Christ the King. This is a rather strange day on the church calendar. It comes at the end of
the long season that we call “Ordinary Time.” (Side note: It’s called “ordinary,” not because it’s routine or run of the mill or just plain boring. It got that name because the Sundays are listed with “ordinal” numbers. The 10th Sunday, the 30th Sunday, and so on.)
This is the final Sunday before Advent, when we commemorate the first and await the second coming (that is, the advent) of the Messiah. This Sunday seems to be preview of things to come. This young one will one day become the King of kings. Walter Brueggemann said we can think of it as “a launching pad for Advent when we await a new king with a new order of reality.”
The reason I call it a “strange day” is because Jesus never claimed the title “king” for himself. It was always others who called him that, whether in joy or in judgment. We see that in Luke 23, “The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews’” (vv. 36-38). Those are not words of praise!
As for the ones who call Jesus a king as a matter of praise and joy, it looks like we’re in that category.
Maybe you can help me with this. I’ve seen plenty of churches of various denominations which are called “Christ the King.” But I don’t recall ever seeing a church called “Christ the Prophet.” I wonder if we’re more comfortable with kings than with prophets.
Kings speak to our fascination with power. None of us have been, or ever will be, a king or queen, but I think it’s easier for us to wrap our heads around the idea of monarchy. In some ways, it represents the American dream of being able, and encouraged, to climb the ladder.
Does anyone remember the show, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, hosted by Robin Leach? They would show swimming pools inside of bedrooms, people with an entire fleet of Maseratis and Lamborghinis, private reserves stocked with animals from all over the globe, taken from their natural habitats. It was basically Robin Leach drooling over the one-percenters. Still, that show is hardly the only example of that sort of fawning!
Psalm 49 says with a note of sarcasm, “you are praised when you do well for yourself” (v. 18).
The point is, we can deal with kings easier than we can with prophets. To the extent that we identify with the powers that be—and with the privileges that come with it—to the same extent we do not identify with those who point out the flaws in that, those who criticize our comfort with power. We just want to say to them, “Please go away!”
Having said all of that, it should be clear that Jesus is not that kind of king. His kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom takes this world and turns it upside down. In celebrating Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate that new reality, even if we at times have some serious problems with it. It calls us to account for our lives, to account for the sometimes questionable things in which we find solace.
We can see St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians as providing the biblical and theological underpinning for all of that.
That “new reality” I just mentioned is something the apostle attributes to God, “who has enabled [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light” (v. 12). That’s not an inheritance, as Banu would say, that would get us a Rolex watch, a BMW, and a swimming pool. The inheritance of the saints in light is something too mind-blowing for that.
The problem for us is that we struggle with, we resist, the new reality. That’s the reality in which God “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son” (v. 13). The Revised English Bible calls it “the domain of darkness.” We resist the new reality, God’s new reality, because we too often love the darkness. That is, the part of us that is less than truly and fully human, the part that wants to reject redemption and forgiveness. That is us, loving the darkness!
Why is this a text for Christ the King? That bit about the kingdom of the beloved Son has something to do with it.
And then there is the paragraph, verses 15 to 20, beginning with, “He is the image of the invisible God.” Image of the invisible. Imagine that! Ponder that one for a while. There’s something about that only art or music can capture. In fact, these were the verses of a hymn that the early church sang.
He is the “firstborn of all creation.” The word for “firstborn” is πρωτότοκος (prōtόtokos), which is where we get our word “prototype.” So Jesus, not simply the flesh and blood man, but the Christ who fills all things, is the prototype of all creation. If that doesn’t fit the description of king of all kings, I’m not sure what would!
That passage is an awesome meditation on the glory of Christ. I really encourage you to go back and read it and just sit with it. If you can, use a couple of different translations. Let it sink into your mind and spirit. It’s okay if you have trouble understanding it. I certainly don’t claim to get it all. But see what happens.
There is a problem, however, with claiming Christ as our king. Subjects of a monarch are expected to do certain things. They’re supposed to fall in line. Brueggemann says, “Celebrating ‘Christ the king’ is easy until we try to embody our citizenship.” It’s easy to do in worship; it’s not so easy when we try to do it physically, out in the world.
Remember though, Christ is not the kind of ruler we’re familiar with. This is a kingdom, or queendom, that is inside out. It isn’t based on force, but on love. This is citizenship which isn’t compulsory, but is a loyalty flowing from joyful obedience. And in many ways, acting out of love is more difficult than simply following orders. It asks so much more of us.
I said earlier that we tend to love the darkness. I’m afraid that in this past year, we’ve seen that infect our citizenship as Americans, and what’s worse, as members of the church of Jesus Christ.
A few days ago, an article was published by Jonathan Martin, who is a pastor at a nondenominational church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He speaks of the darkness he has seen revealed in our country, and especially the darkness revealed during our presidential election campaign.
He starts by talking about encounters he’s had with people who are afraid of what’s been going on, people who fear the future.
He wonders, “Does it feel like the world has turned upside down and inside out? Does it feel like people whom you love and know — good people — almost seem like they are under some kind of spell right now? Saying odd hateful, hurtful things you can’t account for based on your history with them? Does it feel like we are under some sort of powerful…mass delusion? Are you shocked, not only at what is being said, but what is not being said by Church leaders whom you have known to have a heart for justice, mercy and truth?”
To be honest, I also have wondered about that. Have all of us been taking crazy pills? 2016 has been an insane year.
Martin talks about something I mentioned recently, and that is the idea of the apocalyptic. In the Bible, “apocalyptic” is defined as “revealing” or “unveiling.” And it uses some bizarre images. He says, “This is apocalyptic time…when the hearts of men and women in America are being revealed — deep divisions that have long been present are being exposed.”
This is more than mere political and cultural divisions; something darker, more sinister is at work.
He continues, “Apocalyptic time drives the demons that have been hidden in the darkness into the light. It is now-there-is-no-place-to-hide time. It is a time for principalities and powers to be exposed.” But there is good news which goes with it. The apostle Paul says that in Christ “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him” (v. 16). Those forces which are bent on evil, and on warping us, still must answer to Christ the king.
But again, there’s our tendency to love the darkness.
In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, one meaning of the word “satan” (שטך) is “the accuser.” Thinking of God, we would say that God is not simply loving; God is love. In a similar way, Satan doesn’t simply accuse; Satan is accusation itself. In this apocalyptic time, when principalities and powers are being revealed, Martin says, “In our absurd blame of people who are not like us, people we deem as other, we actually consort with dark spirits.”
We invite those forces which make us look like we have gone crazy. We can’t explain it rationally.
He doesn’t side with conservatives or liberals, but he does feel compelled to point out some things about our president-elect. His campaign made it a priority to single out certain groups of people for unwelcome attention, to put it much too lightly. Scapegoating and accusation, pointing of the finger and blaming are becoming the rule of the day.
The resulting terror this inspires in people is the fruit of those thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers.
But guess what? In our Lord Christ “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (v. 19). Pleased to dwell! Not grudgingly, not reluctantly, not because it’s my job, not “I might as well get this over with,” but pleased to dwell. This is what I live for!
And guess what again? Through our Lord Christ “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (v. 20). There we go again. God was pleased to do this.
What can fear do when faced with unrestrained joy? Daylight dawns in the domain of darkness.
One more note from our friend Jonathan. “So finally, for the preachers, dreamers, artists and poets; for the pastors, lovers, and would-be truth tellers: in the chaos of so much rage, violence, and racial injustice: you must, must, must, must not cower before the agents of fear, when you are an ambassador of heaven.”
If we are ambassadors of heaven, if Christ is truly our king, Christ must also be recognized as prophet. A prophet speaks truth. A prophet speaks truth to society. A prophet speaks truth to the church. A prophet speaks truth to us. But this isn’t the truth of petty accusation, of dividing into us versus them. That is the truth of Satan. And Satan’s truth is a lie.
Our king, our prophet is undeterred by our stubborn rejection of the inheritance of the saints in the light and our stubborn rejection of redemption and forgiveness. That’s fine; there’s no giving up. Our king, our prophet, speaks the word and will not let us go.
That is the daylight in the domain of darkness.
 Walter Brueggemann, “A New King and a New Order,” Christian Century 109:31 (28 Oct 1992): 963.
[The first photo is "Walking from darkness into light" by Andy Teo; the bottom one is from our front porch in November 2009]