Emmanuel, Champaign—Luke 19:29-38, Jeremiah 23:1-6, Colossians 1:11-20
One of the frustrations of life in this technological age occurs when something goes obviously wrong with us, or with one of the things we use, but it’s not at all obvious what the problem is. That strange feeling that you get when you turn your neck to the left needs to be diagnosed. That strange sound that your car makes when it’s backing up needs to be diagnosed. But diagnosis is more of an art than a science, and often involves a good deal of plain old trial and error. I know this is completely irrational, but sometimes I feel like we should declare a day when all the auto mechanics report to the clinics and hospitals, and all the physicians report to the garages and repair shops, and we could see whether the diagnostic outcomes are actually any different!
But I’m sure the frustrations of these professionals to whom we entrust our bodies and our cars—I’m sure the frustration of these professionals is compounded when the patient or the customer has already done the diagnosing and prescribing and is only showing up to get the treatment. I’ve done it myself. I’ve walked into an emergency room and announced that I had a kidney stone and needed an intravenous dose of a particular narcotic analgesic. Now, it happens that I was absolutely right, both in the diagnosis and the prescription. But I’m happy to say that they didn’t just take my word for it—they ran the proper tests first. To do otherwise would have been irresponsible on their part, and for me to insist that they do otherwise would have been foolhardy on my part.
Today is the feast of Christ the King, and if we are not careful, we might very easily find ourselves in the position of that foolishly know-it-all consumer of medical services or automotive care. Even those who are blessed with sufficient wisdom to avoid diagnosing their own physical or automotive symptoms are still susceptible to the temptation to prescribe just what kind of king we need and expect Jesus to be. If our eyes are open only to the sort of king who might more accurately be described as a dictator—one who prescribes everything we must think and feel and do, leaving us with no personal discretion, then we will simply not see a king who entrusts us with vast freedom, and therefore vast responsibility. If our minds are open only to the sort of king who will rule and direct the lives of others—keeping them in line, because it’s clear they need some help in that department—a king who rules others, but leaves us pretty much alone, then we will simply not recognize as a king anyone who takes a direct interest in our lives and wants to have an intimate daily relationship with us. If our hearts are open only to the sort of king who throws his power around to “fix” things—and fix them our way—then we will not respond to a king who groans with his kingdom and weeps over it and suffers repeatedly at the hands of its citizens. If we have already diagnosed the ailments of this world and prescribed the kind of king it needs, then we will probably be disappointed in Christ the King.
We will be like the multitudes of first century Palestinian Jews who thought the time was more than ripe for a king who would be a political savior, one who would lead them in throwing off the oppressive yoke of the Roman Empire and restore the nation of Israel to the glory days it enjoyed under the kings David and Solomon. They thought Jesus might be that king, and when he entered Jerusalem, it had all the symbolic earmarks of a triumphant royal procession, a conquering hero who was entering the city to take possession of it. They acclaimed him with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord.” Five days later, Jesus was being mocked and crowned with thorns and given a fake scepter and a fake royal robe by the soldiers who beat him within an inch of his life, and then the same crowd that had welcomed him into the city on Palm Sunday shouted “Crucify him!” as he was led away to his death. He was not the kind of king they wanted. He did not fit either their diagnosis or their prescription, and they were not in a mood to be forgiving for leading them on falsely.
People who are newly married learn quickly about this clash between expectation and reality. Even before we meet the person we eventually marry, we carry around in our imaginations an idealized conception of what this person will be like. While we’re dating and while we’re engaged, we tend to feed this ideal, and see only those characteristics in the one we’re with that conform to that ideal, filtering out those that clash with it. After being married for a while, however, we can no longer afford that luxury. Sooner or later, we have to face the concrete reality of the actual person we are married to. This is not easy. It’s dangerous territory, and it’s a place where many marriages crumble. But couples that make it past this crisis find that there is a dimension of depth and connection in their relationship that is far more satisfying, far more rewarding, than the ideal for which they struggled so hard. What they end up with is actually better than what they had to reluctantly let go of.
The same can happen with the kingship of Christ. If we are prepared to receive Christ as the king he actually is, then we will discover that he is the very king we need. We will discover a king who is indeed a ruler. His rule, however, is not harsh like that of a tyrant. Rather, it is loving and gracious and tender, like that of a shepherd. We will discover a king who provides order and discipline for our lives, and gives us a map—a paradigm, an interpretive framework, if those terms mean anything to you—a map by which we can negotiate the spiritual geography of this crazy world we live in. We will discover a king who stands ready to help us grow into the fullness of what it means to be a human being. We will discover a king who is also a physician, and who knows where it hurts before we even open our mouths to tell him. We will discover a king who connects with the depth of our woundedness, who entrusts us with responsibility that we never knew we could handle, and who kindles in us a passion for his justice and his righteousness. We will discover the king Jesus actually is, not our idealized conception.
Like those who welcomed Jesus in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we will welcome and cheer his arrival. We will welcome and cheer the arrival of the infant Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, at this very altar on Christmas Eve. We will welcome and cheer the arrival of the risen and ascended Christ on that same altar, and in our midst, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, both at this celebration, and every celebration we attend in the future. And on that great day when Christ the Redeemer returns as Christ the Judge, we will welcome him as he comes with power and great glory. All hail King Jesus! Amen.