Saturday, 22 December 2012

22nd December 2012 - O Rex Gentium

O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one; Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

The invocation of today's Advent antiphon translates as 'King of Nations', but it doesn't mean nations in the 'United Nations' sense of sovereign states, but the broader notion of people identified by clan, culture, language and geography which persisted for millennia before modern 'nation states' was developed. 

All kinds of local leaders down the centuries acquired the status of king, on the basis of their strength in facing conflict or their wisdom in building wealth and stability for their community. Such kings symbolised local identity, social cohesion, representation of a particular clan before God, and also to neighbouring clans. 

Kings bestow favours on those who give them allegience. They honour those serve well their leader and their clan. Kings lead the way in forging alliances, doing battle with foes, establishing trading partners, all in pursuit of the well-being of subjects and allies. Kings remind people of their shared history their identity and belonging. Kings represent the laws which order community life for mutual benefit, and those who administer and enforce such law are answerable to the king for their endeavours.

The Hebrew people acknowledged Yahweh God ruling over them as their "Great King above all gods", and yet wanted an earthly ruler to give them the same status as other nations. Prophets pointed out that God was reluctant to allow them to have such leadership, warning they would be the poorer for it in the long run. God conceded and allowed them to learn for themselves how to manage their own affairs, and their first kings represented them before God in worship before priestly functions were delegated.

To appeal to God, all-powerful creator of humankind from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7) as King of Nations proposes an ultimate symbol binding the whole human race, in which each person can find unity in their common humanity despite differences of race, culture, history, and the ways we order and govern life together. Yet, this prayer calls out to the coming One who will rule over "every tribe and tongue and people and nation", Christ the universal King. He also reigns from the cross and stands powerless before Pilate crowned with thorns. He is the contradiction of omnipotence, a cornerstone which was first rejected. It is the paradox of God's relationship with us, and ours with Him.

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