To this End was I Born
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King, October 31, 2021
“Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”
OUR LIVES begin in quiet darkness, secretly, making each of us uniquely who we are. Our lives are lived forward from that starting date to another day, our final breath, and these lives are described with a birthday and a date of dying. There is a dash between those two dates. That dash is how we lived, who we knew, what we accomplished, all our habits, traits, words, and a life. Long or short, that dash is important, because what follows that second number depends on how that dash took its place in the world, and what its intentions were toward Jesus Christ, the Person responsible for every date and every dash that ever was.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jn 1:1 There is a beginning of almost everything. Only God has no beginning. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are eternal and have no beginning. Time had not begun when they already were there. Enter Creation, and you also enter Time, a new feature, a new dimension. In the beginning, there already was the Word, the Father, and the Spirit, and they are all God, and they are One God. God has no dates, no dash, but just IS.
The Father showed the Word what had become of humanity. We began okay, but soon used one feature of our created being against His plan. Our free will had pulled against His will and broken the creation. So, in a kind of obedience we’ll never really understand, the Word received the life of a man and was born. A date, a dash, and a purpose. He was born as helpless and as weak as any human baby. He was born in a barn, amid animal noises and smells. He was born to a virgin, whose secret was known to her husband, a few relatives, and to all of God’s angels. And a wicked human king with an ill-fitted crown slept uneasily in nearby Jerusalem.
Kings and queens are born into a lineage. Most often, they are from their birth in-line for the office. Jesus, son of Mary, inherited His crown in a curious manner. His bloodline was that of ancient King David, through His mother alone. But his royalty is bestowed through His adoptive father, Joseph, whose bloodline was cursed from having any more kings, but who still descended from the line of kings. A son of David, whose adoptive father was Joseph, but was without Joseph’s bloodline could restore the lost line of the kings. Christ was born a king. But no one knew it.
No one, that is, except a small circle of Zoroastrian magi who saw the birth of a new star and interpreted the sign as the fulfilment of a prophecy by Balaam over Israel, and thus it must be the star of Jacob and the scepter and lordship seen 14 centuries before. They came first to Jerusalem, knowing they were seeking a baby king. Redirected to Bethlehem, they unwittingly triggered Herod’s murderous assault on its baby boys just after Jesus’ young family fled south to Hebron and Egypt.
We don’t believe in mere fate, as though everything must turn out exactly according to a plan that can’t be altered. That kind of existence turns fate into fatalism, but we believe in freedom. We live, we move and have our being. We’re not dolls. But then, things are also not random, without a purpose, accidental and meaningless either. No. God made us with a purpose. It’s finding that purpose and following it willingly: that’s the trick.
Jesus found His purpose. It’s the pride of theologians that they tell us how much Jesus knew about Himself and when He knew it. I couldn’t say with any authority. Did the maker of our universe know all He was and all He’d done, consciously as a baby? Who’s to say? I don’t put it past Him. But it’s foolish to say that He left some of His godhead behind and, as a man, was less than fully God in any way. But the complete revelation of His purpose in being made a man, His incarnate mission, seems to have been laid out to Him in sequence, aiming His feet toward the cross at times of important events. As a youth, talking with the elders, scribes and priests of the Temple, He appears to have grown in understanding of Who He is. On the desert, at age 30, fasting and being tempted, His purpose seems to have gained clarity. Again, on the Mount Of Transfiguration, in consultation with Moses and Elijah, His face was turned toward Jerusalem, and He began talking of His imminent death and resurrection.
The picture gained detail as He walked and spent nights in prayer. Again, I make no rude assertions about His human mind not knowing what His divinity inherently knew. He never made a misstep. But He took every step by Himself, as an act of holy will united with the will of the Father, voluntarily, sacrificially, joyfully. Anyone may live a life in such grace, knowing the steps and taking them obediently with a single mind and a whole heart—if they know their true purpose in living and see God’s Hand in what they’re made for. That’s the key. That, folks, is the meaning of life.
