December 3, 2013

The Paradoxical Kingdom of God

By Quinn Brenneke, a public relations major from Fort Wayne, Ind.
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 11:1-10 (NRSV)

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.

SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 11:1-10 (NRSV)
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.



Comments (12)

  1. Quinn, your insight on the paradoxes of God’s kingdom were very moving. Thanks for sharing your writing with us.

    Kristel Kennedy December 3, 2013 |
  2. A great way to look at the work and life of Jesus – full of wonderful paradoxes! Thank you for your thoughtful devotional.

    Hannah Hall December 3, 2013 |
  3. Oh Quinn, this is such a magical time of year isn’t it? But at the ‘heart’ of what we really celebrate is the stable and the manger. God made man. Then everything falls into place, doesn’t it?…

    Debbie Lackowitz December 3, 2013 |
  4. Very cool way of looking at Isaiah! Great Analysis! I esp. like your Imagery of “a future when things will fit together nicely that don’t go together now.” I have a very sweet, kind, Mentally Handicapped sister who has always seemed to “not fit” in this world. When Jesus comes again, Winnie & all “handicapped” will as Quinn aptly put it, “fit together nicely” in the new world!! Who knows they may become our “child-like leaders” too!?

    JoAnne December 3, 2013 |
  5. You have a beautiful way of connecting the human with the divine! Thank you for this wonderful devotional.

    Lorraine Murphy December 3, 2013 |
  6. This was also my Christmas eve experience. Thank you for expressing it so well. In spite of so much conflict and inequality in the world, God will judge not by what is seen, but with righteousness.

    Patricia Gerber-Pauls December 3, 2013 |
  7. Hi Quinn. The calmness of your midnight gathering in the old cathedral brings back wonderful memories of late night rituals in Catholic chapels and basilicas. Those are lovely contrasts to my also-precious memories of simple Mennonite celebrations of the past. ” All fits together nicely”, as you so aptly state. The “misfits” that we now meet in daily living really DO fit into a greater picture, nicely. Thank you for welcoming us to this view and vision.

    Keith Schrag December 3, 2013 |
  8. Thank You for this! It speaks to me, and to the human condition – and God’s astounding grace.

    James N. Miller December 3, 2013 |
  9. I like the way you describe the scene of singing Silent Night in English and German. That carol captures the birth of Christ so reverently and “fits” with the fulfillment of prophecy then and what we still hope for. Thanks for sharing.

    Ruth December 3, 2013 |
  10. Beautifully written, Quinn. Thank you for sharing.

    DeeDee Barnes Bruns December 3, 2013 |
  11. Thank you for tying together your memories and Isaiah’s words. It brought back fo me our family’s Christmas celebration.

    Ethel Umble December 3, 2013 |
  12. Thank you for this thoughtful and well written devotional.

    Lois Massanari December 3, 2013 |