The Violence of Clearing the Way … a reflection on the Second Sunday in Advent …

Peace_no_violenceSensibilities often determine the language games we play. Growing up in the late 60’s and 70’s certain words ruled the day when it came to ethnic references. Move some years down the road and those words have changed. Growing up in a fundamentalist religious context meant being accustomed to talking about the "atonement" in ways now deemed "violent." I realize it is very simplistic to suggest death on the cross is indeed violent. I also understand the intention to talk about the "atonement" in other language due to the ways in which the actions of some adherents to a form of Christianity  exerted themselves throughout history – Crusades and "inter-Christian" persecution.

There is a bit of irony at work when we underscore the peace wrought in the Incarnation, Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus and look for ways to talk about it without any reference to violence. There beliefs I held with certainty. Many of these beliefs were handed down in neat and tight packages that seemed to be air tight. No debate. In fact, maybe for some of you a silly one, was my understanding of eschatology.

I recall talking with my college roommate after we reached Revelation in "Introduction to the New Testament." He heard a view described other than the populist dispensational version he grew up with and declared he had now found a way to understand Revelation. He could not abide the current version and so it was now settled with this new picture. While I had already found cracks, it was difficult for me to get past all those charts and diagrams giving me the definitive picture of just what things will occur and when if only the "rapture" would  occur. Which had I thought about it then meant little to me what would happen under the former framework because I allegedly would not be here so it was really much ado about nothing as far as my personal position was concerned but you could not convince me of that then.

Years lated I have been able to wrest this notion from my mind. But, it was not without "violence." it literally ripped my understanding of what kind of project God was about and left me to wonder, search and study. The implications reached further than "what is going to happen" kinds of questions. I had to come to terms with a wider implication for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It would have been much easier to leave that alone.

Enter the texts from the Revised Common Lectionary for this past Sunday from Malachi and Luke. Reading Malachi for example led me to wonder just what prompted the declaration God would keep his promise and send this tender shoot that would "burst" onto the scene. Issues of justice and confusion about what God required seemed to rule the  day (a quick look at the end of chapter two may help here). While it may be overly simplistic, it appears Malachi at least had the job of saying to the people the way you are thinking about being the people of God and the promise of God is desperately in need of an overhaul. Convinced they could presume upon the grace of God that had neglected spiritual things in favor of their own pursuits (check into Malachi’s contemporary Haggai).

A hard charging prophet living in the legacy of those who had gone before announcing, as Brueggemann suggests, the end of the world would require people living in that day to cash in their firm understanding of just who they were. No small request. You could say the suggestion did violence as it subverted their certainty God would  act for them in a particular way.

Fast forward to the role John would play as the "forerunner" of Jesus filling the role highlighted by Isaiah. The idea of preparing seems to take in the image of clearing. When you  read the prophetic words painting the picture of road work you immediately know the building of a road may indeed mean violence to the earth. We use phrases like, "cut a road." Or, we may note the need to "scrape a hill." Felling trees and burning brush to make way for a road easily conjures pictures of violence.

Announcing the need to change one’s mind about the way of the Kingdom would mean cutting across long held convictions, scraping the lingering vestiges that keep one from seeing, felling lofty notions based on the presumption of the grace of God, and burning away the insensitivity to the work of the Spirit. Sure seems like something of violence to me – and much needed violence at that.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

7 comments on “The Violence of Clearing the Way … a reflection on the Second Sunday in Advent …

  1. says:


    I understand the sensibilities to the language of violence, especially as it relates to something as central to our faith as our reconciliation with God.

    On the other hand, I think it’s rather odd that we could speak of an event that involved a brutal whipping and an event that ended in death in non-violent ways, unless we simply conclude that Jesus’ death on the cross was a mistake.

    I also have a view of Scripture that understands many of the physical/historical events as being pictures of a deeper spiritual reality. Take, for example, the children of Hosea or Isaiah, or the quirky things Ezekiel did. In fact, I see this consistently throughout the Biblical story, from the garden onward.

    What spiritual reality, then, lies behind the physical brutalization and death of Jesus? Perhaps it involves debt payment, but it has to be more than that. I think the image of roads being cut is a good example of the “more” that is involved. You don’t cut roads in order to punish the trees and grass. You cut them so that people may more easily find their way to important destinations.

    If that’s true then maybe atonement is more about reconciliation than punishment – though it be a reconciliation that comes through violence.

    I hope this made sense. It does in my head, but I may not be communicating it very well.

  2. says:

    Certainly we must get the emphasis on the right syllable. As I understand it, out Eastern Orthodox friends refer to atonement as – at one ment. There would be a certain intent to point up the reconciliation wrought by Jesus, the Christ.

  3. says:

    Something I’ve been thinking about is the idea that the crucifixion is a kind of reverse empowerment. A submission to every kind of power available on earth and in the spiritual realms, which would necessarily mean a submission to the violent intrusion on the physical (beatings/cross) and spiritual being of Christ.(“why have You forsaken me”) Followed by a quiet, at least from our viewpoint, supplanting and overcoming of ALL powers that had previously held sway over Christ. This is not to say that the “traditional” story is incorrect, merely that it is incomplete (to borrow a favorite phrase of McLaren). I’m leaning to a both/and view of the crucifixion event, but still processing.

  4. says:

    … as a further addenda to the fact of violence. It seems to be a human reaction to the unfamiliar and may also merely be a human reaction to the incarnation, not necessarily a mirror of a “higher” spirituality. As (I think) Freud said: “Sometimes a dream is just a dream.”

  5. says:

    Good thoughts. I think you describe well at least one of the implications of “submitted himself to death, even death on a cross” only to be “highly exalted” and awaiting the day when his “enemies become his footstool.”

  6. says:

    The BIG problem I have is what is the implication of the previous thoughts on the message that we are called to share. It’s not as easy as the traditional “sinner’s prayer” that I grew up with. The kind of reverse empowerment that is possible with this paradigm may not even be a recognizable event. It may even be that to fully convey the totality, fullness, and subtlety of this empowerment (which may not even necessarily BE an “event,” but a process) we will have to get involved in the gritty details of our own and others lives. Some of this is processing from Smith’s “Who’s Afraid…” that I’ve recently finished and should probably go on my own blog… sorry 😉 BUT that is pretty much the core of something I’ve been wrestling with for the last year(?) or so…

  7. Anonymous says:

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