We are of course, right, to treat the word “judgemental” as a dark slur- that is, if we are the ones making assessments- and if we are, as we are wont to do, making judgements on others based on discomfort with things that are simply contrary to our preferences or assumptions. We are right to treat judgment as a stance contrary to the gospel- if it reinforces our position of privilege or if it turns on someone’s difference from us. There is ample example of wickedness that wraps prejudice and contempt in religious language, of wild-eyed preachers intent on attacking sins that are simply what they do not understand or pleasures that do not appeal to them.
So, we avoid and turn away from the harsh and judgemental, we are just such nicer people.
What would John the Baptist say to us?.
These Advent Days are strange and unsettling. I don’t need to tell you what wickedness and danger is abroad in our world- the news reports have subsided, but attacks – verbal so far- on women, perceived immigrants- nazi and racist and homophobic graffiti on our Churches- and the horror that deadly wildfires might have been not wild so much as arson, there is the continuing and deepening economic divide- and the real lack of opportunity for so many. Wars and rumors of wars- and even distress in the natural order as climate change bares down on us.
And in the midst of all of that- cosmic and systemic signs of disruption- when we can barely get our bearings and know what might be asked of us when it is- as Jesus said- a time to bear witness. John the Baptist turns to me- and to you. Bear fruit worthy of repentance. And even the collect asks us to heed the warnings and forsake our sins. The finger is pointing in our direction and the challenge comes to each of us- not just all of us.
We are right to reject as deadly an attitude of self-preserving judgement aimed at others- based on the spiritual accomplishments we have achieved so far and aimed at people we have not bothered to understand. We are right to reject as evil the judgement that we perceive as aimed at us in an effort to diminish or control us. Judgement that seems to make God a cruel and petty record keeper tallying up minor infractions in a world turned upside down is not of the Gospel
But we are called to stand before the one- who knows and loves us- who can see where we have walked- and what wrong paths begin as simple mis-steps yet lead to dangerous places. We are called to stand before the one who sees the silly notions we build up to defend or explain ourselves which become lies and evasions. Fear, as much as hatred, scrupulous self-condemnation as well as pride- makes our hearts hard- and turns us against each other.
We want to come to Jesus- or perhaps better in these days we, long to be prepared so that when Jesus comes, there will be a dwelling prepared for him within us. And so we expose ourselves to Isaiah- knowing that for the world to change so fundamentally that a child can lead us- and all are safe requires not only changes out there- but within each of us. We stand before John the Baptist- because there is no way to Christ but through our need for Christ- and so, we expose ourselves to the truth.
That is why we are right to turn away from so much that goes under the title of judgment- it is not the truth- not about me – or our world. What I see can be distorted and manipulated- what Christ sees- is us- whole and complete- what has brought to us this moment- and what might be. It takes a life time to listen to scripture long enough that our expectations are trimmed to fit God’s promise- it takes a heart, broken from hard stone into clay that God can mold- for judgment to be life-giving and transformational- not merely oppressive. Advent is such a short season- and there is much to do if we are to be made ready for angels to visit us- for this world to be opened to the presence of God and our lives to be made ready to receive such a guest. But, we are, I think always in Advent.
Christians live towards Christ’s coming- just as every week leads us towards this moment and Christ’s coming in the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day; just as each week leads us towards this moment when the Gospel is spoken and heard- we all live our lives towards the Day when Christ comes and is known- and our lives- like the bread and the wine are transformed; when the knowledge of God covers our lives as the waters cover the sea- as this gracious rain covers our parched hills and fields.
We live in hope, and hope calls us to be ready to change, grow, to acknowledge what is not complete in our faith and what limits our love. Advent puts us to judgment. Because God’s knowledge of us is complete and gathers up what has been and where all of that leads- to test and recall us. Listen to the promise- stones- and rock cold hearts broken to reveal the children of God- a world made peaceable- and our lives baptized into new life, our sins forgiven and our work and actions made to be a witness- an act of kindness and an honest protest against what is wrong and destructive.
We are called – before all else – to heed the prophets, to let our lives be open to the one who judges with equity- to bring forth fruit that reflects the hard work of repentance and converted minds. We are called to look to others with compassion and more understanding than is easy sometimes – and then, we will find a stance of honest witness that will speak against what can not be ignored. That witness received- when spoken to us- and offered- with as much love as honesty, that will bear fruit in lives that are changed.
That change is our participation in the transformation that Gospel truth- that God’s fire of judgement and flowing waters of grace makes as this Advent world turns Sunday by Sunday- to the fullness of light and knowledge- to the full dawning light- of hope fulfilled and God’s promise kept. They shall not hurt- and his dwelling shall be glorious- and his dwelling shall be with us.