Communion in Advent
CHRIST IS KING!
Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, & 21:25. and Colossians 1:11-20
1. The Approach of Advent
The Christmas Season is almost upon us. Its signs are everywhere. On the first Sunday of Advent, there will be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the celebrations have begun. We shall be seeing throughout our city:
- Manger scenes that display the holy family,
- Children dressed up as Shepherds or even sheep,
- We shall see Wise Men in kingly clothing, and cardboard Camels from the orient.
- It will be a season of carols and candlelight.
- Song and sounds of celebration will fill the places where we live, work, worship and visit.
- Generosity will arise to the surface in even the most frugal of us.
And all this is a good thing! Advent can be the warmest time of the year, even though it does occur in winter when the nights are the longest and the temperature is dropping. The Christian Church throughout the centuries has been a full participant in this emphasis. For the church of Jesus Christ has wanted this season to be a celebration of a new beginning with the birth of a new baby and a new hope for the world.
But when we celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ, we do a strange thing. We place Jesus in a cradle in white swaddling clothes, and have wise men and shepherds bring the baby birthday presents. But when our birthdays are celebrated no one takes out our baby pictures. (for which we all are very grateful.) When our Southern neighbours celebrate Lincoln’s Birthday we do not see a bearded little Lincoln in his cradle. When we celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday I do not remember seeing a pudgy short lady clothed in white and black Victorian dress peering out of her cradle, with a look that says, “We are not amused.” But when it comes to Jesus there is a tendency to relegate him to a cradle and to perpetual babyhood.
2. Christ the King
So the church has wanted to warn us against such a tendency. She has devised a means to help steer us away from maudlin moments and sweet sentimentality. So on the week before Advent and the celebration of his birth, she announced the theme for this day. This Sunday on the Christian calendar is called “Christ the King Sunday”. Multiplied millions of Christians around this planet, take this day, to read scriptures about the Kingship of Christ. And the communion services take on a different emphasis. This day is to remind us of the Coronation of our King!
For Jesus is not a baby, He is a Monarch. He is not a pretty little thing. He is the Sovereign Lord of the Cosmos. He is our leader. He is our Lord. And so on this Christ the King Sunday, we are reminded that Christmas has to do with Kingship.
Herod knew it! He was a King. A tyrannical and insane one. But the birth of this baby was a threatening event for him. Christmas moved him to murder and massacre. He knew it was a crucial moment in his own fortunes. It would end up dethroning him.
The wise men knew that Christmas had to do with Kingship and ultimate allegiances. Whatever their true identity, tradition has painted these wise men as three Oriental Kings who came with pomp and pageantry. They carry enough clout to get access to the courts of Kings. They ask their question, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews… We have come to pay him homage.” And when they encounter the Child, they know themselves in the presence of a King, and they bow the knee as an act of submission to his greater sovereignty, and they present him with royal gifts.
The angels knew that Christmas had to do with Lordship. When they come to Mary to announce the impending birth of the Child, it is not simply, “Good news, you are going to have a baby!” But instead the words are, “You will conceive… and bear a son…He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of His Ancestor David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom shall never end.” The angels knew that a King was coming, not simply one more beautiful baby.
The early Church knew that this one who had come into their world was not simply “Jesus” or “Jesus Christ.” They very quickly gave him the title, “The Lord Jesus Christ”, or the “Lord Jesus”, but most often just the title “The Lord”. Not “a” Lord, but “The” Lord. For they knew that he was King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
During the coming Christmas season we get only half of the needed story.
- Advent tells us of the incarnation when God became a man.
- It tells us that our Lord put aside his glory and humbled Himself.
- It introduces us to the story of how God emptied Himself of all but love.
But on this Sunday just before advent we remind ourselves of the other side of the equation.
- The humiliation was followed by his glorification.
- The downward descent to Bethlehem was followed by the upward Ascension to heaven to be seated at the Father’s right hand
- He emptied himself at Bethlehem, but after Easter he filled the universe with his presence.
- The baby in the manger was now King on the throne.
On this day we celebrate the Kingship, the Lordship and the Sovereignty of the one about whose birth we are about to hear again.
3. Down with Democracy
But what does all this have to say to us? In our world we do not have real kings. We reduced their powers over us long ago. We do not have Lords except in the titles of a few members of a rather effete English aristocracy. We live in a democracy where every person is in charge of their own life.
We prize our freedom to be in control of our own lives. We want no one making choices about our lives, over which we have no vote or veto. We insist on being free to determine our own destiny.
Do you know that passionate poem called Invictus written by W.E. Henley in 1875?
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
The author speaks for many of us. We prize our freedom to be our own sovereign. No one is going to tell me what to do or be!
