“… mercy is paramount, proportion is necessary, and what counts is inviting the faithful in. …. cast aside historical customs if they do not communicate the faith.” Pope Francis … (The Joy of the Gospel)
Years ago at a conference on evangelization, the speaker made the following point: Too many pastors are working to build up the Church [or their churches] instead of building the kingdom. The reality is that if you build the kingdom, the Church will grow.
Those who build the kingdom welcome everyone, preach Gospel values, make a joyful “noise” unto the Lord, work for justice in the community, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and work in harmony with all who believe. While believing in heaven, the focus is on building the kingdom here on earth before entering the heavenly kingdom. Those who build the kingdom are motivated and led by the living Spirit of God.
Those who work to build “their” Church focus on the building(s) and constructing bigger buildings, “proper” rubrics for worship are paramount, they are concerned about numbers — numbers of people and amounts of money — they teach rules and give guidelines for going to heaven. There is a sense of “us” and “them”, the righteous and the unsaved. Leaders speak FOR THE SPIRIT because they have “divine wisdom” which those who are in the pew don’t possess.
“As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” [Matthew 24:37-44] Before the flood came, people were going about their everyday lives as if nothing was on the horizon. They were eating and drinking … making merry, getting married, working, … whatever they normally did. Even as Noah and his family entered the Arc, they did not take notice. In fact, it was not until the flood came that they changed what they were doing —- and they literally got carried away.
Advent tells us to get prepared — to make sure we are prepared. Prepared for what? How about salvation? For in FACT, the day is nearer than when we first believed. [Romans 13:11-14] Let us conduct ourselves properly.
Whoa — think about that word …P-R-O-P-E-R-L-Y. For sure, the Lord is calling us to appropriate behavior, unselfish living, and sharing mercy as it has been shared with us. But, IT MUST NOT STOP THERE.
We are called to climb the Lord’s mountain. [Isaiah 2:1-5] and to be part of those who “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”
Advent is more than getting ready for Christmas. It is more than remembering the birth of the Savior. It is more than giving thanks for being rescued by God [salvation]. Advent is being mindful that Jesus not only saved us from death, but he saved us for the building of his kingdom. ADVENT is about making sure we are not like those foolish people in Noah’s time.
Advent is about throwing off the armor of darkness and putting on the armor of light [Romans] and BEING LIGHT FOR OTHERS. Advent is about reminding ourselves that we are created for the work of salvation …. for being KINGDOM BUILDERS. This means we are concerned about more than saving our souls — or the souls of those “poor folk who have not experienced salvation like we have.” This means we are about building a better world …. ushering in the heavenly kingdom … for embodied souls.
I quote Bishop N.T. Wright:
Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort, and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course, every prayer; all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the Gospel, builds up the Church, embraces or embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world — all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power into the new creation God …GOD IS MAKING NOW …and will complete one day.
NOW IS THE TIME, now is the day for every teacher and preacher, every plumber and carpenter, everyone who digs a well or plows a field, for every shopkeeper, every elected official, every student, every citizen and non-citizen, every attorney and judge, every one who is homeless and those who work in soup kitchens —- every one of us —- to do what we do for GOD AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
In the time of Noah and in the time of Jesus …. and when Jesus comes this afternoon, and when he comes tomorrow — some will have their eyes focused on themselves and what they are doing … someone will more concerned about their needs than the world around them … and others will be ready to respond to the call of God as it comes anew. At an hour when we do not expect, God is going to ask us to do something new, something different. God is going to ask us to follow a different path, to take on a new work, to light a new path. At an hour unknown to us, God will whisper a message we have never heard before — or a message we heard, but did not understand. At that moment, we answer and the world is made better, the work of the kingdom is advanced —- or we failed to notice and things stay the same – or things get worse.
Our hope for a better world is not baseless … the resurrection of Jesus in the time of this world, in this world — began the work to which we are called. As the darkness advances around us, we are called to be light and to join in the work of kingdom building.
Isaiah reminded us that people of all nations shall stream to the mountain of the Lord. This means more than Irish and Italians, Hispanics and Asians. This means more than the people of Nigeria and Cambodia. It means Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, “non-denominational folks”, and as Pope Francis has reminded us — even atheists.
For a house to be built, the architect, the plumber, the sheet-rock-worker, the roofer, the brick layer —- all must do their part and work together. To build the kingdom requires everyman and every woman being ready.
Let us over these next four weeks to be prepared. I KNOW WELL God is coming in the here and now with a call, a work, a challenge. For some of us, there are a few days left to finish our work. For some of us there are years remaining.
As we shop, as we decorate, as we wish everyone Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, let’s do it mindful of what is most important … hearts and eyes ready to hear the call of God. It might come here in Church, it might come at the Mall, it might come in the silence of our living room. Jesus is coming soon.