The Reign Of Christ Today

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Because the holiday was so early this year Advent does not actually start until next week.  Today is Reign of Christ Sunday!  A reminder of the glory we give to Jesus and the sovereignty he has through our lives.  Enjoy this morning’s sermon …

Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

The Reign Of Christ Today

On Wednesday morning I received a text message from Bruce. He had gotten to work at 8:30 that morning; Bass Pro Shops was scheduled to open at 9:00. The text message read, “There was a line of 110 people in front of the store today.”

I was confused. It was only Wednesday. “What were people waiting for?” I asked.

“Black Friday sales start today,” he explained.

I gave my phone a confused look before I replied. “That doesn’t even make sense,” I said.

Did you hear the good news? The Christmas season started a little bit early this year. Retail stores opened their doors to shoppers on Thursday evening so that no one had to wait until Black Friday to get a jump start on their shopping. Some stores even said, “Why wait until Thursday? Let’s start the Black Friday sales on Wednesday!” And now that Thanksgiving is officially over, lists have been made, Santa has arrived, shopping has begun and radio stations have started playing Christmas music 24 hours a day. The season is upon us.
And yet here at the church, we are not quite ready to start our celebration.

The Christian church has its own calendar year that we follow. The year begins with Advent and moves through different seasons and holidays – Christmas, Epiphany, Transfiguration, Lent, Easter and Pentecost. You may notice that the colors of my stoles change as we move through them. The time in between the specific seasons and holidays is referred to as Ordinary Time. We have been in a period of Ordinary Time since we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in May.

Today is Reign of Christ Sunday, also known as “Christ the King” Sunday in some traditions. It is the last Sunday of Christian church year; next week – the first Sunday of Advent – will not only mark the beginning of our preparations for Christmas at church, but also the beginning of a new church year. Reign of Christ Sunday is a time when we transition from the lessons of Ordinary Time into the stories of Advent. It creates for us the occasion to think about the year that has gone by; all that we have studied, all of the times that we have worshiped, all of the biblical messages that we have reflected on and all that we have done – both as individuals as a community. And as we look ahead with anticipation and excitement to the coming Advent season and Christmas celebration, we also have the opportunity to think about the way a baby born in a humble manger today reigns over all of our lives.

It is easy to look at the Christian year and think that the entire cycle is just a symbol or a series of symbols of things that happened hundreds and thousands of years ago. “What is the point?” people often ask me. “What difference do these seasons, holidays and colors make?” “Shouldn’t we just be Christian every single day of our lives?” Well – in theory – yes; we do not need a calendar full of events to remind us of the presence of God in our lives. We can be Christian, read the bible and follow Christ without acknowledging holidays, seasons and special Sundays and we can certainly worship God without the color of my stole changing. But I think there is more to it than that. The Christian Year is not just some symbolic concept that we acknowledge in our worship services; it is something that we are living out in real time every single day of our lives. It is a reminder that we are part of the Christian history that is still unfolding. It is a reminder that our stories – the stories of our lives and the faith that we are living out right now – matter. I believe that these marked moments in the Christian year are more than just symbols to acknowledge; they are realities that we, too, should be living out.

So here we are on Reign of Christ Sunday. What does that mean to us here, in our lifetime? What does the Reign of Christ look like today? How can we be just as much a part of the Christian story as Jesus and his disciples were over 2,000 years ago? In a few short weeks we will sing together, “Hark! the herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King!’” If we crown Jesus the man as Christ the King, how will that shape our lives? What does it mean to allow Christ – the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end – to dictate the choices that we make and the lives that we lead?

This morning’s Gospel lesson is from the Passion Narrative; we are brought into an exchange between Jesus and Pilate. Pilate summons Jesus and says to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers cryptically: “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” They talk back and forth and then again Pilate asks, “So you are a king?” And again Jesus says indirectly, “You say that I am a king.” “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”

Jesus’ claim to Pilate was not that he was King, but that he came into this world to testify to the truth.

I find it very interesting that Jesus’ kingship is one that we give to him and not one that he gave to himself. Through his life, his ministry and his death, Jesus never declared his own royalty; rather he declared truth.

“[And] everyone who belongs to the truth,” Jesus told Pilate, “listens to my voice.”

So here we are on Reign of Christ Sunday. What does that mean to us here, in our lifetime? What does the Reign of Christ look like today?

