I speak to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .
The Christmas trees have arrived and the sales have begun! So that must mean that Christmas is – well – right around the corner? To be more precise Christmas is exactly 29 days, 15 hours, and 52 minutes away. So you’ve got about a month to get ready!!
And in the church year, that month of getting ready is the season called Advent. The first Sunday of Advent is next Sunday. The new church year starts with Advent . . . So that means that today is the last Sunday of the year.
During this past liturgical year most of the Sunday gospel readings were taken from Mark. So week by week, we ended up covering the whole Gospel of Mark – this was the year of Mark. And the question that Mark sets out to answer for us is “Who is Jesus?.”
Basically Mark wrote his gospel to show us – to prove to us – that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. In order to get this point across, Mark places an emphasis on what Jesus did while he was living and working as a man among humans. In the first half of the Mark’s gospel, the focus is largely on the miracles Jesus did – primarily on his healing ministry. So here the answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” is: Jesus is a miracle worker – a healer. But this is only part of Mark’s story.
In the second part of the gospel, the focus switches to suffering. Jesus knows our human sin and suffering – and because He knows our suffering personally, he becomes the One who can save us by taking on our suffering. The answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” in the second half of the gospel of Mark becomes: Jesus is the suffering servant . . . the saviour of the world, the redeemer – the Son of God.
So a quick and brief summary of Mark’s Gospel readings this Church year. Who is Jesus? He is both the miracle worker and the suffering servant.
Now let’s take a brief look at the reading that we heard this morning from Revelation. Keep the same question in mind: Who is Jesus?
The writer of Revelation is named John. John has received a revelation, a series of visions about who Jesus is and about how the final redemption of the world will come about through him. The writing in Revelation is highly symbolic, which leaves it open to a variety of interpretations. But in the verses for today there is a fairly straight forward, three-fold answer to that question Who is Jesus?
• First: Jesus is the faithful witness . . . true and consistent in his message about his relationship with His Father . . . true and consistent in his message that we are sons and daughters as well, if we believe in that relationship, and if we enter into that relationship of Love. To this — Jesus is the faithful witness.
• Second: Jesus is the first-born of the dead. Jesus became fully human – he died a human death and was reborn out of that death – he was raised to life from death. Jesus is the first to be born from the dead . . . and he reveals that we will share that divine promise of new life after death.
• And third, the book of Revelation tells us that Jesus is the ruler of kings on earth. He is the Alpha and the Omega – the King who is, and who was, and who is to come.
So Who is Jesus as revealed to the writer of Revelation? He is the faithful witness, first-born of the dead and a King –the King of Kings.
This brings us to the celebration of the day – Christ the King Sunday. And it brings us to the question of the day, the question in the Gospel story from John. The question Pilate asks Jesus is Are you a King? Are you the King of the Jews? And Pilate is intent on getting a straight answer . . .
Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly. He leaves Pilate hanging – and he surely leaves Pilate frustrated as well. But Jesus does go on to talk about his kingship. He says:
“My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over . . . but my kingship is not from the world.”
It’s obvious that Pilate and Jesus aren’t on the same plane. They’re not talking the same language. For Pilate, king is a political word – tied to the politics of this world. If Jesus is claiming to be “King of the Jews” he represents a threat – and he’s guilty of treason – because in Pilate’s worldly chain of command, Caesar the Roman emperor is the king, the king of everyone including the Jews.
Pilate asks Jesus again – “So you are a king?” And Jesus answers “You say that I am a king. For this I was born . . . to bear witness to the truth.” And then Pilate asks him “What is truth?” Another question that Jesus doesn’t answer directly – another question that leaves Pilate hanging. Actually the truth is standing right before Pilate in flesh and blood. Jesus himself is truth.
So . . . Who is Jesus?
The Gospel of John answers that question in the opening chapter: Jesus is the Word . . . and . . . “In the beginning was the Word . . . the Word was with God. The word was God.” Jesus is the Word who is and was and who is to come. Jesus is the risen King of Kings that sits at the right hand of the Father. The right hand of the Father signifies his power . . . his glory . . . his transcendency. Jesus is God . . . King of Kings . . . big and powerful.
But the Word becomes flesh and lives among us, full of grace and truth. Jesus comes to be born into the humble world of a manger. Jesus is a Man. He comes as a baby . . .small and poor.
Who is Jesus? What kind of King is he?
We might say that Jesus is a king who never rises so high that he can’t see those who are down low. So maybe if we want to see Jesus, we may have to look in places where kings seldom go.
This is the mystery we’re following as we go from Christ the King today – to next week, the beginning of Advent, when we’ll wait and get ready to seek out a king in a manger in Bethlehem. And thus the cycle of discovery and revelation and transformation goes on – the cycle of Love continues . . .