Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 24; 150, Isaiah 11:1-9, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 3:16-21
Today we enter the fourth and final week of Advent. We look forward to celebrating the end our period of waiting. The date is on our calendars this and every year. And yet …
Does it seem we live more in an Advent world than in a Christmas world? Yes, Christ has come and yes, we sing hymns of triumph but does the world feel like it’s been redeemed? Does it act like it? God’s justice, while undeniable, seems to unfurl not so much from “glory to glory” as with “fits and starts.” The expansion of the Kingdom is a long, irregular process revealed in God’s time, which only on rare and happy occasions – perhaps we call them miracles – seems to coincide with our time. Yet Advent always concludes with Christmas.
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians from his imprisonment, he called himself as “an ambassador in chains.” Though he no longer considered himself under the Law, Paul still did not see himself as above the rules – the rules of decency, fairness, and love. The revolution he helped lead was one of peace and mercy. The body count was decidedly one-sided. While the powers-that-be were not constrained by love, Paul preached nothing but. Though playing by the rules – accepting our chains – puts us at a distinct disadvantage in the short term, the Kingdom for which we are also ambassadors demands a solid foundation. Force, coercion, and deceit are sand; even the Gospel crumbles when built upon them.
In our zeal to spread the Kingdom everywhere, Christianity has too often assumed the language and tactics of the empire. We attempt to impose that which can’t even exist unless it is freely accepted. Winning people to Christ is not the same thing as winning then forcing people to act like “Christians.” Perhaps those chains exist because without them, we are dangerous to ourselves and others.
In many traditions, the fourth candle of the Advent wreath symbolizes love. Since Christ’s victory is already complete, we don’t need to worry about more victory. The best way to honor it is to share his love.
Comfort: Christ’s victory has already been won.
Challenge: Meditate on how you represent your faith to others. Is it an invitation or a demand?
Prayer: God of mercies, I see to serve your Kingdom. Amen.
Discussion: Can you think of any modern examples of the church acting like the empire?
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