The Royal Visit
A Sermon for the Reign of Christ the King, Lectionary Year B
2 Samuel 23:1-7, Psalm 132, Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37

“One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. Is not my house like this with God?” (2 Samuel 23:3-5)

Earlier this month, Canada had a brief royal visit from Prince Charles and his wife Camilla. The press had the usual discussions about whether the monarchy was still relevant, but it appeared that the royals were well received, especially at CFB Petawawa where they visited with the families of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. During the Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa, however, the Prince was upstaged by the Governor General, who of course represents his mother the Queen in Canada.

I think that most of us would go at least some distance to see a royal visit if it was anywhere close to our homes. It seems to be human nature, I think, that we want to be close to those who hold power, even if they are, as is the case with the royals, figureheads. At their best, they embody the best of our heritage and values, especially service to country and to one another. At worst, well, the tabloid age of journalism has made the point that the royals are people too, with flaws that are all too common. Even though we know that the royals are human, I think we’d be happier going to see them than having them come and visit us. I wouldn’t want the Queen or Prince Charles sitting in our living room, trying to make polite small talk while they politely ignore the cat fur and the unfashionable upholstery. And yet today we are asked to prepare our hearts and our homes for the greatest royal visitor of all.

Our first reading today reminds us that our homes, like everything else in our lives, are part of God’s domain. We heard these verses from our first reading, from the Second Book of Samuel.

“One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. Is not my house like this with God?” (2 Samuel 23:3-5)

These lines, traditionally thought to be among the final words of King David, express the king’s satisfaction as he looks back on his life and on his reign as the King of Israel. David feels that he has been a good king, ruling over his people “justly” and as one who fears and obeys God. He compares his reign to a glorious sunrise, catching the morning dew of a fertile land, and he says “Is not my house like this with God?” Another way of translating it might be “Surely my house is like this with God”.

This last question is of course a rhetorical question, one you ask when you expect a certain answer, as in, “Am I a cool guy or what?” I suspect that David’s subjects would have said “Oh yes, your majesty, your house is indeed like a glorious sunrise in God’s eyes, truly you get a divine gold star and an A+ for being such a great and holy king”, when in fact, if they knew David’s real story, they might have thought something qute different. If you know anything of David’s story, as the biblical professor Ted Smith points out , you may remember that David’s house, like any royal house, has its share of sordid stories, including David and Bathsheeba, or David’s son Amnon’s rape of his sister Tamar, or David’s war with his son Absalom.

If you were alive in biblical times and you had half a brain, you knew that kings and emperors did not live up to the legends they promoted about themselves. I’m watching the HBO series Rome, about the rise to power of Julius Caesar and the cynical and manipulative moves between him and his rivals. The emperors who came after Caesar claimed to be divine and had their statues placed in temples, but people knew that they carved their way to the top over the bodies of their rivals. So, turning to our second lesson, when Christianity came along and claimed that Jesus was “the ruler of the kings of the earth”, that was a big deal. As Bishop Tom Wright is fond of saying, Christianity claimed for Jesus a power that no Caesar or Emperor could touch, because Jesus’ power came from his being the son of God, who raised him from the dead to be the judge of all and the saviour of those who believed in him. No David or Caesar could match that claim.

Today is known in the church calendar as the Reign of Christ the King. The designers of the lectionary have chosen readings which remind the church that Christ is our ruler. We think of Jesus in many ways – as a teacher, a friend, the one we confide our prayers to – but today we are called to say, as the church said in the days of Caesar, that Jesus is Lord. That’s a huge thing to say, and I wonder if we really understand what it means. Jesus is Lord of the universe because he was one with the Father at the dawn of creation. Jesus is Lord of Life because he rose from the dead. Jesus is Lord of the Earth because his authority is greater than all the flags, all the political causes, and all the consumer goods that compete for our attention. Jesus is the Lord of all races and all colours, because he died for all of us, without favouritism. In short, Jesus is Lord of our lives. Just as Jesus did his Father’s will in his life and in his ministry, he demands that we put him above all other things. Again and again in the gospels, Jesus asks his followers if they understand that he is Messiah, if he is Lord.

Notice that Lord doesn’t mean conqueror. Jesus doesn’t work the way that human lords and kings work. When King David was dying, he told his son Solomon to start his reign by killing his enemies, and that’s what happened. The opening chapters of 1 Kings, describing the start of Solomon’s reign, are quite bloody This bloody kingship is also what Pilate understands, which is why he has so much trouble understanding Jesus in today’s gospel reading from John. The Reign of Christ starts in a very different way. Through the four Sundays of Advent, starting next week, the Reign of Christ begins in quiet hope and expectation. We hear the familiar Advent messages of comfort and of deliverance. We hear from the prophet Isaiah of the one who comes, not to conquer and dominate, but to serve and suffer from our sake. We look for the coming of the Prince of Peace, and we make ourselves ready.

If you are a Canadian Forces member, the month of your birthday is the time of year when the military asks you about your readiness. Are all your forms up to date? Have you had all your shots? Are you missing any training? If you were called to deploy suddenly, would you be good to go? For the church, Advent is our Annual Readiness Verification. Next Sunday evening, if you are at the Hanging of the Greens service, we’ll sing an Advent hymn called “People Look East” which includes these words:

Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

These words remind us that Advent is more than just preparing our church with candles and greenery. Advent is preparing ourselves for the coming of the royal visitor who comes to Bethlehem, heralded by angels, greeted by shepherds, born in a manger for all our sakes. Be warned that this royal visitor will not just come to public places like an earthly celebrity or VIP. This royal visitor will knock on the door of your heart and ask to be let in. Are you ready? Have you thought about what it means to follow Christ as your lord and king? What do you need to do make ready? For the King is coming.