Message from Tim
Lift up your heads: the King of glory is coming!
Many of us will associate King John of England (1166-1216) with two things: the signing of Magna Carta and his attempt to usurp control of the country while his elder brother Richard the Lionheart was away fighting in the Crusades. Britannica.com describes John as someone who gained a reputation for reckless irresponsibility on account of his political indiscretions. He was cultured and literate, but also treacherous. England’s relationship with France deteriorated in his reign and in the ensuing war England was defeated: territories in France were lost and John’s own position was undermined. His efforts to reverse this failure proved to be extremely expensive, giving rise to heavy taxation and the ruthless exploitation of resources. In a dispute with the church he took his stand on the traditional rights of the English crown and was excommunicated for four years. He was deeply unpopular with the barons: there was fighting on the Scottish border and widespread discontent in the north, East Anglia and the home counties. His legacy was an impoverished, divided country at war with itself, and his reign is a signal lesson in just how disastrous poor leadership can be for a country.
My childhood knowledge of King John came from The Ladybird Book of Kings and Queens of England, which is still on my bookshelf – thanks to the longevity of our present monarch, it has not gone out of date since its publication in 1968! This was supplemented by stories about the legendary outlaw Robin Hood, who was first portrayed by the Elizabethan playwright Anthony Munday as a disinherited aristocrat who resists the tyranny of wicked Prince John and loyally awaits the return of the rightful king, Richard the Lionheart. It’s all the stuff of legend, but it is an inspiring story.
What has all this to do with Advent Sunday? Well, like Robin Hood and his Merrie Men, in real life we owe our allegiance to the King of kings and Lord of lords, and Advent Sunday reminds us of the promise that Jesus will one day return to set right what is wrong and to judge the world. Thankfully holding this allegiance to Christ does not make us outlaws - though it would under other regimes, and we should remember to pray for the persecuted church. But in such troubled times as ours we are told to lift our heads to the coming Lord who brings redemption (Psalm 24:7-10; Luke 21:28), and perhaps, as we look forward to his return, we would also do well to draw our inspiration from those who turned the world upside-down with their proclamation that Jesus, not Caesar, was the one true King (Acts 17:6-7).