Delivered at Agnus Dei Lutheran Church. Lent 1, Year B.
Text: Gen 9.8-17; 1Pet 3.18-22; Mk 1.9-15
The night we returned from our vacation at Holden Village, I got online and began catching up with the news only to learn that while we were gone, there had been another school shooting, this time at the University of North Carolina. You know that feeling you get when you read a headline like that? It feels like a punch in the gut. It makes you question what is going on in the world. If God is as all-knowing and all-powerful as we believe, and if God really is loving, then why does God allow stuff like this to persist? Why doesn’t God step in to do something?
I’ve seen people lose their faith over this question, finally deciding that God either can’t exist or isn’t worth our time if God can’t intervene in the evil that threatens our world daily. Perhaps it is comforting to know that we are not the only people to wrestle with this question. Our ancestors in faith struggled with this same doubt: doesn’t God care enough about us to save us from this evil?
The story of Noah is a story about God doing just what we constantly wish God would do: step in and put an end to evil. However, the problem, we soon learn, is that evil lives in us. The only way for God to effectively wipe out the violence and cruelty in the world is to wipe out all the people; so that’s what God does. Even the most righteous person alive—Noah, a man with the patience of a saint and the disposition of an angel—is not perfect. Sin and evil survive even in him, and so God’s intervention fails.
That is why when we read this story from Genesis today, you will notice that God’s promise is one-directional: God makes no demands of us nor lays any responsibilities on humanity. God simply promises to never again destroy the world because it didn’t work, and it wasn’t worth the lives that were lost or the pain that God’s heart endured at the destruction of God’s creation.
That is also why we don’t see God stepping in to eradicate evil today: because of Noah’s story, we know both that the price is too high, and that it wouldn’t work anyway. God hasn’t given up, though. God promised Noah to never again destroy the world with a flood; but God has sent another flood to save us.
The flood I mean is the flood of baptism. The author of 1 Peter neatly draws the connection between our baptism and the flood of Noah. Baptism is God’s flood now, God’s attempt to rid the world of violence, cruelty, injustice and destruction. At our Ash Wednesday worship service, Pastor Stephanie explained how God’s grace is like a circle—it has no beginning and no end; you can’t “fall off” of it if you go too far to one side. The author of 1 Peter reminds us that God’s salvation is “once for all,” that like God’s promise to Noah, it is not dependent on anything we do or don’t do, on anything we believe or don’t believe. God doesn’t work that way: the flood has already come, and by God’s grace we have already been spared.
There are two ways to respond to the reprieve God has granted us. The first is to live however we please without regard for the consequences, knowing that God has promised not to stop us from destroying ourselves or others any way we choose. This is bad news for us, because it means that it is well within our power as humans to corrupt God’s creation worse than during the time of Noah.
However, we can also respond with gratitude, living our lives dedicated to the one who has saved us, the one who loves the world and the people around us more deeply than we ever could. This is the good news, because with God as our guide we have also been given the power to bring about the fullness of God’s reign on earth, and to really, actually eradicate the problem of evil in our world.
That is why God sent the Son to live among us. Evil will not be overcome with force or violence—we know that from the story of Noah—so Jesus came to show us the way to overcome evil with compassion, obedience, and love. Rather than destroying those who do evil, Jesus chose to be destroyed by evil, and in so doing, showed us that evil can never destroy the power of God’s grace. So it is the grace that saves us, not the violence; and it is that grace which we have been given in our baptism. Just as the flood of rain brought destruction to the world, the flood of baptism brings grace and life, and we are the agents of that grace; we are the raindrops of God’s new flood.
That is why we observe Lent. Lent is a time for us to examine ourselves, our actions, and our world, to intentionally look around at what God is doing and to see how God is inviting us to be a part of it. It is also a time to look around and see the ways we are not working for God’s reign, and to ask for God’s help to re-center our hearts and minds on God, rather than ourselves. In other words, to “repent.”
To borrow a phrase from our letter today, Lent is our time to “appeal to God for a good conscience,” to realize we are not perfect and are sometimes a part of the problem, and to ask God to continue transforming us into part of the solution by conforming our wills to God’s. God’s will is for the healing and restoration of the world, and that is the work which Christ began. Together as the Body of Christ, formed by baptism, that is the work we continue in his name.
