Advent reflection (14) – The Kingdom that Cannot be Shaken?

Gregory Palamas (1296 – 1357/9)

“The king of all is everywhere, and hid kingdom to everywhere. This means that the coming of the kingdom cannot mean that it is transferred from this place here to that place there, but that it is revealed in the power of the divine Spirit. this is why [Christ] said “coming with power.” And this power does not come upon everyone, but  only “those who have stood with the Lord,” that is, those who are firmly grounded in the faith, such as Peter, James and John, who were first brought by the Word to this high mountain, in order to symbolise those who are thus able to rise above their humble natures. For this reason, Scripture shows us God descending from his supreme dwelling place and raising us up from our humble condition on a mountain, so that the one who is infinite may be surely but within limits encompassed by created nature.”

Gregory Palamas (1296 – 1357/9)

Homilia, 34; in J.P. Migne, Patrologia Gracea, 151. 425D – 429A.

That God would come amongst us is remarkable. That God would come amongst us. enrobed in human flesh, with all of its limitations, is inexplicable. That God would, by doing this, not only reveal what God was like to us but also lift our humanity to the heights of God’s divinity is like a shot of spiritual hope into the arm of our broken and frail flesh. By using the phrase ‘broken frail flesh’, I am not positioning my view of human nature with those who see us as useless, vile and worth nothing. I have always been rather suspicious of such blunt understanding of humanity. It tends to be held by those who claim to be ‘reformed’ as some kind of badge of orthodoxy, but whose ‘reformed’ outlook lacks all of the beauty, mystery and wonder of the true reformers. Rather, I am rooting myself in the conviction – held by the great women and men of the reformation and beyond – that human beings are at one and the same time inexplicably beautiful and valuable to God, made in God’s likeness and capable of great and beautiful deeds and thoughts as reflections of this image, and broken, flawed and sinful. Our hearts are indeed turned in upon themselves, but we still, nevertheless, bear the image of God in our souls.

That God would come amongst us is remarkable. That God would come amongst us. enrobed in human flesh, with all of its limitations, is inexplicable. That God would, by doing this, not only reveal what God was like to us but also lift our humanity to the heights of God’s divinity is like a shot of spiritual hope into the arm of our broken and frail flesh.

Gregory Palamas’ words remind me of the wonder, not only of the beauty of the Incarnation in the sense that ‘veiled in flesh the Godhead’ we see’ but also in the utter rescue of God caught in the words of the Psalmist – ‘what are mortals that you are mindful of them’. Christ not only shows us what God is like in a perfect and beautiful way. Christ also shows us what it really means to be human, to be alive, to be in true and living relationship with our Creator. The ‘humiliation’ of the Incarnation is accompanied by the ‘exaltation’ of redeemed humanity. We see God and we see ourselves, liberated, forgiven, rescued and restored, in this miracle.

Christ not only shows us what God is like in a perfect and beautiful way. Christ also shows us what it really means to be human, to be alive, to be in true and living relationship with our Creator. The ‘humiliation’ of the Incarnation is accompanied by the ‘exaltation’ of redeemed humanity. We see God and we see ourselves, liberated, forgiven, rescued and restored, in this miracle.

Gregory also reminds me of the reality that the Kingdom that is established by Christ is One that is established by the Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Spirit work together in perfect unity and love to establish God’s plan, to conquer sin, to defeat the satan, to redeem and release humanity and the earth, to empower God’s people, to establish the Kingdom and ultimately to vindicate God and God’s purposes. This is not a Kingdom that we can establish. It is not a Kingdom that we build and God blesses. It is God’s Kingdom, established by God’s purposes, built according to God’s principles, maintained by God’s power, preserved by God’s strength and revealed as God’s sovereign choice to those that God empowers and rescues.

We fall into a trap of seeing the Kingdom as established and built by our effort too often I fear. Whether that be articulated by those who constantly tell us that the Gospel promises wealth, health and prosperity to all who will claim it, or it is voiced by the socio-political activist that tells us we can establish the Kingdom in our day and generation through our own grit and determination, both fall short of the reality that God establishes this Kingdom and reveals it to those who are humble enough to acknowledge that we are utterly dependent upon God. This is a Kingdom of the Spirit that is given to those who know their need of the same Spirit. It is not by might, not by power.

We fall into a trap of seeing the Kingdom as established and built by our effort too often I fear. Whether that be articulated by those who constantly tell us that the Gospel promises wealth, health and prosperity to all who will claim it, or it is voiced by the socio-political activist that tells us we can establish the Kingdom in our day and generation through our own grit and determination, both fall short of the reality that God establishes this Kingdom and reveals it to those who are humble enough to acknowledge that we are utterly dependent upon God. This is a Kingdom of the Spirit that is given to those who know their need of the same Spirit. It is not by might, not by power.

We seem to be able to hold this conviction more readily for the bigger-picture ideas of the Kingdom of God and less readily for our daily lives. God is needed to change the world, for sure; but we often think that God helps us to change ourselves. There is a contradiction here that must be refuted. It is God that changes the world, through us as we yield ourselves to God’s purposes; but it is also God who changes us, in our everyday struggles with sin, broken promises and mixed up lives, as we yield our wills, intellects, choices, bodies, ideas, priorities, finances, families, cars, friendships, destinies, vocations, worldviews, convictions, priorities, churches, streets, workplaces, neighourhoods, voting intentions, mistakes, accomplishments, accolades, criticisms, joys, griefs, celebrations, fears, hopes and every other thing we might think of, to God.

Advent reminds us that the most important attributes we can develop are attentiveness to God’s word, obedience to God’s commands, trust in God’s character, participation in God’s community, reliance on God’s strength, belief in God’s inherent goodness, openness to God’s leading and seeing through God’s lens. And what is the most obvious example of this?



A young woman who says, ‘Let it be to me according to your word.’

Advent reminds us that the most important attributes we can develop are attentiveness to God’s word, obedience to God’s commands, trust in God’s character, participation in God’s community, reliance on God’s strength, belief in God’s inherent goodness, openness to God’s leading and seeing through God’s lens. And what is the most obvious example of this?

Do we dare to utter these kingdom shattering, politically explosive, life-transforming words and mean them? If we do, we will see the world, ourselves and our place in God’s purposes very, very differently.

Proceed with caution but turn away and you will turn away from the only path to a life with purpose and beauty that will last forever.

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