This psalm is the source of my favorite Christmas Anthem ever. Period. The Alan Pote version, played up-tempo just a touch from where the sheet music has it. It has thunder and lightning, thrills and chills. It has grandeur and sweeps upwards and then dives to near silence. It is all that and a bag of chips. I especially like it when I cannot tell what the other parts are doing because my own part is so compelling. I listen to a recording of the song and wonder to myself, “are our sopranos soaring over us like that?” because I cannot remembering them doing so, everything just blends so well in the choir.
I realize that the more accomplished choristers among the choir and some of you in the pews might take some exception to that comment. After all, the best performances come when the various parts can hear each other and perfect the harmonies and truly make something transcendent.
But it is easy to get lost, especially when something reaches into you and grabs you, right at your core. Memes perpetuate themselves, breeding in our consciousness long after their actual usefulness has gone. We celebrate this morning Christ the King Sunday but how many of us have in our heads or in our hearts a firm, viable picture of what a king should be?
I remember the King in the old Schoolhouse Rock episode about the American Revolution. He’s George the third, as I recall my history, and the picture of him sitting there, sucking the meat off of a chicken leg before dispatching the redcoats to put down the American rabble is probably the most potent image of a king that I carry around with me.
You wanna talk power? How about the power of creating the images in a child’s head? If you are looking for a cautionary tale, that’s the one I offer this morning. “Be careful the images you insert into a child’s head.”
Because when I think of Jesus, I do not think of the ridiculous cartoon on the screen. To be honest, I do not know what to do with the image of Christ as King; I never have because I have never known a king in my life, never known what it was to say King, even when they first called Jesus Christ the King of Kings.
Sure, they know why at the seminary and there are some sound theological reasons and some even better historical reasons behind the name but I do not live back then, and understanding seldom overwhelms images imprinted on a young brain and so here we are, 2013, with this morning being the celebration of Christ the King Sunday and I am fighting the image of King George sitting lazily in a throne, with a crown of thorns on his head?
And the Bible is no help at all in this case. God warned against having kings and all of the things that God warned us about came to pass in all of the kings that came along to rule the people of Israel, each a little more broken than the last and indeed, the only thing holding the nation together was the love and forbearance of God.
After all, David was the chosen of God and a complete King in every sense, wielding power the way a child would, grasping at this or at that as his fancy moved with the breeze.
He desired Bathsheba and so he conspired to take her, knowing it was a sin, knowing it was wrong. Jeroboam was little better and all the rest, in either weakness or in outright venality give solemn testimony to what it was to be a king.
Maybe it is time to form a new meaning for the word, maybe it is time to recapture what was meant to be true about Kings, find the divine in the divine right of Kings; conform the word King to Christ instead of the other way around, changing what it means to be King in the light of what we know to be true about our savior, our Lord, and yes, our King.
Because that’s what it takes to construct a new image of King in the minds of the children we see in front of us today. Sure, they will not be saddled with the King George picture I cannot seem to evict from my own skull, but is that better or worse than having no image at all? If we have nothing for our kids to hang their hats on so to speak, when they speak of Christ the King, then it and perhaps a bit of Him will lose all its meaning.
And this morning we are confessing that the meaning that Jesus brings to the world is ultimate meaning. We confess that Jesus is the one who rescues the creation from the pain and sorrow of its own sinfulness; that He is the one whose arms are strong enough to carry away all of the punishment for our sins in a single moment so that the creation can live a new kind of life, a new sort of existence.
Wouldn’t you suppose that such a savior, the one who makes a way to a new kind of life might also be a new kind of King?
“I will raise up shepherds to watch over them,” says the Lord in Isaiah, and I will raise up for David a Righteous Branch and he shall reign as king and deal wisely. In the place of David, an earthly King with earthly problems, God has raised up for us a King in David’s line, in the line of the chosen, but one who will deal wisely.
Even in you or in me God can raise up something new, a new creation in place of the old one, a new Debbie or Erin or Steve where the old one stood. Stripping away the old character, a new one comes into being by the grace of God and is capable of working with the Lord in the Kingdom, freed from fear and sin and its punishments.
