Recently, I read Leo Tolstoy’s Resurrection, his last novel published when he was 71 years old. I have discovered that if you want to indulge yourself with someone’s lifetime wisdom, you read their final works. We all know life is complicated, and it will save you a great deal of time and trouble if you learn from those who have used their entire life to sort it out, especially from a great thinker like Tolstoy.
Most of you know Tolstoy for his War and Peace. If you read War and Peace, you will appreciate his art, but if you read Resurrection, you will discover his wisdom. Tolstoy had a spiritual awakening when he was around 50 years old. If you read his books written after that point, you will find them more meaty and weighty. Still, Resurrection is not an easy read. It needs a mature mind to appreciate it.
In case you don’t know Tolstoy, you might ask, “Why should we take him seriously?” Here’s why. He is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature five times and the Nobel Peace Prize three times. He did not get the award probably because he was very critical of the governments and powerful religious institutions of the time.
Tolstoy was also a Christian Anarchist, submitting to no human ruler, including religious authority. Christian Anarchists believe Christ alone is their king and no one else. Are you one of them? Are you supposed to be one? Abraham was one. We will talk more about that later.
Tolstoy’s book, The Kingdom of God is within You, based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, was banned in Russia but published in Germany. In that book, Tolstoy presented the idea of “nonviolent resistance,” which fueled the movements of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. By now, I am sure you are convinced that he should not be ignored.
The book Resurrection depicts the corruptive nature of society. If you are rich and powerful, you can be corrupted by your power, procession, and prestige; if you are poor, you might be forced to choose the wrong means to survive.
That’s why King Solomon asked God not to make him too rich or too poor because he could forget about God if he were too rich, and he might dishonor God by committing crimes if he were too poor. That doesn’t preclude those who are in between because rich and poor are relative.
We live in a fallen world—a sea of suffering. What’s worse than suffering is its corruptive nature. It brings out the worst of us or at least the unwanted side of us. I wonder how much the pandemic has made it even worse. Many people have become more anxious and less gracious.
Tolstoy’s Resurrection takes us on a journey to see the injustice of the legal system, the bias of the society, and hypocrisy of the religious institutions, and most importantly, the unintentionality of it, making it hard to change. He helps us see that many evils and injustices were done unintentionally or even with good intentions, making it hard to label them evil.
We often think those who fight for justice are righteous, but they often become a new force of injustice. Communism is an example. It starts out with good intentions but ends up worse than the evil they fight against. We all want to make this world better, but no one knows how to correct the wrongs the right way, except through a personal resurrection.
Like the Kingdom of God, resurrection is not only on the other side of eternity. If you have received eternal life through Jesus Christ, you can experience the new life right now right here because you belong to Civilization Next. You are in the world but not of the world as Jesus said. You live the future now.
On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we will look at two women in history who brought the Civilization Next to earth—the 88 years old Elizabeth and the 14 years old Mary.
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone—the Lightkeeper. You are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
The scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to Luke 1:39-45. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:39-45).
[This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!]
Just to give you the context, Mary was just visited by the angel Gabriel informing her that God has chosen her to be the mother of Jesus. Mary said to the angel, “How can this be since I am just a virgin?”
The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Lk 1:35–38).
Mary was filled with joy, but she could not share it with anyone because no one would believe her. She was pregnant with the king of the Civilization Next. She was only about 14 years old, was engaged but not yet married. She could be stoned to death if people knew about her pregnancy outside of marriage.
She could not even tell her fiancé, Joseph. How could you inform your fiancé if you are pregnant? “Hey, honey, I’m pregnant, but the child is not yours. He is the Son of God.” Would he believe it?
God knew Mary would have a hard time sharing this news with anyone, so he let the angel tell her that her cousin Elizabeth was also pregnant in her old age. Elizabeth was barren, and the community those days regarded it as a disgrace. Now, she is pregnant with John the Baptist and filled with gratitude.
Based on the Mandaean Gospel, Elizabeth was 88 years old. If you think you are too old to be pregnant, think again. I know it’s scientifically impossible, but Christmas is about the impossible becoming possible. As the angel told Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.” Now, Mary had at least one person to share her secret with, or maybe two, since Zachariah also knew.
Based on the historians, it was quite a journey for Mary to see Elizabeth in those days, but it was worth it. The gathering of Mary and Elizabeth was like the first church congregation of the New Testament in the presence of Jesus Christ. We often say the church was born on Pentecost, but this is the first one.
We gather as believers today here to worship God and share the life of resurrection that other people out there don’t understand. In Tolstoy’s Resurrection, Dmitri, the main character, was lonely because people didn’t appreciate his resurrected life. He explained his feeling and thoughts to his family and friends, but no one understood him.
