The End of the Story

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Revelation 1:4b-8

[Note: in this sermon the passage will be read later in the body of the sermon]

One of the best things about this time of year, following thanksgiving—and you have to wait until thanksgiving is over—is the joy of bringing out the Christmas music and hearing or reading again the stories of Christmas. You know how they will end, but they never get old do they.

In the coming weeks we will enjoy great classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “The Gift of the Magi”, or White Christmas, or Dickens Christmas Carol or one of the many versions of that story including my favorite: Scrooged by Bill Murray. If you are not into the classics, maybe you go in for the Rudolf story or A Christmas Story with Ralphie scheming to get his Red Ryder BB gun… or even Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation—Whatever your cup of tea – it will be fun to remember those stories.

Today I want to remind you that we have a great story in the Christian faith. The church has been telling this story for centuries. It is the story that has changed lives and the world!

And you may not know this, but we’ve been telling this story all year long. A little bit at the time.

Today, we come to the end of the story. The story began almost a year ago in Advent when we unwrapped God’s greatest gift to us.

Advent is when we learn of the setting of our story of our faith: the world is living in darkness, in fear, in terror. We are hoping, longing and praying for God to come down and do something—please, do something.  “Tear open the heavens and come down!”

It is indeed a dark and stormy night for the world in Advent… and the story opens with people in prayer… hoping and waiting for God to do something.

During this time we listen to people like John the Baptist—the anti-Santa- telling us how to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. He encourages us to focus our vision in order to see the new thing God is about to do.

Then the light breaks into the darkness. We light our candles on Christmas eve to celebrate open the great good news of our faith: the Lord comes in the flesh—in person… to bring light to our darkness. To show us the way through the darkness.In spite of the cursing and violence and evil—we receive the gift of Good News, we have reason to throw our parties: for the Lord will be born among us… to deliver us. Immanuel- God is with us. Jesus is born!

And contrary to what many think, Christmas is not over in one day—no, we set aside 12 days to celebrate and linger over this good news (which is where we get that familiar, but very strange song, “partridge in a pear tree” song)

That’s a great way to begin our story. Some people may think that is the end, but it is only the beginning.

The next chapter in our story opens with the title: Epiphany. The word means manifestation. Today you might say it is Christ’s coming out party to the world!

The best known characters in this part of the story are those Magi. No sooner is Jesus born than some strange Wisemen from another country and religion come calling… they represent knowledge, wealth and achievement… people of the world:  but they are also spiritual seekers—so they have travelled to find God… and guess where they find God– the answers to their seeking —in a stable of all places!

And they are driven to their knees to worship. It seems the hopes and fears of all the years have been met for them that night. And each week we learn more and more about who Jesus is. We discover what makes Christ so special.

But then, the story turns. The child grows up- dedicated… raised by Joseph for a few years, then it seems like he is by a single mother, Mary. We get the feeling that Joseph must have died in Jesus’ childhood or adolescence. We don’t know what happened to him.

We hear nothing more about Jesus for years- until the day Jesus is baptized… tested, tempted—then ordained and installed for the work God has called him to do. His purpose in life.

He gathers that odd collection of disciples—not who I would have chosen—fishermen, tax collectors, Galileans… who are a mixture of fickleness and faithfulness… Turns out that they are broken sinners like the rest of us.

And in case you are the type to live in denial, we’ll offer you a season of Lent to think about your sins. And to repent and to pray.  And we’ll lead you to the one who gives hope for our renewal.

During this time while reflect upon our sins and we may also learn more about Jesus. Some of what we learn will disturb us and others. Jesus preaches, teaches and heals— who could object to that?

But the trouble begins when he starts eating and drinking with sinners… forgiving them… he is preaching good news to the poor, release to the captives… he has crossed the line.

The religious establishment sees him breaking all sorts of rules: Sabbath rules… Levitical regulations… And Jesus is a threat.

The crowds love him for the moment, but soon they will turn on him—being swayed by the politics of church and state. He becomes the enemy of the holy people and the political establishment. They can’t agree on much, but this one thing they do agree upon: we must rid the world of people like Jesus.

How does the hymn put it?
“I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame, the holy people said it was a shame, they whipped and they stripped and they hung me high. And left me there on the cross to die.

That was the day the music died for the disciples… and the sky turned black and darkness seemed to overwhelm the light… Once again, same old, same old.

As one person described it: “Darkness burnt into blackness, abysmal absence of anything good…”

And on that day, the story looks like it is over as we mourn for a world that would kill their God. As we see Christ crucified.

