The Season of Advent is a time when all Christians have the privilege to delve into their religious imagination and actively wonder what does the Reign of God look like? While such daydreaming might be difficult, being surrounded by the season of hope and expectation makes it a little easier to imagine a world where God, truly, is worshipped by all people…a world where evil no longer exists and where divine justice holds forth.
It can feel foolish to imagine a future world where God alone reigns when our current world is in such a state of disrepair and appears to be on a pathway towards total destruction. It can feel as if the highway we are making straight is not the one Isaiah urged us to build.
When I think about the challenge we face during these four weeks of preparation prior to Christmas, the first house Maureen and I bought has come to serve as my metaphor.
Twenty-eight years ago, Maureen and I closed on a house just nine blocks from the water in West Haven, Connecticut . If Zillow were in existence as it is now, the listing would have used the words: quaint, cozy, filled with original features (original meaning dating to 1929), and in large letters, “has lots of potential.” In other words, our house was the very definition of a fixer-upper requiring a new chimney, new roof, new boiler, new bathroom and the list went on from there. In fact, the house was in such poor shape my mother literally cried when she saw it for the first time.
Maureen and I, however, saw the house much differently from my mother. What we saw was what it could be…a truly quaint and cozy home with refined French doors and natural chestnut woodwork restored to their original beauty. We imagined rescuing the original oak hardwood floors, now buried beneath decades old sculpted avocado green and gold carpeting.
Ten years later, after countless hours of hard work, with the help of many friends, and paying lord knows how many dollars to local contractors, the house we turned over to the next owner, was the dream house we envisioned on the day we moved in. Again, my mother cried.
The similar challenge we face each Advent is to imagine the much different world that results because of the reign of God. As we continue to live in the hope and faith of the second coming, it is essential to look beyond the decay and detritus of this world and imagine what may be God’s dream for this world.
I accept this is a tall order, for God’s ways are not our ways. But we must remember, we are confined to the limits of the human imagination. God is not. This said, the Book of Revelation and the four Gospels afford us a hint of what the reign of God will look like.
Revelation tells us when the reign of God is complete, there will be no sorrow, nor weeping or wailing. Towards the end of Revelation, John of Patmos shares a heavenly vision of Jerusalem where there will be no darkness; the light of God will illuminate all parts of the city. It will be a place where the Lamb of God resides in the center and the people of all nations will exist together and join in unified praise of the God of hosts.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus, too, shares many images of the reign of God. The reign of God is a time of abundance; it is a time compared to a kingly banquet to which all are invited to join in the celebration. The reign of God is where the meek shall inherit the earth, where those who mourn for the state of the world will find comfort, where the poor shall be fed and the sick healed. It will be a world in which those who lead will lead with great humility, compassion, and an eye towards divine justice for all people. The reign of God will be a time, as Isaiah predicts, when the lamb will be able to lie down with the lion.
We we are a long way from the reign of God. As the saints before us have done, we wait patiently for Christ’s return. St. Peter writes with directness that the time for God’s return is unknown. Just as we wait patiently for God to act, God waits patiently for us to heed his word and accept his desire for us. In last week’s sermon, I spoke of how God is dependable and works through the laws of creation that were set in motion so many millennia ago. According to St Peter, a day in God’s time is like a thousand years in ours. Thus, God waits patiently for us to heed the words of the Prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist, to “Prepare God’s way.” Even though the work to prepare the way cannot, and most likely will not, be completed in our life times, it is still the work that needs to be done.
There is no reason to become disillusioned, or to not even try. As Maureen and I learned, the work needed to restore a house to its ideal potential could not be accomplished in a day, a month or even a year. Through years of ongoing projects and renovations, we never lost sight of our vision. As we chipped away bit by bit and room-by-room, we discovered what every homeowner eventually comes to learn, a house is always a work in progress.
So too is preparing the way for God. Until the second coming occurs, preparing the way will continue to be a work in progress. It is the work each of us, as baptized members of the body of Christ, are commissioned to engage in. It is a work, which even at this darkest time of the year, God calls us to join together in, to illuminate and make straight the path for God to walk upon on the day of Christ’s return.