The Whole World Awaits the Return of the King

Jesus is the King, and the King is coming. May he be praised now and forever.

Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck
Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck (photo: Register Files)

I make it a habit to bless each of my children at night and say goodnight to them. Sometimes, I try to think of some thought that I want to linger in their minds, and I make that the last thing they hear from me that day. I don’t want to give the impression that I am perfect at this, but the nightly practice is one for which I strive.

One year, as Advent was approaching, I wanted to say something to my children that would excite in them an attitude of expectant hope. Advent is a time of waiting, but of active waiting. It’s not a “what next?” but a “here it comes!” The virtue of hope that characterizes this season is not “maybe, let’s see,” but “Yes, just not quite yet.” But what could I say in less-than-a-tweet sized expression that would convey the hope of Advent?

At first, the phrase, “It’s coming!” came to mind. These words let them know that something is coming. Is it scary? Is it wonderful? What is this thing that is coming? Certainly, the emotion of expectancy is evoked, but also a confusion. Depending on how I said it, there was a definite potential that I might frighten them. I did not want them to be lying in the darkness wondering what was coming to get them.

The other possibility I wanted to avoid was the obsession with the gifts at Christmas. “It’s coming!” “I know! And I can’t wait to open them all!” The over-commercialization of a great and holy day has not added to great devotion we ought to practice through this season and on the Feast of the Nativity. After all, a man cannot serve two masters, and our holy-days are held in honor of what we worship. I did not want to leave my children dreaming of presents, presents, presents.

What we await is ultimately not a what, but a Who. So, the next declaration that came to mind was “He is coming!” This phrase avoids the pitfall of the gift obsession, except for the fact that they might think I am talking about Santa, though my wife and I have never tried to sell the Santa thing to our kids. But it is a very different thing to expect a person than it is to expect a thing. Persons are more mysterious. More wonderful, or more awful, depending on who the person is. I could express the sense of joy in the way I said it, but I still felt like something was missing. Maybe I would be talking about grandpa or a baby brother or something like that. I knew there was something better, but I didn’t know what.

Advent was quickly approaching, and the liturgical calendar of the Church — “Her feasts follow reason/ dated due to season” — gave me exactly what I needed. The Sunday before Advent and the end of the liturgical year is always the Solemnity of Christ the King. Instead of merely saying “He is coming,” I would tell my children “The King is coming.”

Kings, too, can be more wonderful or more awful even than any other person. They have power which they can use for good or for bad. But the King we are talking about here is the King of Kings, robed in majesty and splendor, eternal and omnipotent, who comes to us as a tiny baby to somehow fulfill our deepest desires, to right all wrong, and to bring justice to an unjust world. Yes, that is the King that is coming, only not in the way we might expect.

The first night I said this to my children, I got what I expected: furrowed brows and confused looks. But after a few moments of thought, the meaning of the statement sank in. Jesus. Jesus is the King, and Jesus is coming. He for whom the whole world waits in eager anticipation is on his way. The King is coming, and may he be praised now and forever.