Seek Ye First
The Year of Our Lord
R.C. Sproul, Jr.
Our calling isn't to make His kingdom bigger. Our calling is to make His kingdom clearer, to make it manifest.
Tabletalk Magazine, December 2005
The world is half full of half-empty thinkers, and I am one of them. Puddleglum is my patron saint. And nothing exposes the vast expanse of emptiness in the top half of the glass like listening to the evening news. Every year we seem to have a parade of ground-breaking Supreme Court decisions, all about culturally public affirmations of the lordship of Christ. Forty-two years ago the Supreme Court ruled that prayer to the Almighty would no longer be sanctioned in the state's schools. To this day, however, we still don't know if prayers are permitted prior to football games, or at graduations. We dicker over crosses on public lands, over the Ten Commandments in courthouses, and during this time of year, over whether there is any room in the inn for Christmas crèches.
We half-empty folks, perhaps rightly, bemoan that we not only often lose these cases, but the hard fact that we have them at all. Time was that while we did not have an established church in America as such, we all understood where we came from. There is no question that corporately speaking, we are growing more forgetful. We are, as a culture, eager to keep Christianity on the reservation, somewhere safe inside our hearts and minds where no one will notice. We are as militant in our secularism as al Qaeda is in their Islam.
Half-full people, on the other hand, are quick to point out that the federal government still finances the office of the congressional chaplain. No one seems to mind. Our coinage, though on the inside is still junk metals, nevertheless carries with it "In God We Trust:' So far, at least outside those states within the region of the Ninth District Court of Appeals, we are still able, should we so choose, to pledge allegiance to a flag that we are told represents a republic that is "under god:' We may be down in the late innings, but the game isn't over yet.
All of these tokens, cultural symbols of what matters, matter. While what we seek is absolute submission from the heart of all men everywhere, we have slipped into a cultural gnosticism if we believe there is nothing to be gained by a symbolic acknowledgement of the lordship of Christ. Civil religion will save no one, but then, neither will civil agnosticism. But we have better news. It is true enough that in certain academic circles we still have archaic cultural warriors who want us to begin using CE and BCE as a measurement of time, these abbreviations meaning "Common Era" and "Before the Common Era': It is likewise true enough that while BC is clear enough (Before Christ) we have been dumbed down such that we can't handle the simple Latin of Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord. But none of these cultural drifts can undo the fact that we (by "we" I don't simply mean "Christians" but all citizens of the broader west, even the BCE and CE crowd) measure time, one of the most elemental of elements, by the birth of Jesus Christ.
In a little town of Bethlehem, backwater village in a backwater vassal state of the Roman empire, in a veritable stable, a baby was born. There was no ticker tape parade. There was no three-inch headline in the local paper. But that birth henceforth marked the very hinge of time. Everything that happened before this event would be marked as happening before this event. But better still, everything that happened after this event happened not just in time marked by our Lord, but in time belonging to our Lord. This is His year, as every year is.
This doesn't mean, of course, that revival is just around the corner. It doesn't mean that we are well on our way to victory in the culture wars. It means, however, that this little babe is now Lord over all things, that He will bring in each one that has been given to Him and that He is about the business of bringing all His enemies into submission. That we live in 2005 AD reminds us, whether or not we hear that reminder, that our God reigns.
While it is good and appropriate that we should mourn at the naked public square, while it is a sure sign of a sad decline that those in positions of political power will not kiss the Son, we would do better to remember that even this is the fruit of the reality of His reign. The hearts of all kings are in His hand. This babe, born king of the Jews, is likewise king of these United States, of Canada, England, East Timor, Iraq, Red China. He does not stand outside the United Nations knocking, but is already Lord over all.
In the coming year, we would do well to watch our language. We who are His servants often, with wellintentioned zeal, determine to grow the kingdom of God, to expand its borders. But we, even empowered by the Holy Spirit, can do nothing of the kind. We cannot grow the kingdom, expand the borders where Christ reigns, for already He reigns everywhere. All authority, in heaven and on earth, has been given to Him. Our calling isn't to make His kingdom bigger. Our calling is to make His kingdom clearer, to make manifest, visible, tangible, the already existing but shrouded reality that Jesus Christ is now and ever more shall be Lord. It is a glorious calling, and these are glorious times, for this is the year of our Lord.
Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. is director of the Highlands Study Center and associate pastor of Saint Peter Presbyterian Church in Bristol, Tennessee..