Christ the King
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the almighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”
The prophet Isaiah wrote these words long ago, but today, most of us recognize them from another source, from that famous composition performed every Christmas in nearly every corner of the world, Handel’s Messiah. In 1741, the young musician named George Frederick Handel wrote this piece with the sole purpose of giving glory to God. The story goes, he locked himself in his room for days on end, refusing to come out until he had found the inspiration. When at last he stepped out from his study, he exclaimed with tears in his eyes: “I did see all Heaven open before me and the great God Himself.”
From that day, Handel’s Messiah has been performed all over the world, always with the same way of moving crowds. But it’s message struck me most when I once saw the work played to a group of old men and women in a retirement home. Some were in their 80s, some in their 90s, and one lady there was 103 years old.
The music started playing, the crowd listened, and finally we arrived at the climax of the piece, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah. The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” To my astonishment, each and every one of those old men and women raised themselves up, some with canes and walkers, others with the help of a nurse…the crowd of grey stood up in transfixed reverence, as the music poured over them. “Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. The lord God omnipotent reigneth…The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord.”
The sight left an impression on me, which I’ll never forget. Most of them had lived a century, and they’d seen everything under the sun. Of course they had to stand. They had discovered what most of us in the world have not quite fully grasped, that this is the only truly good news in the world.
Christ is our King, and He reigneth forever.
Today we’re celebrating the Feast of Christ the King.
The Church sets aside this day each year to wake us up and remind us of His Kingship.
In the Old Testament, the prophets were continually reminding the Jews of this coming King. Isaiah tells us that He will be Wonderful, the Prince of Peace. Zachariah prophesies: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you.”
And finally the moment comes when Christ is born on earth. Throughout His whole ministry he teaches, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is come.” And finally, on His way to His coronation, the death on the cross, Jesus stands before Pilate and says: “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world.”
In the Book of Revelation, our eyes are opened even further.
Wrapped up in a vision, the apostle John describes the Lord as he sits in heaven. “His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters…On His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS"
But what does His Kingship have to do with us here on earth?
We don’t think much about kings nowadays, and when we do, it’s usually in a negative light. When we hear the word we usually think of a dictator or a tyrant, someone who rules with an iron fist, and wonder, “Why would we want a king?”
But there’s another side of the coin. The problem with these negative images is that they don’t really say anything about what a king is truly. They only describe what happens when humans fail to be good kings.
When Christ came, he didn’t tell us that he would put an end to kingdoms. He told us that he would replace the false kings with the one True King – and he invited us into that Kingdom.
Perhaps we can best understand what a true king is by asking a child. Do you remember the fairytales that you were read in the nursery? These usually have more insight then people think, and they best illustrate what it is that makes someone a king. The King is the ruler who brings peace, beauty, and nobility into the lives of his people.
Now this is our God and our Savior.
But we easily forget.
So the Church brings us each year to this day to awake in our hearts the memory that Christ is our King, and like all good kings, he offers us His peace, His beauty, and His nobility.
Some years back, a French archbishop named Marcel Lefebvre (LE-FE-VRU), preached on the importance of this feast.
“We need to do everything possible,” he urges, “to extend this Kingdom of Jesus Christ in our souls, in our bodies, in our families, in our countries. We must extend the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in our minds by the practice of the…Faith… We must extend this Kingdom of Jesus Christ in our wills, by following the laws of Jesus Christ, and in our families, so that He rules all the…faithful.”
It’s easy on Sunday morning to regard Christ as our King. But we’d be settling for too little if we don’t embrace Him as our King throughout each and every day, to extend the Kingdom of our God into every corner of our lives – in the way we dress, breathe, eat, or fast; in the decisions we make, in the art and decorations that we put in our homes, and in the way we speak with our loved ones and neighbors.
Someone once asked a cleric, ‘Why do you all pray so formally, with ‘Thee’s’ and ‘Thou’s’?”
And why does the choir sing such formal and lofty music? Why all the elaborate icons and regal vestments?
Not only do we need to invite Christ to be the King and Lord of our entire life.
We must also become like Christ, to put on the mind of Christ– and this also means to become kingly.
The Church has taught us to worship this way because we aren’t supposed to be comfortable, we’re supposed to grow, to be lifted up, to be changed. Our thee’s and thou’s, our vestments, and all of the ways we worship and live as Orthodox Christians, are meant to cultivate in our hearts a sense of awe and beauty, a sense of divine majesty and a sense of nobility, for we are all citizens of the most noble kingdom.
This is the meaning of the incarnation.
Christ is King, and he became human so that we might be caught up into his Kingdom.
Wherever Christianity has gone, it has brought with it great works of art, for this single purpose. Handel’s Messiah, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, the Byzantine Aghia Sophia. The Church brings nurtures in society a love for peace, beauty, and nobility. It can also nurture these virtues in our hearts, if we only cultivate them.
Christianity is not a set of beliefs. It is a way of being.
Christianity is a culture. It is a kingdom. And to live a Christian life is to invite that Kingdom into every corner of our hearts and into every action that we make.
Christ is our King
To conclude with the words of the American novelist, Rebecca West, “Life ought to be a struggle of desire toward adventures ‘ whose nobility will fertilize the soul.”
As we invite Christ the King into every part of our lives, we will slowly start to experience the peace, beauty, and nobility of a True Kingdom.
And this is the most beautiful adventure.