Who's In Charge?


TEXT: Luke 1:68-79

You don't have to live very long to realize that it matters who is in charge. Children learn early that just because Mom says no, doesn't mean you can't convince Dad. Life is different when an older sibling is running the show and every babysitter brings a different experience. Who is in charge makes a difference. It's the same in school. When that new teacher walks into the classroom, all bets are off. When your company is bought out or new management steps to the plate, you know things will be different. We vote in elections year in and year out, care about the composition of a new government in Afghanistan, and either cry or rejoice when pastors are moved because we realize that who is running the show makes a substantial difference in how we live our lives.

This Sunday marks the end of the Christian year that began with Advent last December. We call it Christ the King Sunday. We begin the Church year by remembering the coming of Jesus as a baby and end with the recognition that the resurrected Christ is exalted as King in Heaven. To remind you of Christian theology, to say Christ is King is not to deny that title to God. We believe that Jesus and God are one and the same. We talk about Christ the King as a way of describing the nature of the God-king that we are talking about.

Saying simply "God is King" is an accurate statement, but it doesn't say a whole lot about what we can expect from that kingdom until we have defined who that "God" is.. That's what Christianity does. It defines the nature of God in a particular way. By acknowledging that Jesus is the revelation of God, we are making a statement about what God is like. Jesus is not supposed to be a substitution for God but rather a definition of God. If Jesus were just a good teacher, God's nature is not so clear. But if Jesus actually IS God, then we know enough about God to decide whether we want the relationship that God offers.

To say "Christ is King" is to say that it matters who is in charge. As Christians, it matters to us that God is like Jesus rather than like something else. Some religions teach that God is impersonal...just a blur of energy out there without emotion or relation. Others think God is the great impartial mind of the universe, above all notions of morality. Still others think that God is the great creative force of nature providing for us in the balance of ecosystems.

As Christians we do not deny the great force of God's energy, the impenetrable mind of God, or the role of God who has created and is creating. But when we say "Christ is King" we are claiming that the one who is in charge is a God with the attributes of Jesus...a God who could have remained aloof and separate from Creation, but didn't. A God who is capable of interpersonal love. A God who cares about how we spend our days and our lives. The same God who was first revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures.

"Christ is King" is the good news, the Gospel, that we are to share with the world, but it is the meaning behind the words rather than the words as such that are important. It is not saying "Christ is King" that makes a difference. It is living as if the God who is in charge has the values, attitudes, and desires of Jesus of Nazareth.

Yes, there is a degree of arrogance in this. God knows that Christianity has often made an almost incomprehensible mess of the faith. I truly believe that if God were to send us a video of how God planned for the church to work, we would barely be able to recognize it as church. But, for all its flaws and failures, I still believe the Christian proclamation is true. If you believe that God is an impersonal force, I can understand why you might think that. But I think you're wrong. More than that, my belief that God is revealed in Jesus has been so rewarding and fulfilling that I am going to try to convince you to change your mind. If I try to force you to see things my way, I have fallen into sin, because the King I serve honors free will, but to keep the good news to myself would be like eating a great feast in secret while all those around me have bread and water.

If the God who is in charge is like Jesus, that means some very definite things, and some very wonderful things. It means God loves us and wants to be in intimate, personal relationship with us. It means that God cares more about the spirit of the law than about the letter of the law. It means that God is compassionate and courageous, slow to anger and quick to forgive. It also means that God really gets riled up when religious people lead others astray, when greed finds its way into houses of worship, and when the rich are given preference over the poor. If Christ is King that means children are valued, servants become leaders, and even the worst of sinners are welcome at the table.

It matters who is in charge. The passage from Luke this morning sets out how it all works. The words are a prophecy spoken by Zechariah, who was the father of John the Baptist. Zechariah had been mute for nine months, since the time that an angel appeared to him as he served as a priest in the temple. The angel told him that his barren wife would have a child. He questioned the angel and Zechariah was made mute until the time of the birth.. His first words after the birth were to name the child "John" as the angel had commanded. His next words were the words of this prophecy.

