“Tina, do you really believe that Jesus was the Son of God?”
The teens in my youth group certainly know how to keep my theology fresh. We were at a barbecue, standing around while some of the kids shot hoops over the garage, when my then-sixteen-year-old friend asked me this question. I answered without hesitation:
“Yes, I absolutely do, and I don’t need anyone else to agree with me.”
Hmm, that last part came straight from the Holy Spirit. Because in that moment, this young man’s eyes widened along with his smile, he gave me a big gangly hug with those long teen boy arms, and he thanked me for protecting him in his doubts. This same young man, now a college freshman, told me a few weeks ago that he is reaching for God in this time of so much change. “I need faith to help me through all of this,” he declared.
Christ the King Sunday marks an important moment in our journey through the church year. We step, finally, from the long season of ordinary time onto the path of Advent and into Christmas. This holy day is like a spiritual New Year’s Eve, as we mark the end of one church year and prepare to enter a new one. This is not an ancient feast day; Pope Pius XI introduced it to the universal church in 1925, in the midst of rising European secular dictatorships that denied Christ as Messiah, or King.
Yet Christ is King unlike any king the world has ever known, standing as neither tyrant nor figurehead, but as Savior.
It feels right to have a feast day set aside to divide our long observance of ordinary time from our brief sojourn in the thin place of Advent. We’ve walked with Christ in the miraculous and transformational stories of his ministry for many weeks. Now, we have an opportunity to slow down, embrace the gloaming of longer nights, and prepare ourselves to receive the newborn King. Still Christ the King, but as we await the birth of a vulnerable baby and all the hope and joy he brings, we strive to enter a gentler, quieter space.
How can we mark this transition at home, with our families? Perhaps as the leftovers dwindle in the fridge, this is the time to prepare a simple meal of turkey soup and bread. At our house, Christmas music is not allowed until this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Yet we avoid “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night” and “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” in favor of more obscure, varied, and secular options (Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come Darkness Come Light and Ana Hernandez’s An Unexpected Christmas with the Virginia Girls’ Choir are among my favorites, and we let the boys listen to “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells” and other less Nativity-centered songs).
This year, with a week between Thanksgiving and Advent I, there is time to reset the family table and make an Advent wreath ready for next Sunday (Candlepress is offering a free downloadable resource called Advent Spirals to help your family engage with this season of reflection).
If it is your tradition to set up the Christmas tree and decorate or hang lights this weekend, some wondering questions will help everyone lean into Advent as a time to wait and prepare, and to consider how we can best care for Christ by caring for the ‘least of these’.
I wonder how this Christmas tree reminds us that we are waiting for Jesus to be born?
I wonder what God thinks when all the lights from the trees and houses shine during the long winter nights?
I wonder what we can do to care for the people Jesus calls ‘the least of these’ from today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 25:34-40)?
Child safe and friendly nativity scenes are a wonderful way to explore the Christmas story throughout Advent. Encourage children to tell the story over and over again, and marvel at their innate ability to hold and understand the sacred.
Reverse Advent boxes or baskets – where you place a donation to a charity of your choice in the container every day of Advent – are a creative way to mark the time and remind each other that our celebration of the birth of Christ should be a time of giving.
On this Christ the King Sunday, take a moment to decide how your family will set aside precious time in these next four weeks to slow down. How will you prepare to welcome Christ, the newborn King, and to share his peace with each other and with your community? In the frenzy of the weeks to come, I wish you peaceful hearts and sacred time as we await the day of his coming.
How will you pause on your way into Advent as you observe the kingship of Christ?