November 24, 2019 Christ the King Sunday
Jeremiah 23:1-6, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43
Image of God!
Every New Year’s Eve, the last day of the calendar year, I do what most people do: I become a bit nostalgic as I look back on the past year, thinking about special moments: birthdays of our kids, wedding anniversary, trips and vacations, times with friends and family.
When I think back, I am grateful for opportunities that I used and I regret the missed opportunities that I either did not see or utilized. I remember dear people who passed away and even as I am sad for the loss of friends, I am thankful that I knew them. My heart goes out to those who suffered losses of loved ones. I celebrate successes and I deal with disappointments. I, like most of you feel a range of emotions from sadness to joy on New Year’s Eve.
But on New Year’s Eve I, like you, also think about the New Year. Will the new year be the same old or will it bring something brand new? I wonder what will be special about the year, how it will compare with other years in term of its historical significance. I think about the new year in terms of my work and in terms of our beloved CCRC. I wonder whether I will be alert enough to see and use the opportunities the New Year will undoubtedly bring. And I wonder how I will cope with new challenges that may come my way.
I have to admit that I, like you, make New Year’s resolutions. After many years of trying to eat less chocolate, I have given up on that one. Psychologists think that New Year’s resolutions are examples of the human desire to have some control over what lies ahead, because the future is unsettlingly unknowable. Not knowing what’s to come means we don ‘t know what we need to know to keep ourselves safe. To counter that worrisome powerlessness, we do things to take control: We will diet, or exercise, or quit smoking or start saving. It apparently does not even matter whether we hold our resolve and make good on these promises. Committing to them, at least for the moment, gives us a feeling of control over the uncertain days to come. By the way, of 3000 people followed for a year, 88% failed to achieve the goals of their resolutions.
And here’s an interesting fact: Since the earliest days New Year’s resolutions included things like treating people better, making new friends. A common resolution in Ancient Babylon was to return borrowed objects. Jews seek and offer forgiveness. Somehow people have always dealt better with uncertainty and survival when they are connected to others. As one psychologist writes: “We are social animals. We have evolved to depend on others for our health and safety. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” turns out to be a great survival strategy. Another common resolution is that many people resolve to pray more.
So, on New Year’s Eve, people are grateful for opportunities, family, nostalgic about the past, sad about losses, they regret mistakes and failures. People are also a bit anxious about the uncertainty of the new year, they feel out of control and therefore they make resolutions that they think they can control. They subconsciously include other people in their resolutions, treating them better, forgiving others and making new friends for we know that we need each other to live and survive.
Now, today is not the last day of the calendar year. However, today is the end of the Church Year. Next Sunday is the beginning of a new church year and a new Season. And as always been the case, the last day of the church year is Christ the King Sunday. As Disciples of the living Christ, as the Church, the body of Christ, we find comfort in embracing God’s saying to us: “You are not alone – I am with you.” And the Divine promise of Immanuel, God-with-us, not only give us courage, reassurance and strength for the unknown future, the Divine promise that God will always be with us gives us joy, gratitude, excitement, and a desire to embrace life with exuberance! Why? For we believe and trust that we are in God’s safe and loving hands.
As we look back on the last Church Year, we see that our history is not much different from ancient Israel’s history. There were ups and downs, there were matters that we are proud of and there were those that embarrassed us, even incidents that we are ashamed of. There are words and actions that were inappropriate and wrong. And there were situations where we had the opportunity to witness and to speak up and we did not. There were consequences of our actions that hurt others and ourselves, and there were unintended outcomes where we meant well, but harmed others. Things happened to us that were out of our control, they stopped us in our tracks and caused anxiety. When we look at the last year at church, we celebrated successes, we confesses our collective failures, we laughed about funny incidents, we cried about loved one who fell sick and we mourned the loss of loved ones and dear friends. We are grateful that we used opportunities to serve and make a difference and we confess the opportunities that we did not notice or did not use as best as we could have.
As the body of Christ, we experienced typical human emotions as we lived our lives as followers of Christ. We have to confess that we may have responded at times like the criminal on the cross who said: “If you are the Messiah, save yourself and us.” If you are the Messiah, give me more of what I like, what I desire, what I need, instead of saying: “Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
At the end of this Church year, we have to confess that we have forgotten things that happened moths ago. We lived as if Jesus never entered our world as a an infant, as God’s way to show us that we are loved. We acted as if Easter, when Christ conquered death, never happened. We lived as if the Spirit of God was never poured out on Pentecost.
But at the end of the Church Year we are reminded that Christ is and always will be the corner stone of our collective lives and our individual lives. Christ is not only the beginning, he is also the end, the Alpha and the Omega.
The Apostle Paul says a few things about Jesus that we need to hear again: He prays that we be made strong with all the strength that comes from Christ’s glorious power. He then calls us to endure everything with patience, joy and gratitude. Christ has indeed rescued us from the power of darkness and has transferred us into his kingdom. In him we have redemption and forgiveness of sins. Another translation says it this way: “We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul – not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating.”
Now for the early church, it was crucial to understand who this Christ is who is able to do these things. Who is He who is able to get us out of the pit we were in, who got rid of our sins we were doomed to keep repeating? In terms of us standing at the beginning of a new church year we could ask this question: Who is He who is able to help and comfort us as we worry and are anxious about the new year? Who is He who is able to give us joy in spite of all the uncertainties in our world? Who is He who is able to help us to accept others who we naturally view as dangerous or different? Who is he who is able to help us accept ourselves and be content with who we are? Who is He who is able to give us courage, strength, joy, gratitude in spite of a world that we don’t quite understand? Who is He who is able to help us to embrace life with abundant and exuberant joy? Who is He who is able to give us life and hope, now and in the days, years and months to come? In short: Who is He who is reliable and who will ensure that the promise of God be with us will not fail? Who is He who is able to give me whatever I need to live a life without fear, even as I go through the valley of the shadow of death?
In order to answer these crucial
questions the Apostle Paul falls back onto an old hymn:
“Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation, for in him all things in heaven and earth were created , visible and invisible whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers, all things have been created through him and for him….in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell -and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things on earth or in heaven by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
Here is another way of saying it: “From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, (Jesus), so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”
He is Christ the King. And He gives us his word that everything will work out for our good. He gives us his word that the new church year, with all its uncertainties will be in good hands- in the hands of Christ the King.
I am convinced that we often underestimate who Christ is and we underappreciate what he did. We often think about Christ in terms of our little world and not in terms of the cosmos, the universe. We think of Christ in terms of our cultural and personal issues and not in terms of all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe. The Apostle Paul does not mince his words, when he talks about the supremacy of Christ. Jesus who holds the universe together is more than capable to also hold our lives in his loving hands. What a comfort!
The message of Christ the King Sunday is true, trustworthy and comforting! Therefore, we may approach the future with faith, hope and yes, certainty that we will never be alone. We will never receive a burden that is too heavy to carry, we will never be left to our own devices. There is no need to be anxious or to fear the future. We are loved! Christ is King!
The incredible truth of this message is that God chooses to send into this world God’s Son in the form of a Baby. This is what the new church season is all about. Next Sunday is the beginning of the church’s New Year: Advent, it is the time when we think of the coming of the Son of God, who was born and laid in manger. For the world this may seem foolish, God’s Son as an infant? For us though it is God’s wisdom! This is about Immanuel, God with us. This is about Jesus, the King and Lord of all. Amen!