The prophecy does two things. First, it puts Jesus squarely connected to God's promises in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus is not cancelling out the Old Testament, but is rather fulfilling promises that God made there. God promised a Savior, and now God is delivering on the promise. When the Savior delivers us from the hands of our enemies, it says in verse 74-75, then we will be able to serve God without fear in holiness and righteousness. What Jesus will accomplish, says this prophecy, is that we will be able to worship God better.

That is, in fact, what happened. Jesus enabled us to know God better and to understand that God was King over all our enemies, even death. That removed our fear and opened the floodgates of gratitude so that our worship could be genuine. Seeing Jesus as God also allowed us to realize that God was concerned with justice and mercy, allowing us to worship in holiness and righteousness...knowing that we needed to pay God more than lip service.

But then the prophecy goes on to part two. The second part of the prophecy is not about Mary's son Jesus, but about Zechariah's son, John, who will later be called John the Baptist. John's job, we are told, is to prepare the way of the Lord. God is coming to save and somebody needs to warm up the crowd and get them ready. That is John's job.

I think this second part of the prophecy is important, because I think in our world today, John's job is the job of the church. For the most part we haven't done it well. Remember that the church is all of us. It is not an organization. The Church is us. We are the church. It is all of our jobs as part of the Church to prepare the way for Christ to come into the world, but mostly we like to come to admire the work already done. We come by the way that has already been prepared to the places where God has already come to rejoice in our good fortune. There is a place for that, but if that's all we do, we have missed the point. Preparing the way for God to come into the hearts and lives of people is not just the job of pastors. It is the job of every Christian.

When you first become a Christian, you may need to spend some time on the already- prepared way to see what kind of preparation was made. You may need to examine the materials used and watch others do the preparing for a bit in order to learn. But if you have been an adult Christian for more than a year and are not even beginning to prepare the way for God to come to a new person, you're not doing your job. If Christ is your King, you have a job to do to help make Him known to the world. Jesus' parables are clear that God expects that.

So what does preparing the way look like in this day and age? Well, the first thing is something we can learn from any work force. Companies want their employees to accurately represent the values of the company. I went to seminary in Atlanta at Emory University, which is affectionately known as Coca-Cola U. There is a huge Coke museum in Atlanta and I have toured it several times when friends came to visit.

On one visit we spoke with one of the security guards. He told us that every Coke employee is expected to carry a can of Coke at all times. They must order a Coke product to drink wherever they go, and if none is available, they are to pull out their own can and drink it. If they are in a store where Coke is not sold, they are to put their can on the shelf to sell. If they are caught with a Pepsi product passing their lips, they are fired. And that was just one of the security guards!

While Coke may be stricter than some, in general most companies want their representatives to live the image. I don't imagine Bill Gates looks kindly on employees who use Netscape. Ford dealers don't want their employees driving Hondas, and when you go in a clothing store in the mall, most employees are wearing clothing from the store. The first step in preparing the way for Coke is always to be seen drinking it yourself, and the first step in preparing the way for Christ the King is to live in ways that are appropriate to the Kingdom.

I can't tell you how important that is. The single most common reason I hear for why people do not embrace Christianity is that the people who profess it don't live it. That is hands down the biggest deterrent to faith. When we profess Christ and treat others unjustly...when we accept God's forgiveness for ourselves but won't extend it to others...when we hoard our wealth while others go without, we are not preparing the way for the King, we are putting up obstacles that will keep Christ from coming through.

That doesn't mean we need to be perfect. Fortunately, humility is a Kingdom value, and acts of confession and repentance allow us to model life in God's Kingdom well before we have eliminated sin from our lives completely. People don't need to think we're perfect, in fact that is often a deterrent for those who know that they themselves fall short. But they do need to know that we are trying, that we are earnestly sorry when we fail, and that forgiveness abounds in the face of a repentant heart. That is what brings the hope that perhaps forgiveness will be present for them if they should open the door to this new king.

The whole point of it all, however, is not our preparing the way, but the coming of the King. "Christ is king" is the content of our message...the God who once seemed far away has come near to us in Jesus. The God who reigns on high has a human face and a name that we can call to as friend to friend. The King is not to be feared. He comes not in condemnation, but in love. As Zechariah once said, "By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." Christ is King. Prepare the way of the Lord.


(c) 2001, Anne Robertson

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