But as you know… it was not the end of the story. It was indeed a new beginning. Out of darkness and death comes life – new life.

Defeated disciples whose faith seemed to die on the cross with Jesus? Their faith is reborn thanks to God raising Jesus from the Dead.

Tears of sorrow and mourning turn to tears of joy and laughter. Hallelujah! The news is so good we have a 50 day celebration. Easter is full of joy and the laughter of love- the grave is empty – love has won. Christ is risen! Finally we can let loose and party!

And you might think THAT is the end of the story. But you would be wrong. For guess what… Jesus will leave them again— now on his own terms… he will ascend into heaven and he will leave his work in the hands of those same disciples who had denied him… (Would you have trusted your work to them?)

But he doesn’t leave them alone. Guess what, God sends the Holy Spirit and the church is born. The Holy Spirit will continue to teach them and encourage them and help them to be the Body of Christ on earth.

In fact, the Holy Spirit will inspire them in a way they have never been inspired before… the Spirit will gather them together, fill them with joy and new life… the Holy Spirit will fill them with the spirit of Jesus—the Spirit will help them dream dreams and have visions they had never imagined having.

For example (get this!)—the Spirit will tell these Jewish disciples that Gentiles are welcome to be a part of the family. Yes. Yes! Those pagans… and get this: they don’t have to be circumcised to be a part of Jesus family of followers. Who knew?!

And together, they would be led to love others as Jesus loved others. To tell people about our incredible God whose love never lets us go…

Together they would be called the church: the church of love, justice and mercy—people sent to prisons, to heal the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry… to reconcile…to forgive, to sing Alleluia where there is no music…

And so here we are today. The Body of Christ for the world. Working in the world that is a busted and broken world. Working for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.  And you might think ‘THIS” is the end of the story. But you would be wrong.

Because the Lord knows that the work we’re given is not easy work. We fight powerful forces within ourselves and in the world… forces that often oppose the cause of Christ.

The early church discovered this. Being the Body of Christ puts you at odds with the world in many ways… Following Jesus faithfully is hard. You might not blame people for giving up or giving in. It’s that hard.

It is looking like the story of Jesus is about to come to an end—and the world will win. But it is not the end. 

That’s what John wants to say to them and us.

John writes a letter which becomes the last book in the Bible—Revelation. It is a complex, mysterious letter from a pastor filled with scenes of scrolls and robes and angels and plagues and trumpets and horses and dragons and beasts and bowls and prostitutes and horses. It is as complicated as a Harry Potter story!

The letter is written in a heavily symbolic way that has given people much to discuss over the years, beginning with the question: How did the first readers of this letter understand it?

Because it is written by a real pastor in a real place to a real congregation going through very real suffering.

They were living at the time the letter was written under the succession of Roman emperors who demanded that they be worshipped as the “Son of God” Christians who refused to acknowledge these Caesars as Lord were being executed, simply for being followers of Jesus.

This kind of suffering raised very pressing questions for these people in this church John pastored about how God runs the world and how long God would let this injustice continue. [1]

So this is what John says to them:

Revelation 1:4-8

4John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. 8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

John reminds them that God is not done. Jesus is still Lord and King.

Read the rest of the letter and you will read of a God acting decisively to restrain evil and conquer all who trample on the innocent and the good.

In the end, wrongs are righted and people are held accountable for the destruction they caused. But the letter does not end in blood and violence…

No, the story ends with a beautiful vision of a new city, a new world God makes right in the midst of this one. In this world, Jesus, not Caesar—not democrats, not republicans… Jesus is Lord.

In this new world there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain because those former things are gone. John wants us them and us to remember our story will have a happy ending indeed because Christ is Lord and King. He shall reign forever and ever.

That’s why the church year ends with Christ the King Sunday… to remind us… to remind us… that the one we follow is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

So that when we struggle and worry and wonder– we may remember the one who is in control. It’s not earthly rulers – they come and go… it is Jesus Christ, the Lord God, the God almighty… the alpha and the omega—who is and who was and who is to come. He will reign forever and ever!

The story ends there because the one who was  in Bethlehem – giving hope and light and life to us… is the same one who will bring our story to an end… with an end to pain and tears and struggling. This is a happy ending indeed.

So today at the end of our year—our story:  let’s rejoice as the hymn says it, let’s rejoice that the Lord is King, the Lord and King adore, rejoice give thanks and sing and triumph evermore. Lift up your hearts, lift up your voice rejoice again, I say rejoice!.

Amen.

 


[1] Insights from Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins” p 112ff


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