Jeremiah 23:1-6, Matthew 2:1-6
November 24, 2013
This is “Christ the King Sunday.” That seems hard to believe! Doesn’t it? And not only is it hard to believe that Advent is upon us, but so is the month of December. I’m not even going to say the number of days until Christmas! I was running on the beach in Ocean City this past week wearing shorts and a T-shirt!
But yes, Advent is practically here. And as I said last week, we are about to celebrate once again the light of Christ coming into the world. This is the last Sunday in the liturgical calendar. Today we celebrate “Christ the King.” But soon we’ll sing, “Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king!” Soon we’ll read the entirety of the second chapter of Matthew, where we’ll hear again the implications of these Magi coming to Jerusalem asking “Where is he who has been born the “King of the Jews?” The first of a number of power struggles that surrounded Jesus would take place at that point.
That word “king” followed Jesus throughout his life. During Holy week, we’ll read about those who were trying to do away with him. They were involved in a power struggle of their own, and they would accuse him in his trial, using those same words. “This man claims that he is King of the Jews!” By the way, that is something Jesus never actually said about himself!
At that time of year, we also read again the account of what I think is one of the most amazing scenes in all history – Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate. There Pilate asks him “Are you a king then?” As I said a month or so ago, the power struggle underlying that conversation is of the greatest irony. There, this prisoner in chains stands before the representative of the greatest, most powerful empire in history. Yet, the feeling of which of them was really the power is unmistakable!
That irony is made deeper when the crowds called for Barabbas. Pilate said “What shall I do with your king?” and the crowds cried “Crucify him!” Before they did, the soldiers mocked him, saying “Hail, king of the Jews!” – as they were striking him. That irony would forever be associated with this event when they placed the sign on the cross above Jesus’ head, which is part of every picture of the crucifixion. It read in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Sometimes we just see the initials of those words in Latin, “INRI.”
Of all the Gospel writers, John is the one who tells about the objection that was made to those words. The chief priests came to Pilate and said, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but ‘This man said he was the King of the Jews.’” To which Pilate responded, for all history to judge, “What I have written I have written!” (John 19:21-22)
Well today, that question, that scene, and that sign have all come full circle. For today, in the waning moments of the liturgical year, we celebrate “Christ the King.” That which Jesus was accused of, that which he was mocked about, that which was written on the cross, have all become true. Christ is King! The words are true which we will sing in a few minutes, “The Kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ!” Today, we recognize that, in the end, Jesus will reign as king with God the Father (for they are one!) Today we recognize that such is the case even now. In a few moments we will all say together these words – and I hope you’ll concentrate on them as you say them – “On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth (present tense) at the right hand of God the Father almighty…”
That’s what we celebrate today! And as I said, history can judge those events. Scholars and historians can analyze their implications. But we who follow this Jesus are called to take the perspective of the present. Yes, Christ the King Sunday asks us to remember those things. But most of all it asks us to think in terms of our allegiance. Is Jesus not just “King,” as we state in our creed, but is he “our King?” Think about that. Otherwise, Christ the King Sunday is just a nice liturgical day, isn’t it.
So, we don’t ask, “Do you believe Christ is king?” We ask “Is he your king?” “Is Christ king in your life, or is he merely(!) “King of the Universe” Is he sovereign in your life? Does he “rule.” Is he “Lord.” We use that word all the time, don’t we? We say, “Jesus is Lord.” We call him, “Lord Jesus.” We sing, “Give thanks to the Lord, our God and King.” But do we mean that?
It was pointed to me out once that those are all medieval terms. There were “Lords” and “Kings” in a time when the Church was growing and empires were crumbling and feudal states were warring. That was a time of rule and power and subjugation. Such terms were more meaningful then. Bible references to kingdoms and power were more firmly established in those days. But, I was told, that’s not our world. And in a way, we don’t like such terms. We might even think of that time period in a more derogatory way. We might say something old fashioned is “positively medieval!”
Maybe there’s something to be said for that. We do live in a different age. We live in an age where “independence” is very important, and one person subjugating another person or a group of people is abhorrent to us. But that’s not what we’re talking about, and I hope we can see the difference. Christ the King isn’t king because he conquered us. He’s king because we give him our allegiance. There’s a huge difference!
As a kid, I pledged allegiance every day, “to the flag to the republic for which it stands.” In our classrooms, we even sang a patriotic song every day. I think it’s a shame that doesn’t happen any more. Not because I think people aren’t patriotic, but because I think allegiances are important. And we need to know that we all have them, whether we think we do or not. Think about it. We make baptismal vows, and wedding vows. We promise our loyalty – our allegiance – in many ways. I think it’s good for us to recognize that, or else we might not realize who we are pledging our allegiance to!
In 1979, singer songwriter Bob Dylan actually had a religious conversion. At that time he released an album entitled “Slow Train Coming.” And on it there was a hit song called “You Gotta Serve Somebody.” Bob Dylan gained huge popularity in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and he was a “social icon” in that turbulent time. But when he came to God, he realized that we all have such allegiances. “It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord,” he sang “but you gotta serve somebody.”
So who do we serve? Where is our allegiance? When we baptize or confirm or accept new members we ask, “Who is your Lord and Savior?” Notice, we don’t ask, “Do you have a Lord and Savior?” We all have those allegiances, those things that subjugate us, either voluntarily or against our will. In a way, we’re asking, “Who is your king?” And again, not “Do you have a king?”
My prayer for all of us is that, on this Christ the King Sunday, we recognize that so many things in our lives call for our loyalty and allegiance. And I hope we know that we’ve made the clear choice to choose Christ as King. Again, he’s not a conqueror, but he is king. He is one with God the Father. He is the sovereign Lord of the all creation. But we must choose to follow. We must choose to be his subjects. May we take this day to know that, and to place ourselves under his divine sovereignty.
Think about that all this week as we prepare our hearts once again to celebrate the newborn king! Ask yourself again, “Who is your Lord and Savior?”
Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, for you have created all things, and all the earth is under your dominion. Help us to know that we have given you our allegiance, trusting you with all of our lives. For this we pray in the name of Jesus, our Lord, Amen.