(watch here: https://youtu.be/_kcXhzW-vKc)
31‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” 44Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
Each year we kickoff the Advent season by celebrating the kingship of our Lord, Jesus Christ. And yet Jesus is a king unlike any king we’ve ever known, certainly not the type of king who would expect any type of celebration or accolades. Indeed, if he were here among us today, in the form and body he took on over 2,000 years ago, he’d probably despise our celebration and praise. He’d probably think it was an amazing waste of time and resources that could be better used on the needier among us. Of course, we’re not really expending a whole lot of time and resources on such fanfare. We’ve dedicated one Sunday, one worship service, one liturgy to highlighting Jesus’ kingship over our lives. Certainly, the bare minimum recognition of any king that ever was! I imagine Jesus wouldn’t mind the honors as long as they’re the least. After all, Jesus was all about celebrating the least of anything. In our reading, he elevated the least among us as the means through whom he was seen and known. We see and know him in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. These are the least among us, those we are quick to dismiss and forget about. These are the ones we tend not to have anything to do with. These are the ones we are ashamed of. Yet Jesus elevates them by using them as his representatives. Why? Why did he choose to empower those without power?
Perhaps to help remind us that they, too, are people equally deserving of our respect and attention. In a way, Jesus forces us to recognize the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. We can’t go on ignoring or dismissing them if we have the chance to witness Jesus within them. They earn our attention and respect by default, not by merit. I struggle to believe Jesus would have this motive, though, because Jesus isn’t clever and manipulative. Jesus is truthful and loving, not clever and manipulative.
Perhaps more accurately, Jesus understands the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned to be more receptive to the love he has to offer. It is when we are hungry or thirsty, in a foreign land, without clothing or health or freedom, that we are at our most vulnerable, at our most helpless…at, what I would argue, our most genuine. It is difficult to lie to ourselves, or others, when we’re in such a vulnerable state. It is difficult to hide from God. So God seeks us out all the more. God comes to us in our vulnerability and takes shelter within us. God holds us up when we no longer can. This is the God we know and love. This is the God in whom we are known and loved.
Who among us hasn’t been vulnerable at some time in our lives? All of us have been vulnerable! Which means all of us are receptive to the love of Christ. We have all had opportunities to welcome Christ into our hearts and lives. I don’t know why some of us accept him while others deny him. Only God knows why some of us have hard hearts and choose not to accept the love of Christ into our hearts. Regardless, Christ comes to us all whether we accept him or not. This is important to keep in mind if we are to understand Christ’s kingdom in this world. You see, Christ is a king unlike other kings in that he seeks out the weak and vulnerable among us to share his kingdom with. Usually it is only the rich and famous that partake of the king’s riches. But Christ builds his kingdom through the weak and lowly…through all of us.
This is such a radical way of thinking of a kingdom. Kings are typically unreachable, holed up in some castle somewhere. If one wants to reach out to the king, he/she invariably reaches out to any his underlings. The underling would then pass on the information to the king who would consider an appropriate response. The inquirer would seldom interact with the king face-to-face. But not so with Jesus. Jesus only deals with people face-to-face, one-on-one. Jesus wants to connect with his people. Jesus wants to love his people, the weak and strong alike. Jesus is so unlike other kings, so unconventional in his reign, that we, like his disciples, are left confused and frustrated. How can he say we’ve helped him or not helped him if we’ve helped or not helped our neighbor? How can our neighbor be Jesus? These are difficult questions to answer, especially when we don’t want to or can’t see Jesus in our neighbor. Yet this is precisely how he comes to us today: through our neighbor.
Jesus’ reign transcends any time and place. Wherever people are, there Jesus is also. Better yet, wherever there are weak and vulnerable people, Jesus can be seen and heard. This is a reign unlike any reign. He is a king unlike any king. We celebrate, albeit meekly and without much fanfare, a king whose reign is everywhere and always wherever people are. There is no king like Jesus…never has been and never will be. So how should we recognize and celebrate his kingship? Precisely by loving our neighbor, by loving Christ in our neighbor. As Jesus explains, when we show love to our neighbor we have shown love to Christ. We have honored his kingdom by perpetuating it, by helping build it.
Over the next four weeks, we will await the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We will await the coming of our true king whose reign is much larger than us, much larger than this time and this place. We can be assured that Christ has been with us since the beginning of time and will be with us to the end of time. We don’t need much fanfare to celebrate something that has always been with us and will always be with us. We should, however, honor his kingship by loving our neighbors. In loving our neighbor, we are not only partaking of the bounties of his kingship but also being an active builder of his kingdom. Let us await his coming with eager anticipation, knowing full well he has always been with us and will always be with us. We can hope that he’ll be accepted by those who have yet to know him. We can cling to his promise that he’ll never leave us or forsake us, something that no other king can promise.
Today of all days, I invite you to consider welcoming Jesus into your heart and mind. I invite you to allow him to reign over everything you think and do. I’ll guarantee that he’ll lead you to a place you’ll never want to come back from. He’ll guide and protect you through the most difficult times in your life. He’ll give you a love you’ve never known before. This is the king we honor today and all days. His reign will last forever. Let us rejoice in this truth!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.