...the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, 'The voice of the one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Today marks the second Sunday in Advent - a time of waiting, preparation, and seeking the light in the darkness. Last week I talked about how we can appreciate and participate in the lights, music, and joy of the season even while we know that we are waiting for the Christ child. This week I want to talk about what it means to wait and prepare for something that already happened over two thousand years ago!
When you really stop to think about it, Advent is weird. Often the church wants to insist it be a time of somber waiting, of delayed gratification, of serious spiritual preparation for the Christ child. And yet, we know that Christ has already lived, died, and lived again. What is this break in the space/time continuum that we can wait for something that has already occurred? I first heard the following phrase when I was in seminary, and then again this morning from a Bishop of the Church of Wales - the idea is that "the kingdom of God is now and not yet." We acknowledge that it is a practical impossibility, for something to be both now and not yet, and yet we know that with God, all things are possible.
As Christians we know that the kingdom of God is now - this is why we must love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves. But we also know that the kingdom of God is not yet - that Christ will come in the fullness of time and we will see a new heaven and a new earth, all the old things will fall away, and there will be no more tears. The idea of the kingdom of God as now means that we are not off the hook for living as Jesus calls us to live. And the idea of the kingdom of God as not yet means we know that things here are not as God intended them to be. Yet.
In our scripture from Luke this week, John the Baptist is preaching to the people, telling them to prepare for the coming of the Lord. We read this every year during Advent because we know that these words of John speak to us as well. We must live as if Christ is coming, we must also live as if Christ is here, today, living in our hearts. And, this time of year, we live as ones preparing for his birth - for his entrance into our world as a vulnerable child.
It's a confusing thing, being a Christian; thankfully God doesn't ask for perfect theological understanding, but rather for hearts that are open to the mystery of God's grace. Let us open our hearts this season.
God of now and not yet, we give thanks for your grace as we both wait for your son Jesus Christ to be born, and know that he lives now in our hearts. Help us if not to understand these truths, to at least live into them as best we can. Amen.