Readings for the day (Christ the King – Sunday, November 24, 2019):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Today is Christ the King Sunday. The final Sunday of the church’s liturgical calendar. And for this final Sunday of the church year, our Gospel reading takes us all the way back to Good Friday with Jesus hanging on the cross with a criminal hanging on either side of Him. Now this might seem strange. It is the final week of the church year. It is Christ the King Sunday. We should be celebrating Jesus as our King. It is also the week of Thanksgiving. Christmas music will be playing on the radio soon, if it hasn’t already. And here today, not in the Spring during Holy week, we have the crucifixion text.
When you heard this text, what was your initial reaction? What feelings came to mind when you heard this Gospel read? Maybe feelings that made you sad or sorrowful or uncomfortable. This text probably didn’t make you feel all that joyful or happy or excited. And probably for good reason too. We should not feel excited about someone getting crucified on a cross; especially someone who was innocent. And this person was hanging on the cross because of our sins; not His own.
The crucifixion was an awful event that happened. But the crucifixion of Jesus is actually a wonderful thing for us, because Jesus took our place on that cross. We are supposed to be there, but Jesus traded places with us. Now your feelings about the Gospel reading are probably a little more positive, right? With any given circumstance, our attitude is all dependent on how we look at that circumstance. If we look for the bad in something, we will certainly find it. If we look for the good in something, then we’ll find that instead.
This year has been a rough one for many – loved ones have died unexpectedly. Farming has been a challengingly year. The weather has not cooperated. For some, it feels like you just can’t catch a break. While others are just waiting for the other shoe to drop. And if we look for the bad and negative aspects of our present circumstance, we will find them and we will focus in on them.
The writer of Psalm 46 is experiencing something rather fierce. Mountains are shaking and trembling. The waters are raging. Nations are in an uproar. The earth is melting away. The picture the Psalmist paints is not a pretty one. There’s a lot of terrible, negative things going on in the Psalmist’s world. And we have similar things that happen in our lives too. We don’t live by mountains, but our lives can still get shaken up when a piece of equipment breaks down or that unexpected call is received early in the morning. We don’t have to look very hard to see nations in an uproar with each other, let alone the turmoil these next twelve months will be for our country – it’s called the next presidential election. There are always negative aspects to almost everything. And we can choose to focus on the negative, but usually all that does is makes us more negative and crabbier. If we look for the bad in the something, we will find it.
Stephanie loves to do craft projects and her new thing right now is making T-shirts. One shirt she is working on says, “In a world full of grinches, be a Griswold.” Because if we look and focus on the negative parts of why this year has been such a tough year, all we are doing is depriving ourselves of joy. Which isn’t that what the Grinch does in that beloved Dr. Seuss story? He chooses to look for the negative in the Who’s Christmas traditions and all it does is deprives himself of joy. His action does nothing to deprive the people of their joy.
Now I don’t want to make it sound like this year wasn’t as bad as people think it was. Please don’t take this as your circumstance is not valid. It is. Everyone’s situation is different. But if you do find yourself having a rather challenging time lately, ask yourself if there is any good that has happened.
Remember the writer of Psalm 46 and all of the terrible things that were happening in the Psalmist’s life? Before listing all of these terrible things, the Psalmist beings with, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” And then the writer concludes this short Psalm by reminding us that even if we can’t find any good in our current circumstance, we should listen to God who says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Basically, God says, “Shut up, I’m God and I’ll take care of this.”
And God does send help. It just may not be what we are expecting. The Jews were waiting and expecting a Messiah, someone who would be the King of all kings, someone who would resolve all of the issues and concerns that Psalm 46 raises. So when a thirty year old, son of a carpenter shows up and says that He is the Son of God, the promised Messiah, people blow Him off. But when that doesn’t work, they do what they must to silence Jesus because there is no way that this young, son of a carpenter, could be the Messiah, let alone a king. So they silence Jesus by hanging Him on a tree.
This cross, in all of its gore, is a terrible symbol. Crucifixion was how the Roman’s carried out capital punishment. A slow, painful, torturous death that was done publicly to set an example – “Shape up, or this will happen to you.” And yet in the church we make the cross the center of our worship space, we place a cross at the top of our steeples, many people wear crosses around their neck. Why? Because if you look for the bad in something, you will find the bad – like a symbol of torture and death. But if you look for the good in something, you will find the good – like that same symbol also means life, forgiveness, the promise of eternal life with God. As Jesus says to the thief hanging next to Him on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
As Stephanie’s shirt says, “In a world full of grinches, be a Griswold.” Our world needs more Clark Griswolds – someone who despite having family conflicts, personalities clashing, getting locked in a cold attic all day, working hard on something (like a Christmas light display) only for it not to work properly, having a S.W.A.T. team interrupt your “perfect” family gathering, and yet Clark can have such great joy. If we look for the bad in something, we will find the bad. But if we look for the good in something (even if the situation is terrible), we can still find the good.
The crucifixion was an awful event and today, on this Christ the King Sunday, we are reminded that Jesus has taken all of our sins to the cross. And through His crucifixion, Jesus has transformed the cross, a symbol of torture, and made it His throne. For Jesus is the King of all kings. Jesus is the promised Messiah. He is our Lord and Savior, Jesus, the risen Christ. Amen.
2019 Anthony Christoffels. All rights
 Psalm 46:1, NRSV
 Psalm 46:10, NRSV