We read today how even Jesus began his work with a period of fasting and preparation. So, we too take time to prepare ourselves for the work of our baptism—God’s saving work in the world. Some of the ways we prepare ourselves might be through fasting, prayer, self-examination, works of love, or sacrificial giving to causes for the healing of creation. These are disciplines of Lent which help us to remember to put the needs and benefits of the world ahead of our own individual desires.
We practice them together so that we can support one another as we do them. When I was growing up, I was taught that it was best to keep your Lenten devotion private: it’s between you and God. However, it can help for us to share them with each other so that we can support one another. We observe Lent together to remember that we are not alone; and one of the ways we get the most support and strength for our discipline is through gathering for worship and sharing the Holy Supper. Whatever you might do during Lent to prepare yourself for the work of your baptism, the point should be to shift the focus from ourselves and our needs and desires to God’s will, because if God’s will is done, then our needs will be met, too.
This is what we mean when as Lutheran Christians we talk about salvation. Contrary to the way some see it, salvation is not just about being granted a seat in heaven. Salvation is also being granted the assurance of God’s love and grace so that no matter what happens, we can live without fear, working ever and always for God’s kingdom on earth, and knowing that we are helping bring about God’s reign as the Body of Christ.
Salvation is knowing that nothing—not racism or classism, not riots or beheadings, not political wrangling or outright civil wars—can stop the flood of God’s grace from saving this world and everyone in it from the evil that holds us captive. Salvation is knowing that even when we fall short, when we lose focus, when we forget what it is we are called to do, God’s grace is at work in us, and slowly but surely, God is completing the work begun in the flood, the work continued at the cross, the work charged to us in our baptism. Salvation is knowing that though evil endures in the world, God’s love is stronger.
Delivered at Agnus Dei Lutheran Church. Baptism of our Lord, Year B.
Text: Gen 1.1-5; Ps 29; Acts 19.1-7; Mk 1.4-13
Right from the outset, Mark’s gospel is setting us up to be surprised. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” it announces. Whether we are 1st century Palestinians or 21st century Washingtonians, these words conjure up for us certain expectations, all of which are tipped on their heads when we meet Jesus.
As people flock from all over Judea and Jerusalem to see John the Baptizer, he tells them of one more powerful than he who is coming. This one, he says, will be so far beyond him that he would not even make a worthy slave for the one who will come—unworthy even to untie his shoes. While John baptizes with plain, old water, this one will baptize with the Holy Spirit. And that’s when we meet Jesus.
In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee. Nazareth is so small and obscure that nobody from Judea would have known it existed, and even Galileans who had heard of the place could hardly believe that “anything good could come out of Nazareth.” (Jn 1.46) Yet, this is from where the Christ, the Son of God, comes. The one who baptizes with the Spirit comes down to the Jordan, and what happens? He is baptized with plain, old water by plain, old John—John who is unworthy even to untie his shoes.
Why? If Jesus is God’s Son, if Jesus has no need for repentance or forgiveness of sins, if Jesus is so much greater than John, why does he come down to the Jordan and allow himself to be washed by John? The author of Matthew’s gospel struggled with this: he includes the story that when Jesus arrives, John refuses to baptize him at first. “No, this is all backwards,” he says, “You should be baptizing me!”
The author of Mark’s gospel has no such story, no such justification for this strange scene. He simply lets us dwell in the irony of the long awaited Messiah, the Son of God himself, coming from Nazareth and receiving the baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins by John in the Jordan. The gospel writer knows this will make our ears tingle, and he wants us to pay attention. This event at the river isn’t just something that happened to Jesus along the way, this is the “beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Of the four gospels in our Bible, Mark’s was the first written. The author is not eloquent or literary; his writing is terse, simple, and sparse. He had probably never written anything on this scale before, and very probably had never even heard or read a gospel before. Obviously, the most important part of Jesus’ story—the part that makes it memorable—is his death and resurrection, but our narrator doesn’t start there. As he starts from scratch and invents the genre of “gospel,” the event with which he chooses to begin his account of Jesus’ life is his baptism.
This is because in Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ baptism is the defining moment of his ministry. Without the baptism, there are no miracles, no parables, no Passion and no resurrection. It is the baptism which sets everything else in motion. The first thing we learn about Jesus in Mark’s gospel is not something he did, but something God did to him.
