Sunday, November 20, 2022
Luke 23:33-43/Colossians 1:11-20
We have a king again! I will never forget the date, because Queen Elizabeth II died on my birthday, September 8. Now we have King Charles III. I say “we,” even though of course we don’t have a monarchy here in the United States, because we love the British royal family, don’t we? Sure, there are other monarchies around the world, and our country was founded on the principles of democracy that were directly anti-monarchy, but we have never fully let go it seems of our fascination with British royalty. I discovered that King Charles had a birthday this week, so now he is 74 years old, and at age 73 earlier this year, he was the oldest person to take the British throne. He became heir apparent to the throne when he was three years old – he waited 70 years to become king.
Can you imagine what it’s like to be told your entire life that one day you will be king? Think of the expectations placed upon you at an early age! I think, “no thanks!” I’m happy to be a relative nobody and live a peaceful quiet middle class life here in the U.S. I mean, think of the headlines over the years, the scandals with Prince Harry & Meghan and Prince Andrew, the tragic life of Princess Diana, high profile divorces and affairs and so on. A quick Google search tells me that at least three dozen books have been written about Charles alone, not counting the other notorious members of the royal family. Netflix’s popular series The Crown is now on its fifth season and there have been plenty of movies and documentaries produced about the royal family as well. I’m not sure what fascinates us so much about royalty, but even as we know that most monarchs are figureheads without much political power today, on this Christ the King Sunday perhaps we understand more about what it means to call Jesus our King than we initially first think.
Jesus didn’t have to wait 70 years to become king, but he was born knowing he would be king, too. In fact, our second reading from Colossians tells us that Christ is the firstborn of all creation, and that all things, thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers included, “have been created through him and for him.” God gives us the gift of Christ our king to “rescue us from the power of darkness” and transfer “us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,” Colossians goes on to say. God destined Jesus to be king from the beginning, in other words, and has also destined us to be a part of his beloved kingdom through his death and resurrection. Jesus was born to be king.
We also hear the promise in our readings for today that Jesus our King and Messiah is descended from the root of Jesse, the house of David, in the line of the royalty of Israel. But in our gospel for today, the notion that Jesus is king and not just any king, not just King of the Jews, even, but King of the universe, the one before all things, the beginning, the one who has first place in everything; this description of Jesus in Colossians is completely unbelievable as people witness Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross. THIS is what God had in mind for the ruler and savior of the universe? It didn’t make any sense.
In the Roman Empire, crucifixion as punishment for a crime was reserved for the lower classes and non-Roman citizens. Jesus is on trial for sedition – for challenging Rome’s authority and rule. No TRUE royal person would be crucified in such a publicly humiliating way. Even more, if Jesus is the son of God and the Messiah, he would have the power to save himself and the criminals hanging with him – that’s what the leaders and the one criminal on the cross next to him think, anyway, and surely others shared that sentiment. How does Jesus the Christ, the son of God, the Messiah, King of the universe, die on a cross? And how does his death accomplish anything rather than signaling weakness and defeat? These are questions about Jesus that some people probably still wonder about today, and certainly what people, even the disciples, were thinking on the day Jesus died.
Like Charles III, Jesus our King was a very public figure who was not popular with everyone. Many expectations were placed upon Charles at an early age, just as we see expectations placed upon Jesus in our gospel for today. But rather than possessing the earthly power and wealth of the British royal family, Jesus grew up in the humble village of Nazareth with working class parents. In calling people to follow him, he asks them to leave their homes and possessions behind, and he has no place to lay his own head, he tells us in the gospels. In his humility, in his sacrifice and service to others, in his power in weakness, Jesus demonstrates himself to be very different from the kings of this world. On the cross, perhaps at first it seemed as if he let everyone down. But it is on the cross where Jesus flips everyone’s expectations of what God’s beloved kingdom is like and who can be a part of it – through death, Jesus triumphs over death. As the firstborn from the dead, Jesus actually comes to have first place in everything. The cross is not his defeat, but Christ’s greatest victory. Through Jesus our king’s death on the cross, God is pleased to reconcile to himself all things. Through Jesus our king’s death on the cross, we are made members of his kingdom, thanks be to God!
What expectations do we place upon Jesus that on second thought, don’t measure up to who he really is as our King? Do we hope that Jesus will fix everything in an instant? Do we only want to worship Christ in his glory and power, and skip over the depressing death on the cross part? Do we believe that our own power and wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, and ignore that Christ died for all, including the poorest and lowliest of us? Do we make Jesus into our image to look and be just like us, rather than remember that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, as Colossians puts it? As we move toward Christmas, let’s give thanks to God that Jesus was born to be our king. But let’s also remember that his power is through weakness, that as Jesus’ loyal subjects, we are called to serve as he serves, and to find him there beside us in our darkness valleys – in the lost, the last and the least. May this kind of king, Christ our King, come to have first place in everything. Amen.