I call your attention to a line in Matthew’s Gospel (3:1). John the Baptist tells his audience that “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
I should point out the fact that the terms Reign of God, Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven all refer to the same thing. Mark, Luke, John and Paul all use the terms Kingdom of God or Reign of God. Matthew uses the term Kingdom of Heaven. But it is obvious by the context that they are all referring to the same thing. Kingdom is referred to over 100 times in the four Gospels. It is a dominant theme in the Gospels. The central theme or focal point of Jesus’ message was the proclamation of the Reign or Kingdom of God.
Jesus preached the reality of a Kingdom that is radically different than our earthly institutions. Jesus presented a Kingdom that is meant to transform our social, political, economic and religious systems to a form that would express the very character and nature of God.
But note again what John is saying. He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” That’s present tense. He is not referring to something that is to come. He says that it is here, now. But just where is this Kingdom and where do we find it? In Luke 17:21, Jesus answered that question when He said, “The Kingdom of God is already in your midst.” Some translations have that line as, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” If we were to summarize the message of Scripture concerning the Kingdom, we would find that the Kingdom of God is within, or among, God’s people. It is approached through understanding. It is entered into through acceptance like a child. Citizens of the Kingdom commit themselves to doing the will of God in their lives. And God has in fact appointed His Son Jesus to be King of that Kingdom.
As members of the Body of Christ, the Church, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. And as citizens of that Kingdom, how are we supposed to prepare ourselves to celebrate the birthday of our King? Now, before I answer that question, I have to be honest with you and say that I am not comfortable with using something as personal as a dream to make my point, but quite honestly I couldn’t find anything else that says what I want to say as well as a dream that I once had.
Have you ever had a real vivid and detailed dream? I’m sure you have. Occasionally we all do. Well, several years ago I fell asleep one night thinking about an upcoming homily and what I wanted to say. And that night I had a dream. I should begin by explaining the fact that I am self-employed. For years now, I have owned and operated a small business in which we design and build special machines, or components for those special machines. In my dream, I was traveling from place to place on business. As part of this business trip, I found myself in a hospital- near the area where newborn babies are kept. And near one wall lay a baby in an incubator.
Suddenly, Jesus appeared, right there in the infant ward. The world appeared to stop. He was not alone. There were three other men with Him. No one but me seemed to be aware of His presence. I hid my face. I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t feel fit or worthy to even look at Him. But two of the men that were with Him came to me. They stood on each side of me and said, “Jesus is calling you.” I went with them, holding my head down and looking at the floor as I approached Him.
When I stood before Him I kept my head down, still looking at the floor. He reached out, gently putting His fingers under my chin and said, “Look at Me.” When I did so, I was overcome by the warm, loving understanding glow that radiated from Him. My gaze was drawn to His eyes. It was almost like they were magnetic, impossible to resist and impossible to describe. The best I can do in description is to say that they were a liquid blue. And as I looked into those eyes I knew these eyes knew me better than I knew myself.
He smiled and said, “Well done. You have learned your lessons well. But do you really understand the point of life’s lessons?” With that He turned and touched the incubator that was nearby with the tip of His fingers. He looked and me, and again He smiled, and with that He disappeared. The world around me seemed to be oblivious to what I had just experienced. I just stood there for a while trying to collect my thoughts. Then I looked at the incubator. It was obvious by looking at the gages and the monitors that the incubator was starting to malfunction. No one else appeared to be aware of this fact, but I just knew that it was not working properly. The baby didn’t appear to be in any distress, but I knew that if this problem was left uncorrected, the baby would not be able to survive.
At that moment, I felt in my heart that the point of this lesson has got to be that I must be faithful in accepting the will of God. This beautiful little infant was going to die, if the situation with the incubator was left uncorrected. But I knew that I must not interfere. I must accept the will of God. After all, Jesus himself had caused this to malfunction. It must be His will that this baby return home to heaven. I watched helplessly as the baby’s vital signs started to deteriorate. Still, no one seemed to be aware of what was going on. But I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t stand idly by and watch this happen when I knew that I had the power to save it.
So I went up to a nearby nurse, tapped her on the shoulder, and told her that I was a person with some knowledge of machinery, and I knew that this incubator was malfunctioning. She walked over to check it, and with a look of shock on her face said, “Oh my gosh. Thank you for pointing that out.” She grabbed the baby, and gently, but quickly, transferred the baby to another incubator. And in my heart, I just knew that the baby would be okay, and would survive.
But I felt sick inside. I knew that I had failed. I could not accept the will of God. I could not let that baby go. Jesus Himself had given me this test, and I failed. I left the hospital and entered a park that was right next to the hospital. I went walking through the park to quietly meditate on my failure.
Suddenly, Jesus appeared to me again. He hugged me and again I was flooded with an unbelievably strong feeling of love and understanding. He said, “You again have shown that the love and concern that you have in your heart for your fellow man is more important to you than what you perceive as the will of God. This is the point of all life’s lessons. You are to love and take care of one another. This is the message you are to preach.” Then He was gone.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that I had a vision or something like that. I don’t know how to interpret dreams or what they mean. But the message within that dream was very strong to me and that is the message I want to leave with you today. Love and take care of one another.
In the Church, the Christmas season begins with the first Sunday of Advent. In society, the Christmas season begins with Thanksgiving. Our Thanksgiving Day Parade always ends with the arrival of Santa Claus. That’s cute. It is a tradition that we all enjoy and look forward to, but where did that tradition come from? Who started it? In 1927, Macy’s Department Store began this long-held tradition as a way of celebrating Thanksgiving Day- and as a way to ‘kick-start’ the Christmas shopping season. To this day, the day after Thanksgiving is when stores open their doors before dawn to welcome Christmas shoppers. In society, the days leading up to Christmas are officially the Christmas shopping days.
The world has commercialized Christmas. That’s not what it’s all about. But don’t get me wrong. My name is not Scrooge. And there is nothing wrong with exchanging gifts with those you love. But remember, the real purpose of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of the King of kings. He is the one who brought the Kingdom of God to us here on earth. He is the one that showed us how to transform our social, political, economic and religious systems to a form that would express the very character and nature of God. And clearly, this is a reason to celebrate.
And as citizens of that kingdom, we have an obligation to fulfill. Jesus himself told us what that obligation is. He said in John 13:34, “I give you a new commandment. Love one another.” Now the word commandment is a strong word. He didn’t say, “This is a good idea, or a nice suggestion.” By saying, “I give you a new commandment. Love one another,” He is saying, “As citizens in the Kingdom of God, this is what is expected of you. This is how you are to live.”
So what are we to do during this season of Advent? How are we to prepare ourselves for the Christmas celebration? As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we are to prepare ourselves by recommitting ourselves to the rules of that Kingdom. And that’s really a simple task because there is only one rule. Love one another. There is nothing more important during this season of Advent; in fact there is nothing more important in life, than loving and taking care of one another.