The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 1, 2019
When the King who will one day establish God’s kingdom on earth entered this world, His presence meant the future had in a real sense entered the present.
That’s why Jesus, that King, told people both to pray God’s kingdom would come and to recognize it now had. For while, in its fullness, it has not yet arrived, in the foretastes of it that Jesus brings, it has already.
Today is the first day of Advent, the season leading to Christmas. Today, we begin a four-part series about living in the presence of the future and showing now some of that future’s reality before it’s entirely here.
Until Jesus comes again and sets all things right, His folks are – by their love, justice and witness – to give previews in the present of that future.
Of course, their doing that is as much God’s doing as what will happen at the end of the age.
A decade or so ago, an ad ran in the New York Times that said, “The meaning of [Advent and] Christmas is that love will triumph and that we will be able to create a world of unity and peace.” That was, as Tim Keller noted at the time, an expression of the humanistic hope that we have the light within us, and thus we can dispel the world’s darkness. We have what it takes to overcome cruelty, injustice, poverty, evil of every kind.
Is that true? Can we on our own make it happen?
Vaclav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic, was one of the most insightful world leaders of the last century. He’d peered deeply into the potential of both socialism and capitalism, and he was not optimistic that either one could, by itself, solve the greatest human problems. He had witnessed how the best educated citizenry the world had ever known, with the most advanced science of its time, had given us the Holocaust. Havel lost the faith that either technology, the state or the free market could save us from the moral, environmental and political degeneration into which we are spiraling. Havel concluded: “Pursuit of the good life will not help humanity save itself, nor is democracy alone enough. A turning to and seeing God is needed.”
The prophet Isaiah had as much hope as anyone in the coming restoration of this broken world, but he hung none of his hope on any human contribution. Isaiah banked solely on God’s taking the initiative and making happen what we never could. Despite our weakness and wickedness, God would on his own raise up Zion, the mountain on which His dwelling place was built; would reform the people who worship there so that many would come to them to learn the ways of God; would show everyone the rightness of His judgments of the nations; and would win over the willing to the way of peace.
God will do that, but only the willing shall be a part of it – only those who choose, as the last verse in this scripture says, to “walk in the light of the Lord”.
To walk in the light of the Lord is to live under His light, and so to absorb its truth and grace, and then re-emit its bright blessings.
This is the spiritual equivalent of a biological phenomenon called bioflorescence. Certain animals – for example, 180 species of fish and sharks, many corals, and some mammals such as the northern flying squirrel – soak up some of the sun’s light and then radiate a bit of it themselves. God’s people likewise absorb the light of the Son of God and then radiate a bit of it themselves.
How do we absorb God’s light? By staying under the illumination of God’s word, by facing the brightness of God’s face in prayer, by basking in the sanctity of Spirit-filled people, and by letting ourselves be set afire by God’s burning passion to show everyone love and justice.
And how do we re-emit the light we have absorbed? By glowing with the Lord’s caring and concern for all in our interactions with them, by shining with joy as we bear witness to God’s greatness and goodness, by flashing with anger against evil, and by shining with God’s righteousness, generosity and grace.
Let me give one example of what this looks like, as illustrated in the life of Paul Tripp, a man who has long sought to absorb the Lord’s light and then re-emit it.
Paul had given his teenage son permission to spend the weekend at a friend’s house. Saturday afternoon, however, Paul received a call from the friend’s mother. She told Paul she had just learned – after her son, feeling guilty, confessed to her his part in the deception – that Paul’s son had lied to his parents about where he’d be spending the weekend. When Paul informed his wife that their son had lied about being at his friend’s house, she told him he needed to pray. He snapped, “I am so angry I can’t pray for him right now” – to which she snapped back, “I didn’t mean for you to pray for him; I think you need to pray for you!”
Paul retreated into the bedroom to ask for God’s help. What first came to him was how God, out of grace, had already begun a work to rescue his son. He had pressed in on the conscience of his son’s friend, given the boy’s mother the courage to make a difficult call to a father she’d never met, and granted Paul the time to get a hold of himself before his son came home. God had changed Paul’s heart so that he no longer wanted to rip into his boy, but to be part of God’s gracious effort to pull the boy back from the path of dishonesty.
Following the boy’s return home, Paul waited for the right moment to speak with him. Finally, after a couple of hours of waiting, he asked him if they might talk. “Do you ever think about how much God loves you?” Paul asked. “Sometimes,” the boy answered with caution. “Do you ever think how much God’s grace operates in your life every day?” His son looked up but didn’t speak. “Do you know how much God’s grace was working in your life even this weekend?” After a pause, his son asked, “Who told you?”
Paul said, “You have lived your life in the light. But this weekend you took a step toward the darkness. You can live in the darkness if you choose. You can lie and deceive, and use your friends as cover. Or you can decide to live in God’s light. I’m pleading with you: Turn from the darkness, and walk in the light.”
As Paul turned to leave his son alone with his thought, he heard his son’s voice from behind him say, “Dad, don’t go.” As Paul turned around, his son with tear-filled eyes said, “Dad, I want to walk in the light, but it’s so hard. Will you help me?”
Let us this first Sunday of Advent choose to help one another to walk in God’s light. By doing so, we will manifest the presence of the future and give hope to others.