Rev. Teri Peterson
Ridgefield-Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church
Here We Go Again
November 25 2007—Christ the King C
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’
I have some confessions to make today. First, I have to tell you that I am somewhat cynical when it comes to matters of capitalism, consumer culture, materialism, and mass marketing. Second, I have to tell you that I spent 14 hours at Disneyland while I was visiting family in California last week, and I loved every single minute of being there. In spite of the blatant marketing to children, in spite of the consumerist mindset, in spite of the excess, it truly is a magical place and I was definitely swept up in the Disney holiday magic. It’s a Small World was lavishly decorated, the rides were fun, the food was good, the level of detail was impressive, the Castle was covered in snow and twinkling lights—even though it was 70 degrees and sunny.
I’ve been to Disneyland before—once before, to be precise—20, or possibly 21, years ago this Christmas. My brother was so young he was in a stroller, and now he’s 21 years old. All I remember about that trip is getting a red Mickey hat with my name embroidered on the back. So this time, when my brother and I walked through those front gates, we were like little kids all over again. We ran and skipped and frolicked, we waited in lines, we made jokes, we rode rides, we explored nearly every inch of both Disney parks in those 14 hours. Though we had been there before, the whole thing seemed new, it was like it was our first time.
Now I know you’re sitting there thinking “well, you were very small children and it was a long time ago” and that’s true. But it’s also true that this kind of thing happens to us all the time. We return to things we have done before and they seem new. And there are some things where perhaps it should happen, but instead we come to the place or the time of year and it all seems old-hat, like nothing new could ever happen.
That’s a little like how I feel about Christ the King Sunday. This is a weird Sunday—it doesn’t always appear in the liturgical calendar, but most years it’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It’s the last Sunday in the church year—sort of a liturgical New Year’s Eve. As I’m sure many of you know, our liturgical calendar begins with Advent, moves through Christmas and Epiphany, Lent and Easter, Pentecost and Ordinary Time, bringing us to Christ the King Sunday, and each season has a color and often a theme. Our calendar uses a three-year cycle of Scripture readings, and today marks the last day in this cycle. Next Sunday we are in Advent, a new year has begun. But this Sunday we are on the cusp of the cycle, waiting for the dawn. Normally we would be talking about how Christ is King of our lives, or how God is more powerful than any human monarch, or some other sort of regal topic. Sometimes we read crucifixion stories and hear about God’s love breaking human power. It’s the same theme every year, and this is my fifth time in a row preaching it, and after a while it just feels old, like we’ve been here before. I imagine that’s how many of us feel, year after year, as we approach Christmas and its attendant consumer joys. Here we go again…didn’t we just do this? Haven’t we bought all the presents by now? Haven’t we heard the story a hundred times before?
Poet T. S. Eliot writes:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Yes, we have done it a hundred times before. Time does not in fact march ever onward. The seasons, the clocks, the calendar, and the church year show us what time really is—a circle. We repeat the cycle because there is such value in hearing the story again, in returning to the place where we started. Remembering is an important thing, and it’s what our liturgical calendar helps us to do. It’s not just a way to move from green to purple to white decorations, it’s a way to remind us what God has done and to open our eyes to what God is still doing, to be formed by God’s story. Because, of course, you can’t really go home again, can you? The circle may actually be more like a spiral—we return to the same place but we know it for the first time. There is something new waiting for us around this bend.
Zechariah sings about remembering—about remembering God’s promises, being reminded of the covenant. God has looked favorably on the people and we too have remembered the covenant. But it’s not only about remembering. There is a forward part of the circle, too—as Eliot says, we shall not cease from exploration. Zechariah’s son, John, will go before the Lord, will prepare the way. The dawn from on high will break upon us to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. However dark things are in the last part of the circle, light comes again. The shadow death casts is long. When you are sitting in its darkness, dawn seems impossible. When you live in a world like ours, ways of peace seem unlikely. But this dawn is not just the usual spinning of the earth on its axis, this is God breaking into our cycle, this is the dawn from on high—the dawn to which we return year after year…always to find it as though it is the first time.
Our faith tradition leads us each year to a new old thing. Some people lately have taken to calling Christianity an Ancient-Future faith, or to calling themselves an Ancient-Future church. Whenever I hear this, I wonder where the present is—what about now? But I also think there’s something right about this. We arrive where we started, and we know the place for the first time. We hear new things in old stories, we sing old songs with new words, we practice an ancient faith in a forward-looking world.
On this last day of the liturgical calendar, we are pointed toward Advent but, like any other New Year’s Eve, we are looking back as well. We look back on a year walking with Jesus through the gospel of Luke and forward to a year in Matthew’s gospel, we look back on God’s promises and forward into Advent looking anew at the promise of light for the world, we look back on all God has done for us and forward at the beginning of all things with a Word, and we look again for the coming of the true King. Zechariah has broken his silence, John is preparing the way, and we journey again toward God’s vision of light and peace. Though we have been here before, we will once again know it for the first time. There is something magical about it—about the waiting and the singing and the images, about living the story over and over. We thought we knew it, but our memories have gaps that exploring the circle can fill, we’ve missed things before, and God has new things to say even using the old stories and songs.
You may notice that this service seems a little different than some. It’s sort of a circle like the liturgical calendar, like my Disney trip, like life. The end is like the beginning, but it’s also different. We can see and hear new things even in the old tunes. We explore together, and we arrive where we started and know it for the first time, this time in the light.
Thanks be to God.
 T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets: Little Gidding, V.