Advent Reading Day 6 – Tension
“She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7
Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities with the line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” A former leader of mine refers to life in following Jesus as the “incredible joy and the sheer terror of Kingdom living.” Both encapsulate an important truth of God’s Kingdom – Tension. We live in constant tension of the Here and The Not Yet of God’s Rule and Reign. We see breakthrough and setback all in the same day. The problem is what we do with it. Some teachers would lead us to believe that we just take on a fatalism or defeatist mentality and assume that “this is as good as it gets” and “this is just the way it goes,” but at least someday we’ll have heaven to look forward to. Other teachers tell us that the best is right here and now and we simply need to claim that better life whenever hardship or difficulties or sickness comes on the scene. I see God’s design as being a middle road filled with tension, however.
Within the very nativity account itself, I see this tension between the two different truths. I see evidence of God’s rule being present here and now as well as God’s Kingdom being delayed. I see a tension that surrounded the events of Jesus’ birth, and I take great comfort in them as I see both the highs and lows of life that came at them and that come at me on a daily basis. This tension helps me to press into God and trust Him for whatever comes.
Consider three of these events around Jesus’ birth:
– Jesus’ birth is marked by a star, yet there is no room for his family in the Inn and they have to spend their night in a cave. This is God’s Son we’re talking about here. On the one hand God marks the birth by the inexplicable – a star in the heavens, yet Jesus is born among animals with a feed trough to serve as a cradle.
– God sends angels to announce Jesus’ birth that the King is here, yet after the Magi visit, Joseph and Mary have to escape to Egypt to keep Jesus from being killed. The tension of God being able to send angels to announce His birth (and therefore the assumption that He could have sent those same angels to protect Jesus), yet instead He chose to send an angel to speak to Joseph to tell him to escape to Egypt with Jesus. God led them to run to a different country to wait it out.
– A year or two after Jesus’ birth when Magi from the East came, they brought exquisite, expensive gifts that were meant for royalty as they traveled hundreds of miles to worship King Jesus, yet when the time came just after Jesus’ birth to have him dedicated in the Temple, the dedication was marked by two doves which was the sacrifice of the poor. The Humble King – an oxymoron above all oxymorons.
In all of these, God knew what He was doing. He had His reasons which went far beyond our understanding. He demonstrated His Kingdom in all of these events, while everyone, including Mary & Joseph, waited for the fullness of His Kingdom reality to break in. The tension existed then…and this tension continues to exist today. We see joy and suffering all in the same breath. We experience victory and looming defeat all at the same time. We feel like we are in a free fall while also feeling His strangely secure hand propping us up and protecting us from harm.
May we acknowledge the tension of the ride, and then in the midst of it submit ourselves to the One who sees it all much more clearly than we do – and who is committed to work it all out for His good and the good of those who love Him. May we see the Now and the Not Yet of God’s Rule and Reign that Jesus declared and demonstrated over and over again – and now live it out in this season in which we celebrate His coming.
Come Lord Jesus, Come.
Prayer: Jesus, I am struck by the extremes in Your coming. I am struck by the joy and the danger, the richness and the poverty, the extravagance and the humility. Teach me what it means to live in Kingdom tension. Teach me what it means to experience your Kingdom here and now while also longing expectantly for it’s coming fulfillment. And, along the way, pull back the veil and help me to experience the fullness of your Kingdom today, right now…right here. Amen.