Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 25 November 2018.
I think that one of the first prayers I learned as a child was ‘Gentle Jesu, meek and mild, look upon this little child.’ I can’t remember how it went on, but the point was there – the image of Jesus as meek, mild and quite inoffensive.
Later on we encountered the Suffering Servant, friend of the poor, healer of the sick and reconciler of outcasts. Naturally we all came to know Jesus as Him crucified, and yes we accepted Him as being risen from the dead, but event His ascension to heaven was a bit sketchy and anyway the Feast of the Ascension was on a Thursday and not a Sunday.
We all had a fairly good idea of God as creator and judge, issuing laws to be obeyed, and much of our early contact with Christianity consisted of long lists of prohibitions and obligations.
But life lived in the forgiveness of sins and in a personal fellowship with Jesus Christ? Far too personal and evangelical, so we don’t do that sort of thing here. And life to be lived in the power of the Holy Spirit? Definitely not.
So our celebration of Christ the King is something of a surprise. Christ in glory may be part of the picture but Christ who will come again in the clouds of heaven is not really on the agenda.
But here it is – the acknowledgement and celebration of Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, before we come to the mystery of His birth as we celebrate Christmas.
And here we come to Jesus thinking of the glory He had before He was formed in the body of His mother, and then the glory He resumed when He ascended to heaven.
It is not quite the same glory, for now Jesus is betrayed, denied, humiliated, flogged, crucified, and stripped of all that He had possessed. And the Glorified Jesus still bears those scars, which He accepted willingly for the sins that you and I have committed.
Now Jesus’ love is a wounded love and His glory is a wounded glory. But equally His glory is something far beyond the imagination of our stars of stage and screen, of the courts of law and politics and business.
It does not consist of what Jesus has but what He is and what He has become.
It is a new kind of glory vested in Him by God His Father, and this is a glory of a wholly different order to that which any human agency can contrive.
It has nothing to do with fancy baubles and decorations, and its titles are those bestowed on Him by iHH
His Father. These are the titles of eternity and of a majestic holiness, unknown and unknowable in the whole of human history.
They are as different from human wisdom as nuclear weapons are from bows and arrows, or as garden sheds are from the metropolises and conurbations of the world.
But this is the same Jesus who has given us that command: go and make disciples, baptize them, bestow on them what the world could never even imagine for them:
The foulest sinners forgiven and the most desperate losers in society given new freedom and dignity. The most pathetic renewed in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Preach the gospel and heal the sick. Bring to the world that which it rejects most viciously: the forgiveness of sins and the gift of salvation that is never and can never be earned.
Now we have a dynamic in which God desires to meet people within the details of their own lives, in the most intimate griefs and guilt, which can never be spoken of to others.
It is the place of the deepest condemnation that Christ the King desires to enter and bring His healing and mercy and forgiveness.
Where we encounter setbacks and rejection then we are invited to bring them before that same King of Kings.
He sends us out as His ambassadors, with authority to speak for Him and with His words. That is why the gospel message is so despised and rejected in sophisticated society and among cultured people.
It is opposed by every kind of relative morality and comparative religion and multiculturalism.
But we did not invent this message and its majesty and wonder are far beyond anything that we could contrive.
Nevertheless, we are entrusted with it, and some are called to give their lives wholly to proclaiming it. But all of us have a story to tell, and a personal encounter with Jesus Christ to celebrate.
This brings me back to Jesus Christ as Christ the King. It is for this situation that He prayed for us:
“The glory which You have given Me I have given them, that they may be one, just as we are One: I in them and You in Me, that they may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (Jn 17: 22-23)
Nothing else and certainly nothing less.