Most of you have heard me say an expression that Gayle and I use with regularity: “We have today.” That expression could be heard in a variety of ways. It could be a defeatist slogan. It could be heard as a call to passivity, to “waiting it out.” Or it could be heard as meaning, “Let’s live life to the fullest, today, tomorrow and every day that’s ours.” That’s how we mean it, and that includes a call to the task of Kingdom-building.
What do we mean by “Kingdom-building? And what might “Kingdom-building” mean for you? Isn’t that just God’s job? If it’s not also our job, then why did Jesus Himself, when teaching us how to pray, tell us to say to our heavenly Father, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” If, as this petition seems to say, God’s Kingdom comes on earth whenever His will is done, then everything we do that is in accordance with God’s holy will is part of Kingdom-building. Imagine how different our lives might look if we were to measure more of our actions in terms of doing God’s perfect will and thereby building His kingdom! But most of us, most of the time, are far more occupied with doing those things that build our own kingdoms, satisfy our own appetites and fulfill those things on our own personal wish-lists.
These usually are not things that lack merit or justification. But they’re probably not Kingdom-building activities, and much of the time we’re not measuring them against doing the will of God. Most of us have the gift of self-justification, and we use it whenever we’re challenged to re-evaluate our priorities and our activities. But if we put those things in the spiritual context of what “We have today” really means, we might eliminate many things that now fill our calendars every week. We still would have plenty of time for ourselves and our self-fulfilling pursuits, the things we refuse to give up. Mercifully God does not call all of us to be hermits or monks in monasteries. But He does call all of us, even kicking and screaming, to be Kingdom-builders.
Today is New Year’s Eve Day, a day of resolution-making, usually having something to do with dieting, exercising or just being nicer people. Sometimes our resolutions are selfish if not quite hedonistic. But all of them are our own choices. I never have heard of anyone being handed a list of resolutions that someone else made up for them. But imagine making a list of resolutions that have to do with Kingdom-building! It might have to include broadening your faith activities rather than your social ones. It might include coming to Adult Ed or bringing a friend to the Alpha classes. It might include being a regular part of our Sunday evening fellowship and Bible Study when it resumes after Alpha. It might include giving a higher priority to a daily devotional life.
Some of us have tried out various self-help programs or at least tried to add new disciplines to our lives. But more often than not, they’re not spiritual disciplines. They usually have nothing to do with Kingdom-building. We want to feel personally enriched, made better in various ways, and we may convince ourselves that as soon as we have greater success in doing that, we might be able to move on to doing things for others around us.
But down inside we know that the first goal, self-improvement, may never be fully accomplished, and that it may not really lead us on to the second goal of helping others. Truth be told, that second goal is only a very secondary goal for most of us. We want to style ourselves as compassionate persons, yet we do not plan or alter our lives around doing those acts of kindness and mercy that put “compassion” into action. They’re too demanding and too time-consuming.
Today is the Sunday of Christmastide. Today Baby Jesus is in the manger. Today we are here to celebrate that He is in our hearts. And having Jesus in our hearts is not meant to be something for ourselves, a salve that raises our self-esteem and guarantees us a place in the Kingdom we’re supposed to be building. When we see Jesus, we’re to be like Anna in today’s Gospel reading. She was 84 years old, had been believing in and waiting for the coming of Messiah her entire life, and when she finally encounters Him in the temple as a baby, what does she do? She does the same two things we should be doing: first, she gives thanks and then she shares her discovery with others. Luke writes, “At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Note that Anna’s first impulse was not to keep her discovery of Messiah to herself, but to share it with others. Anna was a Kingdom-builder. She wanted to be sure that all who shared her quest for the Redeemer would find Him, just as she had done. This was not to be a solitary experience of God’s grace in her old age. Imagine an 84-year-old evangelist, one who selflessly and enthusiastically spreads the Gospel message. Clearly Anna was one who said, “I have today.” And her day was truly a glorious one.
