Invitation to life

“Ready or not, here I come!” Remember that line from the hide-and-seek you played as a kid? After counting down from ten or twenty, or from 100 if you had the time, the one who was “It” came searching, eyes wide open, and you hoped you had hidden well enough not to be found.

Jesus began his ministry (Mark 1:14-20) with, “Ready or not, here I come,” except he didn’t say it quite like that. He said, “The time is fulfilled,” the time of waiting is over, and ready or not, “the kingdom of God has come near” (v. 15). The life you’ve been waiting for, dreaming about, yearning for, reaching for with everything you have it in you to reach with, has arrived. And eyes wide open, it has come looking for you. It has come seeking you out from wherever you’ve been hiding in life. The question is, do you want the life you’ve been seeking to find you?

As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he said to Simon and Andrew, “Be found” (vv. 16f), and they came out of hiding. Then he said to James and John, “Be found” (v. 19), and they came out of hiding. And the life that really is life went on seeking, and others came out of hiding, too. They left the ordinary lives they had been hiding in and were found by a brand new life that was old as the hills, old as creation, the original life they’d forgotten was theirs.

During Advent, we remembered that life, and we dreamed of having it again. At Christmas, we heard that such a life was not waiting for us in the future but had come to live among us, a light to shine in the darkness and not be overcome, full of grace and truth. Now in the weeks after Epiphany, it’s time to reflect on the nature of the ancient new life that lives among us today and on how that life might also live in us, in each one of us.

The message of Christmas, the message of God’s incarnation, is that the life we yearn for will not be found in the future any more fully than in this present moment; that no circumstances other than the ones we live in today are necessary for the abundant life God offers; that to hope for that life in the future is to miss the abundant life spread upon the earth today, unseen and too much unlived.

That’s also the message Jesus began his ministry with, the message that would be the foundation and theme of his whole life: “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message” (Mark 1:15 MSG). It’s the invitation Jesus extended to the fishermen Simon and Andrew, James and John: Leave your nets behind; stop hiding in the ordinary existence you thought was life, and step into “more and better life than [you] ever dreamed of” (John 10:10 MSG). And it’s the invitation he extends today to every one of us.

If that’s the invitation, to come out of hiding and be found by the life you’ve been seeking, the next questions must be: What does it mean to be called out of hiding? And what does the life to which we are called look like? Or as someone asked when she was being challenged by too many unanswered questions, “What’s the bottom line?” What does that life look like specifically when I come out of hiding? How is it different from the one I’ve been living? What must I do to be living that life? And the life I’ve been living – how has it been a net that has held me back and hidden me from the life I seek?

Those are questions each one of us must answer personally, and they start with the questions Thomas Merton suggested: “What am I living for, in detail, and what do I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for?” Only you can ask and answer those questions for yourself. Those fishermen would not have dropped their nets and left everything they had known unless they were ready to do so, unless they were deeply wrestling with life’s unanswered questions, unless they were already deeply hungry for something more in life than they had.

We come out of hiding when we’re ready to be found. We step into a new life when the old life no longer satisfies. But we don’t step into a new life that’s ready and waiting for us. We begin a new life that must be built, intention by intention, commitment by commitment, choice by choice. As St. Paul wrote, you must “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [trusting that] it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for [God’s] good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).

The life we want, the abundant new life that is spread around us unseen, as Wendell Berry wrote, “is not merely the one we have chosen and made; it is the one we must be choosing and making. To keep it alive we must be perpetually choosing it and making its differences from among all the contrary and alternative possibilities. We must accept the pain and labor of that, or we lose its satisfactions and its joy. Only by risking [that life], offering it freely to its possibilities, can we keep it.”

Accepting the invitation to discipleship doesn’t bring us into a set of rules or ways of behaving or specific dogma; it brings us into relationship on a journey in which we continually choose and make our emerging new life. The great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer thought the most striking thing about Jesus’ call to discipleship is that it has no specific content, no program, no plan, no persuasive set of promises. The call to Christian discipleship is a call to come out from where we’ve been hiding and be found by the life we seek; to enter into close companionship with other seekers with whom we journey together along the Way; and to invite others to join us in the journey as together we choose and make the new life in which God’s reign is manifest.

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