The Paradoxical Kingdom of God
When I was younger, Christmas time was my favorite part of the year. As soon as the tree went up at my grandmother’s, I knew that more of my favorite traditions were to come: Aunt Geraldine’s sugar cookies; hide-and-seek in the crevices of my grandparents’ old, creaky home in Richmond, Ind.; living room floors covered in colorful, wadded-up wrapping paper. It all made sense to me; those little pieces of Christmas all fit together so nicely.
The prophet Isaiah told stories of a future when things will fit together nicely that don’t go together now. He said “the wolf shall live with the lamb” and “the calf and the lion together” and all these would be lead by “a little child.” The world will be pleasantly full of paradoxes. What a mystery of a place to live!
Eventually, Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s paradoxical prophecy, arriving as fully human and fully God. He was perfect, but bent down to a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) and washed the feet of his followers (John 13:1-20). “The kingdom of God is at hand,” he said (Matt. 10:7), yet it is still coming (Luke 17:20-37). The things that don’t seem to fit were those that Jesus put together.
My favorite Christmas tradition happens at midnight every Christmas Eve. To the sound of church bells, my family gathers with my grandparents’ congregation in an old, historic Lutheran cathedral. The lights go off, and the tall room is illuminated by candles as we sing “Silent Night” a cappella in German and English. Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht! Alles schläft, einsam wacht. The tune moves through the pews and the flames dance at the sound. Light meets darkness, and all is calm.
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.