Growing up in southern Africa, it was a rare and memorable event to encounter a pride of lions sunning in the road on a crisp winter afternoon.
Dad would turn off the truck engine and we would all sit; rapt; barely breathing, until the shadows lengthened and the pride got up and silently disappeared back into the bush.
To see a lion in its natural habitat is truly remarkable, and we were not often rewarded for our efforts. But, more frequently – and almost as thrilling – we would hear the roar of lion reverberate, deep and primal, across the Zambezi river valley.
If you haven’t heard the roaring of a satisfied lion while you sit; safely next to your brave, handsome dad; close to a crackling fire; underneath an impossible expanse of starry African sky — then have you even lived?
Today’s Advent scripture comes from Amos, who was a prophet and also a shepherd.
Shepherds in ancient times had a healthy respect for lions seen and heard. Amos likely had a very real understanding of what destruction a lion could unleash on a flock of sheep and he used vivid descriptors that left little to the hearers imagination:
“Thus says the LORD: As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed…”
God, Amos said, was going to judge and punish his own people because they were religious posers. They no longer looked or acted anything like the God to whom they sacrificed. They were liars. Fakers. Worse than pagans, in fact, because they knew better.
“I hate, no I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.”
Instead of blessing others, the people of God were using others for their own physical and sexual pleasures. And as a shepherd might find only a piece of a lamb’s ear remaining after an encounter with a lion, so would their utter destruction finally be.
“A man and his father go into the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned.”
The people of God liked their distinctiveness in the world. They were glad for God’s protection and provision, but they looked and acted nothing like the one true God. They were devoutly religious and dutiful in their temple rituals, but no different than the pagan nations around them, they sacrificed primarily to get something they wanted from their God.
“My own people do not know how to do right.” declares the LORD.
God’s people oppressed and sold the poor. They crushed the needy. Their insatiable greed knew no bounds. Where they were intended to be a light; where they were blessed to execute justice and mercy, they extended more darkness and dread to the nations.
“Does a lion roar in the forest when he has not prey? Does a young lion cry out from his den if he has taken nothing?”
Advent reminds us that we, the people of God, are waiting for something. What is that thing? We are waiting for God, the Lion of Judah, to come in glory and might and devour all injustice. We are waiting for heaven and nature to once again sing!
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an overflowing stream.”
And Advent reminds us that we are to be busy as we wait. What are we to be about?
We are to be busy blessing the nations. We are to be a people who look and speak and act like the holy God we claim to worship. We are to be about making this world look more and more like the heaven that is to come – to see God’s blessings flow as far as the curse is found!
Because Jesus, the lamb of God, was devoured completely by God’s holy wrath so that not one hair on our heads would be harmed by the evil one. Jesus was torn apart – his body taking the place of all our bodies – even though we were the ones defiled, perverted, and deaf to those in need.
Jesus’ body became sin so that our bodies might become holy.
The son of God did not ask to escape so that what we (rightly) had coming to us – justice – would pass us by. And now God’s own Spirit and power is with us, in us, moving ahead of us in this world, until the final trumpet sounds and he returns in the clouds.
“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome!”
Peace to you today as you wait for Jesus to devour all that diminishes the beauty of God.
“The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent’s food They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the LORD.
* Amos 3-4 and 2 Peter 3:1-10.