I got a bit of a break in our mission schedule the past two weeks, so I took the opportunity to visit Budapest with my wife the last couple days. Folks in my social media network had lots of suggestions and opinions about the city, most of them reflecting how great the city and its sites are and what I should go see and do.
It’s an interesting place, but I’ve never been a fan of cities. They just don’t inspire me. Maybe that’s because of my upbringing on the farm or the introvert in me who hates the city’s crowdedness. I guess I’m just drawn to the more remote places of the world, places that are not inhabited and not touched by millions of people.
Upon deeper reflection, I think it’s more than that. I find meaning in cities, but it’s usually in their histories around the darker events, the sobering history of the place. Budapest is a place marked by achievement and greatness, but also of great suffering and tragedy. The Holocaust. Rulers of empires who built a city on the backs of the poor; those rulers immortalized by large statutes, tributes to their egos. Empty churches, like the one I worshipped Sunday in with a whopping 5 other people.
Which brings me to Christ the King Sunday, Which was celebrated yesterday. Judging by the usual posts of sermons and thoughts from my colleagues, no doubt people discussed how Jesus is a different kind of King, one who unlike worldly rulers is worthy of our fealty, devotion, and love.
I guess my question is: is faith really about a choice of what or who we swear or allegiance to? Is that what God/Christ demands of us? And what exactly am I swearing my undying loyalty to: Liberal Christianity? Conservative Christianity? Orthodoxy? Progressivism? Lutheranism? The ELCA?
In our quaint worship service, the pastor, a Hungarian pastor filling in for the ELCA pastors who usually lead the service – more nervous about her English than anything – didn’t use the appointed Revised Common Lectionary texts for Christ the King Sunday. Rather, she chose more apocalyptic texts we associate with Advent. Her message was we often think God’s promises won’t happen in our time. But whether it was the Babylonian-exiled Israel, or the NT communities of Jesus’ and the apostles’ day, the proclamation was that they were meant for the present time. God’s promises of life out of death, hope out of indifference, love rather than fear, peace rather than power are for us, NOW. Faith in those promises is an act of resistance in a world that says there is nothing but indifference, fear, power, and death when it comes to this life. It is faith practiced because we believe God is with us NOW.
In other words, faith as resistance means something else entirely than fealty to God/Christ….or our fabricated notions of the same.
This is why I can’t wait for Advent to come. Advent (much like Lent) calls us to God’s promises. Advent calls us to not worry so much about who goes to church or who’s keeping the Christ in Christmas. Rather Advent, in our celebration of the season and observance of its rituals, calls us to sense God in the here and now in those places we typically don’t look for God. Yet I think Advent is even more than that.
Advent is calling us to account for fear, indifference, love of power, and death in our lives and resist these things.
God doesn’t demand our allegiance or fealty as some ideally benevolent King. Rather, God calls us to faith as resistance against the madness of the world. In that resistance, we can truly be free. And always, God is with us.