The Pro-Choice option in some of the moral debates of our day is born out of our insistency that we be allowed to exercise personal sovereignty. We want a choice over whether we carry a pregnancy to full term or not. We want a choice over whether we pull the plug on our own life or not. We want a choice on what we can watch or say or do as part of our right to the freedom of speech. Nothing is to be allowed that causes any infringement of free choice on any of the issues of life. We are born to be free, or so we think.
But on this Communion Sunday, I want to shout the slogan, “Down with Democracy!”
For Democracy can be simply the glorification of the system mentioned in the Book of Judges, where “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes” with anarchy resulting. Democracy often ends up sanctifying the self-interest of the individual, and the selfishness of majorities.
It is for that reason that the call to be a Christian is a call to surrender personal sovereignty to that of another. The kingdom of God is not a democracy. It is a Kingdom, where One alone has the right to rule.
Can I be blunt. Being a Christian is not signing up for a Green Card so I can enter the United States when I die. Becoming a Christian is an act of surrender to the authority of another. It is not an act of accepting Jesus as my Saviour so I can squeak into heaven when I die; it is a declaration of allegiance that I will let Christ govern my life down to its finest detail. It is not just taking on Jesus as my mentor either. It is taking on Jesus to be my master and my commanding officer.
But, like the British Monarchy, we too think we live in a constitutional monarchy, where we make Him King by title, but rob him of all his power and authority in our personal lives and in community life. We prefer to sing songs of praise to his name, but prefer to ignore his directives regarding our attitudes and behaviour. We will give Him the title, and hold him responsible for all that happens, but we will keep intact our own sovereign powers, and the years ahead will be a continual struggle over who is Lord in actuality in my life and yours? To call Christ King, but then not be subject to his leadership in my life and in my lifestyle, is simply to play word games.
May I say it again, to declare that Christ is King and Lord, master and monarch, means that I surrender the personal prerogative to govern my own life as I jolly well see fit.
Do you know that story told about Nelson D. Rockefeller who was visiting India? The story goes, whether it is true or not I cannot verify, that as Rockefeller sat on the beach in Madras one day he saw a peanut vendor hawking his wares up and down the lengthy sea shore. Rockefeller saw that the man and his cart were attracting quite a few customers as he pushed his peanut cart over the sandy beach. On one of his trips past Rockefeller’s deck chair, he hailed the peanut vendor. He made him an offer. “How would you respond to an offer where I could provide you with money to buy dozens of these peanut wagons, you could train others to sell your peanuts, and you could have quite a lucrative business. My capital, your ingenuity, would make a great combination.” The weary wagon pusher’s eyes lit up. His mind went into overdrive as he saw himself leading a franchise on the beaches of India. He saw himself in charge of an army of employees each one adding to his financial success. It was a great prospect.
But then his eyes narrowed just a bit. A question mark was superimposed on his forehead. He had a question. “Who would be president of this new company?” Rockefeller responded, “Well I would be. You would be vice-president. After all I am providing all the money.” It didn’t take the vendor long to respond, “Right now, I am president of my own company. Why would I want to be only a vice-president?” and he turned down the offer and returned to his long hours of trundling up and down the hot beaches of Madras. He had decided, he would be president of his own affairs, even if it killed him. Like Milton’s Satan, “he would rather rule in hell, than serve in heaven!”
Some of us want a partnership with Christ. We want all the benefit of His resources. We want his presence, for we know that we cannot handle life as we would like, without Him. But the question comes to each of us this day, “who is President of the corporation?” I hope that you have decided already, that Jesus is Lord. He desires not only to be resident in my life, but president too!
Kneeling for Communion
In some traditions it was the long practice to kneel at the communion rail as we took the bread and the wine. Kneeling is an act of contrition, an act of humility, and an act of allegiance.
Paul tells of the day that shall come when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. To kneel before someone is to declare that His is the right to rule. He is the master of my affairs. His is the authority over my life.
In medieval times when a knight was dubbed by a King, the knight would kneel before the king, and the king would take the man’s sword, and lift it over the man’s head. He brought it down upon the man’s shoulders and invested him as a knight. But the knight was saying something too. He surrendered his sword into the hands of another. He knelt before him is a position of great vulnerability. The sword that descended could come flat side down and make him a knight. It could come down edge first and make him dead. But in the act of kneeling he was vowing loyalty to, and trust in, the one who held authority. Kneeling at the moments of communion is a yielding to the authority of Christ the King.
Whether we kneel physically, or sit or stand with bowed heads, let us renew our vows that we will serve him and follow him all the days of our lives.
“King of My Life I crown you now…”