Return of the King
November 26, 2006
Topic: Biblical Verse: Revelation 1:4–1:8
Festival of Christ the King
"Return of the King"
Once upon a time, in a movie theater, none too far away, a story was told. A story of epic scope: good versus evil, where the forces of evil threatened to engulf the world in darkness. The good fractured and cast about - underdogs, with really no hope of winning. Kings, wizards, and warriors on the screen. You may have heard of the story: it's called The Lord of the Rings. And before it was on the screen as a series of three award-winning films, it was told in a book - three books, even.
In case you're not familiar with the story, here's the condensed, abbreviated, and compacted redaction of the Cliff Notes version. JRR Tolkien's epic tale is set in a fantastic world of days gone by. A dark lord has risen, and he seeks to bring the world under his dominion. The darkness looms. The only thing keeping him from his goal is something called "The One Ring." The ring is, in fact, a portion of himself, his power. Once regained, he will be restored to his full might. Over time, the ring has been lost; however, in the recent past it has come into the possession of an innocent and somewhat naïve hobbit named Frodo. Frodo subsequent accepts the task to journey back into the dark heart of the enemy's territory, to throw the ring back into the very fires from which it was forged, destroying it - and with it, the enemy's power, forever. He is not alone: those peoples threatened by the darkness join together to send a party with Frodo, to help him in his quest. But as is the way of these things, the party does not make it all the way. In fact, they don't make it a third of the way before they are dispersed into separate groups.
As part of the political background to the story, it's important to understand that the people are missing a king. The high king of the land, the king of Gondor, had been killed decades upon decades before. So the people have dealt with the absence of the king by setting up a steward for the throne of Gondor. The steward serves as a manager of the resources of the kingdom, a regent who exercises ruling power until the true king reclaims the throne. But the king is still missing.
So we come to today, the Festival of Christ the King, the end of the church year. The second half of the church year, the season of Pentecost, runs from Ascension - twenty-five weeks ago - up to today. And the green paraments, stoles, and banners have reflected the focus of this season, the life of the Church, our life together in Christ. But today, the colors change. The season is ending, and now, we look ahead: the Festival of Christ the King.
Jesus, you see, is the King: the returning king, the king of all Creation. Everyone is subject to Christ as their king, even if they're Buddhist, or Hindu, or Muslim. Even if they are agnostic, or an atheist. Christ is the King! In today's text from the book of Revelation, John lays this out: the One Who is, Who was, and Who is coming again, the Spirit, the Son - the Triune God - created the world, us, and everything around us. We are His, because He made us. Christ is the King, regardless of whether of not we accept that fact.
So what is a king? What does he do, what is he intended to be? As Americans, it's probably safe to say that we haven't had the best of experiences when it comes to kings. I seem to recall something about a Tea Party and a bunch of monuments in downtown Washington, D.C., which reinforce that... But what is a king supposed to be? Is he just someone who sits around on a throne and gives orders? "It's good to be the king!" Right? People come and bow before him - he even gets a jester, funny hat and all. But that's not the full scope of the king's role. Being a good king means taking up a number of responsibilities, because the king is called to defend his people from their enemies. To lead them and guide them, to provide for their needs, to build them up, for the good of the kingdom. The subjects, then, are called to obey the king out of a motivated self-interest: they work together for the good of the kingdom.
In the third book of The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, the final battle is drawing close. The forces of good and of evil are gathering together in preparation. Frodo has reached the dark kingdom. Back in Gondor, there is still no king. The steward is still sitting on the throne; however, he has become an unfaithful steward. Over generations, the stewards of Gondor have become accustomed to being the king, in practice, if not in actual fact. The steward likes it. But word comes that the heir to the throne is coming back, out of the shadows. He was a member of the party that had been with Frodo before they were separated. But he wasn't what they'd expected: traveling incognito, perhaps he had a scruffy beard. He certainly didn't look very kingly. But this true heir to the throne had a destiny to fulfill. The steward wouldn't have any of this, for if the king came - guess what? - the steward couldn't play the role of king any longer. There can be only one king. So the steward sets up to oppose this challenger for the throne. But ultimately, the steward ends up bringing about his own death. He causes his own fall because he opposed the king.
So where are we? The Festival of Christ the King: the King is coming back! And we're the steward. The unfaithful steward. This is the effect of our sin, our self-centeredness. It's great that Christ is the King - just as long as I get to be the king, too! Just as long as I get to have things go my way. Perhaps you've seen this in your own life over the past week. Maybe you got up before the crack of dawn on Friday morning, or maybe you stayed up late Thursday night, to head to Wal-Mart, or Best Buy, or another fine retail establishment to get a specially priced deal. Looking around the line, guess what you see? A whole bunch of kings! "I want it!" "It's mine! I deserve it!" But maybe you didn't go out shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. Maybe you sat around the table with friends and family on Thanksgiving Day. Looking around that table, what do you see? A whole bunch of kings. Our relationships don't work out the way that we'd have them, because we want to be in charge. Everything would be great if everybody just listened to me! But it doesn't work that way. That's our sin talking. This is why we are the unfaithful stewards: we are trapped in our selfish desires. We want to be the king because it's good to be the king - or so we think. We don't think about the responsibilities, the challenges that come with being the king. "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."
We can't be the king. We can barely be the good steward because we are not strong enough. We are not made to be the king. Ultimately, we would fail. Ultimately, we would fall. Ultimately, we would die. The king is coming! And where does that leave us?
Jesus Christ is the good King. He is the victorious King, who first took his throne on the cross, where he came into his glory, where he fulfilled his destiny as the one who would take our place and bear the burden of our sin and self-centeredness. As John writes in our text from Revelation, Jesus is the one who has freed us by his own blood. He is the king who serves his people, who frees us from ourselves. He has already won. He has already made us his own subjects - and not just subjects, for with the faith that Holy Spirit brings, we are made citizens of the kingdom. We are priests of God, so that we might go and share the message, telling others who the true King is and what he has done for them, what he has done for us, what he as done for you and me. We sing our songs of praise in worship to God, crying out "Crown Him with many crowns!" because He is the King. He is worthy of praise because the glory is His. For He became one of us, living among us, dying for us - heading into the dark heart of the enemy's territory. And rising again from death, He broke the enemy's power. And He is coming again.
But that's not the end of the story, is it? How do we live in this time of the now, in this "not yet?" Jesus is coming - maybe in the next five minutes. It might be in the next five days. It might be in five thousand years. So how are we to live until he returns? What are we to do while we wait for the returning king? When Jesus ascended into heaven, he did not leave us alone. He has given us his Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the intercessor, the advocate who stands with us. And Christ himself comes to us in his body and blood as we gather around his Table. The King is coming!
The struggle that we face arises from the fact that we are simultaneously both the unfaithful steward and the citizen of the kingdom. Now that we have heard the trumpet call, now that we know that the King is coming again, where do we stand? We have a choice. We have a choice in facing the struggle each and every day of our lives. So even if you don't remember this sermon five days from now - even if you don't remember this sermon five minutes from now - remember this: the King is coming. How will you live? What choice will you make as you drive or walk home from this place? What choice will you make this afternoon - this evening, later this week - as one who is a citizen of the kingdom?
The king is coming, and we have been freed from the tyrant. Without spoiling the ending to The Lord of the Rings, I can tell you that you see what becomes of the dark lord. You see what happens when one goes into the very heart of his domain and challenges his power. But Tolkien's work, for all of its literary beauty and epic scope, does not match the story that we have as Christians, the message that we have been given in Scripture, that Jesus Christ is the King. And the King is coming soon.
"Amen. Come, Lord Jesus, come!"