Mark paints us a beautifully symmetric, picture of what occurs. As Jesus comes up, the Holy Spirit comes down. The scene is reminiscent of Genesis 1, with the Spirit of God hovering over the waters—a signal that God is about to do something big. Jesus comes out of the water, and the Spirit goes into him. In one moment, God and human, heaven and earth meet at one single point, one person, and that’s when everything begins to happen. As the water runs down Jesus’ face, a voice from heaven tells him “You are my son, the beloved. In you I am well pleased.” The story isn’t clear if anybody else heard this, or just Jesus. He comes up, the Spirit comes down, and “immediately” the Spirit drives him into the wilderness.
Mark’s gospel is painfully clear that baptism is not just a beginning, but the beginning. Even for Jesus, God’s own Son, baptism is the event that propelled him into the wilderness, to Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem, and ultimately to Calvary and the empty tomb. The baptism with plain, old water that marks the beginning of Jesus’ story is the same baptism that marks the beginning of ours. The Spirit Jesus received at his baptism drove him into the wilderness, and we receive the same Spirit at ours. The question is left hanging: where is the Spirit driving us?
When Jesus comes up out of the water, the narrator tells us that the heavens were “torn apart” as the Spirit descended into him and the voice named him God’s Son. We see this scene repeated in reverse at the moment of his death: as Jesus “breathes out” his spirit, the temple curtain which separated the Holy of Holies from the world—embroidered with mystical images of the heavens*—was “torn apart,” and the centurion standing at the foot of the cross names him God’s Son. When the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, the cross is where that road led him. That moment in the river changed him; in that moment God’s heart and Christ’s combined in perfect rhyme. God’s Spirit compelled him to live—and ultimately to die—to bring about God’s kingship on earth.
In my experience, people often see baptism as the punch on their ticket into heaven. It’s how they know they are “saved.” This is true, but like everything else Mark’s gospel teaches us about Jesus and God’s kingship, it is not true in the way we expect. Baptism is not about reserving our seat on the train bound for glory; it is about receiving God’s Spirit, the Spirit which drives us into the wilderness, drives us to live dangerously, drives us to give our lives for God and God’s will. Baptism is about salvation, but not ours: baptism is about the salvation of God’s good creation.
Baptism is what connects us to Jesus, what ties us both to his death and to his resurrection. Jesus’ baptism marked the moment when the heart of God and the heart of Christ were combined in perfect rhyme; for us as well, it marks for each of us the moment when our hearts are made to beat in time with theirs, and we are added to the dance.** In baptism, God’s Spirit makes its mark on us, too, and we are driven into the wilderness to face temptation, hardship, maybe even death, but always with the words from heaven ringing in our ears: “You are my child, the beloved. In you, I am well pleased.”
In baptism, Christ became like us—just another face in the crowd, just another sinner dunked under the water. Then, because he is who he is, in baptism, we become like him—children of God sharing in his resurrected life. Before we do anything, before we confess anything, before we accomplish or believe or prove anything, God claims us and calls us beloved. Then, we are sent out. Baptism is where everything begins. Baptism is where God’s kingdom begins.
* “…but before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation, but was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air, and by the purple the sea; two of them having their colors the foundation of this resemblance; but the fine flax and the purple have their own origin for that foundation, the earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens, excepting that of the [twelve] signs, representing living creatures.” Josephus, War of the Jews. 5.5.4
** References to our hymn of the day which followed this sermon in worship: “O Christ, Your Heart, Compassionate“
Delivered at Agnus Dei Lutheran Church. Christmas Eve.
Text: Lk 2.1-20
“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” We’ve all got a mental image of these shepherds. For most of us, it’s probably the kind of picture that we so often see portrayed in Christmas cards and Nativity scenes: gentle men with beards and crooks, dressed in humble robes, maybe one of them is carrying a lamb over his shoulders. For a baby born in a camel stall, they seem the perfect visitors. Their presence completes the scene of Jesus’ humble birth among the noble livestock in the stable. The reality of shepherds, however, is a bit different.
In the time of the Bible, shepherding was not a respected profession. Shepherds were stereotyped as liars, degenerates, and thieves. Shepherding was the work you took when you couldn’t hold down a respectable job. Because they spent all their time out in the fields with sheep, not only did they stink, but they also lacked the manners and etiquette of polite society.
