December 11, 2022
Have you ever seen one of those videos that sometimes pops up on the Facebook feed (or whatever social media you use) where it’s just a video of someone making something? It might just be my algorithm, but I’ve seen pretty awesome videos of people building benches from the log to the finished product, or someone putting together a Lego Titanic. But recently I saw this amazing video, fitting with the holiday season, of a person who made a whole Victorian mansion-style gingerbread house. And it was amazing! All I could think the whole time was how patient this person was. How dedicated they were to the eventual outcome of all their hard work. And I’ve got to say, it looked amazing at the end.
Patience, even though we’ll talk about what a good thing it is to have, isn’t really encouraged by the culture around us. Have you noticed? We have fast food that’s meant to be almost completely ready by the time we pull around in the drive thru. We have the constant push for faster and faster high-speed internet—the new fiber optic cable is being laid—and we want it now. There are instant credit checks, one-click purchase options online, highways to get us there faster, and two-day shipping to get it to us faster. Patience is sort of a lost art in the midst of all that.
It’s one of the reasons I like Advent. It’s a season, a whole season of the Church year, where we set aside four weeks specifically to focus on waiting. On patience. We light the candles of our wreath, one at a time, a week apart—a deliberately slow movement in a world that demands everything be fast. It’s a season that reminds us that patience is something that needs to be practiced. And it also reminds us that patience can be hard. Patience isn’t just hard for us, though.
John the Baptist has been part of our conversation all three weeks so far this Advent. His announcement about the kingdom of heaven has pushed us to pay attention to the ways we are called to prepare the way of the Lord—repentance, keeping awake, giving up those things that won’t fit in the kingdom that is coming. And throughout John’s preaching is a sense of urgency. He was adamant that the kingdom was right around the corner, that the power of the kingdom was going to break in and upend all things any second! So, paying attention to the way he preached, we hear from him again this week, in the gospel lesson.
John has been arrested, and is sitting in a jail cell. Why isn’t important this week; instead, we get this picture of John that is so different from the confident, fiery, larger-than-life preacher by the Jordan River. Instead, John is thoughtful and reflective, even doubtful. See, he had been preaching all this time about the immanent, unexpected, rapidly approaching kingdom of God. And he trusted that Jesus was the Messiah who was anointed to make that kingdom happen. But John had a very particular idea of what that kingdom would look like.
Jesus was supposed to usher in the age of redemption. He was supposed to overthrow the Roman oppressors and their aristocratic collaborators. Jesus, the Messiah, was supposed to usher in the righting of all the wrongs. He was the one who would undo the power of sin and death, rework the world, and put all of the enemies of God and righteousness beneath his feet. And John wasn’t seeing that. He was seeing his cousin preaching about the kingdom, teaching about the kingdom, healing and exorcising and performing miracles—but he wasn’t doing the thing that John expected was the one thing the Messiah needed to do. He wasn’t closing the age of corruption. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus—“are you the one, or are we to wait for another?” John’s impatience about the coming kingdom colored how he saw his cousin’s ministry.
But the thing is, Jesus wasn’t about some kind of rapid accomplishment. Jesus didn’t care to move too quickly. Jesus took his time, bringing the kingdom to one person at a time, one healing at a time, one lesson at a time. Jesus knew that the kind of world-changing thing he was doing wasn’t going to be a flash in the pan. The kingdom of heaven wasn’t going to be like a racecar, going zero to sixty in seconds. Instead, the kingdom of heaven is like an eighteen-wheeler—it gets started slowly, but once it’s moving it’ won’t be stopped.
And so Jesus pointed John to the growing momentum Jesus was building. He was performing miracles—the blind saw, the deaf heard, the lame walked, the poor had the good news preached to them—because one by one the kingdom of God was gathering steam. Jesus showed John the evidence of his own eyes, reminding him that the kingdom doesn’t need to show up quickly because it’s a kingdom that’s meant to last. It’s a kingdom built on changing the human heart, and the human heart doesn’t change overnight. But once it does change—man alive does it change!
The kingdom of God is what led medieval Europe to invent the first hospitals, public places where the sick would be cared for and an institution nothing before Christianity had ever dreamed of!
The kingdom of God is what nagged at the Western world’s conscience and led to the abolition of slavery, because a heart bent toward love of neighbor cannot keep that neighbor in bondage.
The kingdom of God is what allowed the Truth and Reconciliation movement to save South Africa from what should have become a horrific ethnic civil war after Apartheid.
The kingdom of God is what leads this congregation to gather ornaments and buy Christmas gifts for needy families; to be inspired to serve burgers and pies at the fair and lutefisk and meatballs at the supper so we can donate money to needful causes; to bring hands together to sew quilts and pillow dresses, assemble meals and write cards of hope, bring thank-you lunches to farmers at seedtime and harvest, and turn our worship into acts of service for our neighbors in need.
The kingdom of God is patient, because Jesus knows that the consistent acts of goodness that change the human heart won’t be quickly turned around. The goodness and hope and wholeness that God is establishing in and with and through us this Advent and every season of the year are made in small increments, but they are real, and they are lasting.
So be patient with the works of God. Be patient as God changes your heart, showing you the ways that the world is being made whole. Be patient because we can trust that Jesus is doing something far more lasting than any sudden overthrow of the world as it is could ever accomplish—he is remolding our hearts to be citizens of the kingdom of God who bring sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, wholeness to the broken, and good news to the poor. Be patient, because like anything that is really and truly good, God’s kingdom is something that is worth waiting for.
Thanks be to God. Amen.