Reign of Christ 2020

I once met a woman who had suffered terrible abuse as a child. Her father had abused her for several years from the time she was very young. She survived the trauma and learned to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. She found a loving and supportive partner, married, and became a mother who protected her children and raised them to become happy and successful adults. I might never have known of her history of abuse, but the story came out in a small group Bible study. Like many other groups in which I have participated over the years, we prayed together at the opening and closing of our meetings. The group became close and shared honestly our doubts as well as our faith. One day she told the group that she struggled with the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Addressing God as “Our Father” seemed out of place for her. Because of how she had been treated by her father, she could not think of God as father, even though she had grown to see other fathers who expressed love to their children. For her faith to grow, she needed to think of God as radically different from her experience with her human father. She found it easier to simply use the word God instead of father. She prayed in unison when we shared the prayer, but personally, she thought of God as distinct and very different from father. For her, God is love in a form that is different than any human person.

I still admire her perspective. She taught all of us an important theological truth: God is not some kind of super human, who reflects all of our human traits. Rather, we are created in God’s image and have the capacity to reflect some of God’s goodness and love. The similarities between humans and God are not the product of our projections about our own nature, but rather our acceptance of the love of God.

It is a theological concept that many faithful Christians never fully develop. It is so easy to think of God in our own terms and pray as if God were similar to us. For generations, artists have depicted God, and even Jesus, as looking like themselves. These great works of art are not the products of unfaithful creators, but rather a projection of an incomplete theology.

Today is one of the holidays in the Christian year that offers an opportunity to develop a more mature theology. The Reign of Christ is the last Sunday of the Christian year. A new year begins next week with the First Sunday of Advent. For generations, we called this day “Christ the King” Sunday. It is a day of reminding ourselves that Christ is a gift of God to the entire world, not just the people we know and like. When we experience conflict with others, we need to remember that God loves all of the people of the world, including those we consider to be our enemies. Christ came for everyone and, having ascended after his resurrection, offers God’s love to all. The change in the name of the holiday is the product of the many failures and imperfections of human monarchs. If we say Christ is King of the entire world, we need to understand that Christ is not the same as human kings, who abuse power and fail to care for the least of their subjects. It is a bit like the woman in the Bible Study group. She learned to love and be loved by God, but the language of human relationships provided a challenge that helped her to think of God in a more expansive manner. Reign of Christ language invites us to think of Christ as much more than a human monarch.

The coming of the end of this year seems especially welcome in some ways. The past year has been very difficult for so many people. The politics of our nation have been especially divisive and troubling. People have resorted to anger in their discussions and the anger has spilled out into the streets as protestors have cried out for justice and counter protestors have sought to demonize those they see as the opposition. The rule of law has been brought into question by a very human president with very human flaws and an inability to acknowledge his shortcomings and failings.

So many people have suffered because of the pandemic and the failure of leaders to express compassion for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones.

The year now ending has not been easy for so many people. We are ready for a new year. Advent, with its promise of new life and the birth of love once again into a world of pain and suffering, is especially welcome. I’m ready for a new year. I’m ready for light and life and hope to reemerge.

Our faith, however, teaches us that new life is not instant. We begin each new year with waiting and preparing. It is Advent, not Christmas, that is our place of beginning. Fulfillment will come. Christ will be born into our lives, but first we wait. First we prepare.

For many years we have sent small Advent grifts to our grandchildren. Usually they have been a series of small art projects. They have made bird feeders and planted bulbs and colored and painted calendars. This has always been a process of us mailing supplies and hearing about their preparations from a distance. This year we have the gift of being with our grandchildren each week of Advent. We will be able to share the joy of watching them discover the daily surprises of the Advent calendar. We will be able to share the advent crafts in person. We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.

Like other years, the reign of Christ is combined with the expression of gratitude through the celebration of Thanksgiving. This week will be an intense time of shopping, baking and preparing. May it also be a time of deepening our faith and growing in our understanding of the true nature of God’s love.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!