Living Into the Kingdom — Bishop B. Penrose Hoover
This time of year, even long before science classes begin to introduce them to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, our children experience the relativity of the passage of time. At some point, often during the week following Thanksgiving, children notice that time slows down. For them, the days drag by with the growing anticipation of Christmas. The wait seems interminable. Hours seem like days, days like weeks. And there is nothing that can be done to hurry things along. For parents, on the other hand, time is moving too fast. Holiday preparations become one more thing piled upon an already too crowded life. There seems to be too little time to get ready, to make the necessary preparations, to plan the calendar, to have everything in place when the Big Day finally arrives. The season of anticipation and preparation moves too slowly or too quickly, but everyone knows that they need to get ready.
The Lutheran Church calls this season of anticipation and preparation “Advent.” It is a time when we deliberately reflect on the coming of God in Christ into the world, and the implications of that creation shattering event for our lives and our living. As society rushes headlong into the Christmas season, the church tries to slow it down so that we can more fully prepare our hearts and our lives to receive our Lord. For Christ will come, ready or not, and we must use our time of preparation with care lest it become one more thing crammed into our already too crowded lives.
This season of Advent also guides us in our ministry of public advocacy. This is work that is never done, but it receives new focus and urgency with the spirit of Advent. We find in the appointed worship readings both guidance and encouragement as we seek to speak truth to power for the sake of the voiceless in our world. Isaiah recognizes the reality of dashed hopes and shattered promises, the fallibility of human endeavor. And Paul reminds the Corinthians (and us) that we already be blessed with spiritual gifts that God will sustain and strengthen until the day of the coming of the Lord. The voice of John the Baptist cries in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord, to self-examination and repentance, and the evangelist Luke proclaims that God comes to us in the least expected way and in the least likely of places, in the most common of circumstances, in the midst of human need. The poor are exalted and the mighty cast down. And all of this comes not because of our preparations but because of God’s intentions. Advent gives us a flashing glimpse of the Kingdom that is coming, ready or not.
We engage in public advocacy in anticipation of that Kingdom, seeing the world as it is but also as God intends it to be. But it can be a wearisome and frustrating undertaking. The best of intentions smash to pieces on the rocks of limited resources. Competing interests manipulate the system to advance self-centered agendas. Ideology sometimes becomes a self-serving idol, indifferent to realities of human need. We sometimes feel like we are the voice crying in the wilderness, an unwelcome word to which no one is listening, or at best, paying lip service. For all the promised blessing of participatory democracy in a free society, the “system” too often seems unresponsive and our hopes for justice for the poor and reasonable legislation to empower the disadvantaged seem futile.
And then, Advent comes. Jesus tells his disciples to look forward to God’s future. Paul reminds us that “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,” who will strengthen us to the end. Mary proclaims God’s bias for the sake of the poor and outcast. And we sense that we are living into the Kingdom that is already breaking in. The words of the old hymn come to mind: “And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song; and hearts are brave again and arms are strong.”
Our advocacy to justice will never perfect society. Perhaps, in some ways, it will make for a more just and peaceful world, but human nature being what it is, there will always be more to achieve. Nor will our efforts usher in God’s Kingdom. Only God does that. The Kingdom is already breaking in in spite of us and we are called to live into it, advocate for it, and invite others to catch the vision of justice that is promised, that we may live into it together.
Our ongoing advocacy in this time of preparation can be shaped by praying daily the words attributed to Saint Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
And the Kingdom is breaking in.
Retired Bishop B. Penrose Hoover (Lower Susquehanna Synod) is a longtime advocate and former member of the LAMPa Policy Council.