In this season we discover afresh God’s dream for the world
God has a vision for our planet. It is easy to forget this. Often we experience life as a repetitive cycle of daily duties. Kids grow like weeds. Our bodies creak in new places. But in the wider world it is hard to see history as “going” anywhere, moving toward a particular purpose or end. Many days look just like the ones before. Indeed, the nightly news reads like an endless spiral of violence and chaos where the strong hold tightly to their power and the weak continue to disappear into the margins, just in rotating corners of the globe. But God has a vision.
The prophets painted this vision for us in rich images drawn from their desert homeland. Images of mountaintop feasts and wolves dining next to lambs. Swords beat into farming tools and cooling shade in the parching heat. They promised that “on that day” those who were blind would be able to see; those who were deaf would be able to hear; those who were constrained in any way would be free; those who were hungry would be satisfied.
Jesus so loved the prophets’ “day” that he gave “that day” a name: Basileia tou Theou. Or, as we translate in English: The kingdom of God. He preached about it every chance he got and offered more vibrant illustrations of what it would be like. He prayed ardently for the kingdom “to come” and taught his disciples to do likewise. Moreover, he gave signs of what the kingdom would look like in its fullness. Wherever he traveled, persons without sight did come to see. Persons who could neither hear nor speak were suddenly singing God’s praise. Persons who were paralyzed could dance. And multitudes were fed. Indeed, there were leftovers. The early Christian apologist Origen once referred to Jesus as “autobasileia” – the kingdom of God incarnate.
We live in a time when sometimes the miracles of Jesus seem like a quaint stories from a distant past – a time before doctors and modern medicine, before journalists and fact checking. Miracles don’t happen anymore except in television docudramas. And the kingdom of God again seems far away. In our darkest moments, we sometimes wonder whether at this point in history it is even possible to meet society’s most basic needs much less have leftovers.
But as Habakkuk reminds us, God still has a vision. “If it delays,” he writes, “wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.” (Habakkuk 2:3) And God’s concerns—for sight, hearing, freedom and fullness—remain constant. In our Catholic liturgical tradition we are reminded of this most definitively in our sacramental life. God still illumines our eyes through the light of baptism. God still opens our ears through his word. God frees us from what holds us bound in reconciliation. God feeds us at the table of Eucharist. In these ways and many others, we come to experience something of God’s vision for us, and we are empowered to take that vision out into the world through acts of justice and mercy. Whenever we engage in any work that illumines, that opens ears, that frees, that feeds, we become collaborators with God in realizing that ancient vision. We, too, become miracle-workers of the kingdom.
Each year as the solstice nears, the church marks the season of Advent as a time to nourish hope in God’s kingdom. During these four weeks, we open the word of God to hear anew of God’s dream. We read the preaching of the prophets and of how this preaching was set afire in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Lest we become discouraged and forget that God does have a vision. Lest we become cavalier and forget that God eagerly awaits our collaboration to realize this vision.
The word of God is a powerful thing. In the book of the prophet Isaiah, God’s word is compared to the rain and snow which does not return to the heavens before it has watered the earth and made it fruitful. “So shall my word be…,” God says. “It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11) When we sit with God’s word and participate in God’s sacraments, we begin afresh to dream the dreams that God dreams. We begin afresh to long for the world God envisions. And we begin afresh to discover the ways that we can participate in bringing this kingdom about.
So many of us want to take the season of Advent seriously. We want to be persons of the kingdom. We hope our liturgical participation and works of justice during these sacred weeks will lead us to a deeper understanding of that kingdom. Come Christmas morn, having been faithful to this journey, may we stand together in awe of the goodness of a God who dreams so much for us that he sent his only son to show us the way.
Celebration Publications December 2016