We can be lonely out there because we are in the world but not of the world. If we are not lonely in the world, we have to reevaluate our lives. If we are too comfortable in the world, we may have become of the world. That means we may have become the elements of injustice and indifference.
We are here today to share our resurrection, also known as the new creation, the Kingdom of God, eternal life, or what I would call Civilization Next. The Holy Spirit is here to help us reaffirm one another. The Bible says,
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:41-42).
That is the first word Mary heard from a human being about the child in her womb. What a wonderful affirmation! Even the unborn leaped for joy for the presence of Christ. Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Mary is no longer lonely here. Elizabeth continued,
“And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:43-45).
It looked like a mutual affirmation. Just as Elizabeth recognized Mary as the mother of her Lord, Mary’s presence affirmed Elizabeth’s child to be a holy child, who would become a great prophet to prepare the way for Christ. Then Mary began singing.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;” (Luke 1:46b-48).
The song is known as the Magnificat. It’s a beautiful mosaic of Old Testament citations. Mary might have memorized many Old Testament scriptures and picked a few to weave them into a song. Mary praised God for choosing a humble peasant girl instead of a proud princess elsewhere to fulfill his greater purpose. This peasant girl will be remembered by all generations to come, and we know she is.
“for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.” (Luke 1:49-50).
The word “fear” does not have the same meaning as we use it today. It means “revere.” Mary recognized generations of her family’s reverence to God had paid off. It reminds us to hang in there with God through thicks and thins, no matter how long it takes, and it will pay off. Don’t succumb to the world and become of the world.
“He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;” (Luke 1:51-52)
These conditions could take place in your heart when God’s presence comes to you. Metaphorically speaking, when you have Jesus in your life, you are like Mary pregnant with Jesus, and these changes happen in you. You see the strength of God’s arm. Your proud thoughts are gone, and arrogance is down. You feel humbled to be lifted up by God.
“He has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:53).
Most people interpret this passage literally, thinking that God will make the poor rich and the rich poor. Making the poor rich good, but making the rich poor does not sound justice. Tolstoy’s Resurrection depicts this situation. When you have the resurrection, you find your wealth meaningless and empty because you have a greater and more meaningful purpose to fulfill. For example, Dmitri gave away his wealth to the poor.
“He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:54-55).
The coming of Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that God will bless this world through his descendants. Abraham represents what people might call “Spiritual Anarchism.” He left the civilization of monarchy and formed a new civilization reigned by an unnamed and invisible king.
Other civilizations might look down on him as an anarchist or barbarian, but it is the most advanced form of civilization—ruled only by God and God alone. Unfortunately, his descendants later asked for a human king. King Saul became their first king.
They might think they were progressing in civilization by heaving a king, but they were actually regressing. Since then, the Israelites have become “in the world and of the world.”
Through the fruit of Mary’s womb, we are back on track to building Civilization Next, and Jesus called us to pray for “Thy Kingdom come.” As society becomes more powerful with incredible technological advancement, space travel, and cryptocurrencies, we are called to be the prophetic voice in this corruptive world.
We are not in conflict with human governments. We are just in the world but not of the world. I still pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America because it gives me the freedom to worship God and gather with fellow citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. The passage ends by saying,
“And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.” (Luke 1:56).
We can imagine why Mary would stay there so long because that was the only church she had at that time. Only Elizabeth and Zachariah could relate to this new reality. It was a small but different world.
Just imagine how lonely and discouraging Mary would be without this gathering. It was a harsh world where she could be stoned to death for her pregnancy, and even after the birth of her child, King Herod tried to murder him by slaughtering all boys under two years old.
On the other hand, how joyful it was for Mary to magnify the Lord together with those who knew what she knew. We are blessed because we have the freedom to gather physically or virtually every week, or more often, to share our life of resurrection to avoid succumbing to the temptations of the corruptive world.
Sometimes we need to remind ourselves why we gather to worship and fellowship. The church of Jesus Christ is the congregation of the Civilization Next. Without this type of gathering, we can regress to the dog-eat-dog or the rat race civilization.
Tolstoy criticized the religious institutions for being hypocritical because they were supposed to be advancing Jesus’ Civilization Next instead of becoming “of the world.”
Our gathering should be like that of Mary and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, joy, and praise for the new thing God is doing. As the Lord said to Isaiah,
“Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19).
Our society may not be as dangerous as Mary’s, but it is still like a wilderness, depending on the divine secret you carry. Metaphorically, in your womb dwells the king of the next civilization. You must nurture him until he rules the world with justice, freedom, righteousness for all. Thy Kingdom come!
That’s it for today, and I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I love receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound happiness.
Amen! And Merry Christmas!