Advent Reflection 17: Evangel

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Lk. 2:8-14). 

Not too many months back a well-meaning man and his son knocked on my door, awkward, tracts in hand. Below is the conversation as I remember it. I don’t think it is far from verbatim.

Me: “Hi. May I help you?”

Man: “If you died today, do you know for certain you would not go hell?”

Me: “No.”

Man: “Would you like to be certain of that?”

Me: “Yes.”
Man: [Handing me tract] “Read this. It tells you how you can be certain you will not go to hell.”

Me: “Jesus said not to be anxious about tomorrow. I feel like you are trying to make me feel anxious about tomorrow.”

Man: “I thought you said you didn’t know for certain whether or not you would not go to hell when you died.”

Me: “I did. But I’m not anxious about hell. My faith is in Jesus, not in heaven, and certainly not in not going to hell. At any rate, Jesus is the Judge, so I’d rather put my trust in the Judge than in the verdict. Wouldn’t the latter just be mistaking myself as judge? Don’t you think this approach to evangelism makes you out to be the judge and everyone else out to be on trial?”

[Very long, awkward pause–I waited.]

Man: “Okay, well I hope you get a chance to read this.”

Me: “Thanks. Have a good one.”

When the angels proclaimed the first Advent of Christ it came with a message: “Fear not!” And I can’t help but think that our evangelism about the second Advent of Christ should sound similar. Below is an example of what I think that might look like, singing with the angel’s and whatnot:

I’ve probably watched this video 100 times. I love it. To me, it is a symbol of true evangelism, of what it should look like to herald good news: not a hit-and-run proposition of ‘the kingdom-of-God-and-way-out-of-hell hereafter’ but a public declaration that ‘the kingdom of God at hand’. Its aim is not to promote the wretchedness of man or the rightness of the Church but rather to proclaim the glory of God, for which the most appropriate mode of communicating is song.

Now, to be clear, I do believe in heaven and hell, and I reject the notion that God forces eveyone to accept his Christmas Gift to the world in the end (a la Rob Bell and co.). But I also reject the notion of a Gospel that is grounded in hell and not in Jesus Christ, because that is not the Gospel found in the New Testament. In Acts, for example, the New Testament book that should be used above all for the Church’s precedent for evangelism, the word “hell” (hades here, rather than the more common Gehenna, Acts 2:27, 32) is only used twice, both in reference to where Jesus went but where God didn’t leave him. So if the only thing good about the Good News we believe is that we aren’t going to burn in hell because we believe it, we would do well to go back to Scripture and listen again the message as heralded by the angels and the early Church. 

All evangelism is imposing, but true evangelism like is imposing in the right way, like a sunset is imposing on the western horizon, like stars are imposing on our attempt to gaze only into the dark matter of the universe. It’s an imposition of of light, of beauty, of joy–whoever has complained of such an imposition? And whatever else the world hears the church saying, they should if nothing us else hear us saying ‘Hallelujah!’ Our worship is the backbone of our evangelism. 
And, indeed, worship offered up to God–be it in a life lived, a sacrifice made, a song sung–will have a certain gravitational pull, not polarizing push, because it seeks to articulate not how fear-worthy hell is and afraid we should feel about it–-that’s just not the point–-but how love-worthy God is and how peaceful we should feel about Him.It should indeed function to point to the One who was lifted up on a cross to “draw all people to himself” (Jn. 12:32).

So the grammar of worship is not ‘If…then…’ as much as it is ‘Hallelujah!…because:

“The kingdom of this world is become
The kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ!
And of His Christ!
And He shall reign for ever and ever!
And he shall reign forever and ever!
And he shall reign forever and ever!

And he shall reign forever and ever!
King of kings–forever and ever–Hallelujah! hallelujah!
King of kings–forever and ever–Hallelujah! hallelujah!
King of kings–forever and ever–Hallelujah! hallelujah!

King of kings–forever and ever–Hallelujah! hallelujah!

This must have been similar to what John saw and heard from the angel that flew over “all tribes, tongues, and nations,” singing “everlasting good news” (Rev. 14:6): News that is always here. News that is always good. Indeed, the only news that is actually new because it’s the only news that will never grow old. This: in Christ, God with us!

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