Last Sunday was a tune up of sorts for the Advent Season which begins next Sunday. Whether we are in the ORANGE PHASE or not, Advent will come and so will Christ. He will return as our King and Judge on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. In preparation for all that is to be, last week’s Epistle reminded us that, “Our citizenship is in heaven, from whence we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3.20). With that, in the Gospel, Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”.
But knowing what exactly to render, and when to render it, is no easy thing. It is a like razor sharp edge. We live with one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. We are to be in this world but not of it. How does that work?
This was precisely the question on Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s mind as Adolph Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) gained more and more power and influence through the 1920s and 1930s. What are the limits to the things that belong Caesar? What does it mean to pray “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done”?
In 1931, at the age of twenty-five, Bonhoeffer began to lecture at the University of Berlin. During that time, he wrote an essay entitled, ‘Thy Kingdom Come: The Prayer of the Church for God’s Kingdom on Earth’. In it, he wrestled with the issues surrounding human idealism. On the bright side, our ideals can motivate us to dream, and to look at what is possible –to see a glass that is half full. On the dark side, our ideals can lead us to be exclusive and negative towards others –to think that we are the only ones who understand and practice what is right. There is that razor sharp edge again.
Considering that edge, Bonhoeffer wrote: “’Thy kingdom come’ –this is not the prayer of the pious individual who wants to flee from the world, nor is it the prayer of the fanatical utopianist who stubbornly insists on reforming the world. Rather, this prayer is prayed solely by the congregation of the children of the earth, who refuse to separate themselves from the world and who have no special proposals to offer for its improvement.”
What did he mean? Maybe he meant that we have to be prepared to accept what God has given. We all are “children of God”; but we are also “children of the earth”, in the sense that we live here. We have limits –we are mere mortals. From that, we can begin to pray ‘thy kingdom come’ because we know it is His kingdom, not ours. In fact, to press the point, Bonhoeffer asked people to consider how they would design their own kingdom: how many red heads would there be? How many brunettes? How many right-handers and how many left-handers? How many women and how many men? How many Francophones; and how many Anglophones? Needless to say designing ‘my kingdom’ gets complicated quickly. So, Lord, help me to pray ‘Thy Kingdom come’.
A final thought on Bonhoeffer’s meaning is this: the children of the earth who refuse to separate themselves from the world and have no special proposals for its improvement, understand that the Kingdom of God always involves a cross –a sacrifice. We are, afterall, ‘Christians’, followers of the One Who stretched out His arms on the wood of the Cross and was nailed there for us. To pray ‘thy Kingdom come’ will be to expect suffering and death, but also victory, hope and new life –Resurrection Life.
Returning to the ORANGE PHASE is disappointing and frustrating; but it is also an opportunity to pray ‘thy kingdom come’, and to really mean it. Advent is coming, and so willthe Lord Jesus Christ our King. “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus! Come quickly” (1 Corinthians 16.22)