Not Far From the Kingdom of Heaven

Mark 12:28-34

     Six or seven years ago, I came across a story that reminded me of the kingdom of heaven. I failed to make a note of where I found it, so if you recognize it, I’d like to give credit to the source.

     Nine-year old Jeremy was anxious for the week to come to an end. Christmas Eve was on Sunday this year and the presents were already scattered around the lighted evergreen tree that he and his family had cut at his grandfather’s farm. For the last two weeks, he had scrutinized the presents – shook them to hear how they sounded. He lifted them to determine how much they weighed – trying to get a feel for what might be in them. He could only imagine how much fun he was going to have when he opened them up, discovered what was in them, and then played with each and every one.

     There were gifts with his name on them. There were gifts with his little sister’s name on them. There were gifts with his parents’ names on them. What fun Christmas was going to be this year! But then something strange began to happen. Day after day, Jeremy would wake up, look at the calendar, and there was still a week to go before Christmas. Every day, it was December 18th. It seemed like an eternity away from the Big Day. “What’s going on here?” he’d say to himself. “Why aren’t we getting any closer?”

     He would run to the Christmas tree, pick up a wrapped package, and see his name written on the little tags: a gift for Jeremy. Those were his gifts, nobody else’s. His name was written on each one. He knew the gift from his father and mother was going to be so wonderful. They knew well what Jeremy wanted because they understood him and the things he enjoyed. But he couldn’t figure out why he was still a week away from being able to open them. “I just have to be patient,” he told himself.

     But soon, he started to get frustrated. It was almost painful to think that he wasn’t enjoying those gifts that were already his. So he came up with an idea. He would try to be extra good every day. If he was good, maybe the days would go faster and he would be closer to that ultimate day when he could open his gifts and rejoice in them. It didn’t work. Being good didn’t get him any closer to Christmas Day. It stayed December 18th

     Then he noticed his four year old sister, Amy. She wasn’t frustrated.  In fact, she was having a great day – every day. “How can she be so happy?” he wondered. That bothered him. Every day, her presents sat under the tree just like his. Jeremy decided to confront his little sister and educate her so she wouldn’t be so lighthearted – this was serious business. She needed to know what was going on in the real world. “Amy, are you so oblivious to the fact that Christmas is still a week away?” 

     “What do you mean?” she asked. “It’s December 18th – and it’s been December 18th for as long as I can remember. Look at all the presents under the tree, and we aren’t any closer to being able to play with them,” Jeremy wined. “What do you mean?” she said with her big blue eyes. “I open my presents every day.”

     “You do what?!” screamed Jeremy incredulously. “I open my presents every day,” she said. “That’s ridiculous. There are still presents under the tree with your name on them – the same number as yesterday and the day before.”

     Amy said, “I don’t count anything. I just see my name on a present, and I know it’s mine. So I open it and play with it. I don’t know how more get there. I just thought someone brought another one. Is there something wrong with it?”

     “Mom and Dad will kill you if you open your presents too early!”

     “Why would they kill me? They love me. That’s why they give me gifts – because they love me.”

     “But you’re not following the rules,” Jeremy huffed. “You have to follow the rules.” 

     “What rules?” little Amy asked.

      “Oh, never mind! You’re just too young to understand,” and Jeremy walked away – befuddled and confused.

*     *     *

     Does anybody feel like Jeremy? Is every day December 18th for you? Is the Christian life frustrating you? Are you trying to be extra good until the day you die so you can start enjoying the gift that is already yours? Is it tradition that makes you think that you have to wait for the blessing of God’s salvation? Or are you living in joy, taking advantage of the gifts that are rightly yours today?

    Christmas is every day for Christians who live like four-year old Amy. She is free from the rules that others have made up. She has no traditional time schedule she’s conditioned to follow. She opens the gifts that are given to her every day. Jesus said, “Unless you receive it as a child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”

     What are the gifts that Christians are given every day? Jesus says all God’s commands are condensed into one command – love God and each other. To be able to love is a gift from God. It is a gift to be able to consider the needs of others as equal to our own needs.

     Love is a gift that we receive if we give it away. Isn’t that just like Jesus and the scriptures to give a paradox like that? We are given opportunities to love every day. That means we have the opportunity to have some joy in our lives every day. We just need to see these opportunities as the gifts they truly are. If we don’t take advantage of the opportunities available to us today, they are lost. Fortunately, new ones show up in their place tomorrow. To love is a gift we can open every day. According to Jesus, the more you love, the closer you are to the kingdom of God.

     We can open the gifts we are given today, or we can wait for some future time to experience joy – like the Last Day when Jesus come – when we all will certainly love God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds and with all our strength…and we will love our neighbors as ourselves – as one people of God. We will know the true pleasure it is to love. 

     Salvation is a gift to us through Jesus. Trust is a gift. Faith is a gift. To love God is a gift. To serve God is a gift. All of which give us joy and peace as we await His coming. Start opening your gifts today. It’s okay. Don’t wait until the Last Day for the kingdom of God to come near to you. Open your gifts from God today! And give thanks for his presence in your life. 

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