The church year follows a different schedule than any other calendar I know. The first Sunday of the church year is always the first Sunday of Advent, which will be November 27th this year. The last Sunday of the church is therefore the prior Sunday, which is today. The theme of this last Sunday of the church year is: The Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday.
While we Americans may have some difficulty in identifying with this emphasis for the day, we Christians should not. As Americans, we long ago rejected the idea of an absolute and powerful political sovereign controlling our lives. As Christians, though, we pray regularly for God’s kingdom to be present with us and within us. God’s kingdom suggests that there is a divine king who is sovereign over us. That is who we invite to be with us this Sunday and every Sunday; this day of our lives and every day. On this Sunday, especially, we open our lives to welcome Jesus the Christ as our king.
How, then, should we understand the kingship of Christ? The passages for today help us in this.
The Psalmist asserts that, in the midst of our troubles, we can have confidence that our God is with us and is a source of help and calmness for us. Despite the roar and tumult of troubles buffeting us, we can – we should – rest in the presence and promise of God. We do not look around us at the conflict and confrontation. We look within us to the comforting presence of God. We do not have to respond to the troubles that confront us from our own resources; instead, we allow God to guide our actions and our speech. We can be assured that, if we are still, if we rest confidently, we can know that God is our God and that God is in control.
In the passage from Colossians, we have a fuller description of how Jesus is our King. That letter from the first century asserts that Jesus was and is, in some divinely transcendent way, the image for us of the unseen God. In this description, the letter is “icon,” making visible what is otherwise invisible. He is the flesh and blood manifestation of God, whom we know is spirit. In Jesus, the transcendent becomes immanent, so that we human beings might know beyond a doubt who God is, what God is about in this world, and what it is God wants of us. As an icon of the invisible, Jesus is more than simply a visual image of what God looks like. He is also the One through whom you and I enter into God’s eternal presence. That is what icons do for us; they transport us into the reality they signify.
The world of computers gives us an immediate illustration. When you click on an icon, the program behind it opens to you, and you find yourself transported into its wondrous world. In a religious and liturgical frame of reference, focusing on an icon draws you through that image into the presence of the one portrayed. This is what the church confesses about Jesus: he is not only the Christ of God; he is the one through whom you and I can be drawn into the very presence of the invisible God. He is the icon of God, the image of the invisible.
The passage from Colossians also describes Jesus as the firstborn of all creation. The word “firstborn” here does not mean the first one created but rather the first in rank. It signifies that Jesus is sovereign both within and over creation; he was present at creation, and, according to John’s gospel, he is the One through whom God created all things in heaven and earth. So, the One who entered the world in order to redeem it is also the One through whom God created the world in the first place.
Further, Jesus is the One who holds this cosmos together now. Listen to that affirmation carefully. It tells us that this world is ultimately not under the control of political leaders in any guise. What holds this world together is the power – the life force – of the One who created and redeemed it and who, in sovereignty over it all, continues to hold it together. The cosmos belongs to the Cosmic Christ.
In the same way, Christ is the head of the church. In Congregational theology, Jesus is the head of and is present in each congregation that faithfully proclaim his word and celebrate his sacraments. There is another important dimension here. A true church makes Christ present in this world as the members of that church bear him faithfully in their daily living. Therein, the church, regardless of the denominational name by which it is identified, demonstrates who is its one true head – its Lord.
The church, as body of Christ, becomes his living presence in this world when you and I bear Christ from our places of worship into the many places God has called upon each one of us to bear witness to and serve him. You are Christ in your office, in your apartment building, in your neighborhood, and in all of your associations and relationships, public and private.
Christ reigns in and through each of us. As a consequence, you and I are called to be Christ to others, seeking reconciliation where there is alienation, healing where there is brokenness – brokenness in the church, brokenness in this nation, brokenness in this world. This is our mandate, our mission, our vocation. Those who dare to claim the name of Christ must bear him, heeding his call to heal divisions, restore life, and seek peace; that is what it means to be a Christ bearer. For, you see, Christ not only provides salvation to us, reconciling us to God, but Christ calls on all people to be reconciled to one another and to work for peace and the healing of relationships between enemies. Christ commands that you and I find ways to address whatever injustices we encounter, wherever we encounter them in this world, and resolve them peacefully. Christ commands that you and I work constantly to maintain and to repair relationships between one another. This way of living with Christ in control and calling us to be reconciled to one another reveals the reign of Christ in which you and I should be living right now and are called to be manifesting in all we are and in all we do.
This way of life with Christ as our King is a challenging one. Living under the rule of Christ is not easy for us. It demands that we live with him as our King, regardless of our desire to rule our own life.
Dear people of God who are the First Congregational Church of Greenville, Michigan, may you center your lives on the reality that Christ is to be your King and is to be the head of this congregation. So it is that Christ’s loving spirit should be reflected in your life. So it is that you work for reconciliation with all people. So it is that you should allow God to be in control as you move ahead into your future. These affirmations should not be mere lip service, but they should demand a sincere and dedicated intent to move yourself under the Lordship of Christ. May God grant that it be so. AMEN.