In the place of David, the King of legend and ancient power comes the one we call Jesus, surpassing the legend, bringing righteousness and justice in His wake, a King but not like great, great, great Grandpa David, a better King to bring the people a better life.
Instead of an earthly castle, or a walled city where those inside are safe and those outside are lost and the walls are thick and the gated barred our new King prepares for us a holy habitation, and eternal dwelling and not just in some heaven far far away but in this life as well.
Each of us in Christ is king because the King is simply the one who has the power to act, the one who can where others cannot. King is a measure of ability, not worthiness and not righteousness and not a great number of other characteristics that we see in Jesus. So if we are made a new creation in Him and are freed from fear, then we are also freed to act, also freed from the fear of what might happen.
When I hear people going on and on about freedom on the television, I wonder if they have truly understood what it means to be free in Christ because no king, no president, no party can give true freedom and likewise none of them can take it away from those who are freed in Christ.
Paint that into your portrait of what it means to be king, one who makes people free by acting in the interests of all.
God is our refuge and strength, but not because Jesus takes away our power and protects us, but because Jesus gives to us His righteousness, His power, His holiness.
Maybe that’s the true key. Because He does not hold all the power to Himself, like the kings of the earth, but shares it, drawing us into His family and making us His inheritors and that is what makes Him a new kind of King.
Even those who were expecting the king to arise from the stump of Jesse, to revive David’s kingly line were likely not expecting one to come and kneel in front of a slave, to gather a child into His arms, to demolish the very image of power that has been at the forefront of our minds since the very first king.
Otherwise they would not have mocked and beaten Him. Proving to themselves that He could not be King and proving to us that the word itself, that King had taken on a new meaning, a meaning that would carry with it a kind of glory that no other king could match. We in this country are hamstrung by the prejudices of a representative democracy against kings. We pain them as entirely vain and selfish, as bereft of majesty other than that which they constantly claim for themselves.
King George is remembered as that caricature, that foppish slob who tried to enslave the colonies out of greed and selfish madness. That is what we are taught in our high schools every day.
Actually, he repealed the Stamp act taxes and indeed all of the taxes levied against the colonies as unproductive except the tax on tea which he admitted to holding on to just so people might remember that he was the king and could levy taxes from time to time.
Our histories never mention his love of art and literature; he compiled such a large library that it became the core of what was to become the national library. It never mentions his role as loving and devoted husband and father. He had an arranged marriage with a Princess Charlotte who he met on his wedding day. From all accounts he may be the only British King to never take a mistress, living happily with Charlotte all the days of his life and fathering fifteen children.
But I cannot shake that image of the pompous king from the cartoon of my youth.
We need a better image of a King if we are to teach a new generation what Christ means to us as king of kings.
It is Jesus that we are talking about this day; and it is instructive that the scene at the crucifixion is what they chose to illustrate kingship when they put today’s readings together. When Jesus is king, then there is no need to fear the wrath of the king, surely there will be judgment, but Jesus intercedes for us, sharing His righteousness with us, who have so little of our own, and making us holy.
When Jesus is king, the armies of the Lord are not carrying the weapons of death but instead the promises of life, braving the slings and arrows of the world and its false kings with the love of God who has made sure our destination so that we can pursue the journey with boldness and without fear. We can walk into the lion’s den itself because we know that God is our refuge and strength and that our fate is wrapped up tightly with that of our King, Jesus.
And it all happens here, at the font. This is where our fates are aligned, where we join with Jesus in a baptism like His so that we can join with Him in not just His death but also His life. In this water we put fear to death, despair too is drowned; sin itself is swept aside by the tide of God’s love; and from the waters of Baptism arises a new creation, a new Adam, a new Eve.
All because David is not King, nor George, nor Faisal, nor Juan Carlos. In this moment we acclaim Jesus Christ as our King because that word has taken on a new meaning, a new relevance for us. Our King brings freedom, not serfdom and it is a freedom that the world cannot give, the freedom to act, the freedom to live without fear, the freedom to inherit the kingdom in the name of Christ, our King.