Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Our passage in Revelation said that God is the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end. That’s like saying that God is the A and the Z. And today, we celebrate that Christ—who is God—rules over all things.
So, I brought a paper with the letters A to Z on it, and you’re going to help me think of things that God loves and is in charge of—everything from A to Z.
Let’s pray. Dear God, thank you for watching over everything in this world. Thank you for creating everything. And thank you for the future of everything, too. Amen.
Today is the last weekend in the liturgical calendar. Many in the Church don’t know what I’m talking about, so let me walk us through it briefly. The liturgical calendar begins with Advent—the time of waiting for the coming of the Lord. Four weeks of waiting and anticipation. Four weeks of frantic Christmas gift-buying, holiday parties, egg-nog, and lights. Four weeks of cookies and candies and obligatory gifts. And then comes Christmas. There’s Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—Christmas dinners and Christmas exchanges. And then, while in the Church year what follows is the Twelve Days of Christmas, the world practices the days of taking down lights, returning gifts, guiltily stepping on scales, and begrudgingly returning to work and school.
Epiphany begins on January 6. That’s when the glory of Jesus, the infant king, is revealed to the magi from the east. But the world has moved on from the manger, so it’s often forgotten. A blip on the screen for Jesus’ baptism, and then the season of Epiphany draws to a close a few weeks later with Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, in which many Christians try to reinforce their diets by denying themselves chocolate or coffee. In the Church, Lent is when Jesus begins to draw closer to Jerusalem and the cross. The first Sunday is always a reflection of his time of temptation by Satan, and the last Sunday is his entry into Jerusalem riding a donkey—a kind of mimicking of kings of the past.
On Thursday, Jesus shares the Passover with the disciples and is arrested later in the garden. On Friday, he is tried before King Herod and the Roman prefect, Pilate. The crowds insist on his crucifixion, and so he is put to death on a Roman cross. On Sunday, the disciples find his tomb empty. Fifty days later, on Pentecost—somewhere near Memorial Day—the promised Spirit enters the disciples and sends them out to proclaim the good news of Christ to the world. The time after Pentecost is spent reflecting on Christ’s teachings and miracles while the world goes on summer vacations and fall sports events, until ultimately, we come to the pinnacle of the year—Thanksgiving and Black Friday—oh, and Christ the King.
The purpose of the liturgical year is to help us focus on the life and teachings of Jesus over the course of time. But it is foolish—perhaps even heretical—to think we can separate the liturgical and religious life from the world in which we live. In fact, much of the year is influenced by the world around us, aside from Easter, which was recognized and celebrated from nearly the beginning—though the name may have come from a pagan goddess.
Pentecost—a Jewish festival—wasn’t celebrated annually by Christians until the 2nd or 3rd Century. Lent was formed shortly after—first as a three-day preparation for Easter. Later, in the 4th Century, it was noted as a full 40 days (not counting Sundays), and the Triduum—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday—took on its own purpose of telling the Passion story.
Christmas has a different origin, altogether. Until about the 4th century, birthdays generally weren’t celebrated at all. Eventually, Jesus’ birth became something to recognize and celebrate. It seems that the date of December 25 may have been set in order to give Christians something other than pagan gods to focus on around the winter solstice. It wasn’t until the 13th century that Christmas Carols made their debut. Advent came along at about the 5th Century.
However, Christ the King Sunday was only established in 1925 as a response to the First World War by Pope Pius XI. He saw the rise in secularism and wanted people to turn their focus back on the primacy of God as Lord of all. There was also, I read, an attempt to remind people that neither the Kaiser nor Archduke Ferdinand should be where the people’s allegiance should be held. Christ, alone, is King of heaven and earth.
We have a number of other Holy Days, as well, in the Christian Church—Reformation Sunday, All Saints Sunday, Holy Trinity Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday—all ways in which we turn to the gospel in response to the ways of the world. We need this rhythm—this pattern in our lives, lest we find ourselves further and further from the practices of our faith. Because you see, it’s the practices that really shed light on what we believe—what we see as Truth.
Pilate questioned Jesus, demanding to know what he thought of himself. “Do you think you’re a king?” That would be a slap in both Herod’s and Caesar’s faces. But Jesus answers with a question. “Whose idea is it to call me a king? Yours or someone else’s? Because if I were a king like the kings of this world, I wouldn’t be standing here on trial. My people would be fighting for me. But my kingdom doesn’t work or look like your kingdoms. I don’t use violence to get my way. I don’t let the end justify the means. I don’t seek protection at the risk of another’s life. No, my kingdom isn’t from here. And that’s why I stand before you today—to show you the Truth.” And Pilate’s response—whether cynical or serious: “What is Truth?” To which Jesus remains silent.
Theologian Frederick Buechner said:
“Jesus did not say that religion was the truth, or that his own teachings were the truth, or that what people taught about him was the truth, or that the Bible was the truth, or the church, or any system of ethics or theological doctrine. There are individual truths in all of them, we hope and believe, but individual truths were not what Pilate was after, or what you and I are after either, unless I miss my guess. Truths about this or that are a dime a dozen, including religious truths. THE truth is what Pilate is after: the truth about who we are and who God is if there is a God, the truth about life, the truth about death, the truth about truth itself. That is the truth we are all of us after.”
The Truth is who Jesus is and what Jesus does. Jesus is the Christ, the Word of God who has come into this world to reveal to us God’s heart, the Prince of Peace, the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. This is what he told Thomas as he beckoned the disciples to follow him into abundant life. He is the Crucified Christ through whom all things came into being and by whom all things exist. He is the Risen Christ, the one we look to for hope and redemption.
This Jesus doesn’t wield his power like a sword but shares it with an open hand. He doesn’t spin the truth, hide the truth, deny the truth, or circumvent the truth. Unfortunately, that can’t be said about the rulers of this world because, to reach a position of worldly power, truth takes a backseat to convenience and consumerism.
Blogger Todd Weir says:
“Consumerism really is a religious cult, you know. It has been the dominant American religion for decades…. The consumer cult has its theology of supply and demand, a rosy cheeked saint in a red suit who will teach our children their confirmation classes, and prayers that occur every 10 minutes during our favorite shows and pop up on our computer screens thanks to Google, who watches over us from heavenly clouds above and tracks us to make sure all of our preferences are duly noted and catered. Search engine hear my prayer! Iphone therefore I am! A Starbucks shines in the East, giving us the strength of a latte so we can find a babe in a manger, a manger which also adapts to a car seat, or a stroller, a baby SUV. Yes, Black Friday, the high holy day named for the moment when Quicken moves from red to black, a holiday of accounting miracles, bringing a twinkle to the eye of Ebeneezer Scrouge.”
So, we come back to the reason for the seasons—that our patterns of worship continue to get framed around the world before us. The question is this: will we pattern our faith around the world, as well, or will we pattern the world around our faith? Will we worship the kings of this world—the seasons of Super Bowl and Black Friday—or will we worship the King of Kings, the God of Hope, the Crucified Christ, the Lord of Abundant Life? May our actions reveal the Truth of our hearts as we enter Advent and await the coming of the Lord—be it a humble baby in a barn or a jolly old elf in a red suit.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church