Advent 4 Sunday 23rd Dec ‘O King of the Nations’
The ‘O Antiphons’ are ancient titles for Jesus we’ve been looking at during the Sundays of Advent. The antiphons are traditionally used as refrains to the reciting of the ‘Magnificat’, or the Song of Mary, at Evensong during the last week of Advent. This week we’re thinking about the Antiphon for December 22 – ‘O King of the Nations’
O King of the nations,
the Ruler they desire,
the Cornerstone uniting all people:
Come and save us all, whom you formed out of clay.
In 586 BC The temple in Jerusalem, (the core of the life of the Jewish people) had been ransacked and destroyed by the Babylonians and some 70 years later, Judea having come under the rule of the empire of the more enlightened Persians, the possibility arose of the temple being restored.
The prophet Haggai, talking about the ruins of the temple , asks the leaders of the people, “Is this a time for you to live in your splendid houses while the temple of God lies in ruins?” “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4Yet now take courage, I am with you, f6or thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts.
This all took place in or around the year 520 BC. And the prophesy would come true at one level in the rebuilding of the temple building shortly afterwards; but the prophesy would also come to fruition in a rather different way five hundred and twenty years later at the birth of Christ.
Because the ‘treasure of all nations’ that would come into the temple would be Jesus himself. When Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus into the temple for his ritual presentation, and the old man Simeon took the child in his arms and said, “For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel”. This was the true treasure – Jesus Christ, the king coming into his temple.
In every generation the church is called to remember, as we in our liturgy regularly remind ourselves, that we are the temples of God and the idea of God coming to his temple also has this sense of the God of Love coming to each of us: Love taking its rightful place at the core of our lives…
But in the words of the antiphon, He comes to us and to the people of ‘the nations’ – all countries and cultures, as King. So what kind of King would this be? Certainly not the archetypal Emperor-king, invading countries and forcing homage from defeated peoples; as Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, “My kingship does not derive its authority from this world’s order of things. If it did, my men would have fought to keep me from being arrested by the Judeans. But my kingship does not come from here.” There is the thorny issue of authority here of course – thorny especially for those of us who have experienced the authority of others in a negative or traumatic way. Authority can be seen automatically as being a fearful or bad thing, something to be avoided especially in those who grasp at power and authority or who use their authority for purposes other than for the good of others. There are those in power who ‘demand’ respect because they are basically insecure and there are those who ‘command’ respect because others recognise in them the blend of qualities that go together to form an authority that is natural, God-given, genuine. In Jesus’ case, his authority carries with it the hallmark of genuine-ness and positivity because his kingly authority is shot through with humility and vulnerability. It is people like this that others desire as leaders.
So this is not a case of “Jesus is King of the Nations and therefore has the right to, or desires to, demand that everyone bows the knee and accept his Kingship’; – no of course not. Rather, Jesus naturally has something in common with people of goodwill whatever their origins, nationality or religion and in that sense can be said to be King of peoples from all nations who willingly desire the things that mark his kingship, because the King of the nations has at his heart and the heart of his kingdom the things we know about well and remind ourselves of constantly – love, joy, peace, compassion, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, unconditional acceptance and welcome – these are things that extend beyond the territorial boundaries of earthly realms.
And more than this, Jesus is the ultimate example of a different kind of ‘King-ship’ in the sense of it being the kingship of a man – and a poor man at that – prepared to put his own life on the line – being born to a life of hardship under a tyrannical regime, yet living his life teaching and demonstrating healing and peace and at the end literally laying his own life down for the people he loves – the people of all nations, meaning all people full stop; Being ‘king’ in this sense means using power always and only for the good of others, taking words and concepts like king, kingdom, rule, authority, power, and subverting them and transforming them into things that are good and positive and peaceable.. In this sense he lives out the title ‘desire of nations’ – the kind of leader people naturally gravitate towards – the kind of king people naturally know is good and right; the kind of leader people genuinely like and need and desire.
And if we are willing to become subjects of this kind of king, workers in this kind of kingdom, we become agents of that subversion and transformation of the flawed ethics of this world through an agenda that originates not in any kingdom of earth but from the kingdom of heaven: that of bringing peace and mercy and joy and love to the world.
One more thing: King of the Nations means king of the gentiles – to the Jews this would mean foreigners, outsiders, all of whom were in a sense ‘the unrighteous’. And the stories of Jesus in the bible are certainly enough to demonstrate that he is the natural leader of precisely those people – the ones who are on the outside: poor, disadvantaged, excluded – and even more, the natural leader – the desire – of those who are seen by others – and maybe themselves – as the ‘unrighteous!’…
This to me is the most powerful clue to the real nature and identity of Jesus, ‘King of the Nations and their desire…’