The feast of Christ the King marks the end of the Church year; next week we begin the Holy Season of Advent, when our minds and hearts are turned towards preparation for the coming of the Lord.
Advent is a time of anticipation, of expectation. If you're like me, Advent marks the beginning of the holiday season. We dust off our Advent wreaths, start preparing the home for the upcoming Christmas holyday - we start checking out the Christmas lights, think about new ornaments for the holiday tree and start planning for Christmas dinner.
But it is also a time of memory: we recall the many years that mankind awaited the Messiah. We remember the deep longing within the soul of man for the presence of God throughout history. And we celebrate His coming to this planet in the human form of Jesus - Emmanuel: God with us. Our liturgies will be filled with the rich memories of the Christmas Story: the call of Mary to be His mother, and her "fiat" to the Father's invitation - Joseph's heartbreak, and his deep love for Mary - the hard trip to Bethlehem, the shepherds, the angels, the swaddling clothes, the Magi who come to worship a new-born King.
So it is fitting that the four weeks of Advent are immediately preceded with the wonderful celebration of Christ's Kingship. God becomes man; man becomes priest, prophet and king.
But what exactly is this kingship that Christ manifested? What is it - exactly - that He says we shall inherit? It is certainly not what we would expect - and maybe not even what we would desire.
At the end of His life, there was no glory for Jesus, no resounding success - as we know it. His dream was not realized, his mission was not complete. Those in power had their way with Him. He cried over the city of Jerusalem; He was scourged, spat upon and mocked; and he was led away to die a criminal's death, abandoned by most of His friends. Feeling abandoned even by His Father, this man reached deep into Himself and refused to despair, refused to give up hope, refused to budge from His conviction that God is ultimately good, generous, gracious, and to be trusted absolutely.
Jesus is a king whose army has fled into hiding, whose crown is one of thorns, whose royal robe is a blanket hastily taken from a soldier's horse, whose throne is one made of the wood of the cross, and whose impact is made with the hammering of nails. Those He chose for leadership positions were dressed not in regal splendor, but in the tattered cloaks of fishermen, tax collectors and the marginalized of society.
Jesus is a king whose strength was one of salvation, not power. And salvation is about Jesus setting us free. It is an exodus experience. It is a pilgrimage - a movement from being imprisoned to being set free, from being bound to being released from bondage, from darkness into light, from fear to trust, from arrogance to insight and understanding. The kingship we inherit is one of feeding the hungry and giving drink to those who thirst, of clothing the naked, and of welcoming the stranger.
This is the kingdom we inherit: Emmanuel - God with us; God above us; God under us; God around us; God within us. We are carriers of a new vision. We are dreamers of His dream that all may be one, loved and accepted as persons of immeasurable value. We are the bearers of life, nurturing it in all of its myriad manifestations. We are the reminders that truth, goodness and beauty are to be pursued and enjoyed. We are called to be servants of the Word, open and vulnerable to its transforming power - a community of disciples who live simply, love tenderly and act justly.
This is our inheritance: We are challenged to be people of Church - faithful to who we are; choosing to live the present with an awareness of the past and an openness to the future... giving thanks that God has first loved us, and shared His life with us that we might freely give ours for the life of the world.
And we are entrusted with the responsibility and privilege of carrying this new vision for all of humanity:
- as collaborators not competitors
- as stewards not destroyers
- as life-givers not death-dealers through war, poverty or hunger
- as co-creators not exploiters
- and as mutual partners living in harmony with one another
The approaching season of Advent is not one that celebrates the anticipation of the birth of a baby in Bethlehem. It reminds us that this child has already been born; He lived, suffered and died for us, and He is with us still - Emmanuel. This is the King who leads us beyond ourselves as we encounter the mystery of a God beyond all imagining. This is the King who leads us into ourselves as we contemplate the wonder of who we are. This is the King who leads us towards others, as we accept the challenge of incarnating God's presence on earth - as courageously and as lovingly as He did.
This is the King who beckons: "Come, blessed of my Father..."