Thursday 25th November
Reading: Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’
‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’
‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’
Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’
‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.
Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ John 18: 33-37
Reflection: This is the last week of the church year and we consider Jesus, the Christ as King. In this passage, which we read on Sunday we see how Pilate assumes power lies with him, yet Jesus is talking about power that lies with truth. Jesus isn’t letting this earthly power, that washes its hand of truth, get away with it – no matter how much Pilate twisted the truth with his words he was not going to change Jesus’ identity, the essence of who he is.
This model of power: standing up for truth, acting with humility, embodying love, is ours to hold on to, for this is who we are too. In all our interactions with others, in all our internal musings, in all our actions, God who became human to show us how to live, has left the Holy Spirit which fills us with this same power, the power of truth, humility and love.
And with this comes a responsibility, for there are problems if we take our faith too quietly - because that will open the door for others, with human resources, to take power.
So, since power is not passive, our power must be strong and active… always imbued, as it is, with truth, humility and love. Passive Christianity will see other forces overtake - an observer of the governor elections in Virginia, always a safe democratic seat, which was won a week ago, by the democrats, believes that this is an indication that Trump is very likely to be back! That is horrendous on every level of truth, humility and love for all of humanity and the created order! An earthly power rooted in socio-political domination, based on arrogance, lies, self-aggrandisement and hate for the “other”.
In the post-COP 26 world, when leaders caved in, as Christians, as humans we need to discover what good use of power should look like. The examples of leaders across the world in not great at all - there is a massive job to be done to bring nations face to face in a climate crisis. In the light of this discussion about power, truth, humility and love for people and creation, it has been suggested that Greta is the only one doing it well – unknowingly she constantly exhibits power in a Christ-like way.
So where do we stand in this discussion about power?
We are the hands and feet of Christ, we know that there is so much more to life than self, much more than wielding power, at whatever level. We have a hope that is so much deeper, for we have a foot in the kingdom where Jesus is already king, where truth, humility and love already reign. We carry that hope with us, the knowledge that Jesus is there, that Jesus, the Christ is King above and beyond all the horrendous issues that surround and engulf us. Jesus’ kingship, his kingdom will last for ever. Amidst the transient, depressing bids for earthly power, with their flimsy foundations, Jesus’ kingdom is constant, enduringly everlasting, abiding for ever.
The account that Jesus gave of himself to Pilate speaks of a kingdom from another place… a place where God rules in power, where Jesus is King… a kingdom of truth where love reigns… for God, the very essence of God is enduring love. This constant, enduring love is the most powerful force in the universe and is ours for the asking.
Worship through music: Crown Him with Many Crowns written by Matthew Bridges (1851) Tune Diademata by Elvey recorded at RAH October 2012 for Songs of Praise https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7OCs0d_4vM
Thursday 2nd December
Reading: ‘There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
He told them this parable: ‘Look at the fig-tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
‘Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
‘Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.’ Luke 21:25-36
Reflection: This powerful, intense imagery, is a description of the wonder the end of times; they draw us into thinking about the end of time and Jesus’ return - what Advent has traditionally been about: a time of reflection, a time to think about this second coming of Jesus, a time of hope.
A distinctive of our faith is that God can be trusted and that God’s character isn’t ever going to change; so God can be trusted - even for the end of time. Yet, despite being able to trust God’s character, most of us, even as Christians fear the very end of time - the thought of judgement is frightening. Along with growing commercialisation, that is probably the reason we have chosen the excitement of a new born baby over the thought of a medieval, Dante’s inferno-style, terrifying reflection during Advent. But it isn’t all doom, because of the resurrection, there really will be joy of this end of time; the resurrection is good news to all terrifying things. It doesn’t mean we won’t die, it doesn’t mean that life won’t come to an end but we do have hope, a hope of life beyond this, hope for a life where there will be joy.
Where is the good news in this judgement? Often our hope of joy is clouded by recollection of our misdemeanours, so the thought of judgement sends a chill down our spine. However, taking the spotlight off ourselves: when everything comes to an end, it will be the end of bad as well as good things - great news for any who have been mistreated, abused, had false judgements passed against them - this judgement becomes their vindication. Free of being blamed for the things you regret, a world free from injustice, abuse, oppression, false accusation – freed into joy.
We all need this forgiveness, so then perhaps we should rehabilitate the word judgement not to be used as a weapon against those that are different from us, but as a word of grace to us, grace for us, exactly us… and if we do, then at this point judgement becomes our friend… because in Christ there is no judgement without mercy.
If all good and bad things are gone, if there is freedom for the oppressed and vindication for the falsely accused then, because the unjustness of the world will be gone, judgement brings hope that truth will be revealed, that there will be freedom for the oppressed, as the prophet Joel says, “I will repay you for the years of the locusts… You will have plenty to eat, until you are full… never again will my people be shamed.” (Joel 2: 25-27)
So yes, there will be an end and yes, there will be judgement, however, the end is not punishment but grace and, because of grace, we can look forward with hope and joy - for in the end we will be met with an act of grace not of judgement. So we can live today with hope, real hope, because we know in Christ there will always be grace and that is our certain hope for all that is to come.
Worship through music: O Come, O Come Emmanuel sung (2019) by Joshua Aaron live from the Tower of David in Jerusalem https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFoFOZmSIfY
O Come, O Come Emmanuel sung (2020) by the choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oZ652uvCLo