God’s kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world. Jesus made that clear throughout His ministry, most notably in trial before Pilate. His kingdom is in the world, but it is strange and poor, weak and needy, frankly, it is a failed kingdom—in the eyes of the world. That’s because it’s not of this world. Compare the kingdom of God with the great kingdoms of human history and it will always seem like a foolish, powerless kingdom.
Karl Barth writes that the kingdom of God is “from the human point of view an insignificant kingdom, a kingdom hidden like the leaven in three measures of meal (Mt. 13:33), like the treasure in the field (Mt. 13:44), like the grain of mustard-seed which is smaller than all other seeds (Mt. 13:32).” 1 Barth goes on to say that this kingdom cannot be seen from observation, nor can it be proclaimed directly or historically. As such God’s kingdom is deeply concealed in the world, a hidden kingdom.
Jesus Christ came to us in weakness, lowliness, and defeat; and the Christian faith believe that to be God’s power, glory, and victory. As Barth writes, “His power is present to men in the form of weakness, His glory in that of lowliness, His victory in that of defeat.” 2
The incarnation is a potent reminder that God’s kingdom works differently than we expect it to in our human vision of an all powerful God and an all powerful kingdom. God’s kingdom contradicts and redefines all our notions of strength and victory. God’s kingdom is not how we might run the world if we had the chance. And yet, God’s kingdom is the good news our world desperately needs to hear.
This is how God saves the world: not with right handed displays of strength, but with left handed acts of vulnerability, weakness, and defeat; by becoming a frail and insignificant baby, born under the suspicion of infidelity; by suffering a horrendous death on the cross. This was God’s perfect plan for salvation.
God overcomes by giving Himself to being overcome. God redeems by lowering Himself to our unredeemed state. Because, as Gregory the Theologian reminds us, “The unassumed is the unredeemed.”
Oh the mystery and the majesty of Christmas!
May you remember this Christmas season to be weak, to be poor and strange, to be a friend of sinners, to take solidarity with outsiders—because such is the kingdom of God!
During Advent I’ll be sharing many of my favorite books and quotes on the incarnation. Read my Advent book recommendations here, and read more inspiring Christmas quotes and reflections here.
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