Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christ the King

John 18:33-37
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34 Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" 35 Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" 36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." 37 Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

 “My kingdom is not of this world,” says Jesus, and this is a word that we need to hear ever and always, but perhaps especially this weekend.  After all, we are but a few days past Black Friday, and if you are anything like me, there are parts of this pre-Christmas time, in the church we will call it Advent, that are already exhausting.  And perhaps what is so exhausting is the out and out worldliness of all it.  Sure it comes wrapped to us in the nostalgia and good feeling of the season, in the wholesomeness of children opening presents and loved ones drinking cocoa, but make no mistake, this time is as cutthroat as it gets. It is about standing in line for all hours of the night so as to get a good deal on a flat screen t.v.  It is about circling the parking lot 34 times before battling it out with one other car for that coveted spot.   Darwin himself could have never imagined the survival of the fittest type battle that is the mall the weeks before Christmas.  Bottom line, the season we are happening upon can be about just the stuff of this world, about expensive gifts and all the rest.  And look, if you are willing to stand in line for hours on end for a cut rate deal, more power to you; I might just hire you to do some shopping for me within the next few weeks.  And certainly we need to speak out against the excesses, but this speaking out shouldn’t keep us from enjoying some of the wonderful things about this year.  Thoughtful gifts, warm cheer, loved ones, all the rest of it.  This is good stuff.   The point, though, is that what is immediately presented to us, presented to us in the nonstop white noise of the season is that this time is about stuff.  About getting as much of it as cheaply as possible and thus having a successful Christmas season.
“My Kingdom is not of this world,” and beyond the sort of “Jesus is the reason for the season” type trope, we would do well to remember this reality.  As we are inundated with messages about stuff, about giving and receiving it, this sort of carnival of commerce has actually nothing at all to do with Jesus.  And though we may feel it this in a particularly pointed way this time of year, given how much various shadowy entities want us to equate love with the steepness of price, i.e. to really love someone is to get them the most expensive gift imaginable, yes though the gulf between that kind of mentality and the kingdom of Christ is pretty clear this time of year, the distance is sort of always present, has been from the beginning.  I mean, just look at Pontius Pilate.  A brutally practical kind of guy, one for whom “truth” meant whatever would keep him in power and would keep his bosses happy,  might makes right and all the rest of it, it is not as though he has the easiest of times understanding and relating to Jesus.  A kingdom that will not fight to protect itself?   A king that is so indifferent to worldly power that he does not bother to provide any sort of reasonable defense of himself?  What exactly is the point of being in a powerful position if it will not get you ahead in this life?  Why be a CEO if not for the mansions?  To a guy for whom self-preservation was the greatest good to be protected, this makes absolutely no sense at all.  And then insult to injury, Jesus says that, had Pilate any understanding of the truth, Pilate would listen to him. 
“My kingdom is not of this world,” and so the problem runs a bit deeper than the excesses of this season.  Because really, this Jesus is just as confounding to us as he to Pilate.  He simply does not play by the same rules of the world that you and I inhabit on a daily basis. I mean, he hangs out with the poor, the miserable, the forgotten and calls them the beloved ones of the kingdom.  He gathers religiously impure women and men with greedy hands to his side as disciples and companions.  He forgives those who harm him; he will pray to his Father that those who will put him to death will receive mercy.  He preaches totally crazy things like forgiveness is the only way into true security, and that he, he is the embodiment of all eternal truth. This is a really difficult thing to understand.  It is hard to build a marketing campaign around this sort of thing, because, at bottom, this is not about manipulating people to your own end, which is why Pilate cannot get a hold of this Jesus and why he has so little to do with the excesses of the coming season.   I mean, so unexpected is this guy that even John the Baptizer, even the one set apart by God to prepare this Jesus’ way cannot recognize him.  For the Baptizer will declare that it takes the work of the Holy Spirit to illuminate and identity Jesus. Otherwise, Jesus will remain the enigma that Pilate experienced him to be. 
“My kingdom is not of this world,” and by this point, I think the truth of that should be well-established.  But just because the kingdom is not of this world, that does not mean it fails to take shape in this world.  And that is the miracle of Christian faith.  That no matter how strange this Jesus is, no matter how different the rules that he plays by,  no matter how hidden he would remain from our sight without the work of the Holy Spirit, the kingdom comes to us never the less.  The Holy Spirit, you see, continues to draw us deeper into the faith that the Spirit alone can impart; indeed the Spirit continues to beckon us to the cross and open tomb, continues to give us the faith to see that this Jesus is the Christ, and that in Him is all for which we long.  This is the great gift of the faith that God gives you.  That this other-worldly king comes to you and lives in you by faith, and you in Him. Even in His seeming strangeness, his utter difference from us and our values, He remains closer to us than even we are to ourselves.  This otherworldly One makes his home with you, gives you the power to be children born of God.  And what is more, you yourselves may now live out of this power, out of your identity as heirs to Christ’s kingship.  For all that He has he has given to you.  Yes, in your generosity to the ongoing mission of Centennial Lutheran,  in your feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, in your inviting others into Christ’s forgiveness in this place, indeed in all that you do, you do now as children of this God, as subjects of this king.  So take heart and good cheer, dear people of God.  Though we enter a season that will  inevitably wear us down as much as it builds us up, please do not confuse all the buying and selling, all the harried efforts to get people to and from the airport, all the last minute runs to Kings Soopers or even that small and subtle mourning for those who are not here, yes please do not mistake any of that for Christ’s Kingdom.  For when that dust settles, Christ’s kingdom will remain.  And oh yes, the words that old hymn, “the kingdom’s ours forever.”  Thanks be to God, amen. 

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