Peace – Let the Fire of Your Justice Burn

2011 Advent Theme: My Heart Shall Sing of the Day You Bring

Second Sunday of Advent, December 4, 2011: Peace – Let the Fire of Your Justice Burn

Peace is the traditional emphasis for the second Sunday of Advent. The question raised by this year’s Advent theme is, what is the relationship between justice and peace? We are focusing on the second line from the refrain of Canticle of the Turning: “Let the fires of your justice burn.” (See Blind Faith, November 24, 2011 for the full text of the canticle.) How do the fires of God’s justice implement peace?

Recent events in Egypt demonstrate the intrinsic link between justice and peace. True peace cannot exist where injustice persists. Under Hosni Mubarak – quietly hailed by some Egyptians as their “modern pharaoh” – Egypt maintained a façade` of peace. Positive relations were pursued with the United States. Peace treaties were signed and upheld with Israel. Some segments of the Egyptian populace enjoyed a considerable degree of affluence, along with educational and professional opportunities. Underneath, however, Egypt festered with more than 30 years of political, economic, and social injustice. Political opponents were imprisoned for contrary beliefs or disappeared at the hands of Mubarak’s security forces. Many were tortured while in custody. More than 40% of Egypt’s population lives in abject poverty. Roles and opportunities of women and minorities were restricted with varying degrees of severity. The accumulation of injustice erupted in the rebellion that overthrew Mubarak’s repressive regime. An American Arab, Imam Ahmed Noor commented on the necessity of justice for peace to flourish in his message delivered at a Hampton, Virginia mosque: “A ruler can ignore justice only at his own peril. Social justice is an important pre-requisite for peace. Injustice is a dormant volcano that can erupt at any time, as we see today.” (daily Press, Newport News, VA, February 4, 2011.) Where justice is denied, peace cannot prevail.

Israel’s prophets received that axiom – no justice = no peace – directly from God. Jeremiah delivered devastating prophecy that God would not tolerate social and economic injustices rampant among the people who were supposed to live in covenant with one another and with their merciful God. Even the priests, he charged, were complicit in the proliferation of lies and greed in the land. The prophet sounds God’s anguished dissatisfaction with the façade` of justice and peace perpetrated among his people: “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. {14} They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:13-14 NIV) God’s solution is two-fold. First harsh judgment will come upon those who practice injustice, demolishing their illusions of peace. Second – and more importantly – God will act to restore and ensure justice and peace for those who live in faithful relationship with himself and justly with one another.

Isaiah speaks eloquently of God’s promise of Messiah, God’s servant who will execute justice and bring peace. He expresses the plaintive hope for peace that looks for God’s justice: “You, LORD, give true peace to those who depend on you, because they trust you. {4} So, trust the LORD always, because he is our Rock forever…. But, LORD, we are waiting for your way of justice. Our souls want to remember you and your name. {9} My soul wants to be with you at night, and my spirit wants to be with you at the dawn of every day. When your way of justice comes to the land, people of the world will learn the right way of living.” (Isaiah 26:3-4, 8-9 NCV) The fire of God’s justice will be kindled, not as the world might suppose in an overwhelming show of force, but in the utterly amazing meekness of a child: “A child has been born to us; God has given a son to us. He will be responsible for leading the people. His name will be Wonderful Counselor, Powerful God, Father Who Lives Forever, Prince of Peace. {7} Power and peace will be in his kingdom and will continue to grow forever. He will rule as king on David’s throne and over David’s kingdom. He will make it strong by ruling with justice and goodness from now on and forever. The LORD All-Powerful will do this because of his strong love for his people.” (Isaiah 9:6-7 NCV) Peace will reign forever because it is founded upon the justice with which God’s Servant lavishes God’s grace.

As Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ mission of grace and peace, he quotes Isaiah 42:1-4 and applies the scripture he sees fulfilled in Jesus: [God says,] “Here is my servant, the one I support. He is the one I chose, and I am pleased with him. I have put my Spirit upon him, and he will bring justice to all nations…. {3}… He will truly bring justice; {4} he will not lose hope or give up until he brings justice to the world. And people far away will trust his teachings.” (Isaiah 42:1, 3b-4 NCV) This quotation of Isaiah’s prophecy comes amid Jesus challenging economic and social injustice afflicting many people and healing many others. Jesus criticizes religious and political systems that cannot provide rest for multitudes of anxious souls who long for justice and peace. No human institutions can provide true peace, only God’s perfect justice and grace can. John records the final verdict brought through the life of the Son born to bring God’s justice: [Jesus said,] “I leave you peace; my peace I give you. I do not give it to you as the world does. So don’t let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27 NCV)

The phrase we sing, “Let the fires of your justice burn,” is an Advent prayer to God for the justice and peace born in Jesus to prevail. It begins as Jesus is born in our hearts through faith. It spreads as followers of Jesus work for God’s justice and peace in every corner of life we touch. It is consummated in the ultimate Advent as Christ comes to reign with everlasting justice and peace for all who trust in him.

Are you living in the true peace that comes only through faith in Jesus? Are you working for God’s justice in your daily activities? In the events of Christmas, the world is about to turn. It calls for hearty singing – the day God brings!

– J. Edward Culpepper

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