Message from Our Pastor
If you are interested, there are even more versions of Little Red Riding Hood out there. But you will have to look them up on your own, because today I’d like to share with you another story. I first heard this story in the form of a song, when I was in high school. Little did I know then that I was being introduced to Danish philosopher and founder of existentialism, Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard wrote this not as a song, nor really even as a story, but as a parable. If you are a visual person, feel free to close your eyes and watch the parable unfold. Even see yourself in the parable.
Imagine (once upon a time) there was a King who loved a humble maiden. She had no royal pedigree, no education, no standing in the royal court. She dressed in rags, lived in a hovel, the ragged life of a peasant. But for reasons no one could quite figure out, the King fell in love with this girl. Why he should love her was beyond explaining, but love her he did, and he could not stop.
One day there awoke in the heart of the King an anxious thought, “How in the world am I going to reveal my love to this girl? How can I bridge the chasm that separates us?”
His advisers, of course, told him all he had to do was command her to become his queen, and it would be done. He was a man of immense power. Every statesman feared his wrath, every foreign power trembled before him, and every courtier groveled in the dust at the King’s voice.This poor peasant girl would have no power to resist. She would have to become the queen!
But power, even unlimited power, cannot command love. The King could force her body to be present in the palace, but he could not force love to be present in her heart. He might be able to gain her obedience, but coerced submission is not what he wanted. He longed for intimacy of heart and oneness of spirit, and all the power in the world cannot unlock the human heart. It must be opened from within.
So, he met with his advisers once again. They suggested he try to bridge the chasm by elevating her to his position. He could shower her with gifts, dress her in purple and silk, and have her crowned queen. If he brought her to his palace, they said, if he radiated the sun of his magnificence over her, if she saw all the wealth, pomp, and power of his greatness, then she would be overwhelmed.
But how would he ever know if she loved him for himself, or for all he had given her? And, how could she know that he loved her, and would love her still, if she had remained only a humble peasant? Would she be able to summon confidence enough to get past that he was the king and she had been a humble maiden?
Every alternative came to nothing. There was only one way.
So, one day the king arose, took off his crown, relinquished his scepter, laid aside his royal robes, and he took upon himself the life of a peasant. He dressed in rags, scratched out a living in the dirt, groveled for food, and dwelt in a hovel.
He did not just take on the outward appearance of a servant, he became a servant. It became his actual life, his actual nature, his actual burden. He became as ragged as the one he loved, so that she could be his forever. It was the only way. His raggedness became the very signature of his presence.Kierkegaard, Søren, Philosophical Fragments, 1844
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
This parable is sometimes called the Christmas parable because it shows what God had to do to enter into relationship with us. Why tell this story, a Christmas parable, today, on the festival of Christ the King, the precise day we celebrate the glorious, infinite throne of God? Why lift up a parable highlighting Christ’s need to leave his glorious, infinite throne to become limited and finite? And that is just it.
God didn’t NEED to leave his throne. As Daniel writes, God’s dominion is an everlasting dominion. Nothing that was, or is, or is to come, is going to bring that down or cause it to end. Even right here and now, God reigns. But that kingdom, that kingdom, not of this world, is only ours because Jesus stepped down from his throne and became one of us, that we might know the depth of God’s love for us.
This is the fullness of God’s glory, the fullness of God’s glory and truth. It’s a raw and naked child who came to earth to serve, to show, to be the very love and presence of God, in the midst of God’s people. Why share this parable now? Because this is what it means, really means, to be the King of Glory. To love so much, you are willing to give up your very self to be in relationship with, instead of Lord over.
Perhaps you remember a few weeks ago Jesus said to his disciples: “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This is the image of Christ the King we are given in today’s gospel reading. The King of Glory standing steadily and willingly in the place of love for the sake of his brothers and sisters. In the place of what is right and true. Love over might. Service over domination. Peace and justice over tyranny. And this is the image, the truth into which Jesus calls us. We too are called to step down from our thrones of right and privilege to love our brothers and sisters. This is the invitation Jake has been extending to us this past month. To give of our very selves to the ministry and mission of the Lutheran Church of Saint Mark, for the sake of others in our community and around the world. It’s not easy to stand humbly for mercy and grace in a world speaking in terms of power and might. It’s not easy to choose the other, when self has its own wants and needs. It’s not easy to step down when the world values stepping up. Yet, He became as ragged as the ones he loved, so they could be His forever. It was the only way. His raggedness became the very signature of His presence. Thanks be to God, for it was our saving grace. Amen.