Ask anyone the meaning of life and sit back to hear their silly answers. We are to be good people, find personal fulfilment, love and be loved, build something that outlasts ourselves, be remembered kindly, or be president of the United States. When we fail to reach even these low goals, we may despair and see ourselves as failures. Prevailing philosophies of today may try to explain away our existential apoplexy with citations of an accidental universe, the atheist’s triumph over God, once and for all. ‘There is no transcendent purpose, so make the most of it. Find your own meaning, for one is as good as any other.’
For my life to have a meaning, there has to be a master plan, a mega-theme, a greater story of which my life is merely a paragraph, but it’s my paragraph and I have to show up to play my part in it. I’ve read that my first parents were fashioned in the very image and likeness of God Himself. He gave them governorship of this planet, its animal life, and made us gardeners in a perfect world. What happened to that? We learn, and we mourn the loss.
But after the great canvas is sketched out, colored in many layers and patterns, foretelling of a great Person one day to arrive for us, in the middle of human history comes a man. He comes in the least likely manner. He is worshipped by foreigners. He lives in obscurity, making wooden objects in His father’s shop located in the Podunk village of Nazareth. He is baptized by His cousin in Jordan and gains a small band of disciples. And the story leads out from there.
We know its many steps, steps that led to a secret garden in an olive grove where deep in the night an arrest team swooped down on 12 drowsy men, where they chained and shackled Jesus, led Him to the priest’s house, illegally tried and condemned Him, and finally led Him into the governor’s palace early the next morning. And Pontius Pilate asked Him:
“Are you really the King of the Jews?”
Jesus raised His eyes to the level of the Roman. “Do you ask this yourself, or are others saying this about me?”
“What? Do you take me for a Jew?” scoffed Pilate. “Your own nation and your chief priests are bringing these charges and have brought you to my chambers. So tell me, what is it that you’ve done? A king, are you?”
“My kingdom is not from this world. If it were, then my servants would already be at war, and I’d never come under the authority of these Jewish rulers. But at this hour, my kingdom is not yet here.” Jesus gazed into the governor’s eyes, looking for comprehension. This was a man who understood power.
“So, you’re telling me you’re a king then?”
A long moment transpired, two men from opposite worlds held in each other’s eyes. Jesus’ words came with authority that shook Pilate as He said, “Your words say that I AM a king. True: and to this end was I born, for this very cause was I sent into this world, in order to testify to the truth. Every soul that knows the truth can hear my voice.”
Pilate’s world pivoted loose of its proud moorings. The challenge to what he’d always seen as dependable lines of authority, philosophies and beliefs were broken by the man in chains, bruised, disempowered, standing accused before him. All he could manage was the hollow argument: “What is truth?”
What indeed is truth? St. Paul says the Father created us for a purpose, to fashion us as saints in light, delivered from darkness into His Son’s kingdom. He has redeemed us by the blood of Jesus, forgiven our sins: He, who is the very perfect image of God, firstborn, first risen from the dead. It was by Him that Creation sprang into being at His first command: “Let there be light!”—every orb, every living being, and it was all made for Him. Before anything found form or substance, it is by His Word everything came to be. By the Father’s will, all fulness, perfectly is found in Him. He has made peace through the shed blood of the Cross, reconciled every wrong in Himself, has made for Himself and now us a kingdom that shall glorify Him forever. Our eternal future home.
If there is a purpose, there is a way to achieve that purpose. If we exist at all, we have been made for something. It’s not a given that we will respond to His will, but He gives us abundant grace and mercy and power and insight, if we’ll let His will be our own. The meaning of life is to know the King by name and serve His purposes while in this life, this dash strung between two dates, so that after that second number, we enter the joys of His eternal kingdom and join the happy crowds of saints in light. This is the Feast of Christ the King. Of this kingdom there shall be no end.