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A Good Advent Prayer

12/16/09

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Advent means "coming." During Advent we remember Jesus' coming at Christmas, His Second Coming at the end of the world, and His continual coming in Word and Sacraments. Advent then is a fitting time to pray "Thy kingdom come."

The first thing we want to note is that God's kingdom comes to us, not we to it. We are not in a quest for the kingdom of God. The kingdom comes to us. I need to modify this a bit. Some people are indeed searching for the kingdom of God. They label it "finding the will of God for my life," "finding out how best to serve God," or even "finding myself," but what they're really seeking is the kingdom of God and they are doomed to never find it.

Why not? Because Scripture says we are born spiritually blind. We can't see the kingdom of God let alone find it. If you watch science fiction shows you've seen a person caught in a different dimension out of phase with the dimension everyone else is in. No one can see him. That's the kingdom of God. Though it is present here and now, we are spiritually blind to the dimension it exists in. It's like a world of elves. It's beautiful, wonderful, magical, but being spiritually blind people we miss it.

We can't come to the kingdom of God because we're absolutely blind to its whereabouts, and more than that we are dead to it. Scripture says by nature we are dead in our trespasses and sins. You know what it means to be physically dead. The problem is the spiritually dead are still alive physically. They can be the picture of health and even happiness, yet still be stone, cold spiritually dead. That is dead to all that is spiritual.

The spiritually dead are ghosts to the kingdom of God. When a person is dead to this world but comes back as a ghost, he can not participate in this world. He moves like a shade through it. All that delights the senses does nothing for him. So is the kingdom of God to the spiritually dead. There is nothing to attract, nothing to draw, nothing to satisfy. No one on their own comes to the kingdom of God because nothing there seems to be the answer for what really ails them.

We pray for God's kingdom to come to us not that we might come to the kingdom not only because we're spiritually blind and dead but because we're naturally enemies of God and therefore of His kingdom. Romans 8 says the natural man is hostile to God. People mistakenly think that if they can show someone outside of the kingdom what a beautiful, desirable place the kingdom of God is they'll come running to it. So churches are told to make sure they're nice to people, dote on them, show them what a loving, caring place God's kingdom is and they'll come running into it. Such plans don't deal with the hatred all men naturally have toward God and His kingdom.

We pray "Thy kingdom come" because unless the kingdom of God comes on it's own to people no one will come into it. They can't see it, have no appreciation for it, and in fact hate it. But how can the kingdom of God come to blind, dead, enemies of God? Through Jesus the prince of the kingdom who became a pauper for us.

You're familiar with Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper? The prince happens to run into a pauper, a street urchin, an Oliver Twist-like kid who can pass as his twin. So that's what they do; the pauper dons the clothes of the prince and the prince exchanges his royalty for rags. O the contrast between the lives of these two. Servants dote on the pauper now prince; they feed him whatever food he wants. He sleeps in a warm bed. To have a wish is to have it fulfilled. For the prince turned pauper it is the opposite. He gets no more than scraps to eat, no shelter to speak of, and rather than hearing, "Yes my lord," he hears, "Get out of here," punctuated with a kick in the pants.

The first coming of Jesus at Christmas is where the Prince of heaven and earth dons the cloths of flesh and blood paupers like us. Though the rightful Lord and Ruler of all things, Jesus gives up that reign and rule to take our place. Remember this is all about the kingdom of God. We have no place in it; no right to it; can't see it much less find it or come into it. Jesus the Prince of the kingdom leaves the safe, holy confines of it to descend into the realm of sin, death and the devil outside the walls. Think of a science fiction movie, or maybe a Western, where the fort is a sanctuary but outside of it's walls it is mayhem, suffering, despair.

Jesus comes outside of the walls of the kingdom into the Virgin's womb to live under the Law as no Prince would have to. Princes don't live under the Laws of the kingdom; they are it's laws. If a prince wants to park in a no parking zone that zone becomes free parking to him. Not so the pauper. He is bound to keep the law, to live under it always. This is what Jesus did. He came out of the God's kingdom to live in the realm of sin, death, and the devil under the Law. And where we paupers fail, Prince Jesus didn't.

