Advent: Set the Captive Free

Broken Chain

Breaking the captive’s chains…

More children, women and men are held in slavery right now than over the course of the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade.

This comes from the web page of the International Justice Mission (IJM). This is not to denigrate the horror of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but to underlines the horror of the current situation. Check out IJM for more information.

Photo credit: Andrew Mitchell via Flickr

I am reminded of IJM’s work this Advent because the word “captive” is common in the songs and readings in Advent:

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners… (Isaiah 61:1)

Jesus takes this Isaiah passage on to himself in Luke 4.

Our personal slavery

While few of us experience the evil of modern-day slavery, we do live in bondage to a variety of things – power, money, prestige, sex, respectability, (fill in yours here). Jesus proclaims that he comes to “set the prisoner [captive] free.” Certainly this includes us!

Living in our freedom

We have been set free! Paul in Galatians 5:1 says,

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

He goes on to warn the Galatians about seeking to be justified by the law – an impossible task. We too can be tempted to find comfort in following apparently clear rules and thereby secure our place with God.

These rules may or may not be recognized commandments, but we usually know that following these do not secure our relationship with God. The rules that tempt us are more subtle – “work hard”, “pray ‘correctly’”, “worship the ‘right’ way” – all the things that we do to win God’s favor. Living in the freedom Jesus has provided means resting completely on the fact of God’s unconditional love for us as shown by Jesus’ offering of himself.

A word about freedom

Our culture tries to teach us that true freedom is being able to do what ever we want, with no limits. This is not the freedom we believe Scripture teaches. God has made us to be a particular kind of people. True freedom comes when we freely (!) submit to this reality and work to be those people. So we are not to misuse our freedom, but rather “…through love become slaves to one another!” (Gal 5:13b)

I have always liked the image of a kite to express this. A kite is made to fly. But for it to fly, it must be held back by a string. You might think the string holds the kite back, but in reality, the string holds the kite up. Without the string, the kite merely blows away. Just so, the limits placed on us by love make it possible to be who we are meant to be.

Don’t live in denial

Jesus has a very interesting conversation in John 8. He is speaking to people who have just started believing in him. He tells them, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But they object to this, and claim that they have never been slaves to anyone. Jesus replies,

Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-36).

By the end of chapter 8, they are seeking to stone Jesus!

Does being told you are a slave to sin make you angry? I know I don’t like it! And yet, this is exactly why Jesus has come – to set us free from sin. It is one of the deepest mysteries of the Christian faith, that as we admit just how messed up we are we become more and more free. We no longer need to hide ourselves and pretend everything is “OK.” Living in that truth enables us to extend grace to each other. This is true freedom indeed.

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

We stand near the end of Advent with the celebration of Christmas about to break out. It is fitting for us to pause one last time and reflect that in Jesus’ first coming, he fulfilled the promise of God to free “captive Israel”; in his Return he will free all of Creation (including us) once and for all; and that even now Jesus desire to come to us and free us.

12/5/2012 8:15 AM Editors note: For ESN’s developing Advent archive click here.

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Charlie Clauss

Charlie Clauss works with Intervarsity's Graduate Student and Faculty Ministry in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

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One Comment

    Kirsten commented on December 20, 2011 Reply

    Wonderfully articulated vision of “freedom in Christ”… both free from, and free for a better life with God and with God’s people.

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