Christ The King Sunday (and Stir Up Sunday) The last Sunday before Advent
Saint John’s Cathedral, Denver Colorado, November 22, 2015
The question which sets up the entire religious traditions of Christianity and Judaism is a question about Kings and kingdoms. Who is king? Do we need a king? Over what is the king a king? Anglicans come from a heritage of Henry the Eighth, Bloody Mary Tudor, Elizabeth the First, the Stuart Kings, Queen Anne, King George – soon Episcopalians would form a tradition against royalty – against Kings. Royalty seethes and undulates in our history. We have a strange relationship with royalty, we Anglicans – we Episcopalians.
We like to soften the issue of royalty, render it polite, not too religious, not too spiritual, So we say “Lord” a lot. It moves us from the castle to the manor house and it is from both that we get this word steward and stewardship.
This is Christ the King Sunday – a name for the last Sunday before Advent agreed to by Anglicans in order to play-nice with our Roman Catholic cousins as we revised our lectionary. Before the turn of the last century, for almost 400 years, we Anglicans called this Sunday “Stir Up Sunday” because of its collect – one we will pray in week three of Advent: “Stir up, We beseech the, Oh Lord, the wills of thy faithful people, , plenteously bringing for the fruit of good works, etc. etc.”
Queen Anne led an unhappy life – ill and obese. She died in 1714 after 17 pregnancies with no births, and though there were many claimants to the throne they were all Roman Catholics, and England was a protestant nation– so a Hanoverian Protestant King, George the 1st, was brought in to be King of Great Britain. But he was sad and an idiot; and so began the fall of monarchy in England and the political loop-hole which made America possible.
But George the First will always be remembered for bringing the fruit cake to England and to colonial powers thereafter.
Anglicans, for two hundred years made Christmas cakes from dried fruit – currants, raisins, figs, cherries, ginger, grated citrus rind, and juice, with ground almonds. My centuries-old recipe will be on the Daily Sip on Monday.
They say that when Anglicans heard “Stir up, oh Lord” and later “the fruit of good works ” in the collect they were reminded to make the Christmas pudding and cakes which needed four weeks to infuse with whisky.
So what does an Episcopalian do with a Sunday known for kings we no longer bow to and cakes we no longer eat? We look hard at the Gospel.
Jesus is stirring things up. They tried to make him king when he fed 5,000 but he fled, knowing that was not the kind of king he would be.
They tried to make him king on Palm Sunday, but he saddened because he knew that was not the kind of king he would be. They charged him with sedition – with being King of the Jews, but he fell silent, knowing he would be king of more than the Jews. The whole time Jesus was stirring things up by a determined, successful effort to be vague about Kingship. The Disciples wanted to be his Lords of Court. But that too Jesus scuttled. He would be King of Peace – Prince of Peace.
So we priests wear royal vestments. We drink from silver goblets. We have a throne for our Bishops in our cathedrals. We so want our royalty.
But this Sunday, “Stir Up Sunday” is about God Stirring things up with Jesus. This Sunday, Christ the King Sunday is about preparing for the Birth of Christ as Prince of Peace – ushering in a reign of love, gentleness and compassion.
His announcers were wise kings from the mysterious east who said yes to a voyage. His courtiers were shepherds who said yes to a stroll. His friend was a crazy prophet with locust-breath who said yes to a message. His mother was a teenage girl who said yes to an angel. His planet was a place of interstellar beauty which said yes to a baby.
On this Sunday before Advent, what is your “yes?” Is it to the commercials asking you to buy things? Is it to an anxious system asking you to work to death? Is it to labels asking you to replace the cross with a Mercedes emblem or a Country Club parking pass or a designer label or body or hair style or stationary. Is your “yes” to the best invitations at the best houses? Is your “yes” to decorations or menus or love-purchasing gifts?
On this Sunday, and these last few weeks of pledging, we decide who our king is, what we worship, what kingdom we choose. We decide what kind of king Jesus is. And most difficult of all, we decide if we have what it takes to live in this different kingdom in which poor children sit on thrones and the rich get stuck in the eye of the needle.
This afternoon six friends will come to my house. We will take turns stirring the Christmas cake mix, thick with dried currents, cherries, ginger, figs, raisins and almonds. We will stir it up from east to west, like my mother taught me, to remind ourselves of the Wise King’s voyage. And we will love each other.
Love must be our “yes!” this advent. Not to castles and queens. Not to materialism and matter. But to a gentle, poor king who hugs the homeless, helps the harried, warms the chilled, kisses the dis-eased and stirs up such a revolution as to make kings and queens, priests and Bishops, everywhere from Saint James’ palace to our own gated neighborhoods and castle-cathedrals shake with the awareness that a new king and a new kingdom is being ushered in and is waiting to see what kind of “yes” we speak, and to what, these next four weeks.
What if we made our gifts this year? What if we did not go to the parties of obligation but instead had dinners with four close friends? What if we did not shop for Christmas and bought no new decorations? What if we declined invitations to parties with people we neither know nor like? What if we ignored advertising? What if We simplified and listened for hope in silence?
Indeed, what if the only way to find this new kind of kingdom is to find a new kind of Advent?
(The Christmas Cake Recipe will be tomorrow’s blog. The dinner with 9 friends lasted five glorious hours…we never got to the cake-making part! But we laughed a lot!)