Sermon preached by Revd Dr Elizabeth Welch
Christ the King, 20th November 2022
This Sunday, which is the last Sunday before Advent is known by two different titles in the church.
One title is Stir up Sunday, which is attributed to Anglicans, because of the prayer for the day
beginning ‘stir up we beseech thee O God’. This prayer was translated in the Victorian era into the
activity of stirring up the Christmas pudding on this Sunday, so that it would be ready for
Christmas. So, get going today with your Christmas puddings!
The other title, is that of Christ the King. I should say at this point that I come from the anti-
monarchist part of the Christian tradition in this country – going back to the civil war and the
overthrow of the monarchy. However, after watching the role of presidents in some states, such as
the USA and Russia, there’s a bit of me which is really grateful for the monarchy we have. That bit
is to do with the head of state not holding forth, left, right and centre on every available issue. I
continue to be grateful for our past queen, for her continued smiling, even when surrounded by
difficulties, and her being present with people, without constantly holding forth on issues.
The theme of Christ the King for this last Sunday before Advent is deliberately chosen, to point to
God’s ultimate reign, and the nature of this reign. Next Sunday we go back to the beginning, as it
were, and enter into the events that prepared the way for the birth of Jesus. This Sunday, we
come to the end of the Christian year, with a pointer to the way in which God’s purpose is to hold
all things together.
The passages contain interesting contrasts – culminating in the Gospel, focussing on Jesus’ death
on the cross. This isn’t necessarily the reading we have at the top of our minds as we look forward
to Advent and Christmas!
The passages from Colossians and Jeremiah seem to be about contrasting areas of life.
In Colossians we read a cosmic view of Christ. In Jeremiah the prophet talks about shepherds and
sheep, people and animals that would be part of the everyday scene in rural Palestine.
But Jeremiah is not only talking about the sheep that are seen in the fields, and the people who
look after them. He is drawing a parallel with the people of Israel and the people who have looked
after the nation.
When Jeremiah mentions the bad shepherds, he is referring to the kings of Israel, who have been
the ones who have scattered the sheep, i.e. the people of Israel. Jeremiah looks for the ideal king
who will gather the community together and restore it to a just and righteous way of living.
One of the commentators on this passage maintains that what Jeremiah is referring to is a
particular theory of public power – that public power can only survive or give prosperity or security
if it is administered according to the requirements of justice. In this context, justice is about giving
attention to the well-being of all members of the community.
It’s an interesting issue to debate today, in terms of the arguments going on politically about
finance and taxation and spending cuts. What measures will treat the well-being of all people as
an equal priority?
In Jeremiah, having God as the shepherd, who raises up his own shepherds to care for his people,
means establishing God’s rule for all God’s people. This isn’t an autocratic rule, but a rule in which
every individual has his or her honoured place in the life of a community or country.
This isn’t a privatised religion which disregards the public welfare of the people. It is a religion
which says that God’s reign covers the whole of human life, for people as individuals and for
people as they live in community and for the whole of creation.
Jeremiah points to a future day when there will be an ideal king who will gather the people
together again and rule in righteousness, unlike many of the Israelite kings who had gone astray
and who had scattered the people.
Paul in his letter to the Colossians is taking this one step further. He is claiming that Jesus is now
the embodiment of God and of God’s reign. Christ not only holds all things together, but in him all
things have been created and through him all things will be reconciled.
Paul reminds us that this is no easy pie in the sky kind of view of the world, a kind of romantic
dream. God only achieves this reconciliation through the death of Jesus on the cross, the reality of
which is brought home to us in the Gospel reading.
It’s not surprising that there are those in the west who have difficulty with the Christian faith today.
Our faith makes challenging claims which cut against some of our contemporary culture.
To hold that Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God and that through him all things are
created seems hard enough to swallow. To go on and say that it is through the cross that he
brings reconciliation can be even more difficult.
Our faith makes the bold claim that sacrifice and death are part of the way to life.
Holding together the cosmic Christ and the Jesus who died on the cross to bring about
reconciliation shapes the way we view the world.
