We live in a world of systemic evil. Asian and Latin American drug cartels produce and transport their merchandise with impunity because they have bought off or killed the public officials who would stop them and the journalists who would expose them. On the other side of the world, corner dealers battle for turf to sell to the wretched addicts who stumble and sleep on the sidewalks of American cities. Sex traffickers in Thailand entice vulnerable girls and boys into sex slavery and bribe politicians to turn a blind eye, as they sell perverse fantasies to thousands of wealthy Western sex tourists. Pharmaceutical companies conduct drug trials on unsuspecting Africans and collude with health regulators to cover their tracks. For most of our history, the United States deprived blacks of liberty, dignity, and political and legal rights.
Such injustices can’t be resolved by moral exhortation or by rescuing individuals, as important as exhortation and rescue are. Global systems are organized for the benefit of greedy brutes, and justice won’t be done until these systems are demolished. This is what creation longs for:
May the sea roar and all it contains,
The world and those who dwell in it.
May the rivers clap their hands,
May the mountains sing together for joy
Before Yahweh, for he is coming to judge the earth;
He will judge the world with righteousness
And the peoples with fairness (Ps. 98).
From Abraham on, the promise of justice is integral to Israel’s Messianic hope. “I have chosen Abraham,” Yahweh says on the day he announces Isaac’s birth to Sarah and discloses the fate of Sodom, “that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice” (Gen. 18:19). Abraham’s household is the anti-Sodom, a people that escapes the fire from heaven because it welcomes strangers instead of sodomizing them. Under the monarchy, Israel’s hope for justice focuses on a Davidic king who will judge the afflicted, save the needy, and crush the oppressor until justice falls like rain on mown grass (Ps. 72). Israel hopes for a king whose justice will brighten the fields like dawn after a night rain (2 Sam. 23:1–7), a king on Yahweh’s throne in Zion who will shatter murmuring nations like pottery (Ps. 2).
The monarchy ends in disaster, as Judah becomes another Sodom (Isa. 1). Yet the prophets hold out hope for an Abrahamic house of justice, ruled by a new David. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,” Isaiah prophesies, and this royal child will establish the kingdom with justice and righteousness (Isa. 9). Girded with the belt of justice, the shoot from the stump of Jesse will be filled with the Spirit of wisdom to judge the poor and afflicted and to bring peace to God’s holy mountain (Isa. 11). Anointed with the Spirit, the royal Servant of Yahweh perseveres until he establishes justice in the earth (Isa. 42).
These are the hopes that animate Zecharias, who sings of God’s promise to Abraham and looks for deliverance from enemies, so Israel can live in justice and holiness (Luke 1:67–79). It’s the hope that inspires the Magnificat, Mary’s hymn of revolution:
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever (Luke 1:49–55).
Advent commemorates, celebrates, and kindles hope for the justice of God. King Jesus has come and his Father has raised him to Zion’s throne to reign with a rod of iron until his enemies are made his footstool (1 Cor. 15:25; cf. Ps. 110). The promise of Advent is the promise of public justice. Advent announces the coming of the Lord who breaks the arms of the sex traffickers, the drug lords, the arms dealers, and all their respectable collaborators. It’s the hope that God will overturn worlds built on oppression and violence, and will rescue and raise up their victims.
The only good news that meets the needs of the world is the good news of God’s judgment. That’s the gospel of Advent, the joy to which the angels of Advent summon us: Rejoice! Shout joyfully! For the Lord comes to judge the earth. He has come; he will come; he will judge the world in justice and all the peoples with equity.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute.
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