A Birth That Will Shatter Kingdoms

A Sermon for Sunday November 27 (The First Sunday of Advent), Psalm 110 & Luke 21:1-19

"In This Home" Hallmark painting and The Mater Puzzle Box

Hanging on the wall in our daughter Katie’s playroom at home is a painting that Elizabeth and I purchased a few years ago at the Hallmark store that says:

In this home…

            We do second chances.

            We do grace.

            We do real.

            We do mistakes.

            We do I’m sorrys.

            We do loud really well.

            We do hugs.

            We do family.

            We do love.

We believe this philosophy perfectly sums up who we are and how we are to be as the Acton family, and the sentiment never felt truer than Friday afternoon.

I was re-organizing and cleaning out the playroom when I discovered that Katie’s three puzzle boxes were falling apart, one of which sported the image of her beloved Mater the silly tow truck from the popular Disney-Pixar Cars movies. In an effort to preserve the puzzles, I removed the pieces from their boxes, placed them gently in separate zip-lock bags and headed to the garage to put the empty and worn cardboard containers in the recycling bin.

On the way, Elizabeth noticed what I was doing and asked me if it was wise to throw away the puzzle boxes. With a “of course it’s ok” look on my face, I said, “She won’t even notice they’re gone.” I then discarded the boxes in the bin and returned to the playroom to do more picking up. In less than 3 minutes, Katie walks in. “What are you doing Daddy?” she asked with a sweet smile on her face. “I’m doing some picking up in your playroom,” I responded nonchalantly.  And immediately, as if she sensed something in the air wasn’t quite right, Katie walked straight to the shelf where the puzzle boxes were located. Upon seeing the pieces in sitting neatly in their new plastic bags, Katie screamed, “Daddy! What did you to my Mater box!!!!”

Before her scream fully came out, I knew I had messed up and I instantly began the following chant as I zoomed out of the playroom to the garage to recover the treasured Mater puzzle box: “I’m sorry Katie. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Daddy messed up. Daddy messed up. He’s getting the box. He’s getting the box.” The entire time Katie is screaming and telling Elizabeth, “Daddy got rid of my Mater box! Why did he do that?!?!”

Lord only knows why I did it. I’m not sure myself except that it was dumb! I brought the box back to the playroom and put the puzzle pieces back where they truly belonged, much to Katie’s delight.  I sat down on the floor and said to Katie, who was now calmly and joyfully playing with other toys in the playroom, “I’m sorry for taking the box Katie. I hope you can forgive me.”  Without hesitating, this 3 and half-year-old girl of mine stood up, walked over to me with an adorable smile on her face, gave me a hug and said with utmost sincerity and honesty, “It’s ok Daddy, everyone makes mistakes.”

Needless to say, I busted out laughing as I hugged this amazing gift in my life, this wise and loving child of mine.  We’ve never read to Katie those words from the Hallmark painting that hangs just a few feet away from where she embraced her dad’s error.  To the best of our ability, we’ve tried to model the philosophy of We do second chances, grace, real, mistakes, sorrys, loud, hugs, family and love. And most days we get it right, I suppose, because here was Katie beautifully demonstrating the behavior we’ve taught our daughter through our words and actions. Here was our “Goose” (as we endearingly call her) living out a different way of life and reality than the “powers,” “systems,” or “kingdoms” of this world that…

refuse to dispense second chances or grace

manufacture lies and fakery over what is true and real

avoid taking responsibility for mistakes and hurts, and

mock the practice of love in the midst of conflict

We are all keenly aware of the kingdoms’ presence in the weeks leading up to and following Thanksgiving. Their constant din grows louder and more persistent throughout the season of Advent, in which Christians actively prepare and wait for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, of Emmanuel (God-with-us). The noise of the kingdoms are nearly deafening as we come closer to the start of the Christmas season on Dec. 25…

The Egyptian interim military forces that violently oppose the tens of thousands of non-violent protestors gathered in Cairo to oppose the regime and demand their freedom as a people and nation.

Institutions of higher education like Penn State, Syracuse, Citadel and Florida A&M failing to protect children and young people from abuse and neglect.

The political and media machines that churns out corruption, divisiveness, ineptness, petty arguments, ridiculous feuds and half-truths.

