As I was growing up, I cherished my independence and couldn’t stand being told what to do.
My parents, knowing I valued my liberty, showed great wisdom when it came to giving me dating advice. When I finally met a nice young man at summer camp whom they actually liked, my parents slyly used reverse psychology to encourage the match.
I remember my mom and dad casually saying, “He’s nice; it seems like he would make a great friend, but I don’t think he’s someone you would ever want to date.”
It’s a good thing my parents knew me as well as they did, because it just so happens that man has been my husband for 16 years.
The desire to choose our dating partners isn’t unusual for a teenager living in Canada. We live in a culture that values personal freedom and the pursuit of happiness above all else, fostering an attitude of defiance toward anyone or anything that would curb our so-called freedom or quest for happiness.
Yet that’s just what we’re called to as Christians. We’re called to forfeit our autonomy and subject ourselves to an authority who would lay claim over all aspects of our lives, including our happiness. Therefore, it’s not surprising that biblical references to Jesus as “king,” “lord” or “ruler” clash with our modern sensibilities.
Recognizing Jesus as Lord
Over the past few years, our congregation has celebrated Christ the King Sunday at the end of November. This year, it falls on November 23.
Even though this is a new observance for us, it’s something Christians have done for centuries as they follow a religious calendar that orients the year around the events of Jesus’s life. Structuring the year this way can be a valuable tool to re-centre our lives on Christ and away from ourselves.
The year begins with Advent, a season to remember and await the coming of Christ. It continues as we follow Jesus through his baptism and ministry, journey with him to Jerusalem and the cross and experience the joy of his resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Finally, at the conclusion of the Christian year, Christ the King Sunday serves as the climax of our journey through the life of Christ. It highlights Jesus’ lordship over the church and focuses our hope on the already-present-yet-coming kingdom of God.
Handing over the keys
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul encourages the church to put their hope in the reality that Christ is already reigning over creation – over all powers and authorities. Paul proclaims that God has “raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:20–21).
In our context, we must concede that Christ’s authority also extends to our own private dominions, challenging claims to autonomy. To say that Christ is king requires us to hand over the keys to our personal kingdoms.
In the midst of clamouring ideologies, powers and authorities, the present reality of Christ’s lordship is good news. In fact, the bulk of Ephesians describes the benefits given to all who name Christ as king.
Contrary to what we might expect, when we lay aside personal freedom to become servants of Christ, we discover we’re exalted with Christ (2:4–7). Instead of limiting our chances for personal happiness, when we bend the knee to Christ, we’re called children of God and given the privileges of inheritance and the gift of his Spirit (1:13–14, 17–19; 5:1).
Finally, the lordship of Christ empowers us with the responsibility and strength we need to grow into the full maturity of Christ – not only for ourselves, but also for the sake of the world (1:17–19; 2:10; 4:14–16; 6:10–13).
When we surrender our lives to the lordship of Christ, we discover that the good life we crave is actually the life we’ve been created for: a life defined by truth, faith, peace, generosity, forgiveness, thankfulness and love. Under the lordship of Christ who is already seated at the right hand of the Father and ruling over all things, we find true freedom and happiness as God’s beloved children.
Now isn’t that worth setting aside a Sunday to celebrate every November?
Tabitha VandenEnden is co-pastor at Grantham MB Church, St. Catharines, Ont., and is currently on maternity leave.