The Once and Future King – November 25, 2007
Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 23:33-43
November 25, 2007
I thought a lot about using this title. Those of you who are fans of the legend of King Arthur will recognize it as the title of T. H. White’s classic book about the subject, circa 1958. (I was one year old at the time) If you don’t remember that, you may remember the first part of that story, which was later made into a movie. It was called “The Sword in the Stone.” Remember that? Wasn’t that a great story? “Whosoever pulleth this sword from this stone is hereby King of all England.” And of course, the sword is pulled out by the most unlikely of characters. He is “Wart,” the lowly squire of the great knight Sir Kay.
Well, the title of that larger work, “The Once and Future King” was so fitting for this Christ the King Sunday, I just had to use it. So I do so giving full credit and recognition to you, T. H. White, and your estate, and your family. (And especially your family’s lawyers!!!)
I’d like to suggest today, with no offense intended to King Arthur, that Jesus is “The Once and Future King.” That description fits him even better! He is the king foretold by the Prophet Isaiah, in this passage we usually read as part of the Advent celebration. (Which begins next week, believe it or not!!) He is also “King of Jews” as the accusation ironically read above his head on the cross. And he is “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” as described in the book of Revelation, so wonderfully set to music by Handel in his famous Oratorio, “The Messiah.” Jesus is “The Once and Future King.”
I say all of this because this is Christ the King Sunday. And let me start by acknowledging that this is not a very well known liturgical day. How many would have known that before you came to Church today? (And remember the 9th commandment! How many know what that is?) Not many people remember this celebration. And it’s no wonder! With all the hype in all the stores and in all the malls and on our televisions this time of year, we usually find ourselves much more familiar with Advent! We can relate to that “anticipation” of the coming holiday. (Even though every year I wonder how much less meaningful that “holiday” becomes as we slowly remove Christ farther from Christmas!)
Christ the King Sunday is also the “New Years’ Eve’” of the liturgical year. It’s the last Sunday of the year and it is the culmination of the story of Jesus. He is the Once and Future King! The first Sunday of the liturgical year is then the first Sunday of Advent. But since that year doesn’t “coordinate” with our calendar New Year – or the celebrations surrounding it – I’m that just adds to our unfamiliarity with Christ the King Sunday. Then add to that the fact that, because of where it falls in the month of November, many Churches choose to designate it as “Thanksgiving Sunday,” instead. And “Christ the King” often gets forgotten altogether.
So what do we do? How do we remember and celebrate Christ the King? First off, I think we need to recognize it. And we’re doing that right now. (I think we’re getting it!) Then we also must begin to think in terms of Christ the King. I hope I set that up a couple of weeks ago when I talked about the “sovereignty of God.” Do you remember that? That was in a sense a sort of “precursor” to this celebration of Christ the King.
Then, I think we must strive to expand our imagery of the coming Christ, which is difficult this time of year. Unfortunately, the celebration we’re about to begin – or which began weeks ago in the retail world – tends to keep the image of Christ is rather limited. If there is any image of Christ associated with this time of year – which is becoming increasingly more rare – it is pretty much confined to that of a baby, along with maybe a star, a loving mother, wise men, and shepherds. Even in our celebration in the Church, that tends to be the predominant imagery – in both our décor and in our minds. How do we incorporate in Christmas the whole of the message and the mission of Christ? That becomes a challenge.
In the Old Testament there were two images of the coming messiah. There was the image of the “Suffering Servant,” and there was the image of the “Conquering King.” We see both of those images in the prophecy of Isaiah. And remember, Isaiah’s ministry took place 750 to 690 years before Christ.
In Isaiah 53, we read those famous words. And these words are often associated with Easter. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief… Surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows… He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquity, and upon him was the chastisement that made us whole.” (Isaiah 53:3-5) We know those words. They describe the “Suffering Servant.” But what of the conquering King?
I sometimes think our Jewish friends have a better handle on that image – the image of God as king. They begin many of their prayers with these words (In Hebrew, of course “Baruch Hataw Adonai Elohenu Melachalom”) “Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe.” And I think those words, which reflect the Kingship of God, translate well to our understanding of the Trinity, in that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is God, and therefore he is King.
Again, we read some of that imagery of the Conquering King from Isaiah’s 9th chapter, which we will read again in a few weeks. Along with images of triumph and battles won we read these words. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Those are the images we need to be adding to our Advent celebration. Isaiah expands that vision wonderfully. “A child is born… a son is given…” And he shall be “upon the throne of David… Forever.” There you have it. Jesus Christ “The Once and Future King.”
Consider some of the music we sing at this time of year. “Hark the Herald Angels sing glory to the (what?) newborn King.” “Noel, noel, born is the King of Israel.” “Joy to the World the Lord is come, let earth receive her King.”
While you have those words in your mind, think of the story we read today from Luke’s Gospel. It’s a little odd to think of the cross in conjunction with all of this. But remember the words of the charge against him, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The irony of who he was and what was happening was intense! In John’s Gospel, the chief priests went to Pontius Pilate and said, “Don’t write that! Make it say ‘This man said he was King of the Jews.’” But Pilate, in that intensely ironic scene, said, “What I have written stays!” (John 19:21-22) There was Christ the King acknowledged and proclaimed even in that horribly event! And then, in perhaps the greatest of ironies, they mocked Jesus for being what he truly was. “If you are the king of the Jews come down from the cross and we will worship you.”
Add to all that the imagery of the Future King from the book of Revelation, when all the voices of heaven cried out with a loud voice saying, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” (Revelation 5:11-12) and then later the image of the Conquering King is fulfilled in what is called “The song of the Lamb. “Great and wonderful are thy deeds O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are thy ways. O King of the ages! …For thou alone art holy. And all nations shall come and worship thee…”
Jesus Christ “The Once and Future King!” Do you see that image? I pray you’ll Keep that image, that title, in your mind as you begin a new liturgical year next week. But more importantly – and we cannot conclude today without stating this. More importantly, we need to keep those thoughts and images in our hearts. We need to know in our hearts that Jesus Christ is King.”
When it really comes down to it. All the rest is really just academic. You see, we can talk theology all day long. We can talk about the Trinity and the nature of Christ until this time next week – or next year! And that’s all well and good. But that’s not what really matters.
The real question, the real question of Christ the King, of Advent, of Lent, of Easter, of Isaiah or Revelation, is not whether Jesus Christ is King. The real question is whether Jesus Christ is your king. That’s what truly matters!
So at the dawn of a new Liturgical year, what better time to make that a reality. What better time to a new commitment of your life – or perhaps a first commitment – to Jesus Christ as King! And so I invite you, I encourage you, I beg you, to take this time to do just that – to make Christ your King. Take this time to submit yourself to his sovereignty. Accept the work of his atonement! Make him your Lord and Savior. Let that be the underlying theme of Advent this year, and of everything you do. In all things, celebrate Christ, “The Once and Future King.”
As we close in prayer, I invite you to recommit your life to God in Jesus Christ, and to pledge yourself anew to live according to his will and his kingdom.
Eternal God, Christ the Lord, our King, we give ourselves to you once again. We know that there are times we have wandered away from you, forgetting what it is like to be your people in every way, and in every day. We ask again for your spirit to come upon us and make us whole, to impart to us your grace, and to fill us with your Joy. Change us in every way in to the likeness of Christ our Lord and King. For this we humbly pray in his name, Amen.