O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.
O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.
The O Antiphon today is a cry for the return of the King. It is the coming of this King that we look forward to during Advent: during the first half we look for His second coming and during the second half we remember His first coming and prepare ourselves to welcome Him anew at Christmas. However, as Americans, we do not have the best associations with kings. So what kind of king should we be anticipating? The Jews didn’t really know either; most of what Jesus said about the kingdom of God didn’t fit with their expectations. What it boils down to is that no matter what kind of king we expect Jesus to be, we’re probably going to be surprised.
For example, there is a sense in which Jesus Christ could be said to be the King of Thieves. Now, just so you don’t think I’m coming from way out in left field, Christ does compare Himself to a thief in the Gospels. We heard about it on the first Sunday of Advent:
Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. (Mt 24:43–44)
King of Thieves can be said in two ways. One could be a King of Thieves if one were a king and all of one’s subjects were thieves, or if one were the most skilled of thieves. Jesus Christ could be said to be King of Thieves in both senses.
I think the first sense is best illustrated by the Gospel we heard on the feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday before Advent began. In this Gospel passage, Christ forgives the good thief and tells him that this day he will be with Christ in heaven: so a thief is among the first to enter into heaven. And since all men have sinned, aren’t all men in some sense thieves, having stolen something from God when we turned ourselves away from Him? It’s a theft that makes the thief less and doesn’t lessen God, but it’s a theft nonetheless. And so aren’t all of Christ’s human subjects thieves?
On the other hand, I think the second sense of King of Thieves is well expressed by a line from my favorite movie, The Princess Bride. Vizzini, holding the kidnapped Princess Buttercup at knifepoint, says to the Man in Black, “You’re trying to kidnap what I have rightfully stolen.” If we are all thieves, then when Christ redeems us, He is in a way stealing from us what we have first stolen. Of course everything belongs to Him by right, so His theft is more a reclamation of what is His own. And by this counter-theft Christ gives us the ability to turn back to God, once more in right relation with Him.
All of this is to say that it might be a good exercise to ponder what kind of king Christ will be when He comes again. Are we prepared to welcome Jesus Christ: King of Kings and Lord of Lords, meek and humble of heart, He who wounds but binds up, bearing in one hand perfect justice and the other hand overflowing with boundless mercy, coming to humble the mighty and exalt the lowly, ready to judge the living and the dead and usher in new heavens and a new earth over which He will reign in glory forever? Or when He comes at an hour we do not expect, will we look upon Him and say “not my king”?
Image: Jean Fouquet, The Crucifixion