Not That Kind Of King
What It Means To Proclaim Christ the King
We’re almost there: the ending of the season after Pentecost which is also the beginning of Advent and a new Church Year. But, as we move into this final Green Growing Sunday, we also encounter a potential stumbling block. In many traditions, this is Christ the King Sunday, but what do we mean when we proclaim Christ’s Kingship?
In Godly Play, we talk about Jesus being a king in a very particular way that threads through our stories. During Advent, for example, we explain that a King is coming, but that He is not the king people *thought* was coming. This king didn’t have a great house or armies or riches. This king was a baby who was born in a barn.
This idea that Christ’s kingship is different from that of earthly kings is important enough that we talk about it in the Parables sometimes, too. When the people followed this wonderful person – the one who said and did such amazing things – they heard him talking about a kingdom, but it wasn’t like any kingdom they had ever visited or heard of. They had so many questions, and so they asked him, “What is the kingdom of heaven like?”
All of this is to say that, regardless of our feelings about kingship more broadly, when we talk about Christ the King, we might as well be speaking an entirely different language from the one we use in our daily lives. Christ’s kingship is just too different from what’s familiar to us for the idea of him as King to retain its old resonances. And if that’s hard for us as adults to imagine, what does it mean for us to talk to children about Christ as king?
A Baby Born In A Barn
One of the first things I find that children notice when they come into our Godly Play rooms is the baby doll used in the baptism story. Compared to everything else in the room, this item is so common and can even seem out of place. It seems a little less serious and a little more familiar. And yet there it is, and it’s not far from the baby Jesus in the manger sitting just a shelf above. From their own and their friends’ younger siblings to these or even the younger children down the hall, babies generate a tenderness and interest among many of them. After all, they know the vulnerability of being small and they revel in opportunities to help and guide, rather than be the ones who are helped and guided.
So that baby who would be king, well, it makes me think about some of the problematic questions we ask when we tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan, questions many trainers have been doing away with: What might happen if the people in the story were women, or children? What happens when a vulnerable baby is also a great king? How does that change what we expect? And, what’s more, how does the story change when our great king, the one who declares that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” is crucified alongside common criminals, as we are reminded of in this week’s lectionary? This is the king who will remember us in his kingdom and unlike typical elites, someone we can trust with our eternal lives.
In a society weighted by the harms of Christian nationalism, I think we’d all benefit from remembering what kind of King Jesus is. It’s not necessarily the language of kingship that is a hazard, but our distortion of who this King really was and is.
With another week in the books, I’m feeling even more anxious about all the upcoming events of Advent, but just like in the newsletter last week, this week has brought other fabulous folks sharing resources for the season. A few to keep an eye on:
Sybil Macbeth has shared this year’s Praying in Color Advent calendars! As longtime readers know, I love Praying in Color and I *also* love an Advent calendar that covers the entirety of Advent rather than just the days of December.
In addition to Advent, St. Nicholas’s feast day is around the corner. I’m planning to share the Godly Play St. Nicholas story with our first through third graders that week, and we’ll also celebrate the Bishop of Myra with some special activities at coffee hour. As someone who’s a bit of a humbug in a lot of ways, this sacred figure offers me a different way in – and it’s an excuse to make pfefferüsse (sometimes I’m just really, really German).
This isn’t seasonal news, but it did pop up on my Twitter feed this week and it’s an appropriate bit of news for this community of folks because we all know that, as Montessori puts it, play is the work of the child. The Hechinger Report released an article on the importance of play in childhood wellness, but also its integral role in our common humanity. Playing is part of who we are.
Finally, a few new books for our grown-up hearts:
Grow Christians shared about Bonnie Smith Whitehouse’s newest book, Seasons of Wonder, which offers bountiful practices for adults and families looking for new devotional ideas. It’s easy to engage small children in joyful faith practices, but the older children get, the harder it can be to make prayer and worship feel like an open door. Whitehouse comes to that challenge with an eye for maintaining our sacred relationship with God and as a family across all ages and stages.
& Kate Bowler has a new devotional forthcoming, written with Jessica Richie, entitled The Lives We Actually Have. Kate Bowler’s tender eye for the real difficulty of being human, for refusing to sugarcoat the hard things even as we acknowledge God’s presence in them along with us, makes her so deeply important to me. In this collection, Bowler offers blessings for the lives we actually have, not the ones we wish we did or that we pretend we do when talking to others.
And so, with blessings for the lives you’re all actually living, today and always,