Readings Hebrews 1:1-9 and Matthew 27:11-14, 27-37
The church’s liturgical year comes to a close with Christ the King Sunday and the readings send us into the new year with a bang. There are so many ways to answer Jesus’ famous question to his disciples, who do you say that I am, but this is one, from the author of Hebrews is one of the most striking – you are the brilliance of God’s glory and the reproduction of God’s very being and you sustain all things by your word.
There are similar moments in the scriptures, we might think of the confession from Colossians that Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, and that in him all things hold together. Or we might call to mind the words from Revelation, Jesus as the alpha and omega, the lamp of the heavenly city. Or we might remember Jesus’ parting words to his disciples, all authority on heaven and earth has been given to me, and I will be with you always, to the end of the age.
These high moments, dripping in the cosmic, eternal, sublime power and presence of Jesus – the one through whom and to whom all things are made, sustained, and find their end – these moments are fitting reminders at the end of the liturgical year, they serve as a kind of crescendo. They sound out in full volume the awesome wonder of the one who reconciled all things to God, the one in whose grace we are found, the one who serves as the church’s cornerstone, the one after whom we are named and whose way we follow. In him is the promise of redemption, in him is the coming rectification of all things. Jesus, the brilliance of God’s glory and the reproduction of God’s very being, who sustains all things by his word, it is because of him that we are, and so how else would you end a year.
These readings are the regular calendar year’s equivalent of the New Year’s fireworks – the spectacle that signals both the climax and beginning – they fill us with awe and provide a point on which to pivot our understanding of the world and ourselves.
And yet, in ending the church year with such readings, we also intensify the paradox of what comes next. We intensify the paradox of the beginning of the new church year… because we hurtle, right from these unparalleled confessions of Christ in his glory, to the season of Advent and Christmas.
We move right from reminder of the fullness of Christ’s presence, the fullness of Christ’s authority, the fullness of Christ’s divinity to the great season of waiting. Advent reminds us that we live in-between. Between the coming of Christ, born in a manger, and the coming again of Christ on the clouds ready to wipe all tears from our eyes. Advent is marked by a level of absence, by the yearning of the Christian for the coming of Christ to set right a broken and weary world. Advent is also marked by looking to the world in its unreconciled reality –in its hostility to the Prince of Peace, its hostility to strangers and outsiders, its hostility to those bearing children in insecurity and poverty.
We move right from the dazzling beauty of Christ as the image of invisible God, to the image of a baby born in a town of no repute. A baby born without a place to lay his head. A baby born so vulnerable his family will soon have to flee the violent machinations of a tyrant. One who will live a life marked by persecution and opposition, a man of sorrows, who weeps for his friends, laments the fate of his people. The only crown he will wear is in his life is one of thorns, affixed to his head by those who tear his clothes and pierce his hands.
This is the great paradox of the Christian faith – the one through whom all things came into being, the light and life of the world, the exact imprint of God’s very being, became flesh and lived among us (though not in halls of powers, but in backwoods and barns). This Christ, the majestic wonder of the cosmos, to whom all authority over heaven and earth is granted, will have his years among us directed by outside (and often nefarious) forces. The location of his birth determined by governmental decree, the place of his childhood set by tyrannical violence, the location of his ministry and rest variously moved about by the whims of crowds, opposition, and need… even the time and place of his death is set by others.
And yet we have never ceased to speak of the same One. For this is what it means to answer the question: who do you say that I am. Jesus is the one born of Mary and Joseph into poverty, forced to flee Herod into Egypt. Jesus is the one who calls fisherman as disciples and receives no honour in his hometown. Jesus is our friend and brother who taught us to pray to Our Father. Jesus is the one who heals and feeds and raises the dead. Jesus is the one executed wearing a crown of thorns beneath a sign reading: King of the Jews. Jesus is the one vindicated and resurrected by God’s love. Jesus is the one resurrected to glory advocating mercy for all. Jesus is the one present with his disciples to the end of the age. Jesus is the one we meet at the table, who nourishes us with Word and Sacrament. Jesus is the brilliance of God’s glory, the reproduction of God’s very being, the image of the invisible God, the alpha and omega. Jesus is the one through whom all things came into being, who sustains all things by his word, and in whom all creation finds its end. Jesus is the light and life of the world and the lamp of the heavenly city. Jesus is the majestic heart of all creation in whose name we have hope, and in whose way we go forth into another year.
Image: Christ in Glory between the angels and archangels, Guido Reni (16210
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