Colossians 1: 11-20; Luke 23: 33-43
Christmas is coming, there’s no doubt about it: next Sunday is the start of Advent for the church, you can start opening your advent calendar the following Thursday, even I have had to stop complaining that it’s too early for the Christmas adverts on TV.
So how are we meant to respond to the Bible readings we’ve heard today? As we stand on the threshold of Advent, the lectionary invites us to think about ‘Christ the King’.
The news of world politics often makes us think about wordly power, and that has been particularly true over the last few weeks – high court rulings about Brexit, Donald Trump elected president of the United States, predictions about the rise of the far right in France..
Who rules our world?
The celebration of Christ the King was originally proposed by Pope Pius 11th in 1925. In the time we now think of as ‘between the wars’, with economic instability and the rise of fascism, Pope Pius wanted to encourage people to realise that the earth is actually ruled by the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ.
The gospel reading reminds us that as King, Christ does not always rule as people expect. Just as we are getting ready for Advent and preparation for a celebration of the start of Jesus’ life, we are reminded of the end of it.
One of the thieves crucified with Jesus, hearing that he is referred to as ‘King of the Jews’ wants Jesus to prove his kingly status by rescuing himself. ‘If you are a king, get down from this cross’ and he might have added ‘& while you’re at it, rescue us too’.
But the second thief says only ‘Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom’.
Somehow this wretched, dying thief sees a divine truth – that Jesus is a king – is The King – but not as people expect, his kingdom is not an earthly one.
Jesus has shown in his teaching that he is on earth, among people, in order to bring in the kingdom of God, but that his role is one of servant, not sovereign. Jesus is the promised good shepherd, the one for others, the one who lays down his life for the sheep.
For those who expected an earthly king to overthrow the Roman forces and anyone else who would resist God’s will, Jesus is the wrong sort of king. Christ the King is seen enthroned on a cross – not ruling in pomp, but dying in humble service, to teach us that the way of God is not the human road of power.
We have to be ready for Christ the King to overturn our expectations.
Yet our Bible readings also encourage us to think about what we know of Jesus Christ and what else this means for Christ’s Kingship. In the reading from Colossians we meet the image of the one who reigns supreme, who is like God and is sent by God to reconcile all things to God. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created”.
As the annual drama of Christmas approaches – both the church drama of the telling of the familiar story, and the domestic drama of cards, presents, food, plans and preparations – amid all that drama we do well to pause and let the amazing truth sink in yet again.
This child who is coming, this baby in the manger, this scrap of life and hope, this squalling bundle of humanity.. is the King of creation. If the phrase ‘God made flesh’ has failed to make our eyes pop, our jaws drop, and our hair stand on end with awe and amazement, then we’re not taking it in properly. Christ the King become the baby of Bethlehem – God made flesh to save us.
That is what our Advent and Christmas should point us towards and help us to realise.
Our expectations of kingship and our knowledge of Christ the king will colour all the celebration that is to come. That just leaves the question of the relationship between King and subjects – between Jesus Christ and each one of us.
How de we relate to Christ the King – are we prepared to let Christ really rule our lives?
What would this mean for each life here?
If we recognise Christ as King it means allowing our lives to be subject to his rule: putting the kingdom of God first in our decisions. What we do and say and think, the power we wield, the money we spend, the way we treat other people: maybe even our response to world news – the whole of our lives are not our own, but are part of the kingdom of God. We need to be living as those who wish to see God’s love, peace and joy for all.
If Christ is our King we are part of his rule – seeking his will, doing his work, being his body.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has described, in a recent interview, a conversation with a “very senior politician” about religious extremism. The politician was claiming that the definition of extremism should be anyone who says that their faith is more important than the rule of law.
Justin Welby said “Well, you’ve got a real problem here because for me personally my faith is more important than the rule of law so you’ve got an extremist sitting in here with you. We do not believe as Christians that the rule of law outweighs everything else, we believe that the kingdom of God outweighs everything else.”
Some parts of our world may think it extreme – but for us who follow Christ the King the state of the world, the laws of our land, the way we are treated – all this is outweighed by the kingdom of God: God’s rule is our ultimate goal.
So may we be ready, this Advent, to meet Christ the King in ever new and surprising ways and to live our lives more and more as his subjects and servants in this world.
And may God bless us with courage to build the kingdom of love, joy, justice and peace.
To the glory of God.