Scripture: John 18:33-37 (NRSV)
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, 'Are you the King of the Jews?' Jesus answered, 'Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?' Pilate replied, 'I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?' Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.' Pilate asked him, 'So you are a king?' Jesus answered, 'You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.'
Here we are at the hinge of the year, liturgically speaking —the last Sunday of the old year, to be immediately followed by the first Sunday of the new year. The culmination and then the starting over, side by side.
Read through the lectionary texts for Reign of Christ Sunday, and you'll see lots of words that go with "reigning:" thrones, rulers, kings, glory, power, dominion. And, other-worldly places for all that royalty: off in the clouds, in some heavenly realm far removed from this one.
But then, when we move a week later from the reign of Christ to the Advent of Jesus, we'll begin the move back to earth. For right next to all that big eschatological glory will come this worldly, enfleshed truth— earth next to heaven, in other words. Advent will mean watching not for thrones on clouds but for the right-here-right-now Word that dwells among us. As Jesus' arrival gets closer, we'll no longer be in the realm of the great beyond. Rather, we'll be local: with Elizabeth, Mary, Bethlehem…manger, stable, shepherds…flesh, blood, birth. Everything small, human, present. Following right upon everything big, heavenly, far off. Two realms, side by side.
When Jesus stands with Pilate in John's story, theirs is the juxtaposition of two realms: one king and another, one kind of reigning and another. My kingdom is not from this world, Jesus says to one whose power is entirely from this world. If it were, my followers would be fighting in the usual way —with violence. They're not. It's another possibility altogether, in but not of the empire, that's standing right next to it.
The way we live —it's always about the juxtaposition of worlds, isn't it? Two possible realms, side by side; two ways of seeing, two sets of choices for how we put the world together. We may lament that the way Pilate reigns always seems to have more clout than the way Jesus reigns. But that doesn't mean Jesus' truth isn't just as present, it just means we choose it less often. Both are always available for the choosing, side by side, here and now.
No, the kingdom of Jesus is not of this world. Oh, but it is in this world. Already. And, on its way.
God of this and all worlds, may we see your truth in such a way that what reigns in us is love…here, now, always. Amen.
interim pastor of First Congregational Church in Canton Center