I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself,
if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received
from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS 2016
The Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand
Before we go into our “mythical imagination” phase of the Christmas Season, perhaps one more glance at the real message would be appropriate to help tide us over to January. Mythical imagination, by the way, can be wonderful in its own right. Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars are wondrous “mythologies” and are full of truth and wisdom and reminders of important principles. Nobody claims that they are historical versions of any known events in the world we live in, yet they have great value.
The problem with the mythologies that have grown up around Jesus’ birth is not that the symbolism has no beauty or meaning. It is that if we claim they are historical as well as mythological, then the contradictions between the historical Jesus and the mythological Jesus have deep and false impact on any person who wants to be a faithful follower in real life. If Jesus is so “divine and full of miracles” that we can no longer identify with Him or follow Him because we are too different – too far below Him – then that does not enhance the coming of God’s Messiah. It ruins it. If we love Christmas because it makes Jesus irrelevant to our lives – to our true condition – then that is a Christmas that can never invite us to be part of the Kingdom, that never brings us closer to our Lord, that never asks us to leave whatever distractions and goals we have set for ourselves and to become true followers and disciples.
If the celebration of Christmas brings us into January with greater love for our Risen Lord, with more joy in the presence of the Holy Spirit, and with greater clarity about our own part to play (however small) in the building of His Kingdom, then that is a good and authentic Christmas season. I hope this is your experience. So far, it is not mine. That is to say, I have been going through December for many years now, and even in the church and among many sincere church members, there is no indication that we come into January with stronger faith, more clarity on our Path, or more commitment to serve or obey the Holy Spirit. We have not attracted new members, stronger relationships, or renewed purpose or conviction. In fact, much of January is a struggle to recover from the dissipation, idolatry, and weariness of the many demands of the Christmas season.
I do hope that this Advent and Christmas season – 2016 – you will prove me wrong.
Jesus began His preaching ministry with the exact same message that was being proclaimed by John the Baptist before Him: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (RSV) or “the kingdom of heaven is upon you” (REB). (Matthew 3:2; 4:17) It’s obvious, but I will mention it anyway: This was their idea of the Christmas Message. A New Day was dawning. The long-awaited Messiah was actually “here.” No doubt this very same Message looked a little different from the two different perspectives: John realizing that the Messiah was actually here, and Jesus realizing that the Messiah was He Himself. But the Message is the same, and startling! We are not waiting any longer. The time is here – the time is now. The Kingdom is here, available, and underway. The Invitation is now active, and all applications are accepted from now on.
Have you heard that we live in a dual reality? There are two realms running along beside each other, often intersecting. They are sometimes in seeming harmony with each other, yet this harmony never lasts for very long. One realm we think of as “the real world” – the physical realm we see and feel all around us. The other realm is “the spiritual world” – just as real, but known by different senses and running by different principles, values, and purposes. If we are awake and aware enough, we recognize signs of the spiritual world as signs of the Kingdom.
Do we want to be part of the Kingdom? Do we want to help build the Kingdom? Jesus has come with a huge assignment, and He needs all the help He can get. (“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.”) “Repent” is not an accusation, and it certainly is not a negative. It means “to turn in a new direction.” If the Kingdom is here and active, repentance is exceedingly appropriate and timely. Come help.
Mostly the world does not know this, and much of the world will not believe it even after they hear it, as every Christmas season proves. We live in a culture where all around us people no longer think the church is important or viable. They love Christmas, but few love anything about what Christmas is about: God’s Messiah coming to lead us into the Kingdom.
What about us?
Merry (dauntless, joyful, indiscouragable) Christmas.
Bruce Van Blair