The testimony of a shepherd was inadmissible in court because they couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth, and many towns had ordinances barring them from entering the city limits. Luke tells us these shepherds were watching their flocks by night, which is to say that they were guarding their sheep from theft by other shepherds, probably while armed.
The religious establishment took particular exception to shepherds. Because of their profession, they were unable to keep the Sabbath, and were ritually unclean and therefore unable to enter the temple. The Pharisees considered shepherds the scum of society, as bad as prostitutes and tax collectors.
These were not the meek and gentle folk we have represented in our children’s story bibles. They were frightening, dangerous, and unpredictable. If Luke were setting this story in 2014, the heavenly chorus might appear to a gang of Hell’s Angels.
Luke’s gospel is full of stories of God reaching out to the people on the margins, on the outside. Jesus spends most of his time with these “sinners,” assuring them that God cares for them, too. But shepherds—isolated from society, shunned by religious folk, feeling disappointed or abandoned by God—they weren’t just outsiders. They had given up caring that they were on the outside. As far as they were concerned, God wanted nothing to do with them, and they wanted nothing to do with God. They had given up on God.
Yet, these are the people to whom God sent angels to declare the birth of Christ. The word “angel” literally means “messenger;” it was not uncommon for kings and dignitaries to send messengers—“angels”—to announce the birth of an heir or victory in battle. However, these “angels” were typically sent to other kings and dignitaries. God’s angels were sent to shepherds; shady men who wanted nothing to do God. They may have given up on God, God had not given up on them.
This was no accident. God sent the heavenly messengers to shepherds for the same reason that Jesus was born a peasant in a stable rather than as a prince in a palace: because Jesus is Emmanuel—“God-with-us”—and God can only be with us where we are. God doesn’t seek out the people who have it all together, but the unwed mothers, the doubting fiancées, the shepherds. When we are at our most ragged, that is where God meets us.
We have not just sentimentalized the shepherds, but the whole Christmas story. We sing of the silent, holy night when all was calm and bright, we sing of a newborn baby who neither fusses nor blows out his diaper. These things weren’t any more real 2000 years ago than they are now. We forget the scene that Luke paints for us in this story: foreign armies occupied Palestine and Caesar issued decrees and edicts from Rome. A very pregnant Mary travels with Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem on a donkey, only to find the town so packed that the inn is full, and they must sleep in the stable with the livestock. This night is far from peaceful, far from quiet. It is just like the world around us now: buzzing with activity, filled with fear, and balanced on the edge of despair.
I had somebody say to me the other day that Christmas should be a time of happiness because we are expecting a baby, and that is always a happy occasion. It’s true that Christmas brings good news which should lighten all our hearts, but that doesn’t mean that everybody is happy. Any new mother will tell you that the birth of a child brings not only joy, but worry about money, fear for the baby’s health and well-being, doubt over whether we’ll make good parents. Many of us this time of year are like the shepherds, stuck out in the fields, experiencing loneliness, grief, depression, or anger. For many of us Christmas is a time of sadness, rather than joy. It is to those of us stuck in the fields, choking on the darkness in the world, that God’s messengers come in light to announce the good news: Emmanuel is born.
This messiness of life is precisely when and where God chooses to enter it. If we deny the realness of Christmas, forget about the fear and the pain and worry, we forget its importance. Jesus did not come to help us avoid life’s burdens, but to bear them beside us, to be “God-with-us.” He came for the sake of the shepherds and all those who don’t feel worthy of God’s presence, to announce to us that God has not given up on us.
It is in the midst of the worries and the sorrows of this world that we hear God’s promise announced most clearly. It is in the chaos of protests and riots over slain young men, in the terror of ISIS executions, in the agonizing grief of police officers gunned down in their patrol cars and children attacked in their elementary schools, in the clamor of the jobless, the hungry, the immigrant, and the voiceless crying out for justice that God suddenly slips into our world with a message: “Unto you this day is born a savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The sign of this savior from God is not a remedy to our problems or a king arriving in glory, but a simple child, swaddled and lying in a feed trough.
If we only imagine the Christmas card version of Jesus’ birth with its serene smiles and reverent creatures and poor-but-noble shepherds, then this story has nothing to offer us, because we don’t live in a Christmas card. Christmas becomes just another day, the Christ child just another baby. We will only expect to find God when things are going well and we are content and happy. The real world is much more complicated, much more dangerous. Thankfully, it was into this real world that Christ came, not the one on the front of the Christmas card. When we find ourselves down and out and at our worst—in the fields by night—we know that God will find us there.