Here's where the truth of Christianity far outdistances Twain's story. The prince taking the pauper's place gets his share of kicks and hits, but he doesn't die for the pauper. The truth is more like Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities where at the end one man dies for the other saying, "It's a far, far better thing I do than I've ever done before." However, even this isn't a prince dying for a pauper; the man who dies is described in the book as a drunk, self-indulgent and self-pitying. It's the absolute truth that dying for the other man was a far better thing than that miserable man had ever done before. In our case the better Man, indeed the Best Man, the Perfect Man, Jesus, dies in place of all us paupers. Heretofore, Jesus had only done the best of things, yet He steps in to suffer all the wrath the Holy God has against sins and sinners winning God's kingdom for sinners.

Now we're getting somewhere. The kingdom we can't see, appreciate, or really want is purchased and won for us by the holy life and the innocent suffering and death of the Prince of princes. But how can the kingdom come to blind, dead, enemies of God? "God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit," the Catechism says. Like Dickens's A Christmas Carol, it all comes down to the realm of the spirit. Unlike his carol, however, there is only one Spirit; He is holy, and rather than scare you into the Christmas kingdom, He brings it to you.

Our problem is the kingdom of God can't come to blind, dead, enemies of God. The Holy Spirit is the solution. He operates through the Means of Grace. In Baptism, Absolution, and Communion the Holy Spirit does as Jesus promised He would. "He takes of mine and gives to you." We need the perfect life Jesus lived. We need His payment for our sins. Us paupers need to be covered by His royal robes so we won't be thrown out of the kingdom.

"Thy kingdom come" we pray and the Holy Spirit working by Baptism brings God's Kingdom to us by regenerating, rebirthing, making us dead sinners alive to the grace, mercy and peace of God we have for Jesus' sake. "Thy kingdom come" we pray everyday of our lives and the Holy Spirit working by Absolution reconciles us enemies of God to Him. Though the Devil, the world, and our own conscience can think of a hundred sins or just one that should keep us out of the kingdom of God, the Holy Spirit assures us in Absolution that God can think of none. "Thy kingdom come" we chant prior to Holy Communion and the Holy Spirit working in the Words of Institution opens our eyes to the reality of our King and Savior on our altar strengthening and preserving us in the true faith.

The fact that we pray for the Kingdom to come shows that we have already been rescued from the ranks of the blind, dead, enemies of God. The Holy Spirit has opened our eyes to the presence of God's Kingdom even in the midst of this fallen world. When the Pharisees were so perplexed about where the kingdom was, what did Jesus say? He said it was in their midst. Though worldly kingdoms are up in arms, in utter dismay, or prospering wildly, we live in another dimension in a kingdom where, according to the Large Catechism "God governs us a king protecting us from sin, death, and an evil conscience through the means of grace."

Praying, "Thy Kingdom comes" indicates we're no longer dead to the realm of God's kingdom. The Holy Spirit does for us more than the spirit of Christmas Past did for Scrooge. The spirit of Christmas Past only enabled Scrooge to look but not touch Christmas, to experience it as a ghost from a distance but unable to enter it. No, you're not spirits, shades, ghosts in the kingdom of God; Paul says your citizens of it; Peter says your partakers of it, and Hebrews says you're in the kingdom here and now. "You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn." "You have come" means you're already there.

Praying "Thy Kingdom come" means we are no longer enemies of God or His kingdom. It is our home, our fatherland not only here in time but there in eternity. By praying "Thy kingdom come" we're confessing that this realm is not our kingdom, our home, or fatherland. We are strangers and sojourners here; we're only passing through. Nothing we come to here, no life-event we reach, is our goal, our point, our satisfaction. No, the kingdom coming to us by God's Words and Sacraments is our true goal, point, and satisfaction in time and will be so for all eternity.

"Thy kingdom come" is a good prayer to be praying every day during Advent. When we pray, "Thy Kingdom come" we're asking for God's kingdom to come to us through His Holy Spirit in the means of grace because of what Jesus did at His First Coming to prepare us for His Second. And prepare us He does by coming to us with sight, life, and friendship. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Midweek Advent Vespers III (20091216); Lord's Prayer Second Petition