the way He came to earth Himself to take the bulk of that punishment Himself.

  • How does God shake up your life in order to bring you closer to Him?
  • When life gets stressful, who or what do you turn to for support?
  • Does that support bring you closer to God? How so?

From the squalor of a borrowed stable

By the Spirit and a virgin’s faith

To the anguish and the shame of scandal

Came the Savior of the human race

Sunday December 11, 2016

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