THE SUNDAY NEXT BEFORE ADVENT
In the Church's reflection on the work of Christ in all its aspects, all that He did for us and does for us as our Saviour and Redeemer seems to be well summed up in three distinct functions. Jesus is our prophet, our priest and our king. This insight gets scant attention in our Prayer Book, but in Bishop Wordsworth's great hymn (Hymn 53) which we sing during Epiphany Season, we praise him as "Manifest at Jordan's stream, Prophet, Priest, and King supreme."All three functions are richly predicted in the Old Testament. But we need to observe that each, in its own way, contains a striking paradox.
As Prophet, Jesus is unlike any prophet before Him. The OT prophets pointed away from themselves to One far off in their future. Jesus, however, fulfilled that prophecy, Himself the incarnation of the message, and there-fore the conclusion of prophecy. Earlier prophets were obliged to say, "Thus saith the LORD." Jesus could say, "I say unto you." He is God's last, final and unchanging Word to us because He is the Word made flesh.
As Priest, Jesus offered Himself as sacrifice to satisfy the Divine justice, to propitiate the Divine wrath, and to reconcile sinners to the Father. So had every priest from the time of Abel. But whereas earlier sacrifices only foreshadowed the perfect and unique sacrifice, in the sacrifice of the Cross the satisfaction, propitiation and reconciliation is now final. But when Christ became our great high priest, He simultaneously became our Victim, On Good Friday, Isaac's question, "Where is the lamb?" was finally answered. Our Hymnal gives us St. Thomas Aquinas' great hymn, "O Saving Victim, opening wide." Too bad it omits Charles Wesley's equally great hymn, "Victim Divine, thy grace we claim."
But most paradoxical is the third office, which is appropriately celebrated on this final Sunday of the Church year, just before we sing the Advent Invitatory, "Our King and Saviour draweth nigh." Jesus never looked or acted like any king this world has seen. When He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He came riding a humble donkey. A Roman emperor would have come riding a majestic stallion, a powerful animal suitable for leading an army into combat. For Jesus, a small beast adapted to peacetime purposes was enough. In order to become the king predicted in today's lesson from Jeremiah, Jesus took the form of a servant. His only earthly crown was a crown of thorns. He displayed His royalty by washing the feet of His disciples.
Advent comes to remind us that He was "born to reign in us forever" as we pray, "Now thy gracious kingdom bring." LKW