The message of John the Baptizer pierces the tender heart, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The imminence of the Kingdom of God is as true now as it was for John. We stand ever at its gate, but we enter it not.
As we observe Advent this year, we find Christendom in its twilight, secularism having eviscerated religion in the public sphere and reactionary Evangelicals and Catholics attempting desperately to put the Nietzschean genie back in the bottle. The dogma of Christendom has been rejected by the masses and the Church, fractured by centuries of schism, cannot quite seem to get back to its First Century mission. Too preoccupied with naming and shaming heretics, trying to influence the political systems of the West from one side or the other, or burying its collective head in the sand in the face of the real problems of the day, Christendom and its various institutions are not only declining, they are at their nadir.
Two millennia after the death of Christ, we are nevertheless wont to cry out “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus! Come and set thy people free!” Humanity has made a mess of the Church, and while eulogizing it, we are called to rebuild it from the Cornerstone. In the first Advent, God sent John the Baptizer to prepare the way for the Christ, and after more than 2,000 Advents, the way is still being prepared, and humanity still seems unready. Fortunate are we that the work of redemption has already been complete, but woe to us that our sanctification is in mere infancy.
It is difficult to be a “conservative” in the true sense of the term–one that wants to preserve the status quo and keep things basically the way they are. When we observe our world, its institutions, and the way we interact with one another individually and corporately, there is certainly little that is defensible from a Christian perspective. Our governments are still killing and torturing, yet we feel ourselves to be more civilized than our predecessors. We have made but meager progress in the alleviation of poverty in the world, in spite of sufficient resources already dedicated to the problem. Our businesses have become corrupt, and our economies are broken, but these are all self-inflicted wounds. We have done it to ourselves. Massive earthquakes in Chile and Japan in the past two years caused minuscule damage to the world economy, but the decisions of politicians in Europe and America, the poor judgment of bankers, and the consumerism of the average American have wreaked havoc on us all.
The problems we have created for ourselves are not easily solved, and they require of ourselves discipline, restraint, and self-sacrifice that is unnatural to the human species, but is precisely what we are called by Jesus to do. We may wring our hands and become infuriated that politicians continue to fail in solving our problems, but it is not their fault. They caused many of the problems to begin with. The solutions must come from all of us, each in our daily lives, determining not to repeat the mistakes of the past years, and to embrace a radically different lifestyle than the one we in the West have come to feel entitled to. This is not to say that we must all adopt monastic lives, eschewing all material things, or that we should make yet another failed attempt at baptizing the socialist dream and calling it “justice” only to watch it starve and slaughter millions more.
It does, however, mean that we must alter our behavior. We must reform our churches and our businesses. We must abandon our base consumerism for a more conscious form of capitalism. We must stop relying on violence and the threat of force (that is, the State) to solve our problems, since it has proven itself incapable of solving them year after year. We must learn to live in community with each other rather than in conflict. We must indeed cry out “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus!”
The Kingdom of God is at hand–let us boldly enter.