“It was a dark and stormy night.”
Those words have become an icon for bad writing and overly dramatic prose but in this case, it was a dark and stormy night. The two children did not want to go to church for a Lenten supper of soup. They wanted to stay home and snuggle up together and watch television while they ate grilled cheese sandwiches. But their father had died some years earlier and there was no babysitter available so they were dragged along, whining and complaining about the horrible soup they knew they were going to have. On the way to church their mother had a brilliant idea – she offered to stop at McDonald’s and get them whatever they wanted for dinner.
After picking up their hamburgers and fries they turned left out the door of McDonalds and left again around the corner, shivering in the cold as they headed back to the car. As they pulled their collars up they passed a man who was squatting down on the sidewalk with his back against the side of the building, one of his hands held out for whatever anyone would give him. It was not a good place to be a beggar as there was hardly anyone passing by and that is what they did. And the man just sort of stared into space, continuing to hold out his hand without much expectation that it would be filled.
But they had hardly gone a few steps beyond him when the mother felt the youngest child, who was about five, tug at her coat. “Mommy, we could tell him about the hot lunch at the church on Sunday.” The mother replied that they could, but it wouldn’t do him much good now since the church only had the meal one Sunday a month and that Sunday was two days ago, so it would be weeks till the next one. And she turned and went on. And she’d hardly taken two more steps when there was another tug at her coat. “Mommy, we could tell him about the hot lunch at the church on Sunday.” And the mother stopped and looked down at her daughter and said, “Do you want to tell him?”
The little girl did want to tell him. She went back to the man sitting in the cold against the building and in words all her own began to tell him about her church and how he could get a good hot meal for free. There is no other way to describe what happened next: his face lit up, in all the ways that a person can have light fill his eyes and a smile lift his lips. As she looked at him and he looked at her, his countenance was completely transformed. He was no longer a beggar. He was a full, dignified human being grateful that a little girl wanted to help him.
This Sunday is the last Sunday of the liturgical year when the church reminds us that Christ is king. This is an ancient concept which relies historically on a man chosen by birth or military might to have ultimate control of his people and holds the power of life and death over them. Although we use the language of royalty to describe him, Christ is no earthly ruler with an army at his disposal. He’s a king who was born a pauper and came riding into Jerusalem in what should only have been a parody of secular authority but turned into something different, something far more powerful than anyone could have imagined. He comes not as the world knows and expects, in pomp and glory to conquer, but at the edges of life to change us into people who can bring peace and justice to the earth. He reigns in our souls and is first in our hearts and he is very near us. Christ is the king who sits at the side of a building in the cold waiting for someone to give him something, and what he wants and needs so badly is not just food but simple recognition of his humanity. He is out there. And a little child will lead us to Him.