When we think of Advent (if we have any thoughts), we are usually drawn to the comforting images of Christmas–Jesus as a baby, peace on earth, good will toward men, etc. If we’ve gone deeper into Advent, perhaps we recognize it as a season of pain, longing, unmet expectations, and hopeful waiting. But have we ever thought of Advent as God’s declaration of war?
Ancient Christians passed to us a formula to describe this war, formalized especially in the vows taken by adult converts being presented for baptism. The questioning goes something like this: “Do you renounce the devil, the world, and the flesh?” It’s a beautiful summary of our three-front war. Against this triple threat, a mighty Warrior has been called out from the Triune community to come down and clean house. The Incarnation of the Son of God–the Father’s declaration of war.
I was reminded of all this last week as our nation wrestled, shouted, ignored, and wept over Ferguson. Many of you probably felt like me after having gone through various emotions…helpless. Really, truly, what can we do? These kinds of moments aren’t solved by changes in governmental policies or even our own willpower to somehow become better, less (individually and/or institutionally) racist people. It seems pretty helpless when our divided reaction ranges from “We don’t have a problem” to “We have a serious problem!” And so, if we’re a Christian, we throw our hands up and look to the sky, crying, “Help us, Jesus!”
Interestingly, that’s the cry of Advent: “O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” God has a powerful sense of liturgical timing.
Last week, I was reminded of and comforted by Jesus’ Warrior-ness when I heard The Modern Post’s new Advent EP, The Low-Born King, with it’s violent, glitchy, dubstepy final track, “This is War”:
This is war, like you ain’t seen
This winter’s long, it’s cold and mean
With downcast hearts, we stood condemned
The tide turns now at Bethlehem
This is war, and born tonight
The Word as Flesh, the Lord of Light
The Son of God, the Low-born King
Whom demons fear, whom angels sing
Alleluia, the child is born
He is the rescue we’ve waited for
The throne of David, He will restore
And reign with mercy forevermore
This is war, on sin and death
The dark will take its final breath
It shakes the earth, confounds all plans
The mystery of God as man
This reminds me of a piece of music written over 70 years ago by Benjamin Britten as a part of his “Ceremony of Carols.” Not suprisingly, given our discussion, he wrote it during World War II, a season of national and international unrest:
This little Babe so few days old, is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake, though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak unarmed wise the gates of hell he will surprise.
With tears he fights and wins the field, His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries, His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns Cold and Need, and feeble Flesh his warrior’s steed.
His camp is pitched in a stall, His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, haystalks his stakes; of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound, the angels’ trumps alarum sound.
My soul, with Christ join thou in fight; stick to the tents that he hath pight.*
Within his crib is surest ward; this little Babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy, then flit not from this heavenly Boy.
*”pight” = pitched
This song goes further into what ancient Christians (even the apostles) called “the mystery of our faith”–that God wins by losing, defeats by being defeated.
Friends, this is our Warrior-King. Look upon this baby, for He is our salvation. And He WILL make all things new by the Word of His power. Happy Advent.