The religion of consumerism and the Black Friday shopping madness that led to an attempted robbery and shooting in a store parking lot, bloody brawls inside Wal-Mart over merchandise, and one woman pepper spraying fellow shoppers so she could grab a popular video game.

And as if those enormous kingdoms of violence, oppression and manipulation are not loud enough for our senses, there’s the slightly smaller kingdoms whose noise reverberate powerfully on a more personal level with every step we take…

the cancer that is ravaging a loved one

the medical profession that is misdiagnosing and over-charging

an 83-year-old grandmother

the divorce court proceedings that divide families and friends

the work environment that undervalues its employees

the war that will keep a father from coming home to his family for Christmas

the drugs that landed a relative in jail

the alcohol that has imprisoned a mother in her bedroom for entire days and weeks

 And why is this tumultuous clamor, this unholy din, which the kingdoms, powers and systems conjures to break the world and each of us into pieces, occurring?

Because Jesus’ birth and life, divine Love incarnate…shakes and rattles the kingdoms to its core, causing it to lash out loudly, fearfully and angrily at anyone and anything in its path, including other kingdoms. God, the scriptures tell us, has a reputation for disturbing the oppressive powers and corrupt systems that threaten to tear apart God’s creation…

The writer of Psalm 110 proclaims: The Lord…will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations,
 filling them with corpses;
he will shatter heads
 over the wide earth.[1]

 In the opening of Luke’s gospel, Mary, learning she is pregnant with the Christ child, praises God who—by choosing to become human—has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts…brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly.[2]  (The latter of whom Luke later identifies as the shepherds, the first to visit the baby Emmanuel in the manger—those dirt-covered caretakers of smelly sheep who were chosen over royal kings and priests.)[3]

And the mere knowledge of the child Jesus’ existence, according to Matthew’s gospel, [4] causes a paranoid, desperate and evil King Herod to massacre all children 2 years old and younger in Bethlehem and the surrounding area.

You see, it’s Jesus’ very life,

the vulnerable child who born into straw poverty amid a deadly Roman regime and corrupt religious system

the homeless preacher who teaches unconditional love, and cares for the poor, the stranger and the outcast

the wounded healer and peacemaker who endures horrendous torture and death on a cross

that exposes the brutality and the deceitfulness

of the kingdoms, powers and systems.

Jesus Healing The Blind Man by Unknown

Look throughout the four gospels; whenever Jesus enters a village, steps into a synagogue or goes to someone’s home, the rulers, authorities and leaders display their hatred, fear and contempt of Jesus for all to see.  They don’t like this guy who claims in Luke’s gospel that the Holy Spirit has chosen him to  “bring good news to the poor; proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[5]

And Jesus is well aware that his existence and all that he is teaching about the merciful God who stands with the oppressed is turning the current kingdom, power structure and system—even the entire world—on its head!

To the disciples who are admiring the majestic structure of the  temple, Jesus evokes the tone of Psalm 110, saying:

‘‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down…

 When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ 10…Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12 

 But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.

As one Bible commentator observes:

 Jesus threatened then and threatens now politics as usual. After all, he was not crucified for spouting innocuous religious niceties. Rather, Jesus subverted both the power of Roman legions and the authority of Jewish tradition when he announced the simple good news that God rules the world (see Mark 1:14-15). This radical good news allowed tax collectors, sinners, lepers, prostitutes, children, women, and men to sit down and eat at the same table in the realm of God… [Psalm 110] in relation to Jesus Messiah, is a world-transforming challenge to every form of politics and power that does not begin with submission of the self to God’s claim.[6]

Following the life and teachings of Jesus, of God-with-us, is radical, world changing, and threatening to the kingdoms, powers and systems that function at this precise moment. Preparing ourselves to live into a birth and life that ushers in God’s kingdom—a reality and way of living that is different from the current kingdoms, powers and systems—is our calling and purpose, albeit a difficult one, at Advent and beyond.

