My kingdom is not of this world, Jesus says to Pontius Pilate when challenged. Jesus had not come to advocate regime change. It was not his plan to supplant the reigning earthly king and bring in simply a different ruler. Rather, Jesus had come to usher in an entirely different way to be in relationship. We do live in the world, and most of our lives are devoted to the things of this world. But at the same time our goals and our principles, the guidelines of our days, are in the realm of the Kingdom of God. That means that the rules and laws of this world can be improved by human efforts. We can make strides toward non-retributive justice, toward ensuring a seat at the table for every one of God’s beloved children. But we cannot fully usher in the justice, the equity, the shalom that God has promised. So we live in the tension between the realized Kingdom of God that is said to be all around us and the reality that the Kingdom of God would have fewer homeless people.
And if, in fact, we are subject to Christ the King, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to sing rousing hymns about God’s wondrous creation and ignore the irreparable damage we are all of us doing to the one and only planet we have. We can no longer pray, “Your kingdom come” and yet manage all of our abundance of resources as though they were rightfully ours. And no longer can we claim that God loves everyone and turn our heads from terrified refugees, from human trafficking, from domestic violence, from the multitude of shootings that pile up around us so rapidly that we lose count.
If, in fact, we are subject to Christ the King, then as any king’s subjects would, we bear obligations to our monarch. A popular cartoon illustration shows a young man on a park bench, asking Jesus, “How come you allow so much suffering in the world?” And Jesus replies, “That’s strange. I was just about to ask you the same question.”
To live as subjects of Christ the King, to live within the foretaste of the Kingdom of God that is our lives on earth, is to devote our energy in every facet of our lives to bringing about true justice and righteousness. To look for our King not on a velvet throne but in the courtroom with the wrongly accused. In the caravan with Honduran refugees fleeing increased gang violence and protection fees. In the cramped attic bedroom of an immigrant promised a job who finds herself in slavery. In the dining room of the Open Door ministry and the living room of Leslie’s House.
Jesus is now less than a day from his death when he is arrested and brought before Pilate. And that’s where we get, My kingdom is not of this world. Well, clearly. Because if Jesus operated within the framework of our expectations, he would have an answer to the question of the guy on the bench. Rather than expecting us to live and operate in a way that reduces or even wipes out the injustice and violence and hunger in the world, he could just wave his hand and take care of it all himself. If Christ is king, I gotta say, he’s doing a lousy job of smiting my enemies.
And that’s the problem. When the part of me that thinks violence and elimination are the answer to my problems and my enemies, then inevitably, I become a person who is completely at odds with Jesus. I can say that I’m nonviolent, but in truth the only reason that I have never taken up arms is because my privileged, peaceful, educated, high standard of living is protected by violence elsewhere, safely out of my sight. I don’t need a king with more money or more guns – I need a king who refuses to play that game at all.
When Jesus says, My kingdom is not of this world, he means that his power, unlike ours, is not centered in our endless cycle of violence. The violence that has been with us from the beginning, that thing within the human heart that wishes to destroy the enemy, is destroying us, just as it always has. So we don’t need any more Kings of vengeance or Kings of worldly power or Kings of closing the border. We need a King in a cradle. Rather than a King who urges us to raise our weapons, we need a King for whom we fall on our knees.
As you filled in forms listing your favorite Christmas hymns, not one but two of you requested “O Holy Night.” That took some searching. It’s not in the LBW, or WOV, or the ELW, or even in the 1958 SBH. But Anne found it – of course, Anne found it. So on Christmas Eve, we will hear Kevin’s magnificent solo. And we’ll hear the only possible response to the sort of King we need: Fall on your knees.
That’s what we do for a king. Fall on your knees before a God whose love comes to us in naked, helpless, unarmed, defenseless humanity. Fall on your knees before the one who loves without caution, without measure, without concern for pre-existing conditions or gender or national origin. Fall on your knees before the one who submitted to the very worst that humans are capable of, who went through betrayal and flogging and violence and vengeance and wrongful execution and didn’t say, “I’m going to get you,” but, “You are forgiven.”
Because at the feet of this king what can we do but spread our trophies. Our victories, our standard of living, and our delusion of safety. Fall on your knees. Because we are out of solutions here. His kingdom is not of this world’s values. It is not a kingdom that guards its borders or arms its citizens or takes hostages or bombs theaters.
Christ is our king because the human violence competition, the need to be right and the need for everyone else to be wrong and the belief that God favors us above all others and the use of that delusion to kill and alienate is seen by Jesus for what it is: so, so small. This is why we are in need not of a king who kicks butt but of a savior who draws all people to himself in the pure love of what James Allison calls the non-resentful loser. A crown of thorns and a throne of a cross.
What can we do but spread our trophies at his pierced feet. And call him Lord of all. Fall on your knees. Amen.