Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Last week I mentioned we were are about to move into Advent, and Advent can get scary. We’re not at Advent yet, but I think Christ the King always makes things a bit confusing. Advent, which begins next Sunday, is about the return of the king, you might say, the return of Christ to come and judge the world in righteousness. Sometimes, our prayers will end with Maranatha, which means come Lord Jesus. That’s what we’re praying for during Advent. It’s not preparing for Christmas. It’s preparing for Christ’s return. Christ the King seems like the same thing on one level, but it’s not—it’s celebrating the fact of Christ’s kingship, or reign. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s a celebration that Christ is King, and it is Christ who will come to judge heaven and earth, as Scripture declares and our creeds confess. When I first wrote that I was hoping there would be a note of comfort in all the doom and lightning. But I was reading the last book by Denis Johnson, who died last year, in which a man named Cass in rehab recounts an encounter with the Devil, who tells him, “All of you is mine already.” Cass says, “Are you a messenger of God?” “Worse,” the devil replies. “What could be worse than a messenger of God?” Cass replies. He’s got a point. But I guess, perhaps, the answer is Christ the King. God himself. And yet, still we pray—come, Lord Jesus. Come and rule.
We still desire to be led. We want our leaders to be of us, but better. Somebody who will make us better, nobler. What comes to mind when you think of a king? Some of you might think of a Charlemagne figure, from medieval times, in chain mail and surrounded by monks. Or maybe you’re thinking of a Victorian era king, resplendent in an army uniform, at a ball, dancing. Who knows. It’s been two thousand years since Jesus came to Earth, and few of us think of a king as a bound man, standing before the regent of Rome. He has no soldiers, no hardy band of warriors. He has no magic ring or powerful sword to wield. Indeed, he doesn’t plan on surviving. He doesn’t plan on using a single ounce of his awesome power. He plans on dying. Does this make us better?
As a matter of fact, Jesus doesn’t exactly confirm or deny a claim to kingship. “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…But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” That’s true—when a king is captured, his companions fight to the death for him or suffer capture themselves. But Jesus’ friends are nowhere to be seen. And yet it also seems that he is claiming a kingship—otherwise why would he say that he had a kingdom at all? So Pilate says, “So you are a king?” Jesus says, “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.” So what’s he saying? Our Gospel writer, John, has a way of putting true things in false people’s mouths. So you are a king? Pilate says. That’s a false man saying a true thing. But Jesus says, a king, but not your kind of king. I am royal because I testify to the truth. Pilate then asks the famous question: what is truth?
Jesus is silent, but he needs to offer no word. The answer is before Pilate: Jesus is truth. He is the truth, his way is the truth. The false man before him can’t see it. And even we, with the benefit of hindsight, have a hard time making out the kingliness of the bruised and condemned man. We desire to the be led—we need examples, we need to be inspired. I think we need, as much as food, truth. What happens when the truth leads us? We find wherever truth is found, that man is standing there, that Jesus Christ, our Lord.
When your relationships are failing, when you’re unsure where to turn, when you don’t know where to go, sometimes you just have trust that there is truth, and you will find it, and when you do, you will feel whole again.
My favorite rock band is U2. I think they’ve been pretty poor over their last two or three albums—but it that happens to every rock band once they hit their fifties. Still, they have their moments. They have a song called “The Little Things That Give You Away,” which is about lies and truth. The last lines in the song are “Sometimes the end is not coming/It’s not coming/The end is here.” I’ve been thinking about that song a lot since Friday, when the Fourth National Climate Assessment was released. It reveals that Chicago will have the weather of Phoenix by the end of the century. Commodity crops will be greatly reduced—people will die. Hospitals will go without power because there won’t be enough water to cool the power plants. But most importantly, these effects are already happening. California’s wildfires are not strange, they are the new normal, and soon will seem small. Such wildfires will begin to rage in places like Georgia, which have never had a wildfire season. Sometimes the end is not coming. It’s not coming. The end is here.
Yet there is also something true here—we can prevent the worst still. Who knows what technology we can develop to remove carbon from the atmosphere? But preventing the worst means changing—in Christian terms, repenting. Turning away. Turning to truth. If we do that, we will find joy, because all who love the truth and listen to it, love and listen to the Lord. Amen.
The Reverend John Zachary Flack