Give Thanks – Christus Victor

One of the doctrine and theology ordination interview questions is to ask about theories of atonement and which one you most liked.  There’s all sorts of theories of atonement that Dr. Thangaraj’s Images of Christ class taught me, like ransom theory ie. Jesus paying the ransom for us, or substatutionary atonement that Jesus’ substituted himself for each of us.  I answered that I really like the Christus Victor theory of at-one-ment.  They’re called theories of atonement because they make us one with Christ.  At-one-ment.  As in Christ is the Victor over all the powers of evil, which hold humanity in bondage. which always reminds me of Christ the King Sunday.  That no matter what crud is happening in life right now, that in the end – Christ is King.  Christ wins.  Christ is the final victor.  The Reign of Christ is unceasing and is perpetual.

So my want of justice and my warrior spirit really likes celebrating Christ the King Sunday.  The texts are usually very imperious with a global reckoning, but there’s a part of me that even though that was my answer in ordination interviews, I don’t really like any kind of king over me.  You know what I mean?  Maybe that’s an American thing.  I’m thinking of the popular musical Hamilton, would you like to have a King George?

Let’s think about some crazy kings – Herod, Henry the crazy 8th, there’s all sorts of them.  You bow down to kings.  You obey kings.  Kings are your Lord and Master.  So this isn’t a halfway commitment, it’s all or nothing.  You don’t just give a flimsy curtsy or you may be beheaded.  You don’t just disobey whenever you feel like it with no consequence.

I’m thinking the part of me that doesn’t like this whole kingship idea is because human kings fail every time.  These kings are not always just, are not always kind, are not always looking out for the best benefit for ALL of their people.

But the King that we celebrate is one that knows and loves each of us equally and unconditionally – not just the rich ones or the pretty ones or the smart ones or the most athletic ones, but all of us.  This theory – this idea of Christ as King – says that Christ is the Victor over all things that bind us or hold us back – sin, sickness, death, doubts, fears, past mistakes, old and new wounds, uncertainty, hopelessness – Christ is the victor over all of the darkness and evil in the world and shines his light perpetual into all the dark nooks and crannies of our hearts and our lives.

This kingship is not just over one people or one country, but over all the world.  This kingship doesn’t just bring hope and good news to one group, but to all people.  It’s a kingship that brings about more hope, joy, and peace than even Camelot could imagine.  That Spirit-breaking-in reality is what the entirety of the whole Jesus event was about, according to Luke’s Gospel.  In this passage, Zechariah’s song is not simply a way to announce the birth of John the Baptist, but rather to proclaim God’s faithfulness, God’s salvation, and God’s peace.

Luke 1:68-79

‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

The coming of these two children is designed “to guide our feet into the way of peace.” It’s a gift of God. A divine gift. Charisma.

But peace doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It also requires the Human Factor.

Nothing is more essential to effective and inspirational leadership, and you know it when you see it. I watched recently, the movie, The Human Factor, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, and it tells a story that I think we need to hear today.

Eastwood’s new movie tells the story of how Mandela worked to unite his racially and economically divided country in the mid-1990s. Mandela had been elected the country’s first black president in 1994, after spending decades as a leading opponent of apartheid, the white government’s official policy of racial segregation. His opposition to apartheid resulted in 27 years in prison, but in 1990 he was released — and then elected president.

In 1995, South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup Tournament. Rugby was a white man’s game, and the South African team was entirely white, representing a country that was 80 percent black. It also had a team symbol — a leaping gazelle called a “springbok” — that reminded most black South Africans of the country’s racist history.

Black president. White team. After 27 years in prison, you might think Mandela wouldn’t look favorably on these players.

But you’d be wrong.

Mandela showed up at a press conference wearing a rugby jersey and cap with a springbok on it. He said, “These are our boys now. They may all be white, but they’re our boys, and we must get behind them and support them in this tournament.”

The next day, the Springbok coach took his team to the prison where Mandela had spent nearly three decades of his life behind bars. The coach said, “This is the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. He was kept here for 27 years by the racist policies of our government. We tolerated his imprisonment for all those years, and yet he has backed us publicly. We can’t let him down.”

The tournament opened, and the Springboks played beyond everyone’s expectations. In fact, they made it into the final game. President Mandela was in the stands, wearing a Springbok jersey. During a timeout, he brought a South African children’s choir out of the stands, and they led 65,000 people in the singing of a black African miner’s song.

