A king(dom) not of this world

As a child, I was never really interested in princess movies. Perhaps that was because the stories were too predictable or the characters were unrelatable. Or maybe even in my youth I was a pessimist and did not fall for “happily ever after.”

What I do know is that I never wanted to meet a king (and much less that evil step-mother). The kings always seemed aloof or far too preoccupied with the needs of their kingdom to recognize their children, who were inevitably suffering. At the very least, the kings were the kinds of fathers who would crush the princesses’ dreams and say, “Because I said so!”

Jesus is often referred to under the title, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” In fact, on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Sunday immediately before Advent begins, the Church celebrates the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe. This can be a tricky title for a lot of people — and not just because of animated movies.

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Historically, kings and lords have frequently taken advantage of the weak, engaging in pillaging and plundering entire communities in order to expand their kingdom. And for Christians, who believe in an all-powerful God, it seems natural to extrapolate the power of God based on the abuses of power that we see all around us.

Instead of trusting in the power of God to bring us out of dark periods of life, we can believe that his power is what is causing our suffering to happen. Instead of praying and working to demand that Church officials take responsibility for abuses, we can leave the Church altogether, believing that corrupt priests and bishops are true representatives of God. The examples could go on and on.

But friends, Jesus is not a king who wields his power and demands submission while holding us against our will. In fact, frequently when he did signs that revealed his power he said, “See that you tell no one anything” (Mk 1:44)

Jesus does not use his power to accumulate anything for his own sake. He is not looking to have more power. In fact, he cannot have more power because he already is all-powerful.

So then what does Jesus do with his power?

To see the kind of king that Jesus is, we can look to the cross, where he wore a crown of thorns. Onlookers demanded that Jesus come down from the cross if he really was a king, if he really was powerful.

The early Church referred to this aspect of Christ’s kingship as self-emptying or with the Greek word kenosis. This process of kenosis is understood to be the sign of true power. But it is totally contrary to what we think of with earthly power, so let’s break it down a little bit.

Earthly power is fragile — a single battle, death in the family or election could make it fall apart. Someone who is not God simply seems powerful. He or she is put in a place of constantly proving their power so that no one overtakes him or her. An abusive partner threatens violence if his victim tries to leave. The king orders his troop to burn a village to the ground so that they cannot revolt. That kind of thing.

On the other hand, someone who is truly powerful does not need to be afraid of losing that power because it is quite literally impossible. That’s Jesus. In fact, Jesus himself says, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down on my own” (Jn 10:18).

We can ask the question again: What does Jesus do with his power? He gives it up. He entrusts it to us.

On this solemnity of Christ the King, we acknowledge that Jesus Christ is already the King of the Universe. In turn, being children of God means that we are heirs to a kingdom that is not expanding through force but through kenosis. We agree to accept the true power that God has, the true power that he has given us, and we in turn give it up to others.

As daughters of God, this means that we also do not need to grasp too tightly onto what God has given us because we trust that it cannot be taken away. It means that we can give up our material possessions, we can spend time praying, we can love everyone freely without being afraid.

Advent begins one week after the solemnity of Christ the King. This means that we go straight from celebrating his power to celebrating the miracle of the Incarnation, the reality that Jesus was willing to give his entire self to us by becoming a human child. He was not afraid to come to us, he was not afraid of what it would look like or what people would think. He was free to love us because he has true power, which cannot be taken away.

In these coming weeks, we will talk a lot about preparing to receive Christ into our lives anew. In accepting Christ, we accept his power, his mercy and his love. None of these gifts are given to us for our own sake; they are not given to us to establish earthly power, to accumulate followers or possessions. We accept Christ into our lives so that we can give his love freely to everyone we encounter.

We have nothing to lose because Jesus, the King of the Universe, has already given us, his daughters, everything. That is true power.

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