In the midst of the recent elections and political upheavals here in the United States, I’ve seen a steady swirl of dialogue surrounding our temporal political leaders punctuated by affirmations that “Christ is King” no matter what.
This is a profound truth, a truth that the Church solemnly celebrates today. It is also explored in more depth throughout Advent, as the Church turns its gaze to Christ’s first coming, and anticipates his second—as is referenced in the creed: “He will come to judge the living and the dead.”
While the homilies about the glory and majesty of Christ as King, intricately gold-trimmed vestments, and triumphant hymns are all captivating, I admit that on a human level, it’s not always easy to enter into this feast day.
Our country has firmly anti-monarchist roots. It has presidents, not divinely appointed kings. I don’t fully grasp the temporal significance of kings and kingdoms, or what it means to be a loyal subject, and by extension, sometimes the deeper spiritual realities of this day are hidden from me.
I find myself pondering these questions: What is a king, and why should we want one?
First, I can recall that in the scriptures, the Jewish people begged God for a king, despite his warnings that a worldly ruler would be prone to selfishness, weakness, and failure.
What’s even more tragic is that God saw that in the hearts of His chosen people a failure to recognize that He already was their king. For the Jewish people, this worldly king would show a powerful front to any empires that dared to threaten their safety and sovereignty.
The people, however, refused to listen to Samuel’s warning and said, “No! There must be a king over us. We too must be like all the nations, with a king to rule us, lead us in warfare, and fight our battles.”
(1 Samuel 8:19-20)
Yet we see, both in the Old and New Testaments, that despite the drawbacks of a worldly king, there is something written in the human heart that desires unity under one common ruler, one common hero.
In a song by Matisyahu, a well-known Jewish rapper, he says the following:
“At that time, we had a real understanding of a king, you know. For us, we don’t know so much what’s a kingdom or a king. We live in a world of fragmentation, where the majority of the people don’t appreciate or care about so much about the person that’s running things. At that time, the king was the people. The king was the people, meaning that all the people were a part of the king. The king loved the people with his whole heart. He would do anything for them. He was not just a politician, but he was a warrior… a general on the front lines. He would die for his people. He was a singer, a writer, a poet, all of these different things… a real person.”
When I first heard this, I had to stop and reflect. It challenged my notions of a king as a distant figurehead, and someone far removed from the lives and struggles of his people and their needs.
Fr. John McKenzie, after the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, explores this same phenomenon:
“I remember some of my French brother monks praying for the re-establishment of the French Crown and therefore it’s kingdom.
I have Italian friends that boast of having noble blood.
Haile Selassie (1974) of Ethiopia was the last Christian ‘Emperor’ of the world.
So the desire to have a king and live under him is not something simply of medieval Europe. It spans all the way back to our Jewish roots, such as David, the King.
So when we saw a “marvel king” he ignited something good and noble in us that has its roots in a society that has long gone and passed, but maybe now we might understand the deeper meaning of our “marvel king’s” king, Christ Jesus the Lord.”
Both King David and King T’Challa were flawed and made grave errors in judgement. Yet despite their weaknesses, they earnestly desired to represent their people with bravery, selflessness, and heart. They wanted to be the rulers they were appointed to be, and embody the virtues their subjects saw in them.
God the Father, in his great generosity, has given us his own son as King. A King that is both human and divine, a King that is a “real person,” but not beset by the weakness and selfishness of earthly rulers. The imperfections of the worldly kings give way to the glory of the perfect King, Christ the Lord.
May we learn to dethrone all of the imposters in our lives, and recognize the Kingship of Jesus.
Christina Gillam was born and raised Catholic in Little Rock, AR, but experienced a profound reversion to faith during her time in college at The University of Miami. She is inspired by Carmelite spirituality, the writings of JPII, and anything to do with evangelization through beauty.