When the Springboks took the field, they were unstoppable, and they won the World Championship. And for the next 24 hours, whites danced with blacks in the streets of South Africa. For the first time, they saw each other as fellow citizens of a multiracial country.

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (vv. 78-79). This line from Zechariah’s prophecy came true in the 1995 Rugby World Cup Tournament. The way of peace appeared, in an inspiring and instructive way.

It required a gift of God — charisma. But also the Human Factor.

We can take this Scripture and story to heart as we prepare for Christ’s coming during this Advent season. On this Reign of Christ Sunday, it’s this time of year to reflect on the rich mixture of divinity and humanity that came to earth in Jesus. It’s also the time to discover what his life can teach us about the way that God can work through each of us.

Jesus shows charisma, the gift of God — but also humanity. After all, he was fully God and fully human. Both are essential for walking in the way of peace. And both can be present in us, as well.

Notice, first of all, that Jesus honors the Human Factor in everyone he meets.  He honors each person’s humanity – all over faults and failures.  “Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,” says the letter to the Hebrews. “He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God” (2:11, 17). Jesus does not despise the humanity of the people he meets but honors everyone as a fellow child of God.

So did Mandela, when he said of the Springboks, “They may be all white, but they’re our boys, and we must get behind them.” So did the coach of the South African rugby team, who said that because President Mandela backed them publicly, “We can’t let him down.”

Jesus also knows that divine gifts such as charisma require community. Jesus himself needed John the Baptist to be “the prophet of the Most High” and to “go before the Lord to prepare his ways” (Luke 1:76). Zechariah needed a community to hear his Spirit-filled prophecy and respond in faith. President Mandela needed the Springbok coach, the Springbok coach needed Mandela, and both needed a nation of blacks and whites willing to support the team together.

Finally, the combination of charisma and the Human Factor leads us to a new way of living together in the world — what Zechariah calls “the way of peace” (v. 79). Peace isn’t simply escape from the hands of those who hate us, or rescue from our enemies or a period of time in which we’re free from violence. No, peace is a way of life in which we serve God without fear, “in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (v. 73).

The way of peace isn’t simply the absence of conflict. Instead, it’s the presence of holiness and righteousness and justice. This means being devoted to God and in a right relationship with God and with each other. Holiness and righteousness and justice — these are the qualities of a life of peace, one marked by harmonious relationships, both human and divine.

Zechariah never made it all the way to the manger, but after baby John was born, after he wrote the name down and made it official, after his experience of the here-and-now promise of God, from where he stood, he started to sing. It wasn’t “Silent Night” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” But Zechariah sang of the love of God, and the breaking in of God’s light, the coming of God’s peace and a mighty Savior born to the house of David. “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” He sang of the promise of a God who makes a difference.

Clearly, the way of peace isn’t easy to achieve, and life in South Africa has had its share of violence and turmoil since the day of celebration that followed the Springbok victory. But we Christians continue to pursue this way of life. We do it best by following Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

In his honoring of the Human Factor in everyone, we discover how to love and respect each other. In his commitment to community, we learn that our gifts from God are most powerful when they’re shared. And in Jesus’ life of holiness and righteousness and justice, we see an example of what it means to live in right relationship with God and with each other.

Jesus is our mighty Savior, the one and only Son of God. But as unique as he is, he reaches out to us and makes a connection through the Human Factor, which he shares with everyone on earth — young and old, male and female, black and white, American and South African.  He loves us all.  He’s reaching for us all.  He has grace for us all.  Jesus is behind us and supporting us, as we walk the way of peace.

Three older ladies were discussing the travails of getting older.

One said, “Sometimes I catch myself with a jar of mayonnaise in my hand in front of the refrigerator and can’t remember whether I need to put it away, or start making a sandwich.”

The second lady chimed in, “Yes, sometimes I find myself on the landing of the stairs and can’t remember whether I was on my way up or on my way down.”

The third one responded, “Well, I’m glad I don’t have that problem; knock on wood,” as she rapped her knuckles on the table, then told them, “That must be the door, I’ll get it!”

You know some of the ways that make for peace.  At least some.  So when you’re with your family, choose peace.  When the topic of football comes up with rivalry Saturday around the corner, choose peace.  When any politics comes up, choose peace.  The Holy Spirit will be with you as we walk the way of peace.

  • Preached at Point Hope UMC on Christ the King Sunday November 20th, 2016