The scripture reading in church this morning was as follows:
Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20-21)
I have two comments.
First, I actually understood where the scripture verses were and what they said. I understood only a smattering of the subsequent sermon, but knowing the scripture passage was very helpful to this end. Sadly, the longer the sermon went on, the less I understood … so I switched to things-I-do-when-I-can’t-understand-the-service mode. I read the passages for the first Sunday in Advent according to the Book of Common Prayer, which I had tucked into my purse. I started thinking about the Kingdom of God and hope, usually the theme of the first Sunday in Advent. (I also imagined that all the bumps and holes in the paint on the pew in front of me were part of a complex geographical formation in a minute world of back-of-pew dwellers. But that topic doesn’t get its own post.)
Some translations of Luke 17:21 use the words “among you” or “within you” instead of “in your midst.” Regardless of specific word choice, the point is that the Kingdom of God here – not a distant promise but a present reality. The passage in the Book of Common prayer was from Matthew, not the lectionary reading, but rather the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Another passage about a very present Kingdom. But Advent, a season named after the Latin word for “coming,” has always celebrated the waiting, the preparation, and the hope implicit in the story of Jesus’ birth as well as in the Christian life. How do we reconcile these two ideas of Kingdom – in one a still coming Kingdom and in the other one already here?
While I don’t have any firm answers to this question, I do have a thought. Mary said these words soon after she discovered she was pregnant with Jesus:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden,
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm:
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich He has sent empty away.
He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy;
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His posterity forever.
The reality of the Messiah was present, was growing within her, was alive, was cause for a song of praise to the incredible work of God. But she was also waiting, preparing anticipating the birth of her son. Jesus was here. Jesus was coming. Like so many aspects of the Christian faith, it was a paradox.
And perhaps we, too, spend this time of Advent pregnant with the hope of the Kingdom, preparing to give birth to the promise of God that is growing in us?
picture found here