This is the good news which God’s messenger angels brought to the shepherds that night: that even out here in the fields of despair, even isolated from the rest of society, in spite of who you may be and what you may have done, this good news is for you. You may have given up on God, and it may seem like God could care less you, but today, a savior is born for you. Even when it doesn’t seem like it, God is paying attention, and God is doing something. God doesn’t just sit up on some throne somewhere watching us, God is here with us. Christ came to walk alongside us and share our burdens. He came as living proof that not even death can keep God’s presence away from us and to help us experience a life rich with that presence, a life that is eternal.
Perhaps the best news of all is that while we are all gathered in here tonight, even now God’s messengers are proclaiming that news to shepherds out there in those fields. Even now, the heavenly chorus is somewhere singing to a bunch of people who have no need of God to tell them that Christ has come to be with them, too. Not only that, God is inviting us to be those angels, those messengers, proclaiming the good news of God-with-us.
Even the shepherds—rejected and despised by everyone—left that night praising and glorifying God, because they saw that God’s promise is true. God is with us; the King of Glory comes to us even in a manure-filled stable. We come here tonight as shepherds, terrified by what we see on the news; but we go out as angels, glorifying and praising God for all we have heard and seen, as it had been told to us: Christ is born in Bethlehem. God is with us, now and forevermore.
Delivered at Agnus Dei Lutheran Church. Advent 2, Year B.
Text: Isa 40.1-11; 2Pet 3.8-15a; Mk 1.1-8
“The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness.” The Church has been waiting 2000 years for Christ to return, and today we are still waiting. Considering that the Church in the time of the New Testament believed that Jesus would be coming back in their lifetimes, this is an awfully long time to wait. Yet, to date, Jesus has still not returned; and yet, we continue to celebrate Advent, where we prepare for his coming as if it were going to be at the end of the month.
It’s easy for us to consider these last 2000 years of waiting and come up with other explanations. Maybe Jesus isn’t really coming back; it was just a joke, or a story to make us feel better. Maybe he’s already here, and we just don’t know it. Maybe his return was metaphorical, and he is constantly coming back in small, subtle ways. Maybe his return is sacramental, and he comes down from heaven to be with us every week in the meal. On some level, all these are true (well, probably not the first one), but “do not ignore this one fact, Beloved, that the Lord is not slow about his promise:” Jesus will return, in person—whatever that might look like—to judge the world and complete the work of creation by fulfilling the kingdom of heaven on earth—where righteousness is at home.
In an age of reason and pluralism, the promise that Jesus will come back in the flesh is especially hard to grasp. We want to spiritualize it, to sentimentalize it, to domesticate and simplify it. In short, we want to transform it into something that makes sense to us; but in doing that, we almost always take away its power and its importance and reduce it down to clichés. “Do not ignore this one fact, Beloved:” the Lord is coming back.
Many of you know that before I got to Gig Harbor, I spent some time in Montana with my family. In that time, my dad took me hunting with him. He has been going elk hunting with the same group of guys on the same land for almost 30 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever been able to go along. The two of us—and my sister when she was old enough—regularly went deer hunting on weekends when I was growing up, but elk camp was a week long and we couldn’t miss that much school, so we never got to go along, so this trip meant a lot to both of us.
Now, elk are a lot harder to find than deer. As we tromped around the mountains looking for them, this became abundantly clear. I was reminded of all those years of deer hunting growing up. As a kid, I got discouraged pretty fast. As dawn would turn to daylight and then to noon, the chance of seeing deer became less and less likely, and I would begin grumbling in my head, “we’re not going to see anything. Why are we still doing this? My feet hurt, I’m hot, let’s just go home.” Every coulee that we walked that turned up empty, every rise that we topped to find nothing convinced me further that what we were doing was futile and we might as well give up.
Until the one time we would see something. Then it was all worth it, and we would come home with our quarry. If I’m honest about that, it was because of my dad; as we trudged along and I lost hope, he always expected to find something, and eventually we did. He brought us to where the deer were likely to be, and he kept us going even when I thought it was useless.
