He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. ~ Colossians 1:15-18
The old year comes to a close, on the church calendar, that is, and on this Feast of Christ the King we are reminded that history itself will come to a close with the Reign of God finally and fully realized in all creation, in the Reign of Christ, the Sovereign who is defined by love beyond imagination, grace beyond amazing, and peace beyond understanding.
We get a glimpse of that love, grace and peace in the Gospel reading from St. Luke: When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And again: One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
To be Messiah/Christos, God’s anointed one, to be Sovereign, is to make of the Cross a throne as you give up your life for love of others, even those who enthroned/crucified you. (Cf. Jn. 3:14-15; 8:28; 12:32-33) Luke also has the King on the throne of the Cross using his power, his ultimate authority, to forgive one the world deems unforgiveable, and to welcome that despised and rejected bandit/terrorist into paradise. For that nameless criminal, the Kingdom becomes fully his, and that’s why Jesus says ‘Today’.
Then we open the new calendar…
To Advent, and a new year for all disciples of Jesus. Advent is the season of preparation for the coming one, a time of waiting in hopeful anticipation, a time of journeying across days and weeks and centuries to Bethlehem and the Twelve Days of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, the Mass of Christ, or Christmas, which begins on Christmas.
On Sunday, December 1st, The First Sunday of Advent, look for changes in the drama of the liturgy. For the Season of Advent we will use the high altar for the Eucharistic Liturgy; there will be a great distance between us and the Table of the Lord, symbolizing the distance of our waiting and the anticipation of the season. The choir will move aside and open for us a way into the distance, a path for our Advent pilgrimage. As we journey literally, step by step, to the communion table, so we journey in hope through the weeks of preparation for the Coming One: Jesus of Nazareth who came long ago in Bethlehem as a helpless baby, and Jesus the Christ, risen in glory, who comes again in triumph to bring God’s Reign in completeness at the end of history.
Then we turn the page…
To Christmas, and when everyone else is done with Kris-Muss (as in Kris Kringle and All Muss, All Fuss!) and heading out for major Boxing events and getting ready for New Year’s we are just beginning our own celebration of God among us, of God in-carnate, of God in-the-flesh (which is what that Latin, churchy word means).
So, do you know why every Sunday we have a Gospel Procession, why the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus Christ the living Word, is brought down into the middle of the assembly? Do you know why we don’t read it from somewhere high and lifted up, as was once done? You see, it’s not the Procession that’s the thing; the Procession is really just another journey, but oh what a journey! The reading of the Gospel right among us every Sunday is a weekly reminder of the spectacular news of Christmas!
Try as we might, try as we have for all of human history, we cannot ascend to God by dint of the mightiest efforts, by means of the most severe morality, even as a result of the very best good works of love… None of it can free us from the muck and mire of sin and death. But, remember, God doesn’t keep score! No, God comes to us, knowing that we can never make it to God. The Creator of all, the highest Holy One, immortal, invisible, knowable only dimly – even if wonderfully – through creation, comes to us in the mortal and frail flesh of a Jew, born to poor parents, in a remote and reviled corner of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago.
“Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν. / The Word became flesh and lived among us.” That word, ἐσκήνωσεν (eskaynosin), translated here as ‘lived’ can also be translated as ‘tented’ among us, or even ‘set up camp among us, right in the middle of us, at the centre of our camp’. And that, dear friends, is why we read the Gospel, the words of Christ and/or about Christ, right in the middle of the gathered assembly every Sunday.
So, on Tuesday, December 24th, Christmas Eve, look for changes in the drama of the liturgy, changes which will remain in place through the season, the full Twelve Days – including Christmas Day, the Nativity of Our Lord, the First Sunday of Christmas, and the Baptism of Our Lord.
No longer will we have to journey so far; the time of preparation will be over. God will be among us, fully present in the living Word Jesus Christ who comes to us in both word and sacrament. The Table of the Lord will be down on the main level, on our level, below the nave platform, symbolizing visually the presence of God right among us in the flesh of Jesus the Christ.
The choir will move forward on the stage, behind the Table, you will be invited to sit in the transepts (the pews on each side of the cross in the building) and in the frontmost pews in the nave, the main area of the church. Thus the assembly of believers will gather literally around the Table of the Lord as we do more figuratively every Sunday.
After the Twelve Days and the Baptism of Our Lord we will return to our customary set-up for worship… until the Great Vigil of Easter and the Week of Weeks to follow, and through the Great Day of Pentecost!
My prayer is that this will enrich our journey of faith in the next weeks; I hope that you might offer the same prayer for all of us and for yourself.
Thanks be to God!