(The Year is a series of occasional reflections on the Sundays and Holy Days of the church calendar, featuring scripture readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.)
To him was given dominion and glory and kingship,Daniel 7:14
that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
I have a confession: I love reading the last page of a book first. I like getting a hint of how the story turns out, then finding out how we get there. Maybe that’s why I’m starting my series of reflections on the church year with the last week of the year instead of at the beginning. This Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King, gives us the perfect final page to the story from which to then launch into the season of Advent.
I think there are few better days of the church year when it comes to encapsulating the gospel—the good news—of Jesus Christ. As Jesus himself proclaimed, his gospel is that “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt. 3:2, 4:17; Mk. 1:15). This is good news, indeed. Especially in a world of tumultuous political climates where evil despots devalue humanity to no end, we have what rarely exists in our world: we have a good king.
Many of our greatest stories and mythologies over the years point to our common human desire to have a ruler who will protect his people, to save them from their affliction, and to lead them into times of perpetual prosperity. In medieval times, King Arthur fulfilled this role, and the legend lives on that he will return when England needs him most. For a more modern example, in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Aragorn casts aside his guise as a ranger to reveal himself as the heir to the throne of Gondor, defeating the armies of Mordor and ushering in a time of peace at the beginning of the fourth age.
And yet Jesus is the one good king to whom the righteous rulers of legend and literature all point. He, too, comes to us in a humble position, as a God birthed in a stable, crucified as a criminal, before being exalted to glory. He, too, overcomes the enemy armies—in his case, the very armies of Evil itself. He, too, saves us from affliction—not merely pestilence, but the very disease within our souls. He not only ushers us into a time of peace and prosperity but makes it permanent. As N.T. Wright says in Simply Christian, “He will put the world to rights.”
This is why Christ the King is the perfect end to the church year. It reminds us of the king we need, and the king who began and great work and is bringing it to fulfillment. In the words of Michael Bird,
God’s story according to the gospel requires a final divine act to bring a rebellious world into order and to put it under the power of our heavenly king. The final chapter in this saga includes the glorious return of Jesus Christ to establish his kingdom fully and finally.Michael F. Bird, What Christians Ought to Believe
See, that’s a conclusion worth sticking around for!
So, now that Christ the King lets us know where the story is going, it’s time for Advent to begin, and for us to feel the longing to reach the final chapter.
(Cover image: The Christ Pantocrator mosaic from Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey.)