Instead of seeing the world only as the place of human activity, a place in which we often have to
struggle to find a wider meaning, we see the whole of creation given a purpose in Jesus Christ.
Instead of seeing the world as the place of self-seeking, where all we need to find fulfilment is to
get more of what we want, we see the road to fulfilment coming through self-offering and self-
The commercial run-up to Christmas lays bare some of the realities at the heart of our society. It’s
about what we can buy, how much we can shop, as if the meaning of our existence lies in material
possessions. There’s even the debate today as to whether there will be enough shopping going on
because people are needing to row back in these challenging financial times.
Christmas is actually about seeing the world with new eyes – with the eyes of Christ, who came in
humility to raise up the humble.
It’s about seeing the whole world as the place of God’s work and each part of the world as a place
for which God has a purpose. The church has a particular role in the fulfilling of God’s purpose,
for the church is the body of Christ on this earth.
While our faith is intensely personal, it is not just a private matter. If we are the people who
believe that God reconciled the world to himself in Christ, then we are also the people who are
ministers of that reconciliation. We are the people who are open to receiving God’s gifts, which are
many and diverse, and then using these gifts for the sake of God’s world.
I want to draw out, 3 points about the nature of God’s reign.
1. God’s reign is universal.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians, says that in Jesus, all things, in heaven and on earth, were created
and through him God is reconciling all things, in heaven and on earth, to himself.
This is no small interior private view of life, but a vision of the whole of life, all of creation, held
together in Christ. This is a universal cosmic view of Christ, which is the other side to the picture
of the earthly Jesus. The readings and readers that we had today are a symbol of this universal
view – including Chinese and Ghanaian languages. God speaks in every tongue, and call us to
see all people as part of God’s purpose.
Christians have a responsibility to be involved in the life and issues of the world, believing that this
is God’s world. We’re given a vision of what kind of world that God offers for us and of what kind of
people we’re meant to be and what kind of people God calls each one of us and gifts each one of
us to be.
This is a world in which people are included, not excluded; where boundaries are overcome rather
than walls being built up; where the stranger is embraced and given a home. (e.g. we’ve just taken
on hosting Ukrainians)
2. God’s reign involves struggle and suffering.
Luke’s reading points us to the cross and the sign on the cross ‘this is the king of the Jews’. It was
meant to be a mocking sign, but it pointed to a deeper truth about the nature of God’s reign. God’s
reign doesn’t come lightly or easily. The supreme sign of this is Jesus’ own struggle, his walk in
the way of the cross.
If God in Christ suffers for us, and we share in his way, we too are called to moments of struggle in
the Christian faith as we seek to live this faith out obediently in today’s world.
Jesus’ way of kingship is about accepting a path of humility, not self-glorification; of service, not of
being served; of sacrifice and offering our lives for others.
3. God’s reign is about an end to fear.
Jeremiah uses the phrase – ‘the shepherds will ensure there is no fear’.
The Psalmist echoes this ‘we will not fear…because God is in the midst of the city’.
The Jeremiah reading about the shepherds is an interesting one. Jeremiah wasn’t just speaking
about those out in the country looking after the sheep, he was speaking about the rulers of the
nation and the way in which they were behaving.
God’s role, and therefore the rulers and the peoples’ role will be to make sure justice and
righteousness prevail for everyone.
There are times when fear seems to be more of a characteristic of the public discourse: wars,
especially the one in Ukraine, but not only in Ukraine, climate change, racism, abuse…questions
about the future and what the future holds. Then there’s the question as to whether we’re fearful of
speaking out about the Christian faith.
Saying that there might be an end to fear is a big challenge. But there’s only an end to fear when
God is present, in our hearts and minds, in our communities, bringing glimpses of another way of
Let’s pray for the coming of God’s universal reign, in which all people are included; for the strength
to live lives sacrificially, taking the risk of suffering; and for God to be our refuge and strength,
putting an end to our fear.
And so Paul prays for the people at Colossae, facing their own difficulties and challenges, in words
that still speak to us today:
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power and may you be
prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father.
May it be so for us today.