Monday, December 9, 2019


Isaiah gives us this picture of the Kingdom of God.
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.

When we pray
Thy Kingdom come;
we are praying for that peaceable kingdom of diversity 
celebrated in innocent harmony.
We are praying for an end to all violence                                  
     – domestic violence, terrorism, 
       the nihilistic violence of mass shootings, 
partisan rancor over politics, war – all violence.
We are praying for God’s ways to replace the world’s ways.

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. 

In today’s Gospel lesson, 
       John the Baptist announces that Christ is coming
to inaugurate that Kingdom, to change everything, 
to overturn the ways of the world with the ways of God.  
John is angry at the Pharisees and Sadducees
because they have forgotten Isaiah’s Kingdom vision. 
They have reduced their religion 
            to a way of getting through life,
            instead of a way to change the world.

We need to hear from John the Baptist each Advent 
because we are apt to do the same thing,
apt to lower our sights, shrink our faith to fit the world.
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 every day.

There’s a market for anything that helps.
So, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, 
we tend to reduce our religion 
to a way of getting through life
       instead of overturning the world’s ways with God’s ways.

When life throws us  more than we can handle,
we need a homeopathic dose of religion.
That’s most everyone’s first step on the path.
But Jesus lived, died, and rose again
            to usher in something far bigger 
– the Kingdom of God.

Even for our own peace of mind,
that first step doesn’t get to the basic source 
of our unhappiness
because the first step is still about me.
It’s about my guilt, my shame, my loneliness, my anxiety.
Our basic problem is the my.

It’s being stuck in myself that makes me vulnerable 
to all that bad stuff again and again.
The real liberation comes in step two.

That’s when I give myself away to God’s Kingdom mission.
I can’t make the Kingdom happen.
But, like John the Baptist, I can prepare the way of the Lord,
I can make straight the path.
So how do we get past the Pharisee and Sadducee religion 
of just getting by and take that second step?

We start by changing our basic assumptions about Reality. 
We dare to believe that the life, death, and resurrection 
of Jesus shifted the foundation of the universe.
After Jesus, it’s a whole new ballgame.

When God was born not as wealthy monarch
            but as a poor baby in a stable -- 
    soon to become a homeless refugee in Egypt,
the power of humility won out over the power of pride. 
When Jesus forgave his persecutors from the cross,
the power of love won out over the power of violence.
And when the angel rolled the stone away,
the power of life and hope won out 
over the power of despair and death.

After Jesus, it’s a whole new ballgame.
At the basic level of reality, the spiritual foundation,
the victory is already won. 
But Jesus left us the mission of helping the material world
            catch up with its spiritual foundation.
Our task right now is aligning earth with heaven.
That’s a tall order. 
But Jesus gave us that mission for our own good.
The Kingdom mission is part and parcel of our salvation
because the mission liberates us 
from our misery-making self-focus.

After we recognize how things now stand in heaven,
then we follow through with prayer and action.
Whenever we pray thy will be done on earth 
       as it is in heaven,
we invite the Kingdom into this world.
We are praying for the day when 
            They will not hurt or destroy 
            on all (this) holy mountain
            for the earth will be full of the knowledge of God
            as the waters cover the sea.
And every time we act out of God’s ways 
instead of the world’s ways,
we push the gate open a little wider.

Breaking the world open to God sounds big 
– maybe too big for us.
But in last week’s Gospel, Jesus said the Kingdom comes
            at unpredictable times and in unpredictable ways,
sometimes small ways, little candles in the darkness.

Jesus taught about a pinch of yeast leavening a whole loaf,
            a few loaves and fishes feeding thousands,
            mustard seeds moving mountains, 
            and the peaceable Kingdom led by a little child.

This is a cynical world of arms length transactions
            and horn-honking, lane-cutting relationships –
     a harsh world where people act 
     out of fear, anger, and avarice.
But we can usher in the Kingdom 
with small acts of kindness and generosity 
-- fairness and mercy.

God merges all our small acts of kindness
like tiny ripples into a huge tidal wave 
to change the world. 
But the danger with small act spirituality is thinking that 
the Kingdom is just being nice and polite,
            that God’s ways are just good manners.
God’s ways are often small,
            but they are odd, unexpected, out of left field.
The wolf shall live with the lamb
                        the leopard shall lie down with the kid
the calf and the lion and the fatling together. . . .

We practice Kingdom ways 
when we are the wolf befriending the lamb
            or the kid trusting the leopard.
We practice Kingdom ways when we don’t 
            just gather into our people-like-me pack
            but do some good for someone
                        you wouldn’t expect.

That doesn’t happen automatically.
It takes intentionality and imagination.
It takes thinking and acting out of the box.

People have been known to leave candy canes
            on car windows,
            or buy desert for someone they see
                        eating alone in a restaurant,
            or drop off coloring books and crayons
                        at the pediatric wing of a hospital.

The important thing is not to just be nice.
It’s to throw the cynical, hard old world
            a curve ball, to do something fresh and gracious. 

Christmas is about the coming of Christ and his Kingdom.
So if you want Christmas to really happen this year,
            take a leaf from Ebenezer Scrooge’s book
            and buy a goose for the Cratchits. 
We don’t have to do anything big,
            just something gracious and unexpected.
Surprise somebody. 
Surprise yourself. 
Make God smile.