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God Comes to Reign

Being a “child of God” is not so much a special status in which we exult, but rather, an empowerment to fight in the King’s army, to join him in the great struggle.

Detail from "Nativity" (c.1311 - c.1320) by Giotto [WikiArt.org]

I am sure that every religious person, every believer in God, at some point wonders, “why doesn’t God just straighten everything out?” Why doesn’t the all-powerful and all-loving Creator of the universe simply deal with the injustice, suffering, violence, and sin that so bedevil his world? Well, we can hear precisely this cry in the prophets of ancient Israel. All of them—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Zechariah, etc.—utter some version of “How long, O Lord?”

One form that this expectation takes is a yearning that the God of Israel would come to reign as king, which is to say, as one who has the power and authority to right every wrong. The first reading that the Catholic Church proposes for Mass on Christmas morning is a passage from the 52nd chapter of the prophet Isaiah, and it speaks exactly in these terms: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one bringing good news, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, saying to Zion, ‘Your God is King!’” (Is 52:7). The prophet is envisioning the great day when Yahweh will take charge and set things right, when he will “bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations” (Is 52:10), that is to say, roll up his sleeve, asserting his dominance over his enemies.

The fundamental message of Christmas is that this prophecy has come true—but in the most unexpected way. In order to understand this, let us look first at the magnificent poem with which St. John opens his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:1,14). What is of supreme significance here is that Jesus of Nazareth is not simply one more in a long line of prophets, not one more wisdom figure, not just another religious hero; rather, he is what Isaiah and his prophetic colleagues longed for: God himself in the flesh, come to rule. We know that kingly authority is involved in this enfleshment of God, for St. John reminds us: “what came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:3-4). The evangelist is telling us that the Word has come to fight an enemy, and the enemy will not prevail.

If we turn from John to the familiar Christmas story as recounted by St. Luke, we will appreciate the unexpected part of this message. Who is this warrior, this divine champion come to right the wrongs of the world? He is a baby, born in a cave because there was no room for him even in the cheapest travelers hostels of Bethlehem; placed in a manger, the place where the animals eat; wrapped up in swaddling clothes, unable to move. What is the mighty arm of Yahweh, bared for all the nations to see? It is the naked arm of an infant child reaching forth from the manger. They were expecting a Davidic warrior, wielding the weapons of the world, establishing the supremacy of Israel through bloody conquest. They got a warrior all right, but one who would fight with the weapons of heaven, not of earth. How do we know, on Luke’s telling, that we are dealing with a warrior king? His birth is announced by an entire stratias (army) of angels, beings of immense power, subsisting at a higher pitch of existence (Lk 2:13). Caesar was able to dominate the world precisely because of his army. Luke is telling us that the baby king has a far more impressive host.

The Gospels can be read as the story of the divine/human king coming to reign. On the cross, he entered into close combat with the enemies of God, battling them through forgiveness and non-violence; and in the resurrection, he manifested his decisive victory. God’s love, we now can say with utter confidence, is more powerful than sin and death. But there is more to this odd story, and a glance back at St. John’s prologue will help us understand what this is. The evangelist says, “He was in the world and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him” (Jn 1:10). The third “world” that John uses refers to all that stands opposed to God’s intentions, the realm of sin. “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God…” (Jn 1:12). In one sense, Jesus the king finished the work, fought and won the battle. But at the same time, it is eminently clear that sin and death are still operative—and therefore, the King gives us the privilege of participating in his identity and mission.

Being a “child of God” is not so much a special status in which we exult, but rather, an empowerment to fight in the King’s army, to join him in the great struggle. Like our master, we enter into combat, but with the weapons of the spirit. If we turn to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we see exactly what this looks like: “Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.…Therefore, put on the armor of God…clothed with righteousness as a breastplate…hold faith as a shield…and take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God” (Ep 6:10-17). How wonderful that St. Paul gives us a description of Christian mission that is, simultaneously, completely militant and completely non-violent!

So as Christmastide rolls around once again, let us rejoice in the coming of the Savior—but even as we rejoice, let us resolve to join the Lord, as happy warriors, in his great campaign.


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About Bishop Robert Barron 188 Articles
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, "Catholicism" and "Catholicism:The New Evangelization." Learn more at www.WordonFire.org.

7 Comments

  1. “Being a “child of God” is not so much a special status in which we exult, but rather, an empowerment to fight in the King’s army, to join him in the great struggle. Like our master, we enter into combat, but with the weapons of the spirit.”

    Your Grace, the traditional order and timing of the sacraments of initiation for infants needs to be restored, and there is no reason why this should be delayed any further.

  2. “why doesn’t God just straighten everything out?”

    Innocence lay on bed of hay
    Is this what his gentle eyes do say?
    All wise men play their part,
    When searching for His light within the dark
    Gold frankincense and myrrh
    Within the righteous heart do stir
    Truth is love this must be understood
    No manmade decree
    It is the action of Truth that sets mankind free
    Deception and deceit are trod upon
    By His holy feet
    Humble of heart, placid moon, twinkling star
    All mankind shall know who you are
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  3. Kudos to Bishop Barron for emphasizing the Warrior Essence of Catholicism (1 John 3:8). No kudos for emphasizing the term: “non-violent” almost to the point of a cancellation of all that he said. In the past, all types of tyrants totally feared the Holy Selflessness of Catholics and made it a priority to persecute and kill them. That’s because many of the peace-loving Catholics back then were not black and white, childish-utopia, one-sided cartoons, and were very willing to fight the good fight against evil in any form or manifestation, whether against whole armies of evil or evil individuals, like rulers, or against evil ideas.

    The sin in our minds, hearts and souls is only resolved and annihilated, as it should be, by constant, daily resistance and Christ-centered-humble-violence against it. Soft resistance and compromise toward sin gives US glory and the world celebrates US, not God. Strong resistance and Humble Violence (I call it “humvence”) against sin gives GOD the glory because our obedience to Him may bring our mocking, shunning, defamation, persecution, jail, torture and/or death. Through our battle crosses united to Jesus’ Battle Cross the world can wake up to God, open up and surrender to Him (Colossians 1:24).

    Any other huggy-kissy, lovey-dovey, pacifist-utopia solutions that make us look “SO nice” will never, ever work. Evil’s favorite food, fuel and empowerment is, and has always been, Plastic-Christ-Pacifist-Appeasement. We need to embrace Christ’s Holy Selflessness again, the thing Satan and his parasites fear the most. “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it”, (Matthew 16:25). That’s Selfless Humble Violence against our sinful nature and that of others!! Jesus showed graphically that for True Love, Peace and Joy to exist, sin must be crucified, annihilated, killed, not accommodated, “accompanied” or pampered into “conversion”, which just fuels Satan’s Hate, Lies and Death Machine.

  4. Thank you your Eminence, it puts you into the Christmas spirit. Happy warriors follow the One who said: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. “For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the World to come, the Prince of Peace (IS 9:6). And his weapon is Love, accompanied by obedience and perseverance. Love that conquers evil, love that flies on eagle’s wings, love stronger than death, love that leads to eternal life.

  5. Bishop Barron has mastered the art of slick talking, appearing to say something meaningful and substantive without saying anything of the sort.

  6. Word of God being the sword…it’s a small wonder that anti-Christians scream as if pierced through and through when the Word of God is quoted to them. Small wonder that they hate it so…I think st. Paul may have been onto something here… 🙂

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