Reading the Christmas story in Matthew one has a sense of déjà vu. A violent regime that shows no hesitation in slaughtering innocent people for political purposes forces a family to flee for their lives. We could be describing Syria under Assad, but instead we’re describing first century Judea under King Herod.
2000 years have passed since Jesus walked the earth. The Middle East remains mired in violence while superpowers play geopolitics with the lives of its people; refugees continue to stream across the world; children still die of cancer; husbands still beat their wives; large swathes of the global population continue to be mired in hunger; natural disasters continue to disrupt and destroy.
Sure, some things have changed for the better. We’ve seen the rise of the global middle class which means a country such as Australia has extraordinarily low levels of extreme poverty; we have technologies that allow us to live far more comfortably than ever before ; some of the virtues taught by Jesus, such as mercy and compassion have come to be admired; there is greater respect for human rights than at any other point in history. There is indeed much to be thankful for.
Yet one can’t help but ask where is this kingdom of justice and peace that Jesus proclaimed?
I suspect it is where it has always been. This kingdom of which Jesus spoke is not like a stone thrown into a pond that ripples outwards until it covers the entire surface. It’s more like a series of stones thrown into a lake, each creating ripples that spread out for a short distance before disappearing. Every time somebody is inspired to choose the way of love over hatred, forgiveness over vengeance, welcome over rejection, peace over violence, service over self-aggrandizement, words that build up over words that tear down, they become a pebble thrown into the lake, sending ripples of goodness, joy and hope.
This kingdom of which Jesus spoke in an invitation, a quiet whisper in the midst of a cacophony of evil that there is another way, another possibility. Jesus was God’s pebble thrown into history subverting the logic of violence, greed, hubris and narcissism with the logic of love, grace, humility, and servanthood. His invitation is to follow his way, to start making our own ripples.
The kingdom won’t come in fullness simply by increasing the number of people seeking to be pebbles that spread ripples of faith, hope, love. For the kingdom to come in its fullness something new and extraordinary is required, something God alone can do, something foreshadowed in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Until then there will be only pebbles and their ripples. Like a kid standing on the shore throwing pebbles I get excited every time I see the ripples.