If we did understand anything, we would be capable of converting ourselves, and earn forgiveness. But this is exactly what we are not capable of. The good news is that God has mercy on us anyway – or perhaps rather, that this is exactly what makes it possible for God to have mercy on us. We cannot make ourselves a good soil, but God can.
The salvation of God is there whether we see it or not. But when we see it, seeing brings joy – if it doesn’t, it’s not the salvation of God that we see. The sight of God’s salvation does not leave us unaltered. Seeing God’s salvation means taking part here and now in what Jesus is doing for the whole world.
In the midst of celebrating Christmas, we should keep in mind that not all Christians are lucky to live in peace and safety. By commemorating the martyrdom of Stephen we also commemorate those Christians who are persecuted today. But we are also thereby reminded, that God forgives even those who persecute his people.
When Jesus talks about the sign of the prophet Jonah, it is not so much about us, but first of all about Jesus. The story of Jonah is a story about the cross and resurrection of Christ. It is Jesus who is to experience the uttermost darkness at the bottom of death, he who is about to go through a radical spiritual crisis in order to experience salvation.
To belong to the flock of Christ – to be a part of his church – means to confess that he is one with the Father and that all and everything has been put into his hands. This also means to have a hope that is larger than a particular and narrow hope for the elect only. This larger hope is exactly what distinguishes the church from the pharisees of Jesus’ time and indeed all religious elites who want to narrow down the gospel.
This is what the story of the woman with alabaster jar reminds us: That the kingdom of God explodes all our narrow concerns and ideas of justice. Instead we are to look to Jesus as the woman did. When we do that we are ready to help the poor, who are always with us in the kingdom. The justice of the kingdom of God does not exclude worldly justice, but includes it and brings it all into a much wider perspective.
When Jesus comes to us, he comes to us in all our poverty. He was born on the edge of civilisation, in a manger. Jesus comes to us as one without possesions. Restless, like Cain. But unlike him Jesus accepts his situation. He comes to us as one who does not rely on wealth, but on God alone. And he tells his disciples to do the same.
This is the meaning of advent: That Jesus is coming – the Kingdom of God is coming. Not just somewhere far off in the future, but every day, in all circumstances of your life. He is coming right now, and with him he brings peace and light to everyone who lives in darkness.
For God darkness is as light. Through his own dying Christ has overpowered our enemy, death, and turned darkness into light. This is why he can now take each and every one of your darkest sorrows and worries, and turn them into blinding lights.