The traditional reformed theology in the Presbyterian Church(USA), regarding what we believe about the kingdom of God, is often referred to as “already, but not yet”—The kingdom of God has already come among us in Jesus, but it has not yet been completely established on earth. There’s a sense in which we’re living in the kingdom of God, but the evil and sin that we see around us every day shows that we’re still waiting for all of creation to be transformed and for the kingdom to be fully realized.[7]

God's Got the Whole World In Hands by Unknown

But Patrick Marshall, a friend and Presbyterian pastor in Nebraska, in a blog post he wrote last week, suggests that we flip “already, but not yet” to “not yet, but already.” He says:

 The Kingdom of God is “not yet here” in all its fullness, but there are some people who are “already living in it.” The reason this is such an important distinction is because I think that sometimes we (subconsciously) use the notion of “already, not yet” as an excuse. “Yeah, the Kingdom of God has already come among us in Jesus, giving me the power to do God’s will in my life, but it’s not yet fully here, so that’s why I don’t always do it.” It’s like we’re making excuses for our inaction and sin by waiting for something more to happen. Almost like we’re blaming Jesus for not doing a good enough job the first time around. “I wish this thing about the world or my life would change, but there’s still sin in the world, so what can you do?”

When we approach it from the standpoint of “not yet, but already,” something very different happens. We’re not excusing the sin and brokenness of the world, and we’re certainly not ignoring it. We’re saying instead, “Yeah, things may suck sometimes, but you know what? I don’t care. I’m going to live like the Kingdom of God is already here in all its fullness.”

The Widow's Mite by James C. Christensen

Like the widow who places two copper coins, “all she had to live on,” into the treasury, it’s the small acts given or done on limited means and with great compassion and selflessness that exemplifies how we can live the kingdom of God as an ever-present reality…

Choosing to do your Christmas shopping through “alternative gift-giving” like last Sunday’s market where members made donations to organizations like Heifer International and Clifton Sanctuary Ministries in honor of a family member or friend.

 Selecting names of families and mission organizations from The Angel Tree in the Narthex who are in need of clothes, food, and other items for Christmas.

 

Volunteering to go shopping with the kids in the Rainbow Village to help them find gifts for their moms.

 Serving at a local food bank or co-op in Gwinnett County.

 Deciding to go on the next International trip to Honduras or Haiti or another country to stand side-by-side with the poor and oppressed and to share love in the midst of brokenness and chaos.

 Mentoring confirmation students, teaching church school, leading youth group, or forming relationships with all ages in the church.

 Showing kindness to strangers and those you vehemently disagree with, regardless of the issue.

 Sharing your home with a family in the congregation who can’t afford to travel for the holidays.

 Coming to this table to partake in the bread and the cup of Christ that nourishes us for Advent and the journey ahead.

Black Nativity by Unknown

In doing these things and so much more, you will be living out the kingdom of God as it is already here. And in your living out the kingdom of God, you will be participating in a birth and life that will be shattering the kingdoms of this world…forever and ever.

Amen

 ………………………………………………………….

For the benediction, I said the following, an adaptation of the Hallmark painting from our home…

In this church (and out there in the world)

            We do second chances.

            We do grace.

            We do real.

            We do mistakes.

            We do I’m sorrys.

            We do loud really well.

            We do hugs.

            We do family.

            We do love.

             We do the kingdom of God as if it were already here, in all its fullness



[1] Psalm 110, a psalm of David, “Assurance of Victory for God’s Priest-King.”

[2] Luke 1:51-52, Mary’s Magnificat.

[3] Luke 2:8-10.  The shepherds are told of the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem.

[4] Matthew 1:16-18. Herod’s massacre of the children of Bethlehem.

[5] Paraphrased from Luke 4:19-19. Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah in the temple in Nazareth.

[6] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on Psalms, 1996.

[7] “Are We There Yet?” by Patrick Marshall on his blog (Wr)ekklesia: A Reckless Love for A Wrecked Church, November 24, 2011.

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3 thoughts on “A Birth That Will Shatter Kingdoms”

  1. Wonderful! I’m thankful I’m able to read your words here. I did a search for Luke 1:51-52 and found your blog. The internet can be a wonderful thing. 🙂 God bless!

    1. Brookes,
      Glad you found the blog. Thank you for your kind words about the sermon. Have a blessed Advent
      Peace,
      Andy

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