Waiting for a King

It’s interesting how many Western legends include the tale of a sleeping hero: one who died – or perhaps only sleeps – and will return when he is needed the most. From Holger Dansk in Denmark, King Charlemagne in France and Germany, and of course Albion’s own King Arthur, the stories promise that the sleeping ruler will arise and restore righteous order.

We never outgrow our love for heroes. Whether it’s Cincinnatus, George Washington, or Winston Churchill, there is a longing for one who will rescue us from our surrounding troubles. We want to hear a strong, resonant voice say, “we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” But sometimes the hero doesn’t arrive when we would like, or maybe not at all.

Think of Job, whose wait must have been agonizing, or Joseph, whose pursuit of virtue yielded estrangement from his family, slavery, and finally a prison cell. All of the apostles but one died a martyr, and that one faced a myriad of trials and tribunals throughout his later years. For everyone who “received their dead raised to life again,” many more “were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might attain a better resurrection.”

Christians know what it’s like to call on God and not receive an answer. While our lives are mostly comfortable, God knows exactly how to sanctify us, regardless of how insulated we think we are. We look around and see crumbling culture, failed leaders, and empty promises. We look for hope in the next president, pope, or prime minister, but usually are disappointed.

We are like Penelope, the wife of Odysseus who, while waiting for her husband, was besieged by many suitors who took up residence in her home. While faithfully awaiting her husband, she used every possible trick to keep the voracious hoard at bay. Nevertheless, after twenty years her ingenuity was wearing thin and she knew she couldn’t hold out much longer. It is at that moment that help arrives in the person of a beggar. But this beggar was no ordinary tramp; he was the heroic Odysseus in disguise. Working alongside his son Telemachus, the suitors are dispatched, his wife rescued, and his household restored. Like the hobbits of the Shire, the finale of Odysseus’s journey requires that he put his own home in order.

Thousands of years ago, God’s people longed for restoration. While not as faithful to Him as Penelope was to her husband, they continued in hope, despite exile, a partial restoration, and ultimately colonization under Greece and later Rome. Then when the salvation of Israel arrived, it came – like Odysseus – through one who “had no form or comeliness” to him. In addition, He came from Nazareth, a place hardly known for high culture, wisdom, or wealth. Nathaniel’s words surely summarize the sentiments of many, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Unlike Odysseus, the first advent of Christ didn’t result in Him throwing off his cloak and storming his home from the outside (although Jesus “storming” the temple and removing the moneychangers is a uniquely close parallel). Instead, it ended with his death and little-publicized resurrection. The first advent of Christ didn’t yield the heroic victory many expected but planted the seed whose bounty would nourish the world.

Still, much darkness remains. We see the destructiveness of sin both in ourselves and in the world. Like King Tirian in C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle, we find ourselves surrounded by evil while tied down. We pray for deliverance – yet deliverance does not come. Here we learn the wisdom of the first Advent collect from The Book of Common Prayer, which calls us to “cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life…that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal…” In this period of waiting, we are called to put on the armor of light so that we may dispel the consuming darkness. The kingdom of God comes through men and women giving themselves to the slow, patient, critical work of loving Christ and loving their neighbors.

We may wish for another Constantine, Charlemagne, Washington, or Wojtyła, but even if they did return, it would not be enough. Our longings will only be fulfilled when the Lion of the Tribe of Judah returns in glory on the last day. Until our true King reappears, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is raising an army of saints disguised as ordinary people who bring His restorative work to bear in His world through countless acts of sacrifice. While we participate in His restoration, we continue in hope that the One who began this work thousands of years ago will indeed complete it. On the day of His final advent, the darkness will be swallowed up, all disguises removed, and our vision perfected. We will no longer look for a hero, for we will see our King.


Matthew Carpenter

Matthew Carpenter is a husband, father, humanities teacher, and pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama. He has written for Front Porch Republic, The Imaginative Conservative, New Focus, and others publications.

'Waiting for a King' has 1 comment

  1. December 13, 2022 @ 2:23 pm Cynthia Erlandson

    Very insightful, and needed.


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