The kingdom of this world;
The kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ
And He shall reign for ever and ever
King of kings forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
And Lord of lords forever and ever hallelujah hallelujah
– Handels’ Messiah (the “Hallelujah Chorus”)
Not long after my 18th birthday I was able to take part in my first election in Canada and like any young Christian “skater-punk idealist” of the day I spoiled my ballot to show my dissatisfaction. With the bizarrely small pencil provided I scratched out every name on the ballot, wrote “Jesus” along a fictitious line in the remaining space and drew a giant “X” in the neatly aligned box of my own creation. Folding my ballot like any well-behaved citizen, I pulled my oversized jeans back up to an appropriate level and walked proudly to the ballot box, dropping the tiny paper in the slot with a grin. Admittedly, one or two people may have seen this piece of paper but for me it was a proud protest in the most democratic way imaginable. I’ve heard it said that while most of the world protest with violence, Canadians write strongly worded letters. I voted. Well, sort of.
I’ve since voted for a different political party each time it seems but it wasn’t until this year that I began to realize that my youthful “Protest at the Polls” was a little misguided. I misunderstood my own place in the world and, more importantly, how Jesus fits into the picture.
Every Christmas we come across Handel’s “Messiah” and we’re beautifully reminded that we Christians believe Christ to be King of kings and Lord of lords. Reminded that in a manger in Bethlehem approximately two-thousand-ish years ago God was born as a human on earth and proclaimed ‘King’. In personal and political terms I wonder if we struggle to understand what this idea means at all.
Because the thing about a king is that you don’t choose him. Sure, we choose to trust and follow Jesus, but this doesn’t change who, or what, He is: the King. A king is a king because He is. If for some reason I want some other King, the existing King has to be dead… and it seems to me as though that didn’t work out for us with Jesus.
But in a democracy we’re all rulers of a sort with, at the very least, the idea that we rule the rulers. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities that living in a country with democratic values has afforded me but I’m convinced that those of us who seek to live like Christ in the world need to revisit our assumptions about the world and how we should find our place in it often, even if only so that we have a firmer foundation for our honest convictions.
I recently found myself doing just that. An old co-worker once said in a sermon that if we are sincere about following Jesus a good place to start is to take a good look at how we view money, sex and power and compare them to what Jesus had to say. I’ve noticed since that in church circles we talk a lot about “money” and “sex”, but not often power. And I found myself wondering: why?
Perhaps we Westerners are utterly addicted to it. We’re raised with the idea that we have the power to change our own lives. Don’t like the President? Vote in a new one. Don’t like your boss? Find a new job. Don’t like your oversized jeans? Buy skinny jeans (at least, this is what I did). Preachers continue to try and adapt the King of Kings to our context by comparing Jesus to the “boss” or “mayor” but these comparisons fall dramatically short. If we’re to take a good look at our ideas about power and privilege then we have face the facts: we kind of want to be king. It’s always been true… that’s how we got into this mess in the first place (Genesis 1). It’s entirely possible that this has an effect on the kinds of beliefs we form about God, and about ourselves — and who’s really in charge.
That’s worrisome stuff.
If Jesus were President and I voted him in, is He then beholden to me? What would that make me?
And so, I’m ever more grateful (referencing again the Shaw quote), that Christ came to solve a problem I couldn’t solve on my own, or with all of you, and not democratically: the human condition. And this means that the way that we now engage the world isn’t as simple as those writing the stories from one day to the next (and on either side) might like. We don’t just play for a depressing team or tow a neat-and-tidy party line. It’s bigger and better than that. It’s an amazingly hopeful story instead! We can’t be bought: the price was already paid. The man that was once a baby in a manger grew up to be a sinless man who would ransom us from the clutches of evil by defeating death itself and pave the way for us to truly be “little Christ”s in the world. This, and this alone, is why we have a hopeful future. He took back what was His all along. This is why Jesus can’t be President: He’s already King of Kings.
We needn’t vote for Him: he voted for us. That’s what he taught us to do with power after all: spend it on others. While I might have wasted my ballot once in our political system I can instead declare that the Prince of Peace is already King every day with each selfless, loving and gracious interaction, each moment with my kids, and with every kind moment with a stranger. Hoping not in mere political ideology or category but in the loving and gracious King of kings. Hallelujah!
Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”