There is an interesting programme on BBC 1 called Planet Earth II narrated by David Attenborough.
It is fascinating because you get to see this wonderful photography of the beauty and wonder and glory of nature. What strikes me is how abundant and how beautiful the world around us is. In Genesis 1 we are reminded that God created us to know his love and to return that love and he provides a place of abundance and beauty and glory for us to live in.
God said to the first humans, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.
I watched some clips of one of the Planet Earth programmes that I had missed, on the grasslands. There was this incredible shot of a widow bird bouncing up and down in the tall grass to attract a mate and the harvest mouse climbing precariously up a strand of grass to eat the seeds at the end of it and beautiful colourful birds called bee-eaters that would fly just in front of the tusks of a bull elephant as it walks through the grass disturbing the insects, which the bee-eaters would grab and eat.
Here you can see the clip of Bull elephants.
They were charming scenes of God’s creation showing something of his Glory, until we are also reminded of the savagery of nature as well. The pack of lions hunting a water buffalo attacking the animal, bringing it down and devouring its flesh. In fact many of the scenes from Planet Earth II illustrate the savagery of nature, the striving to survive, what scientists would call evolution through the laws of natural selection, as the fittest fight to survive.
The abundance and delight of nature mixed with the savagery of survival mimics of course the human world we live in as we delight in family and friends and the abundance of what our world has to offer and then compete with each other to gain power, to gain land, to gain influence, to promote our views and lifestyles and we see the conflicts and destruction and savagery that results. The Glory of God in his creation is tarnished, is defaced, is distorted, sometimes beyond recognition when we see the scenes from Syria and Iraq and yet we continue to yearn and to pray in our Christian lives to know the Glory of God, to know his coming again, because it is then that everything will be fixed!
How much more must the people of Judah and Israel have felt as they became subject to oppression to invasion and even to be taken from their homes and these were God’s people, where was God’s glory for them? They had been invaded by Assyria, they had been taken into a foreign country into Iraq, into Babylon and everything they had inherited was taken away from them, they had nothing, they were slaves.
Out of this agony and savagery comes a message through one of the prophets of the school of Isaiah (Isaiah 11.1–10), a message from God, there will be a shoot from a stump of what there once was, something small and emerging, one man who will know the Spirit of God upon him, one man who comes from the line of Jesse, the great King David’s father, one man who will be anointed by God, the Messiah. The law of natural selection, the survival of the fittest, is perhaps not the rule of God, because God intervenes into our world, his anointed Messiah will bring God’s judgement in righteousness, bringing redemption to the Needy and the Poor and the downtrodden, the weak in society. It is not necessarily the fittest that survive.
God does indeed come to live amongst his people as Jesus Christ, the shoot from the stump of Jesse, the one who rescues them and us and his focus is on the poor, the needy and the weak.
God has intervened into our world on many occasions and scripture testifies to this and we know that when he does, he transforms lives and our world. His kingdom grows through God incarnate, Emmanuel, God is with us, Jesus Christ.
But Isaiah talks of some signs of the fulfilment of God’s kingdom, which we have yet to see.
The wolf will live with the lamb, the cow will feed the bear, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the infant will play near the viper! Not the type of image we meet from Planet Earth II. These are signs of God’s Glory, not the savagery of the survival of the fittest. But this isn’t just about nature but is part of God’s intervention with us, the human race. Christ comes as the Messiah bringing God’s kingdom and Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us what this kingdom should look like for people.
“The kingdom of God is one of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” he tells us in chapter 14. It is not one of savagery. But Paul goes further, “each of us should please our neighbour and should build and encourage each other in our faith”. This is the work of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we don’t live to criticise those who are at a different point in their journey of faith, but we live to encourage each other in our journey with Christ. It isn’t the survival of the fittest, the one who seems to be most mature in their faith, but it is the encouragement of one another, coming together in a Spirit of unity that brings about God’s glory. (Romans 15.4–13)
How wonderful it is to be welcomed into a Christian community that shows the love and grace of Christ and portrays the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. Here is the Glory of God. Here are the signs of his kingdom.
So are you prepared, is this the way you live your Christian life? God’s glory is coming amongst us, Christ will come again, are we prepared for this?
When the Queen visited Leicester in 2012, she came to a city prepared to receive her. The city was painted and decorated, dancers were rehearsed, schoolchildren lined the routes and cathedral services were prepared. What would happen if the Queen turned up at your home tomorrow, unexpectedly? Would you be ready to receive her or would you be quickly trying to hide the dust and the newspapers and the unwashed dishes, whilst looking for some milk for her tea in a mug, because the china cups are packed away?
The Glory of God is coming says John the Baptist to the crowds under Roman occupation and rule, the God who they hadn’t heard from in over 400 years, are you prepared for this, he asks them? (Matthew 3.1–12) Have you turned to the ways of the world or to the ways of God? Belonging to the line of Abraham or for us the Church, makes no difference, unless you live the ways of God and give your hearts to him repenting of your sins. The people naturally came in droves to receive John’s baptism of water, preparing their hearts and lives to receive Jesus’ baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Preparing ourselves during this season of Advent isn’t just about getting all the preparations for Christmas day in place, although that is clearly important, so that we can enjoy time with family and friends. But Advent is also about getting our Christian lives ready to receive Christ afresh or to receive him anew. Do we live Christian lives of pleasing our neighbour, of encouraging one another in our faith, of living in a Spirit of unity together, of accepting one another as Christ has accepted us, bringing glory to God and showing God’s kingdom, bringing his righteousness amongst us, seeking and desiring to fill our lives with his Holy Spirit? Do we live our lives ready to help the poor, the needy and the oppressed?
This is a very different kingdom to the one of nature where the survival of the fittest wins, one we might experience in our world and in nature as Planet Earth II shows us. This is a Christian kingdom, bought by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and we, as Christian people, are asked to be different. Are we prepared? Amen.