“God has put all things under his (Jesus’) feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
I’m sorry, Paul, but … what?! Do you really expect us to understand what you’re on about, when you say things like that?
Back to Paul in a minute, but first a question for all of you:
Is it best to splash out in celebration at the beginning of a new undertaking, or at its completion?
For example; if you were building a house, should you crack open the bubbly when you lay the first brick, or wait until the last roof-tile goes on? Or if you’re digging an allotment, do you rejoice over the first weed lifted, or wait till the first harvest of runner beans?
Wait? Yes, I think so too.
It’s on completion that we break into festive joy rather than when we first set the ball rolling.
So … why do we celebrate Christmas so ardently, and pretty much let Christ the King pass us by?
According to the principle we’ve just established, the celebration of God’s work of salvation should come today, at the completion of the story that only starts on Christmas Day. Because it’s only when you add, the passion, the cross, the resurrection, the ascension, the gift of the Spirit, the witness of all the saints, the hope of glory shared by all souls … and the crown of the” victory of love” that Jesus has won for us all (phew!), that the job’s done. Rejoice and bring out the turkey with all the trimmings! Today is that day!
I think I know why we opt for Christmas as the big event (for all but the most hard-nosed, bare-knuckle believers) rather than today … and it’s to do with the verse from St Paul we began with.
Do you understand what Paul means by “the fullness of him who fills all in all”? No?
Nor do I.
And (wild guess), nor does St Paul really. Because he is trying to describe something that can’t be described. The victory of Christ is like the enthronement of a king – but it isn’t. It’s like a victory that changes the fabric of the universe – but it’s much more than that too. It’s like seeing through a glass darkly, and hardly being able to guess the real picture that’s entirely beyond our power to describe.
If you watch Bake Off (and who doesn’t?) You’ll know that each week the contestants are required to push themselves up a gear. They’ve got to find something they hardly knew they had. It was a bit like that for Jesus disciples: first they had to take on board his radical teaching, then his arrest and execution, then the resurrection … and so on. Each one stretched their ability to comprehend, a little bit further than they had thought they were able.
And so, by the time you get to the final outcome, their hearts and minds and souls have expanded exponentially, and you end up with Paul saying, “Him who fills all in all,” or John of Patmos saying, “I saw one that looked like a lamb who was slain, and he alone was worthy to open the scroll …”. And they say these bizarre things because there simply are no words to express the cosmic transformation of everything that the Kingship of Christ represents.
Compare to this, Christmas is a doddle. A stable, a donkey, a love story, an evil ruler, a baby in a manger … We get it. We can see the beginning – it’s a story a bit like our own. We can even see the direction it is going – it’s a direction that our hearts long to take. But the end is too glorious for mortals to grasp. We fall down on our faces in a quiver. Christ the King is the final episode of a story that’s too awesome for folk of our limited experience to comprehend.
So we’ll continue to bring out the figgy pudding for the beginning of the story, because that’s where we need to start – and Christmas is all about Christ the King too. But we’ll remind ourselves, on this last Sunday of the Christian year, that the story doesn’t end there. In fact, as C S Lewis puts it in his Narnia stories:
“All their life in this world, and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page; now at last they were starting out on the Great Story which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever: and in which ever chapter is better than the one before.”