Hail to the King!

Two thousand years ago, throughout the Roman Empire, it is traditional to stage a big parade to celebrate the arrival of the emperor or one of his puppet kings. In Greek, the occasion is called “Parousia.” In Latin, it’s called “adventus.”

People line the parade route hours in advance, hoping that they’ll get a good look at the king and his entourage. Who knows? If fortune is with you, perhaps some prize will be tossed your way – not candy, as is often thrown at parades today, but something more substantial and more valuable.

Eventually, the first heralds appear. These are the advance men. They shout: “Prepare the way! The king is coming!”

After them, nothing for awhile. Then you hear drums in the distance, and the sound of horse’s hooves and soldiers’ boots on the stone pavement. Another herald announces, “The king is coming!”

Now comes the imperial guard, splendidly attired and marching in perfect formation. Behind them, riding in a chariot drawn by four magnificent horses, is the man himself, and one last herald proclaiming, “Hail to the king!”

That is what the Advent season is all about. King Jesus is coming!

The entire Christian year is built around this promise, and all the year’s seasons as well. During Advent, we prepare for his arrival. At Christmas, we celebrate his birth. During Epiphany, we ponder the implications of God putting on human flesh. Then, during the Lent and Easter seasons, we learn what it really means for Jesus to be king. For the rest of the year, we eagerly anticipate his Second Coming, when he’ll bring heaven right down to earth.

How easily we call Jesus our King, and yet how shallowly we understand his kingship!

We often call him “Jesus Christ,” as if Jesus were his first name and Christ his last name. But in his letters to young churches, the Apostle Paul is just as likely to call him “Christ Jesus,” because Christ is not a name at all. It’s a title.

“Christ” comes from the Greek “Christos,” which means Messiah. Messiah in Hebrew means “God’s Anointed One,” one who is specially chosen by God and anointed for a specific service. In the Hebrew Bible, kings and priests are both anointed for service, but only kings are called “God’s Anointed One,” or Messiah.

So whenever you encounter the word “Christ” or “Messiah” in your Bible, you should read it as “King,” because that‘s what it means. That’s one reason that when people call him Messiah, Jesus generally tells them to hush up about it – because it’s a title with political implications. In a world ruled by Caesar and lesser kings, a title like that can get you killed.

The New Testament also calls Jesus “Son of God.” In the Hebrew Scriptures, that title is reserved for the king of Israel. In the New Testament, it’s also used, once, to refer to Adam. In Jesus, God gives the title new dimensions of meaning. But its earliest and simplest meaning is as the one who serves on earth as God’s Chosen One – first Adam, then David and the other kings of Israel and, finally, and most splendidly, and in a way that surpasses all the others, King Jesus.

The kingship of Jesus is one of those Advent themes that is hidden in plain sight. It’s so obvious that we just can’t see it. When we finally do see it, we realize that it’s everywhere.

One example: just listen to the music.

Next Sunday we’ll open our hymnals to page 196 and sing, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Why is his coming so eagerly anticipated? Because he’s the one who is “born a child and yet a King.”

Turning to page 213, we’ll sing “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates.” Why should the gates open? Because “the King of glory waits.”

Page 219, “What Child Is This?” “This, this is Christ the King.”

220, “Angels from Realms of Glory” – tell us to “come and worship Christ the newborn King.”

234, “O Come All Ye Faithful” – “come and behold him born the King of angels.”

237, “Sing We now of Christmas” – “the King is born, Noel.”

238, “Angels We Have Heard on High.” They sing of “Christ the Lord, the newborn King.”

240, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” – “glory to the newborn King.”

245, “The First Noel,” “Born is the King of Israel.”

246, “Joy to the World,” “let earth receive her King.”

249, “There’s a Song in the Air,” because “the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King.”

Whew! Talk of King Jesus is everywhere!

Wait, what kind of king needs a diaper? A baby king, of course. A baby king who will save the world once he’s grown – but first has to grow up.

He has a lot of learning to do – learning to walk, learning to talk, learning to feed himself, learning to reason and to read, learning a trade to support himself, learning how to get along with other people who may or may not want to get along with him, experiencing the soaring joys and piercing disappointments of loving others, experiencing first-hand all that it means to be fully human.

So scripture tells us he matures “in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people.” (Luke 2.52)

And when he is, finally, all grown up, we’ll have to kill him because he is not the king we want. He’s not the warrior we want to overthrow our oppressive rulers. And yet our rulers recognize him as a threat to everything they stand for, and anxiously do away with him.

What kind of king dies for his people, and even for those who are not his people? King Jesus, that’s who.

He is God’s perfect model of what a king should be. He’s not our model, not the human model. We think of kings as strong and ruthless. They get things done. They slay their enemies and share the booty with their friends. Best of all, they’re on our side. Who cares about any collateral damage to others along the way? Who cares about the cost, as long as we get what we want?

God’s model starts in the Garden of Eden, when God gives the first humans a mission to serve and protect, to be shepherds and stewards of God’s good creation, acting on God’s behalf, ruling as God would rule if God were there in person.

Israel, God’s test model for the world, isn’t even supposed to have a king. God is supposed to be Israel’s king. But the people clamor for a human king, like all the nations around them. The prophet Samuel warns them it’s a terrible idea. A king will make your sons serve in his army in endless wars, and he’ll make your daughters serve in his palace. He’ll tax you to death and take your land and make you his slaves.

But Israel wants a human king, so God tells Samuel to anoint one. It’s not your leadership they’re rejecting, God says. It’s mine. (1 Samuel 8.4-22)

Centuries later, when Jeremiah is prophet, the Lord thunders: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” (Jeremiah 23.1)

God tells Jeremiah, “The days are surely coming when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 23.5)

That righteous king is Jesus. As his apostles, we are sent out by him to change the world. We are the ones who execute his will. We are his mighty arm of justice and righteousness.

When we make him king of our lives, we sign on to a new way of life. As my spiritual mentor Bruce Larson used to say, when we decide to follow Jesus, we come under new management. We don’t run our lives any more, and nobody else does either. Only Jesus is our King. We follow no one but Jesus.

We don’t follow a program. We don’t follow an ideology. We don’t follow a philosophy.

We don’t follow a theology. We don’t follow a party line. We don’t follow a doctrine or a creed. We follow a person,a divine person. We follow Jesus Christ. We follow the King of the universe. And if we follow any one else or any thing else, we are lost.

There are those who suggest that on this Christ the King Sunday, it might be appropriate for us to say a pledge of allegiance to our King. It might be appropriate for us to make it known that we have no higher allegiance than to Jesus.

I have tried to find such a Pledge of Allegiance to Jesus, and I haven’t seen one yet that didn’t turn into a self-serving political manifesto. So I won’t ask you to recite any such pledge of allegiance today.

But I would ask you to live out your allegiance in your daily life.

Every time you say the Lord’s Prayer and ask for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, you pledge allegiance to our King.

Every time you receive the bread and the cup in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice, you pledge allegiance to our King.

Every time you do what is right when everybody around you tells you to do what is wrong, you pledge allegiance to our King.

Every time you aid the poor and feed the hungry, you pledge allegiance to our King.

Every time you work for peace in a culture that cannot abide peace, you pledge allegiance to our King.

Every time you are reviled and slandered and attacked because you follow Jesus, you pledge allegiance to our King.

That’s how you show allegiance to King Jesus. You do it by living the way he taught us to live, by living in imitation of him, by loving God first and all others as deeply as you love yourself.

Remember that in the words of an ancient hymn, Christ did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.

Therefore God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord – our King – to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.5-11)

I ask you now to confess that by joining me in the words of another ancient hymn preserved in the New Testament, the scripture we read earlier.

God the Father has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created – things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him.

He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

He is the head of the body, the church.

He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:13-20)

That is the great truth we proclaim today, that no banner can ever fly higher than his, because Jesus is King of the universe and King of our lives, and so we say, “Our King is coming! King Jesus is near!”

Amen!

“Hail to our King” is a message preached Nov. 24, 2019, at Edgerton United Methodist Church, Edgerton, Kansas, by the Rev. James Hopwood.

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