Every year, I try to remind people that the first Sunday of Advent isn’t just the beginning of the “season of preparation” for Christmas, it’s the beginning of the church year. That means that the New Year doesn’t begin with a bang, but with a time of reflection, preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus.
That can be a challenge for many, especially when Advent is so full of Christmas already. Maybe Advent needs its own moment of preparation.
Just like the secular calendar’s New Year’s Day has its New Year’s Eve, so does the church calendar. Or it would, if the Sunday before Advent wasn’t already designated as something else.
Most everybody who uses the Revised Common Lectionary (the list of weekly scripture readings shared by most mainline christian denominations) marks that last Sunday before Advent as Reign of Christ Sunday, or Feast of Christ the King. It’s a relatively new idea. Pope Pius XI instituted it in 1925 and it moved to its current date in 1969. The Pope was concerned with the rise in secularism and wanted to emphasize the idea that Christ should “reign in our minds … reign in our wills … reign in our hearts … reign in our bodies.” It didn’t hurt that it also emphasized the importance of the church at a time that its influence was waning. It also came at a time when the Pope and Italy were working out the details that led to the Lateran Treaty establishing the Vatican City as a state. It’s fascinating stuff, but I don’t mean this to be a history lesson, so please Google “The Roman Question.” It really is interesting.
In spite of the language of kingship - and the context of that historical stuff - it’s a pretty solid idea: an opportunity to draw attention to how Christ should rule our lives. Assuming, of course, that you unpack “rule” in a way that is understandable and meaningful. For most people, the historical role of kings and queens isn’t really positive, unless it’s in a Disney movie (and that’s no guarantee, either).
But lets look at “rule” and “reign” a little differently. We talk constantly about the presence of God in our lives. As followers of Jesus, we strive to live as Jesus teaches, don’t we? Before you answer, think about that for a moment: do we strive to “live” as Jesus teaches? That’s not about behaviour, it’s about how we live. That means, as Pius XI suggested, in our minds, our wills, our hearts, our bodies.
I was a choir boy in an Anglican cathedral choir when I was a kid, and I’m pretty sure the first latin words I learned (and still remember) were “ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.” The first line of an ancient hymn, it means “where charity and love are, God is there.” To me, that’s the reign of Christ or the rule of Jesus, that God is present in our lives through the love we live. It isn’t about control or command or the trappings of royalty, it’s about welcoming and engaging the presence of Christ in how we live.
So maybe that’s a good thought for New Year’s Eve, too. Do a “year in review” and take a moment before Advent begins to reflect on the past year. Where did you see love rule in your life? Where was there charity? Or compassion, healing, hope or peace? Where was there joy? Where was there Christ?