Commentary on Colossians 1:11-20
Christ the King Sunday closes out the liturgical year with an emphasis on the divinity of Christ and Christ’s kingship of the universe.
A king on the ground
It is a day, liturgically speaking, that magnifies the otherness of Christ, reminding us of who has the final say in our lives. It is a fitting reminder of who God is in Jesus right as we are beginning to prepare to celebrate his arrival in a manger. It is tempting then, in emphasizing the supremacy of Christ’s kingship, to downplay his humanity. Maybe today is a day to wrestle with the expectation of a sermon about the work that Jesus Christ did in the heavens to reconcile us to himself. Naming and asserting Christ’s kingship should have real-life implications for those that are experiencing the sermon.
Today’s lection is one traditionally used for Christ the King Sunday and as such has lofty language about Christ’s kingship. However the fullness of who Christ is to us is seen through Christ’s humanity, and it is his humanity, his creaturely presence that serves as the evidence of his holiness.
The heart of this passage is Colossians 1:15, which tells us that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.” This phrase is by definition paradoxical, but its poetic nature helps us envision a God who is beyond our words. What we can know about a God that is beyond our sight, is seen in Jesus. This Jesus is the firstborn of creation (verse 15), the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in him (verse 19), and Jesus has rescued us from the power of darkness (verse 13).
These are all lofty theological concepts, but this passage in Colossians does not disconnect Jesus’ salvific, kingly responsibilities from the fact that he was here on the ground, as a flesh and blood man walking among us. Christ is the king, but this king lived on earth. Even with the beautiful hymn or at least hymn-like section of Colossians 1:15-20, the writer does not avoid language that puts Jesus amongst us. Creation was made through him (verse 16). He holds things together (verse 17). He is the head, or the source of the church (verse 18) and God reconciles through his blood (verse 20).
This passage opens up the opportunity to preach about a king that is on the ground with us. As a transition to the upcoming Advent season, how might this passion help us assert the kingship of Christ while affirming that his holiness doesn’t solely come from reign over the universe but also from his desire to be on the earth? This passage suggests that we have been given power, but to endure life here and now.
Preachers would do well to talk about power in tangible terms, so that the notion of Jesus offering us power does not remain an abstract concept. What really does it mean to have power? Power to do what exactly? And who or what does this power allow us to free ourselves from. Fredrick Douglass said that, “Power concedes nothing without demand.” Sermons on this passage might help congregations wrestle with who or what exactly Christ’s kingly power helps free us from.
This passage also presents an opportunity for preaching that explores what it means to have power to endure difficulty with joy (Colossians 1:11). Is it our new citizenship in the kingdom of Jesus that gives us the power and joy to survive (verse 13)? Is it the assurance that our sins are forgiven that gives us joy (verse 14)? Preachers might help the congregation wonder what aspects of their salvation give them the power to have joy as they endure. There is also room to explore in these first few verses the benefits of being transferred into the kingdom. Redemption and forgiveness of sins seem like such otherworldly rewards; is there anything in this life that comes from being in the kingdom? Indeed. We ground our kingdom citizenship in the lived reality of the community.
Saints in the light
Christ’s kingship has the benefit of bringing those that follow him out of the darkness. What is unclear and a great source for sermons from this passage is exactly what kind of darkness is being described.
Is the darkness that we are freed from a darkness of sorrow? Does our membership in the kingdom aid our ability to handle sadness as it creeps? Possibly the power to have joy speaks to the breaking of this kind of darkness.
Maybe darkness here is a signifier of sin, and that the power that Christ offers through membership in the kingdom breaks the power that sin has over our lives.
Darkness also regularly signifies a lack of awareness in biblical parlance. What do saints in the light (Colossians 1:12) not recognize that they were not able to before following Christ?
There is space here to wrestle with what we become aware of once we come to Christ. If everything is made through Jesus and for Jesus, then the implication is that those that follow Jesus are “remade” through him as well. This still begs the question: What do we know see in the light that we were dark to before?