The Humble King

This is the first week of Advent and I have to admit that it sneaked up on me this year. There I was in church yesterday, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when my pastor said: “We are taking a break from our Matthew series to celebrate the first week of Advent. The theme is Sent.” Huh.

When it comes to celebrating Advent, church traditions abound. Some churches light a candle nestled in a wreath. Sounds great, but it is a fire hazard so some churches use an electric candle. Others with high liturgy have responsive readings. Still others do not even celebrate Advent with any fanfare. The one Advent tradition I do like: the chocolate calendar.

It took me a while to realize that when it comes to Advent, the purpose of Advent goes beyond the traditions but to reorient our hearts towards God again. We can be so focused on our own needs and struggles or burdened by what we see in the news, from the Rittenhouse trial, to the supply chain shortages, etc. I am more than sure that Advent is necessary for us Christians.

As I reflect on Advent, I realized Christianity has brought two literary themes to perfection: the Humble King and the Dying God. The Humble King is for Advent and the Dying God is for Lent and Easter. I’m going to save “Dying God” for next year. Think about this: until Jesus came 2000 years ago, the idea of a humble king was never heard of before. Eastern dynasts considered themselves sacred; you never saw any of them cleaning out the chariot stables. Roman consuls and praetors had armed lictors preceding down the street in Rome. When a victorious Roman general returned in victor, he was voted a triumph: a massive military parade with his proud army in front and the defeated in chains. In fact, humility and mercy were considered weaknesses.

I am reminded of a much more recent event which highlighted the deep divide between human royalty and their subjects. Because the Japanese considered their Emperor a son of heaven, he was cloistered away in a beautiful palace. In 1945, as World War 2 was drawing to a close, the Allies insisted on Japan’s unconditional surrender. It had been Japanese ministers who had gotten the nation into war and Emperor Hirohito needed to intervene. He had to overrule the ministers – something not done for a long time. Next, Hirohito needed to address the Japanese nation and inform them that the nation was doing the unthinkable: surrender. There was one unintended consequence problem: no one had ever heard Hirohito’s voice before. His Japanese was so courtly high that the common Japanese did not understand him initially. Talk about a divide.

Then God broke the mold. The King of kings and Lord of lords came to this earth in the lowest way possible. Jesus was born in a cave to two poor Jewish parents; when they made the offering at the temple, they offered turtledoves – the offering for the poorest of the poor. He grew up in a backwater town in Israel. Nazareth was much like small towns in rural America – one store, one main street – sneeze and you’ve missed half the town.

I think about the Bible passage from yesterday’s sermon: Isaiah 53. It is a well known passage that supports Jesus as the prophesied Messiah – 700 years before his birth. I’ve read it dozens of times until yesterday when I was forced to slow down and reflect on it more.

4 Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

In verse 3, Jesus was called the man of sorrows. Jesus knew our pain very well. He treated hundreds of sick and even raised the dead. He laid hands on people who were untouchable. The blind see, the lame walk, the dead hear, and the demon-oppressed free. God the King didn’t send underlings to do his work. He did it personally.

I cannot think of another religion or philosophy where a sovereign got up close and personal to evil and suffering because his entire mission was to end evil and suffering; if not in this life, then the life to come. The humble King has come and one day he will come again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s