How have we listened to Jesus’ voice this year? What lessons do we want to take with us into the coming Advent season, into the new church year? What is the “truth” and how can we declare it in our own lives? How can our lives be living declarations of the truth that Jesus proclaimed throughout his life?

We have spent a lot of time in the Gospel stories this year. I flipped through some of my sermons from the past several months and saw specifically that we, as a congregation, revisited a time when Jesus healed a blind man, removed unclean spirits and cleansed the temple. We heard, again, Jesus’ words as he spoke out against oppression and resisted temptation in the wilderness. We reflected on the moments when Jesus called his disciples to be fishers of people and commanded them to love one another as he loved them. And even though all of these stories happened long ago, we always felt that we, as Christians living out our faith, were and are just as much a part of them as the people who were actually there. We heard and thought about these readings not as if they are stories of the past, but as if they are realities of the present and future. Week after week, we see scriptures as books full of active words, still relevant to the lives that we are living today. After all, the Gospel is not a book meant to sit on a shelf and gather dust; it is a truth that is intended to be lived out every single day.

So here we are on Reign of Christ Sunday. What does that mean to us here, in our lifetime? What does the Reign of Christ look like today?

The Sunday after Thanksgiving is usually the first Sunday of Advent. But because Thanksgiving was so early this year, there is actually an extra Sunday between Thanksgiving and Advent. And while this has given me the gift of more time in terms of Advent worship planning, it has also created a homiletical conundrum for preaching these texts. Reign of Christ Sunday is typically the Sunday before Thanksgiving; it usually lines up so nicely with themes of giving thanks, giving back and heeding Jesus’ call to us to be disciples in the world.

This year, however, Reign of Christ Sunday falls smack-dab in the middle of the busiest shopping weekend of the year. Black Friday sales started on Wednesday, stores opened on Thanksgiving Day, last year’s pepper spraying incident forced major retailers to increase security for crowd control on Friday, I think we were all supposed to shop local on Small Business Saturday and I can almost guarantee my email will explode tomorrow with Cyber Monday deals.

So here we are on Reign of Christ Sunday. What does that mean to us here, in our lifetime? What does the Reign of Christ look like today?

I am afraid that sometimes the reality of our world looks a little different than what we would like the Reign of Christ to look like.

One of my worship handbooks describes Reign of Christ Sunday by saying the following:

This is both the Last Sunday After Pentecost and the last Sunday in the Christian Year. It is not so much a climax in itself, however, as it is a transitional Sunday leading directly to Advent, the Christmas cycle, and the new Christian Year. People are already thinking about Christmas, and the observance of [Reign of Christ] can help them prepare by stressing the continuity between the celebration of kingship, or sovereignty, of Christ and the expectation of Christ’s coming again in sovereign glory, which opens the Advent Season. We have more than a baby Jesus at Christmas; we have a sovereign Christ. {i}

We see in this morning’s Gospel that Jesus was not the one who crowned himself King; we were and are the ones who proclaim this to be true. As we both remind ourselves of this and prepare to enter the Advent season, I think it may be time to think about how Christ’s kingship – the kingship that we gave to him – will shape our lives.

It is only fitting that on the last Sunday of the Christian year we will read from the last book of the New Testament, The Revelation to John. We hear in this scripture a steady pulse of movement between past, present and future.

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come …

To him who loves us and freed us … serving his God and Father … to him be glory and dominion forever and ever …

I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come … {ii}

We are reminded of the past that has shaped us, the present ministry that God has called us into and the future that we look to with great hope. And we are assured that Christ the King, whom we have chosen to reign in our lives, will create a light in our lives that will illuminate our journeys.

So here we are on Reign of Christ Sunday. What does that mean to us here, in our lifetime? What does the Reign of Christ look like today? How will we live out Christ’s kingship in our lives today? How will we let Christ be the Alpha and the Omega; what will it look like in our lives if we allow Christ to encapsulate all that we are and all that we do?

As you prepare to enter Advent and transition into a new church year, I urge you to think prayerfully about this question. Remember that you have the ability to make a difference in the world, to be part of the Christian history that is still unfolding, to be prophetic in your speaking and Christ-like in your actions.

Blessings to you and your families throughout this holiday season! May the light and love of Christ the King, the Alpha and the Omega, surround you with hope, peace, love and joy.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

***

i. Hickman, Hoyt L., Saliers, Don E., Stookey, Laurence Hull & White, James F. The New Handbook of the Christian Year: Based on the Revised Common Lectionary. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 1986, pg. 252.
ii. Revelation 1:4, 1:5, 1:8

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