Carol Service 2003
The Return of the King
The greatest film of all time? The most popular book ever?
The top film this Christmas? A Masterpiece. No question.
The one to rule them all? Its got to be ‘The Return of the
No - not Tolkein’s trilogy but the Bible. Available in 1500 languages, the Bible Society alone has been responsible for distributing over 1 billion copies world wide. Taking account of the other 40 bible societies, the number of Bibles produced far outstrips anything ever published in the history of mankind. And who is this king? Jesus. The original film version of the return of the king, simply called “Jesus” has since 1979, been seen by 5.5 billion people in 812 languages. A further 500 million have heard the message through radio broadcast and audio cassettes. And we are here tonight on this 4th Sunday of Advent to do what? Nativity scene
No - strictly speaking we will celebrate Christmas on Wednesday evening and on Thursday. You are very welcome to join us! Instead, tonight we celebrate the Return of our King. That is what advent means. Indeed so central to Christianity is the return of our king that the Christian year begins not with the birth of Jesus but with his return. How strange Why begin with the end? The reason is simple. The nativity is not the beginning of the story.
Only, in the words of Churchill, “the end of the beginning” The story begins way back in eternity. Our first reading from Genesis 3 explains the reason the King would come. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." (Genesis 3:8-15). King Jesus came to rescue us from sin and destroy the evil one. To do this he had to be born as one of us. Indeed he had to die in our place to set us free.
He has called us to serve in His Kingdom now against the dark forces of evil in this world. But he will only destroy evil and bring peace when he returns as King.
We can therefore only understand the meaning of Christmas when we have received Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. That is why today we celebrate his return.
A sign of this is our eager expectancy of the return of the
Tolkein knew this. Probably the best story teller ever, Tolkein wrote the Lord of the Rings because he was a Christian. He saw himself as creating in the manner of the greatest creator of all. He wrote because he had a spiritual purpose. Because he believed Jesus was his Lord and King. Because he believed in the return of His king.
How do we know that? Because, written into the trilogy are clues. If you look in Appendix B you will discover Tolkein provides a chronology for these great events. The date when the Fellowship leave Rivendell on their mission? The 25th December. Isaiah prophesied that day in our second reading.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.”
“And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
And the day the ring is finally destroyed? 25th
March. Isaiah hints of this great work also in verse 7.
“The Zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:7)
His zeal, his passion is you. He came for you. He died for you. In the Early Church and Anglo Saxon English of which Tolkein was an Oxford professor, the 25th March was recognised as the date of the Crucifixion.
This means that the main events of the story of how the ring is destroyed and Sauron defeated are played out during the period between Christ’s birth and death. Tolkein was therefore weaving into the narrative of the Lord of the Rings a message of fallenness and redemption pointing you and I to Jesus, the one true Lord.
For example, the beautiful Elven princess Arwen Evanstar calls for the ‘grace’ that was for her to be given to Frodo as the evil of the Morgul knife pierces through his heart. Two other individuals take on elements of the person of Jesus - Aragorn and Gandalf. Aragorn is the King. After hearing Boromir’s last confession, Aragorn makes a gesture which is so visibly like the Christian symbol of the cross. But it is Gandalf the grey who dies to save his friends. As he crashes into the abyss with the Balrog, he falls in a cruciform shape. They think he is gone. But he rises again as Gandalf the white with bright light in a scene resembling the resurrection, more powerful and awesome still. The day Jesus died on the cross, our freedom was won, the evil one was disarmed and his forces routed. One day soon, Jesus will return. Why?
In our reading from Isaiah God gives us three reasons.
1. The King will come to rescue his people.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)
2. The King will come to execute judgement.
“you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.” (Isaiah 9:4-5)
The devil and all his followers will be destroyed. Every knee shall bow on that day.
3. He will come to reign in everlasting peace.
“Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:7)
While Jesus, the Prince of Peace, has called us to be peacemakers, and make visible his kingdom rule on earth, ultimate peace will only return to earth when the King Himself comes to reign. Three reasons the King is returning.
1. To rescue his people,
2. to execute justice and
3. to reign in peace for ever.
This is why we look forward to the return of our King. The problem is for now, while victory is assured and the war has been won by Jesus, the evil one has not been captured or his forces disarmed. His evil influence is still felt on earth. The world cannot explain the source of evil behinds the deeds of Ian Huntley or Saddam Hussein.
But the Bible does. The Bible describes our world as in the power of the evil one who has incited the world into open rebellion against the High King of Heaven. The One Ring to rule them all in Lord of the Rings embodies the lust for power and pride that consumes all who are seduced by it. It was the cause of Lucifer’s downfall, like Tolkein’s Saramon, and it is the same today of all beguiled by it.
Have a look in the rack of the seat in front of you (or under your seat). You should find a ring. Take it out and have a look at it. As you hold it ask yourself, What would I do if I had the One ring to rule them all? Maybe you already have a ring like this. What is it that you might describe as “My precious?” What is it that you crave for? That you find hard to do without? What is it that tempts you? Do you realise how it can consume you, dehumanise you? What ever it is, you must be parted from it.
You must lay it down at the foot of the cross and let Jesus take it from you. He must if you are to be freed from its corrupting, soul destroying influence. You cannot serve both masters, as tortured Gollum discovered to his cost. I invite you to slip it in your pocketsess and take it home. When you get home take it out and destroy the ring in the fire as a sign of your decision to follow Jesus unreservedly, wholeheartedly, completely.
And if you cannot bear to part with your ring, it has a sticky back. Stick it somewhere so that when ever you see it, it will remind you of those things that tempt you from following your king.
The question is will you give up your precious. Do you want to? Do you realise the consequences of not doing so? Is there a battle inside? Are you torn between your precious and your king? Whose side are you on? Are you part of the fellowship, that meets here weekly, willingly serving the King, or are you still serving the interests of someone else? It is time to choose… Tonight may be your hour of destiny for we do not know when the King will return. But return he will and when he does there will be no more choosing. In the Christmas story we are guided to the appropriate response. We read of the wise men who came from afar in search of the king.
“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)
Are you worshipping the King or the Ring? When you think of the return of the King - Does it fill you with joy or dread? In the passage from Isaiah, we read that when the people heard about their coming King, they rejoiced. “You have … increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest.”
If you are not sure whether you can live without your precious and would like to find out more about Jesus the king and about becoming part of his fellowship, we are starting a course called Christianity Explored in January. Simply place the response card with your name and address in the collection plate on the way out or post it back to James and he will let you have more details.
As we shall hear in a moment in our final reading, the returning King has this promise to all who will surrender, who will lay down their arms and join His fellowship.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.”
“He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”
What kind of King is this? What kind of greatness is this? The return of the King. Our King. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords. What kind of greatness is this?