“My kingdom does not belong to this world.”
Today we celebrate the great feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King. Here, at the end of our liturgical year, we celebrate the one who has led us through the year. As we look back, there may have been times of great achievement, or times of failure. We may have celebrated life, or had to deal with sickness and death. We may have been blessed by wonderful, nurturing relationships or we may have had to deal with discord and strife. But if this year has meant anything, hopefully we can say that we have come through it with the help of Jesus our Savior, who is our Lord and King.
In today’s first reading, we have the promise of a king: one like a son of man with an everlasting dominion. This part of the book of Daniel comes from a series of visions. In these visions, particularly the one we have today, Daniel gives the Jews hope in persecution. This is no mere dream, and he is not just sharing his dream with a friend at work the next day. This is a vision that is spoken to lift the people up and help them to know that their hope is in God.
The Jews of his day have been being persecuted by the Greek tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanes IV. He and his henchmen were certainly persecuting the Jews who insisted on living the Jewish way of life. But what is even more evil and more disastrous to the community, is that some of the Jews were starting to think that giving up their way of life and instead worshiping the gods of the Greeks was a good idea. They saw how powerful the Greeks were and attributed that to the gods they were worshipping. So, why not give up their own faith to follow one that seems to be working better? The biggest danger they faced was losing their faith to the pagans by adopting pagan ways of life.
So, when did you see your first Christmas display? I’m not sure when I did, but I know it was way before Halloween. I was also amazed to hear Christmas music on WLIT in the first week of November. And on Thanksgiving Day, I was awakened early in the morning by the sound of a heavier than usual newspaper hitting the sidewalk outside my door. I wasn’t shocked to discover the reason for this rude awakening was that the paper contained tons of Christmas-related advertisements for after Thanksgiving sales. The mad rush for the hearts and souls of Christmas shoppers has begun. In just the last week, we’ve all seen long lines waiting for the latest video game system. People camp out in tents and brawl for the first places in line. Peace on earth, good will to all. Yeah, sure.
So, we clearly are not under the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, but we are definitely in danger of losing our faith to the pagan forces of this world. And there are so many other seductive ways that pagan forces weasel their way into our lives and tempt us to give in to their power over us. Everything that promises us power, success and wealth has the ability to take our hearts and souls with it. Why not just give in? Won’t paganism and evil win out in the end?
Well, Daniel sure didn’t think so. He prophesied that there would be one like a Son of Man who would triumph over Antiochus and others like him. This One would deliver them from the persecution they suffered and from the seduction that confronted them. This One would rule the world in justice and peace, and would lead the persecuted ones to a kingdom that would never pass away.
The early Church identified this Son of Man with Jesus Christ. He is the One who has power to rule over all and he is the One whose kingdom is everlasting. He even referred to himself as the Son of Man, and made it clear that he was the Son of Man who would suffer for the people. He came to deliver those first Christians from persecution with the promise that he would indeed come again, and that same promise is made to us as well.
But the problem was, he didn’t return right away. People lost faith, gave in to persecution, and just went with the powerful forces of the day. The delay in his return led some to believe that he was not returning, and so they should just do what seemed expedient. Why not go with the victorious pagan forces of the world? It’s a question that we must answer too.
As we end this liturgical year and take a look back, maybe we can see some areas for improvement in our lives. Much like the resolutions we may make January 1st, we may be able to make some resolutions for our spiritual lives in the coming liturgical year. I don’t mean losing weight or getting more exercise: those you can make in the new calendar year. But maybe in this liturgical year we could resolve to pray more or work for justice and peace, or reach out to the needy. If we were to make some constructive resolutions for our spiritual lives, we could begin to take away the hold the pagan forces in our world have on us. We could even proclaim with our lives that Christ is our King.
Jesus told Pilate in today’s Gospel that his Kingdom was not of this world. That should be the red flag for us. When we begin to worship and follow the forces of this world, we know that we are in the wrong place. Christ is the King, the Son of Man, who will lead us to a kingdom not made by human hands, a kingdom that will not pass away, a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom of love and mercy, a kingdom of grace and comfort, a kingdom of eternal beauty and unfathomable joy. The choice is ours, though. Will we follow the pagan forces of this world, or will we follow Our Lord Jesus Christ the King to that perfect and everlasting kingdom?