You may be inclined to think that her experience was something quite extraordinary, one that was hers and Simeon’s alone. But you’re only here this morning because you’ve found the One Who is the desire of all nations (Haggai 2:7), the Word become flesh, the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, the Redeemer of Jerusalem. And if you’re continually looking for Him in your hearts, you’ll find Him today when you come to this His table to feast on Him and to be renewed by His grace. Then it will be your desire to go from this place in His power, to go in peace to love and serve the Lord. And nothing would rejoice His heart of love more than for you to tell others about your discovery and your experience of Him on this Christmas Sunday. When you do, then you will be doing His perfect will and building His Kingdom.
When I think of our congregation, I see some who are dealing with various forms of serious illness and others are dealing with the inevitable products of the aging process. Yet tomorrow each of us enters a new year filled with promises, the promises of an eternal God Whose promises are irrevocable. Our message this morning is one of faith and hope, and we look to God for the miracles He wishes to perform among us in the year ahead. We will live each day trusting in His unfailing goodness.
As He Himself promised in Isaiah 51:8, "My righteousness shall be forever, and My salvation from generation to generation." This promise will sustain us through the trials, tribulations and disappointments, knowing with Isaiah that an eternal God does indeed hold us by our right hand (Isaiah 41:13), and that we are engraved in the very palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16). We know with the psalmist that God’s right hand will hold us fast (Psalm 63:9). And therein lies our strength and our confidence.
We will not be moved. We will not succumb to despair. We will hold fast to those things that have sustained us in every past crisis of our lives. We will affirm, profess and live out our faith knowing that for us, this is the only way we are to live. We will recommit ourselves to obedience to God’s Holy Word, His will and His purposes for our lives. We will not be content to live ordinary lives, because God by His grace already has led us into extraordinary places by making us His own, by adopting us into His family, by sending us His only Son to be our Savior, and by giving us His Holy Spirit to be our Comforter and our guide.
What should be the product of all this? For Simeon, it was contentment and peace, because his eyes had seen God’s salvation, the promised One Who would lighten the Gentiles and be the glory of Israel. For Anna, it was giving thanks to God for the Redeemer and telling others what she had discovered. For Paul it was an exuberant cry to God as his Father, as his Daddy, “Abba,” because of the family relationship with God that was his through the One Who came in the fullness of time so that we might receive the adoption as sons. For Isaiah it was unbridled rejoicing; he wrote, ”I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness.”
For the Psalmist, it was praise for God’s incomparable creative work that included all the wonders of nature but also embraced “Kings of the earth and all peoples; princes and all judges of the earth; both young men and virgins; old men and children.” As God did His creative work, he pronounced all things “good,” one day at a time. And when He had completed His work, He pronounced it “very good.” And for all this work, the Psalmist says that we are to praise God, and he says it nine times in just the first five verses!
As we enter a new year, 2018, what is it that I wish for you above everything else? I’m sorry to say that it’s not fame or fortune. What I wish above all for each one of you is that your life will be filled with contentment, peace, exuberant joy, unbridled rejoicing, thanksgiving, incessant praise and abundant hope: all those things that are in today’s readings. Just imagine what that would be like for you individually as well as for Grace Anglican Fellowship as a representation of the Body of Christ on this corner of Lake Forest! We want to see growth in 2018, and I can assure you that a group of people characterized by contentment, peace, joy, praise, thanksgiving and hope would exert a contagious influence on all those in our paths. There’s nothing more that I could desire for you and for this our church, Christ’s church, in the year ahead.
It’s the very thing that in a secular sense we call “quality of life.” But for the Christian, we know the secret of abundant life in Christ; and that can produce in us a quality of life that not only exceeds anything the world can offer, but that sustains us through every trial, every fear, every disappointment, every challenge, even including the valley of the shadow of death, in which we will fear no evil, because He is with us. He has promised this again and again. May you live in that grace, that faith, that hope, in the year ahead.
And that is my 2018 prayer for each one of you.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen