Dates: November 18th and 21st
Preacher: Pastor Ashley Rosa-Ruggieri
First Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm: Psalm 93
Second Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8
Gospel: John 18:33-37
What comes to your mind when you think of a king? Do you think of the royals in countries where there is a monarchy? Does your mind drift to fairy tales and stories that have a king in charge of the realm? Or maybe you consider the history of kings and how they have affected different parts of the world throughout time? Wherever your mind might go, I would venture to guess that the king you think about in your head is someone with power. But what if I were to tell you that the one that we call the king of kings is exactly that because he chose to relinquish that earthly power for the sake of the world. Because today we have reached the end of the church year, it is Christ the King or Reign of Christ day in the liturgical year. We have made it through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary time, with some other special days throughout, and now we sit on the cusp of an ending and a beginning. When the church year was initially formed, I don't think it was a coincidence that we go through the entire church year before we get to the one where we proclaim about the coming reign of Christ and calling Christ the king. There are plenty of kings throughout the story of the Bible, and many of them are not compassionate, just, grace-filled, or even kind, rather they are powerful. And so if this day of the church year were earlier, maybe we could get confused, we could relate our God to the kings in these other parts of our biblical narrative. Instead, we wait until we have seen all of Jesus's life and ministry until we finally arrive at the point of proclaiming that this is the kingdom we are trying to create.
It is for this reason that I often prefer using Reign of Christ rather than Christ the King, because we have so many associations to the word king. Even in our passage today, Jesus is questioned by Pilate and is asked if he is considered the king and Jesus replies with, “My kingdom is not of this world.” A message to Pilate then and a reminder to us here and now that our God and the power that God holds are not defined by this world. We can only understand the world in the way that we have been taught or have experienced, and so of course the God of the universe is not from our kingdom, because the reign of Christ is so much larger than what is understood as a king or a kingdom here. And yet, we have a God that chose to come to us. A God that chose to be Emmanuel, which means in Hebrew, God with us. Jesus and Pilate go back and forth with questions in this passage, and neither one has a straight answer, so when Pilate asks yet again, “So, are you a king?” and Jesus answers, “You say that I am, for this purpose I was born and came to the world, to testify to the truth,” we know that this is it. This is the clearest answer Jesus will give to Pilate. Even in this conversation that Jesus has with Pilate, situated before his death on the cross, he still pulls the narrative back to his birth. Christians have a tendency to jump to Easter, to jump to the cross, but as we end this church year and head into the next, I invite you to linger at the manger.
The manger is where we find our God in a form so small, so fragile, so vulnerable, that people who might dare to call him their king would be ridiculed. There is no power in a helpless baby, born to young parents, unable to find a room at an inn. Never would human logic say that this is the example that a king should set, that to be this vulnerable is necessary when we open our hearts to something more than just power in the world. Jesus was not after power, was never after power. So when we come to the Reign of Christ day the truth that we get to proclaim, the truth that Jesus was born in this world to testify to, the truth that Jesus tells Pilate that he is testifying to in our story today, is the truth that whatever our world thinks it means to be a king is wrong. To be a king is not to hold power and authority over others, to live in wealth while some under your reign suffer or starve, no, none of these things are the true making of the king that we proclaim the Good News about. Our king, our God, is one who walks with and cares for those in the kingdom. Our God shows us this so much that God chose to come and literally walk, incarnate among us as a human, so that God might understand what it felt like, what it meant to be a human. That experience and promise to be among us holds power so much broader than that of a king on earth.
When we consider our Psalm reading for today, there is plenty about our God and how the Lord is clothed in majesty and strength and might, the Lord has testimonies that are true, and holiness fits the house of the Lord. But in none of those verses does is say that our God, as King or Lord, exerts unjust power over creation. Yes, God is powerful, but God is not using that power as a way to gain influence or advantage, rather God is using the power attributed to God as a way to speak for those who are powerless in the world. Throughout Jesus's ministry we hear this message, this glimpse of the reign of Christ through parables, stories, and lessons taught to crowds and to the disciples. We hear words from Jesus like, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, the meek, the poor and poor in Spirit,” “forgive your enemies,” and “clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit the sick and imprisoned.” All of these words and more come from the experience of our God, who walked among us as the most unearthly king of them all. Which means that we, as Christians, are called into this world to live into the reign of Christ that can be.
Something that I say and preach often, but that I also find bears repeating at any time is that we pray for this improbable kingdom, this unlikely reign, this uncommon way of living, to come here and now on Earth. We pray that every week, sometimes even more than that, in the Lord's prayer taught to us by Jesus, as an acknowledgment that by praying these prayers we are offering our own gifts, our own talents, our own time, our own money, our own lives, in pursuit of a community like the one Jesus constantly describes throughout the Gospels. A community of compassion, grace, justice, hope, peace, abundance, and love. A community where all have what they need to thrive. And we get to move toward that reign of Christ every day, hoping that at the end of each one we are a little closer to the kingdom ruled by an unlikely king who showed up first as a vulnerable baby. As we enter into the new church year next week and beyond, may we find the time to linger at the manger, and remember the power contained in a humble, vulnerable, newborn baby that we dare to call our king.