This past Sunday was Christ the King Sunday (also called the Reign of Christ). It is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, which begins anew this Sunday with the season of Advent. When the New Testament proclaims that Jesus is Lord, it is not simply an affirmation that Jesus reigns in our individual hearts and lives; it is a radical political claim meant to put the nations of the world and their leaders on notice. In the Roman Empire, it was common to swear allegiance to the emperor with the shout, "Caesar is Lord." When the Christians substituted Jesus for Caesar, they were making a significant claim about the nature of Christ's lordship, and the ultimate insignificance of Caesar as one who determines the destiny of human history.
Now that we have finished the church year we now plow right into Advent with talk of expectation and judgment, heavenly signs, and getting ready for God to visit his justice and judgment upon us… then Christmas. The beginning of the church year sets the stage and puts into context the last Sunday of the year. Jesus is indeed king, but it is not a reign, it is not a rule we were expecting. The coming of this king in the humble circumstances of the nativity is the first sign that King Jesus will not be the kind of king we expected.
Starting this Sunday we will be reading Isaiah and Matthew, but we won't be reading the Christmas story of the shepherds and angels and Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. Instead we will be reading about Isaiah and God's future kingdom of justice and peace inaugurated by a suffering servant. We will be reading about John the Baptist preaching by the river calling people to repent because God is about to do something big, something cosmic in nature. Divine salvation is at hand and God's people need to be ready. And after reading and reflecting on promise and expectation and judgment and deliverance, on Christmas we will discover how that deliverance comes-- not in pomp and circumstance, not in the king that conquers through violence and coercion-- but in a helpless baby born in a backwater village to peasant parents. Jesus the King comes in circumstances that can hardly be considered royal. Apparently, God needs some instruction in shock and awe.
Christ the King Sunday may have passed for another year, but Advent and Christmas puts Jesus' kingly reign in context. The lessons taught at the beginning of the Christian year need to be heeded at its end.
Jesus Christ is indeed King... and it is a reign like no other.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)