Advent 2021: A Season Of Healing And Hope – December 15
December 12, 2021
O King, Where art Thou?
(Rev. Dr. Chris Schelin is the Dean of Students at Starr King School for the Ministry in Oakland. At Lakeshore, he is better known as Emma and Isaac’s dad.)
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
Isaiah 11:1-9 (NRSV)
Twenty years ago this month, The Fellowship of the Ring debuted in movie theaters. This film and its two sequels, adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings novels, electrified audiences around the world. The elves, orcs, hobbits, and humans of Middle Earth had come alive on screen.
As I read the Scripture text for today, my mind took me to a scene at the end of the first movie. Boromir, a warrior from the human kingdom of Gondor, briefly betrays the Fellowship by attempting to seize the Ring of Power for himself. After repenting of his weakness, he bravely fights an attacking squad of orcs in defense of his hobbit companions. He is mortally wounded by the arrows of the orc captain.
The dying Boromir is comforted in his final moments by Aragorn, descendant of Gondor’s last reigning king and, therefore, heir to the throne. Gondor had long been led by “stewards” in place of monarchs. When Boromir first met Aragorn, he dismissed his relevance. “Gondor has no king,” he said. “Gondor needs no king.”
But now, as his life fades away, Boromir cannot deny his failure, nor the noble character of the man who until recently had been a stranger and foreigner to him. Upon hearing Aragorn’s promise not to let their world fall into darkness, Boromir declares his loyalty. “I would have followed you, my brother…my captain…my king!” Then he breathes his last.
(You can view the scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9skYkQfAwus )
I’m a believer in democracy, not the divine right of kings. No one should be born with the privilege to hold power over others. But I’m not alone in finding this scene strangely affecting. There is something within us that craves a figure who not only embodies our virtues and aspirations, but who has the power to do something with them. In The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is eventually crowned the true king who reigns justly. In real life, however, such longings are typically cast upon venal men with perverse ends. I do not need to take up space reminding everyone how such authoritarianism has plagued our country of late.
Isaiah 11:1-9 expresses the hope that tiny Judah, surrounded and exploited by more powerful nations, will see a just and wise king take the throne. Empowered by the Spirit of God, this king will not be subject to the normal frailties of the human condition. He will defend the poor and condemn the wicked. His dominion will bring such peace to the earth that even the violence of the animal kingdom will disappear. The lion and the lamb lie in the grass together and the young child plays freely at the serpent’s burrow.
Is this text, alongside Tolkien’s stories, another example of fantasy literature? Jerusalem has ever remained a site of bloodshed rather than, as its name means, the “Abode of Peace.” Attempts to make paradise on earth have paved roads to hell again and again. The years roll on with justice long delayed.
Traditional Christian interpretation holds that Isaiah 11 is a prophecy of Jesus as the True King and Son of David. But in the gospels Jesus disclaims sword and throne and offers a kingdom “not of this world.” Does this otherworldliness mean our Advent hope is reduced to waiting for The Return of the King…and nothing else?
Perhaps not. This Advent, I hold to the promise of Jesus in Luke 17:21 that “The kingdom of God is within you.” Filled by the same Spirit that came upon Jesus at his baptism, it is we who are called, together, to fulfill the longings of ages. Not because we were born to royalty, but because the holy Child of Bethlehem can “be born in us today,” as the carol declares.
Long live the king – in our hearts, in our words, and in our deeds. Amen.