Because he expected to find what we were looking for, we kept at it until we did, even if it took two or three trips. In spite of my pessimism and my lack of faith, every year we came home with a deer. I remembered this on our elk hunt. These days, I have more patience than I used to, and more faith. I remembered that with my father’s guidance, every year we came back with something to show for our effort.
What made things more difficult on the mountain looking for elk, though, was looking through the binoculars at the neighboring ranch—the only one in the area where the owner doesn’t allow hunting—and seeing 500 head of elk grazing in the field. It made our prospects on the mountain seem awfully small. Yet, remembering those hunts from years past, I kept expecting to see something. I kept my eyes up and my ears open. I waited, I watched, and I prepared.
I’d like to say that my alertness paid off, but it didn’t. We are very used to getting what we want, when we want it; it’s just a matter of finding the right store or the right web page with overnight shipping. Hunting is a good reminder that life is bigger than me, that elk and deer do not exist for our benefit; they are their own creatures. No amount of skill or preparation can make up for the simple dumb luck of being in the right place at the right time.
However, my alertness did allow me to appreciate the beauty around me and to notice things I may not have otherwise. It allowed Dad and me the chance to pick up some fresh(ish) tracks and follow them for about 2 miles and up about 500 feet when we would otherwise have just gone straight back to the tent. It helped us notice a couple of red-headed woodpeckers busily at work on a fir tree, looking for a mid-morning snack. It made us notice the bobcat prints in the snow, and to see the place where the bobcat sat back on his haunches to watch something interesting.
What does this hunting story have to do with Jesus coming back? To my mind: everything. Last week, we heard Jesus remind us to “keep wake, keep alert;” and though we may not be able to miss it when he finally returns in his glory, if we are not alert, what will we miss in the meantime? Jesus himself was not the Messiah everyone expected. He was not the king of glory leading armies and defeating the enemies of God with heavenly power. Instead, much of the world overlooked the son of a carpenter born in a stable, the peasant executed on a cross like so many others; but those who were alert—who knew what to look for—recognized him for who he was, and they helped him inaugurate the kingdom of heaven on earth, where righteousness is at home.
Hunting also taught me what the author of this letter meant when he said that God is not slow. We may be impatient for Christ’s return, and we may come up with all kinds of explanations for that slowness, but this letter reminds us that Jesus isn’t coming back only for me, or only for the Church. God, like the elk and the deer, doesn’t belong to us, doesn’t exist for our benefit. If Jesus hasn’t yet returned, it’s because now is not the time, and as this letter reminds us, maybe that is a good thing. If God delays in sending Jesus back to us, maybe it’s to give us a chance to know him better first.
In the end, this is why we celebrate Advent: to get to know Christ better. We celebrate Advent while the rest of the world is busy celebrating Christmas. Advent is a time to remember that God does not work around our schedules, does not bend to our individual whims, and that the Church does not have a monopoly on God. In a world and a culture that is so single-mindedly focused on individual satisfaction and instant gratification, Advent is a reminder that we as individuals and even as communities are not the center of the universe. God is up to something bigger than us; than our schedules and our wants and even our needs.
What sticks out to me most in this letter of 2 Peter is this line: “what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?” We like to think of hastening in terms of time: hasten means “hurry up” or to make something come sooner. Instead, maybe we ought to think of hastening the day of God in terms not of time, but of nearness. As we wait for Christ’s return, we actually hasten that return; we make Jesus’ presence nearer and more real by living out and bringing about the kingdom of heaven, where righteousness is at home.
That’s not something we can do on our own, but it is being done through us. When we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven,” Luther reminds us that “God’s good and gracious will indeed comes about without our asking, but in this prayer we ask that it may come about in and through us.” If we are to be working toward God’s kingdom, living lives of holiness and godliness as we hasten the coming of the day of God, we need to know what we’re looking for; and the one who shows us that is Jesus.
That’s why it is so important for us to be looking for him around every corner, expecting to see him as we top every rise and descend every coulee. We won’t always find him, but we will be more open to seeing the woodpeckers of God’s kingdom: the places and times and people through which the kingdom suddenly and subtly breaks into our world like the son of a carpenter born in a stable.
And one day, perhaps when we least expect it, we may just spot the Risen Christ, meeting us at the font, in the meal, in a friend or a stranger, or maybe, just maybe, in the flesh. “The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev 22.20) We are ready!