We come to the hinge of the year. We are standing astride one year and another. I know the secular world will do this in about 5 weeks, as our calendar slowly rolls over to new digits, ever ticking upward. But people of faith, whether Christian or not, have always told their own stories—and chosen when the new year begins for them. These are stories that are filled with “God-meaning.” And so, for Christians this week, we are at the end of one year, the finish line of our collective story, we have arrived at where everything has been pointing; even as we know next week we will begin the story of God and God’s people again.
Today we are reminded of how this story (of our lives and of our world) will turn out—not because of our striving, but because God has intended it to be so. That is why we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. Because we love to have happy endings:
--we rejoice when in books the two people who love each other but are blocked from being together (for whatever reason) finally fall into each other’s arms
—we cheer when in the bleakest movie moments, when the might and power of evil seems to have taken every prize, there is a swelling of the undergirding music, and the bedraggled heroes rise over the hill ready to fight again
--we stand a little taller when justice does run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream—as Martin Luther King Jr proclaimed from a jail cell in Birmingham echoing the words of the prophet Amos so many years before.
We need this rhythmic reminder that we hope, we trust, we believe, that we have been given a foretaste of what will be—a glimpse of the happy ending for all of creation. And gleaming through the blinding light of it is Christ. Christ the King.
And yet, we know, that next week is Advent; next week Christ the King will start (once again) inching toward the day when he will leave his royalty and all its trappings; the day when he “humbles himself” and takes on the title Emmanuel “God with us;” the day that will weave his life and ours together forever; the day that will lead, in another year, to the same ending we are celebrating today. And so, we proclaim Christ lifted up, high above, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Amen.
And because we know the ending, we have strength for the slogging journey we have to walk in this world. Because we know the ending, we have the fortitude to endure every valley and low spot. Because we know the ending, we are not beaten down, we are not defeated, even in the face of terrible odds, but we find joy, we find delight, we find love, we find grace, in one another, and in our glorious God. That is what Paul is saying in the first part of our reading from Colossians: Listen again to his words.
“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from [Christ’s] glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints of light. God has rescued us from the power of the darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:11-14)
Paul intends to make the heart swell with gladness, to fill one’s whole being with such joy that you want to burst out in song. And this, it seems, is exactly what Paul does. Many commentators think Colossians 1:15-20 is an early Christian hymn. It’s hard for us to see this, with just the words. We don’t have the music. We can’t hear the rise and fall of the tune in our minds, as Paul is moved to praise. But I think the music is essential to understanding what Paul is saying. We have strength and patience and joy because of Christ. We have hope and faith and a idea of love, because of Christ. We are beloved children of God, because of Christ. We should want to sing for joy. And so, I’ve taken some known (and not so known) hymns to help us experience the musical echoes that might have been stirred by those hearing Paul’s words. For whether it is in words or in music, we are lifting our voices in praise of Christ, our King.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be, (p. 108)
For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
He is Alpha and Omega; he the source, the ending he,
things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.
of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see, evermore and evermore.
He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Christ is made the Sure Foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone, (p. 394, tune 143 “Regent Sq)
He is the head of the body, the church;
Chosen of the Lord and precious, binding all the church in One,
he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
Holy Zion’s help forever, and our confidence alone.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand. (p. 347)
and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,
Upon the cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see the very dying form of One who suffered there for me; and from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess; the wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness. (p. 216)
whether on earth or in heaven, by peace through the blood of his cross.
Before the marvel of this night, adoring fold your wings and bow; then tear the sky apart with light; and with your news the world endow. Proclaim the birth of Christ and peace, that fear and death and sorrow cease: sing peace; sing peace; sing gift of peace; sing peace; sing gift of peace. (p. 125)
Yes, whether on earth or in heaven, the news rings out. Christ is King, regardless. Christ is with us, regardless. We can step into a new year, sure of where it will eventually take us—in God’s time. We can take with us strength and patience and joy. We can look around us at our beautiful and fragile world;
All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small; All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all. (p. 20, refrain)
We can link hands with others who are ready to say, “I’m gonna live so God can use me anywhere, Lord, anytime! I’m gonna live so God can use me anywhere, Lord, anytime!” (p. 700)
we can rest secure in the knowledge that we are children of God, called to care for earth, our home; called to work tirelessly for justice, mercy, and peace; called to join all in praising our Lord.
So, on this Christ the King Sunday, let us join the music of the spheres, the choirs of heaven and earth, that joyfully proclaim Christ is come, and Christ is our King.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king; let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.