Grace and peace to you from the one who is and was and is coming, and from the seven spirits that are before God’s throne, and from Jesus Christ—the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To the one who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, who made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father—to him be glory and power forever and always. Amen.
Look, he is coming with the clouds! Every eye will see him, including those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him. This is so. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the one who is and was and is coming, the Almighty.”
This Sunday marks the end of our Christian year. Now, December usually marks the end of a year, while January marks the beginning of the new year. However, for the Christian liturgical calendar, Christ the King Sunday, is our New Year's Eve. Next Sunday is our Christian New Year's Day with the start of Advent. While we mark the end of things, we also celebrate today that there is no end to God's reign. We are all citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, ruled over by our eternal God, so for us it is important to remember and to recognize that while there are endings and beginnings in the turning of the year, there is no end to God's Kingdom. In addition, there is no end to our participation in that Kingdom of only ever new beginnings
Our reading today comes from The Book of Revelation, which on one hand is a strange book full of visions and odd happenings and prophecies that are strange to hear and even stranger to think about, and on the other hand Revelation imagines a future where God’s work comes to fruition. You see, it is an apocalyptic story, but an apocalypse is not about endings. The Greek word apokálypsis rendered as apocalypse in English means to uncover, to reveal something in the future; it is a prophecy not of an ending but a future beginning. This is where Revelation gets its name, as that is another possible translation of the word apokálypsis. Our reading this week wants to reveal the totality of God’s reign. You can first see this in the ways that it uses repetition. John, the author of Revelation, starts off by telling us that he is a messenger from “the one who is and was and is coming,” this threefold language refers to the triune God. It also references back to the name of God found in Exodus 3:14 which tells us that God's name is “I Am Who I Am,” as in I am the one who is. This tells us two things, first of all, that God always has been and always will be and this is true of God's reign over creation as it has no beginning and no end. Secondly, this name tells us that we will know God by God’s continued activity in creation. God’s people will know God by more than name, they will know God by what God does.
Revelation makes it clear that God’s action is continuous, and God’s rule is total. In the next passage, we have this strange language of grace and peace coming “from the seven spirits that are before God’s throne,” and these spirits are seven angels. However, seven as a number is also significant, especially in the book of Revelation, for denoting something that is complete and whole. To connect God’s reign to these seven angels, means that God’s rule is complete over creation and that God seeks to bring all of creation to wholeness. In addition, we have this ending piece where God says, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega.” Now, you may have heard of this before, but it is important to note that Alpha and Omega refer to the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. If God were to show up today and speak, God would say something like, “I am the God of A and Z.” It is kind of like saying I am the god of everything from A to Z. I am the god of beginnings, and I am the god of endings, and I am the god of the in between. In other words, there is nothing outside of God’s rule.
Christ is part of this rule, part of God’s move to restore creation. In our reading, Jesus is also given three titles, we are told that Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of Earth. These three titles outline the way that Christ is a part of God's plan to bring about this wholeness, this restoration and renewal of God's creation. Here again, we are reminded that our God is one of beginnings not of endings. God’s kingdom does not start with the end of life, the end of the world, and the end of creation. Christ is the first witness of the kingdom that is here and now. Christ is the first of people being resurrected in a creation destined to be restored. Christ’s kingdom is greater than any nation of the world. Since all of God’s work through Christ is bent toward this renewal of creation, the question for us today is how are we a part of this?
Our reading today gives us a clue of what it means to be a part of this Kingdom of Heaven, what it means to be a citizen of Christ. Revelation tells us that Jesus, who loves us, freed us from our sins by his blood and this next part is key, made us a kingdom of priests serving his Father and our God. We have been made part of the Kingdom, where we are citizens of this Kingdom and that comes with a very important question of its own: how do we show that we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven? Now, if I was to ask how do you prove that you are a citizen of the United States, you could likely show me some documentation, birth certificate, a social security card, a driver's license, a U.S. passport, and even a certificate of naturalization. There would be something to show that you are a citizen, but you do not need to act like a citizen of the U.S. in order to be a citizen of this or any country of the world. Now, Jesus made us all citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven by his act on the cross, by his blood we are freed, by his resurrection we are made members of Christ's Kingdom. Now, how do we show that we are members of this kingdom without some documentation? You do not need to show a baptism certificate or your confirmation bible to show that you are a citizen of heaven. It's not merely something that you are, but it is something that we are doing that marks our membership, our citizenship, our participation in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Our kingdom is unique, we are not members by birth or by some process, we are made citizens through Christ. We do not show that we are citizens through some documentation but through our participation, by how we live. The answer to the question for all of us today is whether we show that we are faithful members of this Kingdom, whether we are faithful witnesses to the rule of God. If someone was to look at us, look at how we live and speak and act, who would they say that we are loyal to in this life? Would our other loyalties be more readily visible? Could they speak to our politics, our pastimes, our culture more readily than our witness to God’s kingdom? Are we faithful witnesses to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, our first witness to what it means to faithfully serve God? Remember, that our teacher, Jesus, taught us that we cannot serve more than one master. We cannot be loyal to more than one kingdom, they will always come into conflict and we will have to pick one to be faithful to in this life.
Friends, this might be the hardest thing of all about remembering this Christ the King Sunday, as we are told that we need to be faithful witnesses to the kingdom all the time. We need to live into the kingdom here and now because God is ruling now, God is restoring the cosmos now, God is renewing creation now, and God's kingdom is now. We have an opportunity to live into the future, the beginning Christ has started, as faithful members of God's Kingdom here and now. You see, this might put us at odds with the world, this might put us at odds with the rulers and the powers and the principalities of this world. We may also be called to put ourselves at odds with friends and neighbors. Can we provide the faithful witness even when it is uncomfortable to do so? Can we provide a faithful witness of who God is and what this kingdom is in all of the places of our lives?
One of the most encouraging things is that this Kingdom of God gives us more than any other kingdom we could ever encounter or ever be a part of in this life or in any life. We have greater power with our freedom from sin’s power and the gift of grace. We have greater dignity because it is in this kingdom that all of us, no matter where we hail from or what language we speak or what we look like or how we act or who we love, all of us are children of God. All of us are bearers of the image of God and so we have a greater dignity and worth than in any other kingdom of this world. We are uniquely reminded to be faithful witnesses to our Kingdom of Heaven by following the witness of Christ to put God’s love in this world, to be a people of compassion and grace, and to be a people that seek goodness and mercy and justice in all areas of creation. In all these ways, we remind this world that God’s kingdom is not someday in the future. It is the kingdom that was, that is, and that will be. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman