O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay
With this, the sixth of the O Antiphons, we move from abstract attributes, as it were, to a human one – ‘King of the nations’. As usual with any attempt to use human comparisons to help us understand God, this one falls short – as they all must. But at the time when these Antiphons were composed, a King was one of the grandest people of whom anyone could conceive, and so it was natural to use it of God. Moreover, the Jews had long conceived of God as their special tribal God, one who would, for example, deliver them victory in battle over their enemies; the Psalms are full of such references. He is the King of Glory, before Him all the nations shall bow, and every tongue shall confess His holy name. All of this emphasises the grandeur of God – and even in so doing fails to capture all but a fraction of that.
One of the earliest objections to the message that the Messiah had already come, was the want of grandeur. He had come in the form of a mewling infant; He had been suckled at the breasts of a lowly maiden who had been suspected of becoming pregnant outside of marriage; His foster-father was a carpenter; He had foster-brothers or cousins who were of equally lowly status. Was it really from such a back-ground that a King could come? Israel had one example of such a king in the form of David, but he, at least had proved his prowess in battle. What was the great world to think of a king who had suffered the death of a criminal, and who had hung in agony on the cross? When one considers what the Jews had been expecting of the long-awaited Messiah, one sees precisely why so many of them were unwilling to accept Jesus as the Christ.
But Isaiah said that His form would have no beauty, and that He would be despised and rejected of men, so if the Jews had paid more attention to him, they would not, perhaps, have been as surprised as they were, something St John pointed out in his Gospel when he wrote: ‘These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him’. Isaiah’s prophecy was accurate, he had been allowed to foresee that the King would be a servant-king, a suffering servant-king. He would not be some great warrior whose advent would allow the holy to wreak revenge on all those who had insulted them and their God. Instead He would be wounded for our transgressions, and He would be bruised for our iniquities. What earthly king would do that? The pagan cults were familiar with the idea of a temporary king being sacrificed for the tribe if, for example, the rains failed. But this was something altogether different. This was King who so loved His people that He suffered for them. This was a direct inversion of the world order; this was revolutionary. He came not to command, but because He loved, and He calls our love forth. He is not just a King, He is a creator, and He comes to die – and rise – that His creation should live with Him forever. Easy to see why sinful mankind has trouble with this concept. But all we need to do is to repent, amend our ways and follow.
O Lord of Nations, may we see thee more clearly and follow thee ever more closely that we may be refashioned to be worthy of the King whom we love and serve.