We are in a time of darkness and uncertainty. It feels like darkness is covering the whole earth. From bitter partisan politics to worldwide lockdowns, from troubling messages from Church leaders and inaction from others, things seem dark. There are troubling things going on in the world and the Church is not exempt from this darkness.
I’m in the process of finishing up The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien and I must say that story seems to be resonating right now more than ever with me. A creeping darkness pervades and an evil malice is taking over the whole realm of Middle Earth. What can good men do against such reckless hate is the question asked. I feel like Tolkien could have written this book yesterday.
It seems that there is a pervasive darkness and confusion seeping over everything these days, an evil malice that threatens to drown the whole earth in slavery to some nebulous new society that will not lead us to freedom but rather to slavery to the new world order.
It seems to me that the prophet Isaiah speaks to us and our world today in our Old Testament text, Isaiah 60:1-6. “Darkness shall cover the earth and thick darkness the peoples…” Seems appropriate for our world today. This is a spiritual darkness and we see it today not only in the world but, if we’re honest, in the Church.
But even in this darkness, the prophet brings us hope,
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.”
He tells us that the glory of the LORD will be seen, that nations and kings will walk in the brightness of the rising of the light. He tells us that, if we will only lift up our eyes, we will see and be radiant, that our hearts will thrill and rejoice and that the wealth of the nations shall come.
Gotta be honest, I’m not feeling it these days. What exactly is he talking about? How are we to know what he means?
Our Psalm (Psalm 72) tells us what life will be like under the rule of the “royal son.” The Psalmist tells us that the people will be judged with righteousness and that justice will reign. He tells us that the cause of the poor will be defended, deliverance will be given to the needy and the oppressor will be crushed. He tells us that the presence of the royal son will bring refreshment, righteousness, peace and prosperity.
I don’t know about you but I’m not seeing that too much these days. We seem to be a little short of righteousness, peace, justice, freedom from oppression, refreshment, peace and prosperity. This is not just true of the world today either. This is true of the Church these days. There are some really confusing and even dark things coming from our so-called leaders these days and, even in the visible Church, there seems to be dearth of these qualities. Who, then, shall bring about righteousness, peace, justice, refreshment, peace and prosperity?
We begin to get a feel for some of the answer in our Epistle reading (Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6). We see that this righteousness, peace, justice, refreshment, peace and prosperity is for all peoples, not just the Jews of the Old Covenant. This “mystery” that St. Paul refers to is that the “Gentiles” are fellow heirs. In other words, the promises of Isaiah 60 and Psalm 72 and indeed all of Holy Scripture are for all people. And what is that promise?
A holy and righteous King who will bring peace, justice for the oppressed, refreshment, peace and prosperity. Where shall we find such a King?
Our gospel text fills in the gaps (Matthew 2:1-12). The King has been born in Bethlehem of Judea around 2000 years ago. You would think that the birth of such a King would be heralded and celebrated by the world. Peace at last! Prosperity at last!
Not so with this King. This King’s birth begins a revolution. This King’s birth means that the Light of Life has invaded the darkness of the world. This King’s birth is the answer to all our real problems. When we hear words like peace, justice and prosperity, we think money and freedom from conflict. And so it shall be under the rule of this royal Son.
But His peace is peace between God and man and it lasts eternally.
His justice is the justice of a holy God who cannot abide the oppression of sin and death.
His refreshment is His shed blood and broken body.
His prosperity doesn’t involve nice houses and cars, but rather the prosperity of a world that is free from the corruption of our sinful humanity.
This King has come to set us free; free from the pervasive and spiritual darkness of our own sin. This King is kind and has paid the price on our behalf, for nothing comes without a cost. This King comes as a Son, born of a Virgin, running for His life from a murderous and craven worldly king who will have power at all costs. This King gives up worldly power as He lays down His life so that all peoples may be reconciled to the Creator and to each other.
See your King who has come, Jesus the Christ!
When I was a Protestant church planter, there were a lot of buzz words we used. One of those was “community.” We were coached to “build the community.” To be honest with you, I look back at that now and I really have no idea what that means. This is a popular phrase among younger people as well. I suspect our older relatives don’t know what we mean by that either.
It sounds really awesome. The media loves to use this kind of language as well. I can’t tell you how many TV shows spend time talking about this sort of thing as well. We are told that we are to “give back” to our community and “serve” our community. These days, we’re told we need to wear masks and stay home so that we can take care of our community. We’re all in this together. Doesn’t that sound nice?
I submit to you that we are not all in this together.
Those of us who follow Jesus are not in “this” (whatever the world means by “this”) together. At least, we shouldn’t be. If you are a follower of Christ, your “this” will look very different from the rest of the world. Well, let me re-phrase that. If we are a follower of Christ, our “this” should look very different from the rest of the world.
The rest of the world is obsessed with self. We see this in our society with the preoccupation with safety and comfort at all costs, freedom from aging and dying, freedom from suffering, the forced acceptance of unholy things and many other things. Our society forces its own definition of tolerance on its members. And you will comply with their definitions or you will be ostracized, called names etc. You get the point.
So, why are Christians so worried about being part of the world? Do we really think we can “be in community” with the world? Now, by “the world,” I don’t mean other humans. I mean what the New Testament biblical writers called “principalities and powers.”
St. Paul says, in Ephesians 6:12,
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
So, it’s not, like, Coca-Cola and owning homes that we’re talking about here. There are forces at work that we cannot see with our naked eye that currently try to control this world. St. Paul calls them “the rulers of the darkness of this world.” There are forces at work that are against us, against human flourishing and, specifically, against those who claim the name of Christ.
St. John, in his Apocalypse, describes it this way (Revelation 12:17),
“And the dragon was angry against the woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Go and read Revelation 12 and you’ll get the full picture. The world is not your friend. If you are a follower of Christ (the rest of the seed of the woman), you cannot “live in community” with the world. I’m not saying you can’t go the same grocery stores or be friendly or eat out or go to the movies. I’m not saying you can’t live in this world. I’m saying you can’t follow Christ and “be in community” with this world. The two are diametrically opposed to one another.
Jesus Himself gave us the meaning of Christian community. He told us how we are to live and those who are our “community” when he said,
“For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matt. 12:50)
Read that again. There are some things that Jesus said (actually a lot of things He said) that are really hard. What He said (and says) demands something of us. When He said that it is only those who do the will of the Father that are His brothers, sisters, mother, His community, we are required to do some things.
If we want to be in the “community” of Jesus, we must do the will of the Father. That means that there are those who are not doing the will of the Father that we cannot be in community with. And that may include other people who claim to be Christian. I know that will sound really harsh and will probably make some reading this angry. But the hard fact is that there are those who claim the name of Jesus that are not part of the “community” of Jesus.
Our Lord tells us,
“Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:21-23)
Now for some good news.
We can be part of a community; the community of saints. The great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us (Hebrews 12:1), those who are of the faith and keep the faith now and those who will faithfully follow after us, they are our community.
And that community is vast beyond number. St. John tells us that a “great multitude” stands around God’s throne worshipping Him even now (Rev. 7:9) and will for all eternity. That is community, my friends! And that community is all in this together because we know the One.
The One who has wrestled with and for us with the principalities and powers and has conquered them!
The One who has given us His testimony to keep and wage war against our great enemy Satan!
The One who has given us the Spirit, by whom we may learn to do the will of the Father!
The One who, if we are faithful, will keep us until the day of His glorious return!
Rejoice, brothers and sisters, in the community of the Lamb who was slain!