Ross Anderson, GWC lecturer, Biblical Studies
B.Th (Unisa); Dip Th (BISA); M.Th (UWC).
Advent is a valuable time for Christians to celebrate as we remember the birth of the Christ child.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him’.” (Matthew 2:1-2 NIB)
He is the one we worship, He is both Lord and Saviour, He is The King.
If the king has come, it means his kingdom has come (Mark 1:15), and yet He taught his disciples to pray “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 5:10). This can be a little confusing and raises the question of whether God’s kingdom has or is God’s kingdom still coming? The answer is both!
At Christmas we are reminded that Christ has come, was crucified, died and on the third day rose again. He now reigns over all at the Father’s right hand. This means that God’s kingdom has been inaugurated – and that is indeed good news for the whole world. We encounter the expression, “the kingdom of God”, for the first time in late Old Testament writings. It signifies God’s royal rule over Old Testament Israel, but increasingly also his reign over all the nations and all of creation. The kingdom of God was at the very centre of Jesus’ preaching. He announced a new and unique breaking-in of the royal rule of God. And the rule of God is one of love, righteousness (justice), and compassion. Furthermore, Jesus emphasised the nearness of the kingdom for it had arrived in his person and ministry. That is what we are celebrating at Christmas time! Christ The King has come! Hallelujah!
But God’s inaugurated kingdom presents us with significant challenges. To pray “your kingdom come” is to unsettle the well-ordered proprieties of society. For example, it is not the rich and the powerful to whom the kingdom of God is promised, as one would expect, but “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20 cf. Matthew 5:3). And again, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10 NIB).
The kingdom of God, then, does not come when the privileged become more privileged when the authorities become more powerful. No, it comes when the underprivileged also become privileged, when the weak are blessed. So Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well”. The opposite is equally true: if we disregard justice, we bypass the kingdom of God, for justice is an essential consequence of God’s righteousness and our relationship with him in Christ – “Not everyone who says to me,`Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father …” (Matthew 7:21, NIB).
The petition “your kingdom come” is also a prayer for the final and complete manifestation of God’s kingdom. As we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are therefore reminded that the ultimate and glorious kingdom is still to come at the return of our ascended Lord. On that day, the kingdom of God will be consummated. But as we pray for that day and look forward to that day, we also commit ourselves to establish, here and now, approximations and anticipations of the kingdom. We live under Christ’s rule. God’s kingdom is both private and public, personal and collective, individual and societal, worship and fellowship. It means that we who celebrate Christmas should be at the forefront of the struggle against racism and gender abuse, which are such a present evil in our society.
I grew up in Zululand (as it was called then) and speak conversational Zulu. The Zulu have a proverb which says ‘Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ meaning “A person is a person through other persons.” We are not made to live alone as individuals; God has called us to live in love and relationship with each other. This is precisely what the apostle Paul teaches (e.g. Romans 12:15, Galatians 6:2). We dare not reduce Christmas and the Christmas message to an exclusively personal and individual level. It is not merely about Jesus and me. No, it’s about loving our neighbour too.
So this Christmas season, as we who call ourselves the disciples of Christ celebrate a Saviour who came to free us from sin by his death on the cross, we also remember that “gentle Jesus meek and mild” is King of kings and Lord of lords! The season of Advent reminds us not only that Christ came into the world, but that he will come again. May God help us to live out the implications of his Lordship in our beloved land South Africa in our relationships with one another. May God help us to live as children of his kingdom: to love the poor, the underprivileged, the weak and the vulnerable.
Most of us will go to church and engage in religious activity on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day. There will be much singing of our favourite Christmas carols and Bible readings and preaching. And this is wonderful and as it should be. But let’s be sure to examine ourselves before the King of God’s Kingdom first. Let us remember the words of the Lord through his prophet:
“I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21-24 NIB).
We should remember too the words of James, our Lord’s brother,
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (Jam 1:27-1 NIB).
Then, as we gather in our local churches this Christmas, the Psalmist’s desire will be our answered prayer: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14 NIB).