Jeremiah 23:1-6, Matthew 2:1-6
November 20, 2011
“And he shall reign forever and ever!” You’re going to hear those words sung at the end of this service. They come from Handel’s majestic “Hallelujah Chorus.” We’re singing it because this is ”Christ the King Sunday.”
Last year, we started a tradition (perhaps) of singing that chorus on this Sunday of the year. Because that makes sense. There has always been a question, in every church, as to whether to sing that song on Christmas or Easter. And arguably it is appropriate for both. Both are occasions where great praise to Jesus as King is appropriate! But what more appropriate Sunday for that song than this day specifically designated “Christ the King.”
I’d like to remind you again how this celebration came about. Hopefully this will be “review” for some of you. But we could all stand to hear this again.
In the first days of the Church, the Resurrection was the central focus of Christianity. I didn’t realize how much until I read an article a couple of years ago. Even the cross didn’t figure very highly in Church art for the first four hundred years. It was the Resurrection that took precedence. It was so important to the people then that they celebrated it every week. That’s why the Sabbath day in Christendom was changed to Sunday.
Well, after three centuries of persecution by Rome, the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the empire. And shortly thereafter, he called together the first great council of the church. It took place in the city of Nicea in the Year of our Lord 325. That’s when they started to get things “organized.” And as they did so, one of the things they wanted to do was to set up a calendar for the year in such a way that they would celebrate all the important events in the life of Jesus. Before that, the Jewish calendar was designed around their important events of history.
I know you learned all that before in your confirmation classes and your new members’ classes. But I wanted to remind you of it today so that you can see this event, Christ the King Sunday, as not just the last Sunday of the church year – which it is – but also as the culmination of the church year. This is what it all leads up to! Jesus’ birth was foretold. He was born, and grew up. He taught, and preached. He was arrested, crucified, and resurrected. His prediction of the spirit coming on the Church came true on Pentecost. And he is celebrated as part of the triune God on Trinity Sunday.
Well now, on this day, Jesus is celebrated as King – both in the kingdom which is among us, and in the future kingdom. He is the king foretold by the Prophet Isaiah, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.” We’ll read that passage again in the coming weeks as part of the Advent celebration.
Jesus was also the king that was foreseen in other cultures at the time. When the wise men came to Herod, they had a very specific question. They didn’t say, “Hey, we saw something in the stars that told us that something important was about to happen in Israel.” No, they specifically asked, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?” Some have suggested, and it is plausible, that they saw two specific objects in the sky, one that represented Israel, and one denoting royalty, and they saw that those two objects had come into conjunction. Royalty, Israel. King of the Jews! And theirs wasn’t the only culture in the world that saw such portents! The whole world seemed to be ready for an important event.
Ironically, the title “King of the Jews” was also the inscription above Jesus’ head on the cross. That was the accusation which condemned him to death. And that was ironic because that which he was accused of, he actually was! And then finally today, we recognize him as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” as described in the book of Revelation, so wonderfully set to music by Handel in his famous Oratorio. In invite you to sing those words with us as we close this service.
So this is an important event! And I hope you see it that way! Because sadly, Christ the King Sunday is not thought of all that much. It’s overshadowed by the celebration of Thanksgiving, by the preparations for Advent (which begin today!) and certainly by the hype of the Christmas shopping season – excuse me, the “Holiday” shopping season – which now begins sometime in the middle of August! We don’t often think about it. How many of us gave it a thought before we saw it at the top of the bulletins today? (I won’t ask you to raise your hands!)
Well, let me suggest this. Just like it’s too easy to forget the event, it’s too easy to forget Jesus’ kingdom. And it’s too easy to forget his sovereignty over our lives. Those same things that overshadow this celebration beckon, not just for our attention, but they call for sovereignty over us. Too often they rule our lives just like Christ the King should.
And so today, at the culmination of the Church year, I’d like to remind you of a question I asked just a few weeks ago. We believe Jesus is king, but is he your king? He’s your Savior, but is he your Lord? And now, on Christ the King Sunday, do you celebrate him “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords?” That chorus, which we’ll sing in just a few minutes, is a coronation song. It’s a song to be sung in a procession at the crowning of a king. It is a celebration song. In it, we recognize Jesus as King. And as such, it is a song of allegiance. It is an acknowledgement of his reign in the world and in our lives.
Will it be that for you? We move now to a time of communion. Here we celebrate the event by which God’s love and Grace were made manifest to us. As we share these elements – this bread and this cup – we celebrate that sacrifice made for us – the sacrifice that makes him our Savior. Then, we will tie that to the acknowledgement of him as Lord and King. So let us prepare our hearts to receive him again, and to commune with him through his spirit.
Eternal and ever loving God, we are surrounded by your steadfast love and we are amazed by your Grace. Help us to know you are Savior, and help us to acknowledge you as Lord and King. Help us to know your presence, and to remember your sacrifice represented in this sacrament we share together in your spirit. For we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.