Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Hidden Kingdom

Through his parables, Jesus has revealed much about the Kingdom of God. Often the parables concern The End, when there will be a final separation of the righteous and the wicked. Those that do not directly concern The End often tell us about the hidden nature of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of everlasting glory and triumphant joy is not yet manifest; the final separation has not yet occurred. The weeds still grow along with the wheat, and if one is to find the Kingdom one must diligently seek.

I’ve written already about the Kingdom as hidden treasure. But there are other aspects of its present hiddenness. It is like a mustard seed, almost invisible; it is like yeast mixed into dough; it is like a seed planted by a man, which “sprouts and grows, he knows not how” (Mark 4:27). The Kingdom does not have an address, a location you can visit; it is not visible “with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’” (Luke 17:20-21).

But according to these parables, the Kingdom will be known by its effects, as yeast raises dough, and seeds sprout and grow. The Kingdom will be manifest where Christ is allowed to work, within and among us. The common liturgical greeting in our tradition is “Christ is in our midst.” We have to remind each other of that, and seek the indications that this is truly so, allowing Him to grow in us, even if we know not how.

There’s a hidden aspect of the Kingdom that we are about to celebrate. The King decided not to show up with a noisy entourage, with fanfare, with the pride of a conqueror. He decided to be hidden, like a mustard seed, like a baby in a manger. Yet the Lord was not hiding from us; He was hiding for us. He knew that He could not make his entrance as the eschatological Judge, as the King of Glory. We would all disintegrate in the blazing brilliance of the light of his face, and his infinite holiness would send us scattering like guilty cockroaches into the caves and crevices of the earth.

So He came, a baby. Someone you could pick up and hold to your cheek; someone who is defenseless, vulnerable, trusting. He was not intimidating at all (and He mercifully didn’t let us see the Seraphim covering their faces in trembling awe). In fact, He sent a few other angels to tell us some Good News: the Savior had come at last.

This is something that many people do not understand, or at least not rightly. The Son of God came into the world not to judge it, but to save it. Oh, He will judge it all right, at the Last Day, and He won’t be a cuddly baby then, but now is the moment of his mercy, now is the day of salvation. Some people don’t think they need to be saved, so they don’t understand or turn to the Savior. But they obviously don’t understand themselves, either, for if they did they’d be running to Him. Others think the Savior won’t be the end-time Judge, so they treat Him as a sort of milquetoast messiah, good for some sagacious sayings but not calling us to account for our actions.

Christianity is full of paradoxes, and we must allow them their full value and power, and not try to whittle down its frightening/consoling mysteries to the size of our own comfort zones. God is both the Theophanic Thunder of Sinai and the Baby of Bethlehem, the merciful Savior and the just Judge, the universal King whose kingdom is both hidden and manifest. God is both frightening and consoling because that’s how love is, and God is love. He loves us so much that He must hate evil, and He hates evil so much (especially what it does to us) that He must reduce Himself to our size and bear it all in Himself—because He loves us so much. He must hide Himself so that we can discover Him without fear, and He must reveal Himself so that we can know the truth and be set free.

We have to come to terms with all this—His terms. The salvation of our souls must be his way or no way, for we are wholly unable to put the lid back on Pandora’s Box, to disarm the demons we’ve unleashed, to cross the threshold of death with confidence. We need the Savior. We need the all-holy and mighty God—but right now we need Him as a baby, small, accessible, for we have to be able to approach without fear.

When we fully entrust ourselves to Him who made it easy to come to Him, we will be free to let go of our sins, to give ourselves wholly to Him who gave Himself wholly to us. Then, like a mustard seed, we will sprout and grow, though we know not how. Behold, your King—and his hidden Kingdom.