Proper 29, Christ the King Sunday
This Sunday is the last of the Church year. In some Church calendars it is called Christ the King Sunday. Next Sunday we begin the new church year with Advent, a season that for a long time now the Church has recognized as a time of preparation.
For what are we preparing, you may ask? I spoke with my kids about this briefly yesterday. After we joked about preparing for gifts, for Santa, for good food, for time off school, one of them eventually asked, why do we need to prepare for Jesus’ birth. It happened already. Aren’t we just remembering?
Aren’t we just remembering?
In a sense, yes. Advent, and then eventually Christmastide is a time of remembering. We remember the Incarnation, Christ’s birth. We remember the sacrifice that the ever-blessed Mary and Joseph made. We remember heavy weight of roman occupation under which the Jews lived. We remember, as the Apostle John wrote, the fact that God loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten son, not to judge the world, but that through him the world might be saved.
Remembrance is important work. We celebrate wedding anniversaries, and birthdays. And for some of us, the preparation for a birthday means crafting a finely tuned birthday list. For others, it means planning that perfect party. But we know that the real celebration of a birthday is the celebration of a life, of the gift of that life given by parents. We know that gifts and cake and parties can’t quite capture the essence of that celebration. The real preparation of a birthday comes in the form of a quite and perhaps very short reflection on the joy of life.
So, too, with Christ. Yes, he has already been born, but the gift of the Incarnation can easily be taken for granted. Remembering his birth takes time and needs space. Remembering requires patience.
That God would give his only begotten Son requires a time of uncluttered attention, something that’s hard won amidst the bustle of a commercial Christmas.
Moreover, the work that he came to do continues. The act of remembrance prepares us to join him in that work, to discern where he’s calling us to join him as those people who are trying to be Christ in the world.
But in another sense, remembrance doesn’t capture everything that we’re about in Advent. Our church seasons are also times of expectation, of looking forward, of anticipating what God has yet to do. The world still groans even after the Incarnation. We are not yet free of the judgment of illness and death. We await that day on which Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, that day on which his Kingdom will have no end—familiar words from the Creed.
Notice that our reading from Ezekiel is almost entirely in the future tense: I will search for my sheep, says the Lord. I will seek them out. I will feed them with justice, I will save my flock.
We live in a time between. Between salvations. yes, we’ve been saved of our sin through baptism. But we’re not yet saved of the continuing effects of that sin. We’re between salvations.
And so today, the last Sunday before Advent, we prepare for Advent itself by remembering the gift of the Incarnation and by waiting in expectation for Christ’s future reign.
It is fitting that the Church has given us a day to join together our remembrance and expectation — Christ the King Sunday.
Some folks have called this time before Advent—the weeks between All Saints and Christ the King Sunday—“Kingdom Season,” which may be an awkward name.
Nevertheless, “Kingdom Season” helps us to name this time as a time of preparation. We are now at the end of “Kingdom Season.”
And this Sunday, I propose, is the hardest of the Sundays of Kingdom Season to prepare.
Why? I won’t sermonize against Black Friday. . . well, maybe just a little. We should be able to admit that this is possibly one of the most distracting weekends of the year. The market works hard to get our attention on this weekend, sometimes even tempting us away from whatever we’re doing on Thanksgiving to shop online. Black Friday threatens to turn Thanksgiving day into a time of preparation for Black Friday.
And it’s not hard to see how this entire weekend threatens to reshape Advent into a time preparation for our Christmas acquisitions.
Christ the King Sunday helps us to retrain our attentions on the Incarnation and the future reign of Christ.
The gospel reading for today gives us a concrete example of how we can remember and wait in expectation. Jesus makes it sound like when we don’t give to the person in need, it’s as if we didn’t give to him. It’s as if we withheld from Jesus ourselves.
It’s not enough to smile at the story of St. Nicholas. It’s not enough to give some change to a stranger.
Rather, Jesus asks us to see him in the least of these. Will a life lived between Black Friday and Christmas sales be able to see Jesus in the needy stranger?
Jesus’ standard relativizes our wealth, our possessions, our time. Jesus’ message says that Christmas isn’t about us.
This is a radical, and possibly dispiriting, message.
And yet, what a gift we already have in Jesus. What a gift we will have in the peaceable reign of Christ. And what a challenge we have in the here and now to live in reflection and expectation.
Christ the King Sunday
St. David’s Episcopal Church