The Solemnity of Christ the King is the last feast day of our liturgical year. The Church year is a cyclical retelling of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit and several months wherein we consider the meaning of being a disciple of Jesus. At the very end of the cycle we proclaim that Jesus is our King. Because it is an annual cycle, we will start all over again next week with the first Sunday of Advent.
The next four weeks before the Solemnity of the Nativity is easily the time of year that is filled with expectation. Children are expecting a visit from a jolly elf dressed in red. Adults look forward to the time of year that is filled with memories of childhood in addition to gatherings of family and friends. As we listen to the Scriptures today, we realize that our ancestors in the faith also lived in expectation. They were awaiting God to send the Messiah, a figure that was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and his progeny.
The first reading from the Book of Daniel presents us with a man who looked to the skies in expectation. These ancient people believed that God lived above them. They naturally turned their faces to the sky in anticipation of the arrival of their Savior. Even today, astronomers see figures in the sky. When Daniel tells us that he saw “One like a son of Man,” he was probably looking at a constellation we call the “Pleiades.”
This constellation is a prominent sight in winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and are easily visible out to mid-Southern latitudes. They have been known since antiquity to cultures all around the world, including the Celts, Hawaiians, Māori, Aboriginal Australians, the Persians, the Arabs, the Chinese, the Quechua, the Japanese, the Maya, the Aztec, the Sioux and the Cherokee. They are also mentioned three times in the Bible. The stars in this constellation were used by mariners to chart their journeys on the seas, and by astrologers to foretell the future. Our astral seer is looking for something far more important. He and his people were living in slavery, held captive by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. They are awaiting the one who will set them free.
The second reading from the Book of Revelation was written by another astral seer who takes the images of the Book of Daniel and applies them to his situation, another time of persecution. This time it is the Roman Empire that is the cause of their distress. They have placed their faith in Jesus and are dying for their faith. Quite naturally, they are awaiting his return to rescue them.
The ancient Jews and the first century Christians were looking for someone to save them from their distress. Several times in the Gospel, we hear that the people were expecting Jesus to declare himself a king, the King of the Jews. However, Jesus did not come to save us from political powers. Jesus came to save us from our sins. Consequently, when the people tried to make him the king, we would deftly elude them and move on to bring his message to others. As his life neared its end, it is to Pontius Pilate that Jesus finally admits that he is a King. However, he is very clear in noting that his Kingdom is not of this world. Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice and love and peace. We need not stand at a distance from him, afraid to approach because of our human vulnerability. He is the one who loved us so much that he handed himself over to suffering and death so that we might live. He has already brought us to birth in this kingdom through baptism, and he has taught us how to live in it, although we live in it only by faith. Today we look to that time when his glory will be revealed, when we will all be gathered into the embrace of God, there to sing praise to that glory forever.
As the curtain comes down on yet another liturgical year, we renew our pledge to live as he has taught us, to cling to our faith that one day he will return and will take us home to live with him in his Kingdom.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator