November 26, 2017 Sermon
“Christ the King”
First Scripture Reading – Isaiah 9:1-7
9 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
“Christ the King”
This is kind of a weird Sunday in the Christian Liturgical year…for us Protestants in the United States of America, anyway. It’s called Christ the King Sunday. But it’s not the name or the theme of this day that makes it a little weird. Rather, it’s that more often than not this special day happens to fall on the SAME day as what we in the United States call Thanksgiving Sunday…and we spend THAT day worshipping around the theme of giving thanks; there’s just not room to squeeze in some worship about Christ as King. You might wonder why we don’t just celebrate Christ the King Sunday on the next Sunday…well, we CAN’T, most of the time, because the next Sunday marks the beginning of Advent. But, every once in a while, we get a year like 2017 in which there’s an extra Sunday between Thanksgiving Sunday and the first Sunday in Advent, and so we get an opportunity to celebrate this thing called Christ the King Sunday.
But, what is Christ the King Sunday? In simple terms, it’s a day devoted to looking forward in hopeful anticipation to that time in the future when Jesus’ kingdom will be established to the ends of the earth. Just as Advent is the season during which we anticipate Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ coming into the world, Christ the King Sunday is the day on which we look forward to the complete fulfillment of Jesus’ ministry throughout the earth…the time in which Jesus reigns over all the earth. And since it’s a day for anticipating a time that has not yet come, we place it at the end of the liturgical year.
As we look forward to that time, we can anticipate what it might be like by looking back, looking back to a prophecy given to God’s people thousands of years ago to tell them what this coming king would be like. Today’s reading from the book of Isaiah provides one such prophecy. And just as it gave God’s people thousands of years ago quite a bit to look forward to before Jesus was born, it should give US something to look forward to about the fulfillment of Jesus’ ministry…because this prophecy tells us EXACTLY what Jesus would be like as king…and so it reveals exactly what a kingdom ruled by Jesus would look and feel like.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
Light in the darkness, THAT’S the first thing we learn about Jesus’ kingdom…as contrasted with the existing kingdom of the world, anyway. The original hearers of God’s words through the prophet Isaiah would have known a little something about darkness. Remember the setting of God’s words through Amos two weeks ago? The northern kingdom of Israel had a string of 13 consecutive bad kings over 150 years, which led to all kinds of darkness: drought, famine, oppression, terrible violence…both from within and without. Well, these words from Isaiah were written at pretty close to the same time…except that they were for the southern kingdom of Judah. Things in Judah hadn’t gotten quite as bad as they had in the northern kingdom: only about half of the kings were described as wicked or evil…but that STILL meant a fair amount of darkness. And these words were most likely uttered during the reign of a VERY bad king in Judah. They were written at a time when the Assyrians were moving in to destroy Israel…and were threatening to destroy Judah. They were written at a time when the king of Judah had built an altar to foreign gods and even sacrificed his son to a foreign god. They were written at a time when God made charges against the Judeans with the words: “Your hands are full of blood!” Yeah, the original hearers of God’s words through the prophet Isaiah knew a little something about darkness.
But, we know something about darkness in our time, as well, don’t we?
- Talk of a potentially impending nuclear war features prominently in our daily news;
- Seemingly every week we receive a new example of atrocities committed by people AGAINST people in one form or another:
- Terrorist attacks;
- Mass shootings;
- Cars slamming into crowds;
- New accusations of sexual misconduct, sexual assaults, spring up almost daily;
- And racial and gender tensions in this nation are running as high as I can remember;
- Members of political parties verbally attack each other with such frequency and passion that we don’t really know what’s true anymore;
And that’s just GENERAL darkness, the kind of stuff that’s going on out there but for most people isn’t exactly personal. There’s the personal darkness, as well. I can’t imagine what yours is: maybe a health issue…or a financial issue – even wondering whether or not you’ll outlive your ability to AFFORD to live…maybe the loss of friends or loved ones…something.
Well, we need to remember that Christ’s coming kingdom is a light in that darkness. In Christ’s coming kingdom, none of these things will matter, none of these things will have the power to harm us, physically or emotionally. All will be good. All will be great. All will be perfect! In other words, there…is…hope.
And he will be called “Wonderful Counselor”!
This title, in its original Hebrew and context, suggests great wisdom. That’s what a wonderful counselor is, someone who is so wise as to be able to offer the perfect solution to any difficulty. Isn’t that what we long for in the depths of our souls these days? No matter who you are: man or woman, white or black or brown or red or yellow, rich or poor, powerful or weak, Democrat or Republican, UNLESS you’re among the small minority of people who is truly mean-spirited at heart, I’m betting your heart’s desire for the world is pretty much the same as the desire of most people’s hearts: you want there to be more than enough to go around for everyone, you want to be free to love and be loved, you want the dignity of people to be upheld, you want goodness for all, justice for all. The problems we run into as a society aren’t primarily that we DISagree on these things. Really, it’s not, Some people have gotten to the point of trying to convince themselves that so many other people don’t want these things, but that’s a deception. The reality is that most of what we disagree about concerns not what we truly desire but rather how to ACHIEVE these things most of us desire. And, maybe it will offend you if I say so (but I’m going to anyway): we don’t seem to be doing a very good job of figuring out HOW to achieve these things that pretty much all of us want. Instead, we’ve just gotten really good at verbally assaulting each other. Well, a Mighty Counselor has the wisdom to figure it out…even the wisdom to make our grand desires a reality. So…in the future when Christ the Mighty Counselor rules, he will KNOW what’s best and how to get it done.
And he will be called “Mighty God”!
It’s one thing to KNOW what’s best and even how to best get it done…but it’s another thing entirely to have the POWER to pull it off. Mighty God has the power to get it done. If Jesus was just some otherwise ordinary guy with grand vision and even grand ideas about how to implement that vision, it wouldn’t be enough. But MIGHTY GOD, well, mighty God has the power.
And he will be called “Everlasting Father”!
If the “father” part of this title confuses you for trinitarian reasons or even troubles you because you’ve faced abuse or oppression at the hands of a father or father-figure, or even if you just don’t like using patriarchal language for God, let me help you by suggesting that the word “father” here seems to be a word being used as a synonym for “ruler” or “king”, especially a ruler or king who founds a new kingdom or a new kind of kingdom. Our focus on this title should not be on “father” but rather “everlasting.” Once Jesus’ reign becomes a reality throughout the earth, it will last forever!
And he will be called “Prince of Peace”!
Isaiah elaborates on this title in verse 7, declaring that with this king there will be no end to peace. As the threat of nuclear war looms over us, as the threat of terrorist attacks and mass shootings linger at the back of our minds, as we read about seemingly ever-escalating attacks of one person upon another, “prince of peace” sounds pretty good. But…it’s even better than that. In Christ’s kingdom, there will not only be peace among people but also peace between people and God. Thanks to Jesus, no one will have to worry about being right with God, because ALL will be right with God.
Y’all, today is Christ the King Sunday. Today is the day when we proclaim with hope and with confidence that the whole earth will someday be Christ’s kingdom, that someday everything that divides people from people and even people from God will fall away. Today is the day when we celebrate the coming fulfillment of all that we hope for, all that we dream for, all that we trust in, through Christ Jesus! Amen.