Last Sunday was Stir Up Sunday – the day we are meant to make our Christmas puddings. Of course, the Sunday before Advent is officially known as Christ the King, and although the old collect is no longer part of the new liturgy, the post-Communion prayer starts “Stir up, O Lord…”
But I’m not here to discuss Anglican liturgy! As it was Christ the King on Sunday, the leader of the service in my church asked the congregation to think about what might happen if we had a new king. What should the king be like, what would we like to tell the king, and what would we like the king to do? A really strong theme emerged, suggesting that the king should know what it was like to be an ordinary person, rather than a rich person. People suggested he should come and see what our lives were like, to live on a low income for a while, to understand what it is like when you can’t pay the bills.
Without realising, I reckon we summed up the incarnation, what it means that Christ is King. Because Jesus left the riches and wonder of heaven, and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14). Jesus lived among ordinary people, experienced human life in all its fullness and saw what our lives are like. This is our king!
In the run up to Christmas especially, we think about the nature of this king’s birth. This shows up more about how Jesus identifies with humanity. It is pretty difficult for mere mortals to have much of an idea what it was like to leave heaven and live on earth, though some song-writers have a go, for example “Sacred infant, all divine, what a tender love was thine, thus to come from highest bliss down to such a world as this”. But, with the understanding that God had a choice in the circumstances of this earthly birth, we can recognise their significance and have an idea what that might have been like. Jesus was not born to wealthy parents with a high status in society, but to an unmarried teenage mother with a fiancé who nearly disowned her. He was not born in a palace fit for a king, but in the space reserved for the animals, sleeping not in a crib but in a trough. And within two years of his birth, Jesus had become a refugee, fleeing to Egypt in fear of his life.
In giving up heavenly glory, Jesus didn’t try to replace it with whatever worldly glory might be available. Instead, God chose to identify with the poor, the lowly, the outcast and the refugee. For me, this is just one example of God’s intrinsic bias towards the poor, those without a voice, without power. This is the nature of Christ the King. Our king “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:6-8.
If this is our king, and the example we should follow, then perhaps it is still Stir Up Sunday after all.