SERMON PREACHED BY THE REV’D ALLAN B. WARREN III AT THE CHURCH OF THE ADVENT,
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2011, THE FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING

Throughout St Matthew’s Gospel we hear about the consequences of being ready or unready, and we are told what happens when someone unexpected, or even expected, arrives on the scene.  There is the man whose house was broken into because he wasn’t on the lookout for a thief. (24:43)  There is the servant who gets drunk and beats his fellow servants, but is punished when his master returns by surprise. (24:48 – 51)  The Gospels appointed for the last two Sundays are also good examples of this theme.

Last Sunday we heard the parable of the return of a rich man who inspected what his three servants had done with the money he entrusted to them while he was gone.  Immediately before that – both in the Gospel itself and in the Lectionary – there was the story of the virgins who were prepared – the wise ones - and those who were unprepared – the foolish ones -  when the bridegroom arrived for the wedding feast.

The Gospel this morning, in a passage which immediately follows the story of the three servants, presents us with Jesus’ description of the great and final arrival and return at the end of time.  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (25:31, 32)   Most of us are familiar with this passage, and we take quite seriously the criteria of judgment applied by the glorious Son of Man upon his return.  That is: did you or did you not feed me when I was hungry or give me something to drink when I was thirsty?  Did you or did you not welcome me when I was a stranger, clothe me when I was naked, or visit me when I was sick or in prison?  Most of us take this as a kind of moral principle and exhortation for the Christian believer.  “Truly, truly I say to you, as you did it to the least of these my brethren you did it to me.” (25:40)  And there could be few better exhortations and principles of behavior – service to the poor, to the sick and the downtrodden, and this service done for the sake of Jesus.

But there is something else to note in the passage we heard this morning, and it is very important.  The Son of Man, Messiah, King, if you will, Jesus identifies himself with his brethren.  Identifies himself: what you did or did not do to them, you did or did not do to him.

This is a recurring theme in Matthew’s Gospel: Jesus’ self-identification with those who follow him.  In chapter ten, for instance, he tells his disciples, “He who receives you receives me.” (10:40)  Jesus is somehow united, somehow one with those who follow him.  Disciples are not only involved in his mission, but they are also part of his person.  This idea is even more explicit in the Gospel of John.  There, Jesus “abides” in his disciples and they “abide” in him.  He is the vine, they are the branches of the vine.

And that, good people, is one of the reasons we celebrate our Lord Jesus Christ as our King, for it is of the nature – of the essence – of kingship that the King be somehow identified, united, one with his subjects.  A real King rejoices when his people rejoice, and suffers when his people suffer.  He rejoices and he suffers because he is one with them, and they are one with  him.  That is part of what kingship is all about.

And that is the primary difference between a king and a tyrant: a king is with his people; a tyrant is apart from his people, even against them.  And that in turn is why a tyrant must rule by force.  Those under him must be coerced and made to do his will, which is most often his will alone, his well-being, not the will and well-being of his people.

And that is why the lives of tyrants are often filled with fear: because they are apart from their people and they must rule by force.  Think of Colonel Qaddafi’s fortified bunker or of Saddam Hussein staying in a different palace every night so people wouldn’t know where he was.  In his memoirs, Marshall Zhukov, the Soviet hero of World War II, recalls his boss, Joseph Stalin, once remarking, “I am the most unfortunate person; I am afraid of my own shadow.” 

A king, however, governs not by force, but by the authority of his person.  Because he is identified with and united to his people, because their well-being and his well-being coincide, his will is accepted as their will, and his authority is acknowledged.

A king brings order and peace to his realm.  A tyrant’s realm is inherently disordered, for it is ruled by force, and force is disorder.  A tyrant’s enemies are in fact his own people.  A king’s enemies are those things which would hurt his people and destroy them.

And that is another reason we call our Lord Jesus Christ our King, because he has restored order where there was disorder.  Order where sin and death and hatredcreated disorder and thereby made peace between man and God.  He has made our enemies -  those things which would hurt and destroy us – again, sin and hatred and death – he has made our enemies his enemies, and on the Cross he took their power upon himself, and exhausted their power and became victorious over all  those things which hurt his people.

St Paul tells us in the Epistle this morning:

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall be made alive.  (But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.)  Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father, after destroying every rule and every authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (I Cor. 15:21-26)

Listen to Paul again:

Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is thy victory?  O death, where is thy sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Cor. 15:55-57)

My brothers and my sisters, it should be clear by now that kingship involves saving the King’s people.  A king must be a savior. And give life to his people.  And that is why so few, if any, earthly kings have been worthy of the title, and why most kings, to one degree or another, have been little more than tyrants who disguise the fact.

A king must be a Savior, and that is why we call Jesus Christ our King, for he is our Savior.  He has so identified himself with us and to enter our life and to die our death.  He is our Savior and our King, for he has taken on our enemies as his own and has triumphed over them.  He is our savior, whose authority is his love for us and who has established a kingdom of holy order, a kingdon of life, a kingdom of peace.

Hail!  Jesus our Savior!
Hail!  Jesus our King!

Amen.