Christ the King


TEXT: Philippians 2:5-11

We need to begin this morning with a short lesson on the Christian calendar. Next week begins the church season called Advent. Advent is the time the church sets aside to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child on Christmas. Although Advent comes at the close of our calendar year, it is actually the beginning of the Christian year. Symbolically we begin the year at the place we hope to begin our lives...preparing for Christ to come into our hearts.

The week before Advent is the last Sunday of the Christian year holds a special church holiday that often gets ignored. This week is called Christ the King Sunday and because most years it falls on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, it usually gets swallowed up in Thanksgiving celebrations. But this year, the grace of the calendar has allowed Christ the King to have a Sunday all to Himself.

This Sunday is an important way to end the Christian year because it teaches us that although Jesus began as a poor baby in a manger, that is not where he stays. In the end, after years as a human being, teaching, healing, calling disciples, torture, death and resurrection...when all is said and done, Jesus resumes his rightful place as King.

This Sunday is also an important bridge to the beginning of the year, because it reminds us that Christmas is a pretty unremarkable event if Jesus were not King to begin with. One more word here about Christian doctrine before we move on. Because the Bible talks of Jesus as the Son of God, many people...including many Christians...think we're talking about two separate beings, Jesus and God. That is not what orthodox Christian faith teaches. We believe that Jesus is God. We believe that God took on human flesh and that when God appears in human form, we name God "Jesus." Now to make that leap of faith, you have to be able to believe that God has mastered certain things that we have learning to be in two places at the same time, but to me that only makes sense. I certainly do not want a God in charge of the universe that isn't capable of any more than I am. But, whatever you believe personally, the proclamation of the Christian Church for the past two thousand years has been that Jesus is God, not a sort of secondary deity. That proclamation is the only reason that Christmas is celebrated in the church, and with Christ the King Sunday backed up as a bridge to Advent, that central doctrine of the Church is proclaimed.

If you think all of that sounds ridiculous, I can relate to that. I will never forget the first time that I saw the Queen of England on television. I knew that England had a Queen long before I ever saw her, and my mind was instantly filled with all the images of queens that I had ever read. They might be old and wise, or young and rebellious, or even beautiful and mean like the Queen in Snow White. But every last one of them wore jeweled crowns, long layered gowns in expensive fabrics, and ermine-trimmed robes or satin capes. You can imagine my dismay when I first saw Queen Elizabeth walking around London in street clothes and a hat. Why be queen if you're going to go around in street clothes and a hat? It was no surprise to me that the British monarchy ended up in trouble.

The issue I had with the Queen is the same issue that many have with God becoming flesh...the church word for that is incarnation...becoming flesh. God has glory and power. We imagine thrones and golden streets and mansions. What good is being God if you're going to go around in street clothes and a hat? The great God become a human baby? A human baby in a poor family? A human baby from a poor family in an occupied country? Born in a stable? We are mystified.

And yet something within us wants it to be true. I seem to be getting all my illustrations from the British monarchy, but do you remember King Edward VIII? Do you remember that in 1936 he gave up the throne of England in order to marry the American commoner Mrs. Wallis Simpson? The thing that impressed people was not that two people got married, or even that a King married a commoner. The thing that really made people stand up and take notice was that a King gave up his throne and had to live in another country in order to marry the commoner. There was wonder and bewilderment, but somewhere deep down was a sense of gladness that someone would value love above wealth and fame and glory.

I think something like that might even be the central longing of our country right now. As two men struggle to become President of the United States, there's an undercurrent of desire that someone would take the high ground and step aside for the good of our nation. We all want our candidate to win, but at the same time we would like to see that someone who could have glory might give it up...not because it's better for them, but because it's better for us.

We may or may not see that happen in our current political scramble. But in this one season every year we have the reminder that Someone much more important that Bush or Gore has done such a thing solely out of love for us. Someone more important than the King of England has given up glory and a throne so that we can experience true love first hand. That Someone, we believe, is God...the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob...the only God that there is, ever was or ever will be left the glory behind to become one of us. That is why we often sing of Jesus with the name Emmanuel, which means "God with us." It's not another God, it's the same God in human form.

Without understanding all of that, we won't really know what we're celebrating at Christmas. But if we stop there, we will have missed the opportunity to transform our lives. The message of Jesus' birth is that God loved us enough to give up the benefits of kingship and become one of us. But the disturbing message of Jesus' life, death and resurrection is that God is asking us to do the same. Right at the beginning of the Philippians passage is this frightening little sentence that reads: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus."

It's fairly comfortable to let someone else give up power and glory. It's relatively easy for me to stand here and tell the presidential candidates that one of them should give it up and take the high road. But what if it were me? Most of us can manage to concede defeat. But how many of us can truly give up a victory? We need this message today more than ever.

Ours is the land of entitlement. We have our rights and we fight and sue one another to be sure we get and keep what we believe is our due. But that is not the attitude of God as revealed in Jesus. The attitude of God says that while there is nothing wrong with glory and fame and power in and of themselves, if the cause of love is compromised, we must give them up. "Go, sell all you have and give to the poor" said Jesus to the rich, young ruler. Not because it was wrong for him to be rich in and of itself, but because it was wrong for him to have extra when there were those that did not have enough. It doesn't matter that we have a right to it...if it's a problem for someone else, give up your right. Love takes precedence.

Can we do it? It is the searing question that the life of Jesus asks of us? Can we really take up a cross and follow Jesus? Can we drink of the cup from which he drank? The issue seeps into every relationship we have. I have seen family after family torn apart by inheritance money. Different sides fight for what they believe they are due. "Mom meant for me to have the china." "I'm the one who was always there caring for him." "Grandpa always intended for me to have that." How many can give up the claim when the judgment comes in our favor? There are countless family members who are not speaking because the one who got the china could not turn around and give it in love to the other.

Can we give up the right to obtain and use certain resources so that there will be an earth for others to enjoy five hundred years from now? Can we give up our right to receive interest on loans so that other nations can get out from under crippling debt and prosper? Can we give up our right to have everything we want when we want it so that laborers can have sleep and at least one day of rest in a week? Can we give up our right to vengeance in order to forgive and restore relationship? We in the "Live free or die" there any right at all we would be willing to waive out of love for another of God's children?

And then there's the election. It's relatively easy to tell the OTHER candidate that he should let it go. Can you say to YOUR candidate..."Let the other guy win. Yes, you are the rightful President, but for the sake of the nation, let it go. Give it to him instead."?

What is love calling you to give up this morning? What relationship could be healed if you didn't have to be right? Which of God's children could have more if you had less? What commoner is waiting for you to leave your throne so that love can be fulfilled?

"Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not count equality with God as something to be held onto, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross!" I don't know about you, but it's not an attitude that I see a lot...even in my own soul.

Christ the King showed up in street clothes and a hat. God became flesh and dwelt among us. The one who was exalted submitted to death out of love for us. That's our faith, and that's our calling. Can anybody tell from the way we behave?


(c) 2000, Anne Robertson

Share this