The newborn king

prince-george_2626706bThe world has welcomed a new king, or a soon-to-be king, or at least a possibly some-day king. OK, a prince. The reality is that almost no one reading this will be alive when George Alexander Louis, prince of Cambridge, becomes King George VIII. Let’s remember, his great-great-grandmother lived to be 101; his great-grandmother is a reserved yet spry 87; and his grandfather is nearing retirement age and has yet to realize his ultimate purpose in life — being king of England.

Regardless of the Windsor’s excellent lineagical genes, there’s something odd about speaking of an infant, just hours old, as a one-day king. He can breathe and urinate, but almost anything else is beyond his personal ability. He can cry, but that is not a particularly noble trait. While royalty has been known to have servants feed them, it’s not what young George will need, at least for awhile. And while kings (and popes) have been carried in litters, the name for chairs on which royalty are carried, that litter in which George was sitting as Prince William carried him from the hospital looked an awful lot like a common baby’s car seat.

As I’ve considered the incongruity of a newborn being spoken of as a king, or at least I’m struck by the incongruity, it also occurs to me how easily we suggest something quite similar every year when we celebrate Christmas. If anything what we suggest of that child of Mary and Joseph wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger seems far more removed from any semblance of royalty than the son of Will and Kate. And yet in Matthew’s gospel some clearly determined and seemingly intellectual figures from the East arrive in Jerusalem looking for a “newborn king.” It’s what the angels proclaim after they “hark” in the classic carol: “Glory to the newborn king.”

We don’t think about the preposterousness of what we speak and sing and gaze upon in a manger scene because we know the story so well, and we know what comes from the story. A couple weeks (or pages) after those magi kneel in homage and offer their strange gifts, Jesus will be venturing out along the shore of Galilee, swaddling clothes long cast aside, doing what this king was destined to do. Actually, at that point how many of us even think of Jesus in terms of royalty and titles. It’s pretty much at the beginning and the end, when he’s mocked for what others have wrongly accused him of claiming, that he is identified as a king.

What we forget is that we are all destined to share in Christ’s royal identity. At baptism, at least in the Roman Catholic rite, we are anointed as royalty might be anointed and we are dedicated to remain forever with Christ, “who is priest, prophet and king.” This is not royalty of crowns or fine garments, of bowing servants and palace intrigue, but sharing in the royal identity of being a child of God, of being created in God’s image, of being claimed for Christ, of dedicating one’s life to his way.

Georgie, as some will undoubtedly call this young chap, will live a long time before he assumes the throne of the king of England. What he’ll become at baptism, however, is far greater, and that’s when his true reign, as a disciple of Jesus, really begins, and which we all need our entire lives to perfect. TL

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