In the picture, taken all-smiles just after the coronation, our Queen stands twinkling in her strappy, snowy dress. Somewhere else maybe she would not have been a royal, but here, we celebrate her, and with her the two kings by her side. The kingdom belongs to such as these (Mark 10:14), and if ever I’ve seen a reflection of THE kingdom, it’s in this little kingdom, the school for exceptional, differently-abled teens where my children learn and grow and have friends. This kingdom smooths painful incongruencies, the inequities brought to light by labels.
When my children were small, I had to stop looking at pictures for a while. I had to throw away all those milestone guidebooks about parenting. I had to stop comparing my two autistic children to the typically developing children of my friends. See, it was the incongruencies that hurt so badly, the things my children should have been able to do that they couldn’t, things like playing, for example. While my friends were sharing pictures of crooked-written lists and letters to Santa, I kept trying just to teach my children to play with toys rather than line them up in rows or stare and stare and stare at their spinning wheels and moving parts. While my friends read The Night Before Christmas and The Polar Express with their children snuggled up in their laps, I tried to get Adam to stop taking every book we had and sliding it slowly out from behind a wall. He didn’t understand words at all, but he found it fascinating to watch the letters and pictures ever-so-slowly appear in his visual field. Later, I grieved that my beautiful, gifted children hardly qualified for Awards Day at School, even though they happen to be very smart. I grieved that Riley would stand as close as she could to a group of girls her age just to be with them while they laughed behind their hands about her lack of social skills; I grieved that Zoe missed her siblings; I grieved that the things that made my children amazing also were the things that made many people see them as least.
Autism has a way of highlighting inequity. But it’s not just autism is it? Many of you hurt, especially now at Christmas, over things that should be, but for whatever reason are not. Because a long time ago, sin pierced the skin of the King and the borders of the Kingdom, and the world hasn’t been right since. Incongruency, pain, division, loss–so many slicing things—ripped like a shiv through the fabric of the society God intended.
One year, our thumbs-up, sticky-sweet, fresh-sawed Christmas tree stood clear crooked in the stand. We didn’t know it had a built-in lean, just like our lives, until we secured it into that rusty red stand and stepped back to look. I thought I might just go crazy. At first, we tried to adjust the stand–maybe that was it; but no, the trunk itself had actually grown at a diagonal lean. I tied a length of gold organza ribbon to the railing on the stairs and pulled until the tree looked straight even though it really wasn’t. Kevin hung ornaments on the ribbon, insisting that the tree really was a Henegar tree. We were lopsided, but still beautiful. Secretly, that tree hurt my feelings, because I wanted at least one thing in my life that didn’t feel all cracked and broken. It took me a long time to learn that by grace, value in the Kingdom is assessed much differently than it is in a world without Jesus. We have hope in this: Restoration comes through Christ.
In fact, Jesus taught that the kingdom belongs to a whole bookended list of people the world would not find worthy, people who truly live as those of whom the world could never be worthy: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart (Matthew 5:3-10). “Think of what you were when you were called,” the Word says. “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many of you were influential; not many were of noble birth. …God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). Into His feast, Jesus invites the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind (Luke 14:13). The kingdom belongs to such as these, people innocent and yet still hurt by a thousand incongruencies. In His restored Kingdom, these are the people who get to wear crowns.
That’s what I was thinking, when on the night of the winter dance, Riley’s boyfriend Josh received a crown as one of our kings. Josh stood on the stage and smiled for pictures, wearing that big gold crown with it’s plastic jewels and red velvet cap. But as soon as the ceremony ended, he walked off, removing his crown as he went. Did you know? Love always gives crowns away. So Josh walked to my Riley, who stood there dazzling at him, clapping her hands, and gently set his crown right on her golden head. And so, that night at the winter dance, she became a royal too.