Job, after all his suffering said, “Let the Almighty answer me!”
Stephen, as they were about to drag him from the city and stone him, told them, “Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did my hand not my make all these things?’”
“Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with fear and awe.”
You follow a liturgical calendar. Whether it’s on purpose or not, your life and time will take shape each year around a pattern of events. Christmas, a wedding anniversary, Tax Day, July 4 . Something like an old hymn with verses and refrains. This pattern shapes how we spend our time, how we think, and ultimately how we relate to God. As Christians, we intentionally have days set aside in this pattern to redeem our years, with Easter and Christmas being the two big days for American Protestants. But there are other, less familiar days on the liturgical calendar.
The church calendar mimics the story of Jesus and the church. The church year starts with Advent. During Advent and Christmas we celebrate Jesus’ arrival as a baby boy in Israel. In Lent, we suffer with Jesus in his temptation, ministry, and crucifixion. Easter marks his glorious resurrection. Then, the long stretch from Pentecost to the next Advent is “ordinary time,” symbolizing the life of the Church awaiting Jesus’ next arrival. The year ends in late November, coinciding beautifully with the American holiday of Thanksgiving.
What a nice notion that we can count our blessings each year around a feast of turkey. For a lot of us, it’s easy to ignore the difficulties of the world with the help of a little comfort food. Even when we’re struggling ourselves, the business of the holidays can be a bit disassociative; it’s Thanksgiving day, just forget about your problems and relax. But ask the single mom who’s just been evicted to give thanks. Ask the suicidal veteran to give thanks. Ask the alcoholic widower to give thanks. Ask the Yemeni refugee to give thanks.
Thanksgiving is going to be different for my family this year, in several ways. A few weeks ago, my Uncle died after fighting cancer for 6 months.My sister had her first child this year, and he will be having his first Thanksgiving ever. I’ll be bringing home my wonderful girlfriend to meet my family and join us at the turkey table.
But over all that now hangs another shadow. Last week, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The average, one year survival rate for that diagnosis is 20%. Ask me to give thanks, and I may not have a kind word for you.
I’m not suggesting Thanksgiving is a bad holiday, but it’s hard. And it isn’t on the Church calendar. The liturgical year ends with one last feast too, Christ the King Sunday (or The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, if you’re feeling Roman). This year it’s this Sunday, November 24. Christ the King Sunday is the end of the Church’s waiting – Jesus’ glorious return as King at the end of time. It is a time to celebrate that our hope isn’t in this life or this world, but in the life of Jesus and the kingdom he is ushering in.
My old church in Waco, Texas had a tradition each Christ the King Sunday. There would be no sermon. People from the congregation would get up and tell the story of their last year. They were often difficult stories: Unemployment. Miscarriage. Burnout. Of course Cancer. And often they were in the middle of their pain, still awaiting resolution. But at the end of the service the church, as a community we would worship, confess that in spite of all this, we believe Christ is King.
Confessing that Christ is King in spite of the difficulties of our lives is a challenge. This world is dark, and it is confusing, and there is evil and pain and hatred in any direction you care to look. But “Christ is King” is not an platitude. When properly understood, it’s a truth that illuminates and guides every moment of our life.
So that’s my challenge, and what I’ve tried to do here. Take time this Sunday, or this Thanksgiving, to stare your problems in the face. Dare to confront the heartbreak of your neighbor directly. If you must, go to God and challenge him for an accounting as Job did. But know that despite it all, Jesus is King and he is coming.