When we think of kings and queens, we easily link the thought to tyranny or scandal. Living in a republican democracy, it is difficult for us understand what possible connection there might be between Jesus and monarchy.
After all, Jesus was "meek and mild." He was so humble that he rode a donkey into Jerusalem and compared himself to a slave. Can one possibly imagine a monarch riding in procession on a motorcycle or comparing him/herself to a migrant worker?
Have you noticed that biblical words seem to have somewhat different meanings than when they are used in everyday speech? St. Paul compares a husband to Jesus and immediately most of us get our hackles up. The problem is that we concentrate on our human understanding of a male, a husband, a father and a spouse. All our thoughts about male dominance, anecdotal memories of abusive people come to the fore. We forget that St. Paul has "baptized" the word husband, and tells us that a husband is to be like Jesus.
The word "love" may mean everything from two teens "making out" in a car to the most sublime relationship practiced between two human beings. Yet in the Christian dictionary love is the essence of God, and that perfect relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is, in no small part, given to us. We humans don't create love: God gives it to us.
All sorts of metaphors are used to describe Jesus. He is a deacon (servant). He is a priest. He is a bishop. He is a shepherd. He is a friend. He is a king.
We have no idea what induced Pontius Pilate to ask Jesus whether he was king of the Jews. There are obvious political reasons pushing Pilate to ask this question. Perhaps the question was also asked because Jesus looked like a king. By that one doesn't mean that Jesus looked "stuck up" or haughty, or that he swaggered: quite the opposite. There was something in Jesus' bearing, his authority, his compassion, even his look, that made people want to follow him, obey him, and serve him. Pilate thought a king was a powerful autocrat. Jesus said that he is the king of truth. "What is truth?" asked Pilate, the very model of a cynical politician. None of us likes truth very much. Perhaps that is why Jesus was crucified. He made too many people feel uncomfortable.
One of the odd things about our faith is that all too often we find that we have moved Jesus aside. We like center stage. We order Jesus about. "We pray for Mary," we recite solemnly in the Prayers of the People. If by doing so, we are telling Jesus to fix Mary while we look on, uninvolved, we've become the one to be obeyed. We have given in to the temptation. We've assumed the role of monarchs.
Pretending to be in control, to manage, to get things done-by others-is to give in to the oldest temptation. In the Creation story, Adam and Eve decide they would like to be gods. Have you noticed that when a person is given a uniform and a title, quite often that person becomes too big for his or her boots? Yet when Jesus became king, he became too small for his sandals. Set beside Jesus' kingship, all power, all authority looks decidedly down at heels. The king whom we celebrate today, towards whom "every knee shall bow," is the monarch who kneels and washes our feet and who rides into Jerusalem on an old motorcycle.
Jesus is indescribable. He fills all that there is in heaven and earth. Through Jesus, all things were and are made. Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And yet, in a way we can't explain, we experience Jesus in mediated love and compassion, in water poured on an infant's head, in Bread and Wine shared with others, in the oil that brings wellness and wholeness. Our king likes to go out into the streets in disguise. He turns up as a street person, a homeless, battered woman, a black teen being taunted by young racists, and whispers to us that as we care for everyone, we care for him. As we care for him, we learn what loving sacrifice means. When we are humble enough to learn how to serve, we are ready to acknowledge Christ as king. When we acknowledge Christ as king, he loves us into being effective members of the "kingdom of priests who serve God."
Finally, as we approach Advent, perhaps we are all being reminded that unless we can become smaller than a baby, we will be too proud to kneel in the stable and receive the blessing of a merely ordinary defenseless one in whom the fullness of God dwells.