Jesus wasn't the first or the last person to claim to be God's Messiah. There were quite a few others, but their life expectancy tended to be short!
The historian Josephus, writing about forty years after Jesus' death, claimed that the Emperor Vespasian, who had just destroyed Jerusalem and massacred most of its inhabitants, was in fact the true Messiah.
A bit like Muslim extremists, who claim to be the only true believers, a contemporary of Josephus, who was writing a commentary on the Book of Habakkuk, also claimed that his little group of followers were the true Kingdom of God. Everyone else was going to miss out.
Jesus' retelling of the coming of God's Kingdom was equally subversive, but in an entirely different way. People of all sorts were invited to become part of it. This wasn't an exclusive club like the new caliphate which ISIS tried to set up or the exclusive little clique envisaged by the man who wrote the commentary on Habbakuk.
Jesus said that the way his fellow countrymen and women were going about renewing God's Kingdom would end in disaster. It wasn't too late to avoid this, but they would have to choose an entirely new way of being Israel based on the peace and goodwill which the angels sang about at his birth.
It’s worth noting that his Kingdom isn't about the afterlife. Sometimes Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven, but it's just another way of talking about God's reign on earth here and now. All through the Old Testament God had revealed himself as someone who intervenes in real events. The message is, 'Move over President Trump, move over Prime Minister May. It's time to make way for a real professional!' 'Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth,' is not a pious platitude. Jesus expects that things really are going to change around here.
For Christians, of course, God's Kingdom began with Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection, even though it isn't yet complete. His story is a bit like the Normandy landings in World War II. A decisive breakthrough has been achieved but final victory awaits.
In the meantime Jesus has redefined what leadership means. He isn't part of some political elite, like the Clintons or the Bush clan, nor is he a bombastic poseur like Donald Trump. Instead, he has come to dwell alongside us, laid in a manger so that he can help us to change the world from the bottom up.
Another thing to note is that the Church is not the same thing as the Kingdom of God. When we work for the Church we may sometimes be doing Kingdom work, but - because it's made up of ordinary human beings - the Church can easily take a wrong turn and finds itself outside the Kingdom, and even when the Church's work is part of God's Kingdom, the Kingdom is always larger than the Church. Jesus draws a circle which includes people in rather than shutting them out, so to be true to him, the Church has always to look outwards and recognise that God is working among other people of goodwill, like the wisemen or the shepherds.
Something else to note is that God's Kingdom breaking into our world will make a real and radical difference. Jesus didn’t come to bring a ‘stable influence’, as one Church’s Christmas poster mistakenly put it. But do we believe that the birth of a baby long ago and far away can really make this sort of change come about in our world today?
Tom Wright says that the Parable of the Sower speaks to just the situation in which we find ourselves. God keeps on trying to plant his Kingdom on earth, but people aren't always ready to receive it. The message falls on stony ground, or gets choked out by other cares and concerns. But the Kingdom is still being patiently sown and resown by Jesus and his true disciples, and it is silently and steadily growing despite all the setbacks and disappointments.
The Prophet Isaiah says that, as the rain and the snow water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so God's word... shall not return to him empty. It inevitably brings forth joy, and peace and singing, defying the thorns and the briers and the rocky unreceptive ground.
In other words, God's Kingdom is constantly encountering stubborn resistance and setbacks, but at the same time it's also producing an abundant and spectacular harvest. The sower is constantly crossing and recrossing his field scattering the good seed on the land. The good which comes from his successes will more than make up for all the disappointments. In fact, in Jesus' story, failures outnumber the successful harvest three-to-one.
So if we look around us in the world today and see lots of disappointments and reversals for God's Kingdom we shouldn't really be surprised or give up hope. What they mustn't do is blind us to the Kingdom growing quietly and almost unnoticed. This is why only those who have ears to hear will understand the story and rejoice with the teller.