6. O King of Nations 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.


Whether or not you’re a royalist or a republican in regard to our monarchy, there’s no escaping the image used throughout scripture of ‘King of the nations.’ The psalmist uses this phrase several times. It is used to attempt an explanation of the breath-taking majesty of God and, in turn, our response of adoration.

‘Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
    worship the Lord in holy splendor…… the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.’ Ps 29: 1-2, 10.

Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord of hosts,
    he is the King of glory.’ Ps 24:10

Although God is often described as ‘king of Israel’, we know that there are no bounds on his authority, he is even king over nature. (Psalm 93)

Again, as with O Adonai, at first this Antiphon sounds as though it’s addressing God the Father but, since Jesus is the exact representation of the Father, he is also king of both the people of Israel and the whole world. Nathaniel recognised this when he said, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49)

If Jesus is King over all things what does it look like for us to be his subjects?

Revelation describes Jesus, the Lamb and his followers in this way:

‘he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

There is strength in being a follower of Jesus. We are called, chosen and faithful– what an affirmation. Now that’s the kind of verse I want cross-stitched on my wall!

We are a people of worship. We are singing what will one day be an eternal song of praise sung by all people.

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honour and glory and might
forever and ever!” Rev 5:13

When Jesus was on earth he actively avoided being given that title by his followers. In John’s Gospel it says, When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.’ His kingship is the opposite of what we expect. When we look at examples of earthly monarchs, they often aggressively assert their claim to the throne. You wouldn’t catch them running to the hills to avoid being crowned. This is what makes Jesus’ reign so unique.

There is a clear inequaility between us and God. We are so broken and fragmented when God is complete and unified. But, despite this inequality, we have a God who wants to share his reign. It is in God’s very nature to want to give of himself. We can call this self-giving or self emptying love. The theological word for it is kenosis. He invites us to rise with Christ and to reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:12)

This is what makes Jesus a different king to the rest. He does not fear our strength, instead he delights in it. He builds us up instead of requiring us to remain weak and defenceless.

Today, as Christmas beckons, we pray for Christ to return as King. We offer him our weakness and submit to his perfect authority. We long for the day when we will worship and adore him in all of his heavenly splendour.

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 majority of my reading around these Antiphons has been from William Marshall’s book,  O Come Emmanuel: Devotional Study of the Advent Antiphons. It’s been an invaluable resource. If you’d like to read more about the root and symbolism behind these great prayers do hunt for a copy.***

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