Sunday, December 6, 2015


Every Advent 2, we remember John the Baptist
announcing the coming  of the Christ
who is going to overturn the ways of the world
                        with the ways of God.  
John shouted that something was about to happen
that would change everything.
God’s promise was about to be fulfilled,
the promise in today’s Old Testament lesson.

“The wolf shall live with the lamb
            the leopard shall lie down with the kid
the calf and the lion and the fatling together
            and a little child shall lead them.”

That’s what we’re praying for when we say
“Thy Kingdom come, they will be done.”
We are praying for that peaceable kingdom of diversity
celebrated in innocent harmony.

Every day, I pray for an end to war, terrorism, violence, and oppression.
Then I sum up my petitions with  “thy Kingdom come”
            because God’s Kingdom means an end to all that is ungodly.
In God’s Kingdom, money doesn’t make the world go round;
            love does that.
In God’s Kingdom, our success doesn’t come
 at the expense of someone else’s failure.

But I fear we have reduced the Christian vision
            to something rather smaller than God’s Kingdom.
For many Christians, the spiritual project is just to be forgiven for our sins
            and go to heaven when we die.
We have the church to provide spiritual support along the way.
Those are not small things.
They are important and wonderful and gracious.
I need my sins forgiven, I hope to go to heaven,
            and I need your support and encouragement
                        until I get there.

 But John prophesied something far bigger.
Jesus taught about something far bigger.
He lived, died, and rose again
            to usher in something far bigger – the Kingdom of God.

John’s Kingdom vision is just the Jewish vision taken all the way.
What makes John so angry at the Pharisees and Sadducees
is that they have lost sight of the Kingdom vision.
They have reduced their religion to a way to get through life,
            instead of a way to change the world
            and have their own hearts broken open in the process.

We need to read John the Baptist each Advent
because we do the same thing.
We make our faith smaller than the vision Jesus showed us.
We  downsize the mission to something easier to manage.
But it isn’t entirely our fault.
There’s a reason we’ve lowered our expectations.
John the Baptist expected Jesus to make the Kingdom of God
            happen right then and there.

Instead, Jesus taught about a Kingdom that comes
            in unexpected ways at unpredictable times.
Instead of a political revolution, we got the crucifixion
            and the resurrection.

But the world kept right on turning.
And it kept being a mixed bag of good and evil.
The first Christians hoped Jesus would come again right away
            to finish what he had started.
But centuries passed and the world kept turning.
It looked like nothing had changed after all.

Eventually, we began to do what the Pharisees and Sadducees did.
We reduced our religion to a way of getting through life
            instead of overturning to world’s ways with God’s ways.
The problem is that doesn’t work so well.
We come to Church, we come to God,
            when life throws us more than we can handle.
We need help with our guilt, our shame, our loneliness, our anxiety.
We need some grace so we ask God for it.
That is right and good. I do it everyday.
And God helps us.  The Church helps us.
Our faith holds us up.
That’s good. It’s where we all start on the path.
It’s the first step.

But there’s a second step that makes all the difference.
The first step doesn’t get to the basic source of our unhappiness
because the first step is still all about me.
It’s about my guilt, my shame, my loneliness, my anxiety.
The basic problem in all of that is the “my.”

The fact that I am so stuck in myself
            makes me vulnerable to all that bad stuff again and again.
The real liberation and healing comes in step two.
Step two is when I give myself away to God’s Kingdom mission.
I can’t make the Kingdom happen anymore than John the Baptist could.
But, like John, I can help to prepare the way of the Lord,
I can help to make straight the way.
So how do we take that second step?
How do we move past the smaller vision,
            the Pharisee and Sadducee religion of just getting through life?
How do we lay our lives on the altar for the Kingdom mission?
How do we take up our cross and follow Jesus?

We start by trusting something
            that we can’t rationally understand,
            something  that is so big we can’t get our heads around it.
Our heads aren’t big enough to take in what has happened.

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus shifted the foundation of the universe.
The power of innocence won out over cynical politics
            when God was born not as wealthy monarch
                        but as a poor baby in a stable.
The power of love won out over the power of violence
            when Jesus forgave his persecutors.
The power of life won out over death
            when the angel rolled the stone away.
At the basic level of reality, the foundation we call heaven,
            the victory is already won.
But Jesus left us the mission of helping the material world
            catch up with its spiritual foundation.

We pray, “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done,
                        on earth as it is in heaven.”
Our task, the job Jesus gave us in the Great Commission,
 is aligning earth with heaven.
Jesus gave us that mission to accomplish in partnership with him,
            because that mission liberates us from our focus on self
            and deepens our relationship with him.
The Kingdom mission is part and parcel of our salvation.
So how do we embark on the mission?

We do that first by faith, trusting how things now stand in heaven.
Then we follow through with prayer and action.
Whenever we pray the Our Father,
we invite the Kingdom into this world.
And every time we act out of God’s ways
instead of the world’s ways,
we push the gate open a little wider.
Joining in justice movements   led by saints like Nelson Mandela,
Martin Luther King, and Dorothy Day would be part of it.
But we can open the gate in small ways every day
            by the way we treat other people.
We live in a cynical world of arms length transactions
            and horn-honking lane cutting relationships.
It’s a harsh world where people act out of anger and greed
            more often than kindness and generosity.
But we can usher in the Kingdom with bold stands for justice
            or with small acts of fairness and mercy.
This week I hit a curb and ruined the wheel of my car.
But the man at the repair shop found a way
            to fix my car inexpensively and quickly.
He could have done it slower and charged a lot more.
But he treated me with courtesy and generosity.
I thanked him but also said, “God is good.”

God doesn’t call most of us to leave our daily lives
            of family obligation and duties at our jobs.
But God calls each of us to do everything we do
            a little differently because we are Christians.

The thousand little acts of mercy, the thousand little stands for justice,
            the thousand little repetitions of the Lord’s Prayer,
            all these things are opening the gate for the ultimate Christmas,
            when heaven and nature will sing -- together,
            the lion will lay down with the lamb -- together,
            and the Lord will wipe away the tears from every eye.