First Sunday of Advent

Christ in Majesty by Andrei Rublev, 1410

November 28, 2021 Lectionary Texts — Year C
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
I Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36


Today marks the beginning of a new year — the liturgical church calendar begins with the season of Advent. We step out this first Sunday in the hope of what is to come — and that ultimate hope focuses us on Christ and the time when He will come “with power and blazing glory” as He tells the disciples in the Luke 21 passage.

I present to you a Christian icon form originating in the early centuries of the faith. The church of the past would have been quite familiar with this image of Christ. Known as Christ Enthroned, Christ in Power, Christ in Glory or Christ in Majesty, we see Christ seated on a throne dressed in gold, rays of glory shining out from behind him, his feet resting on a platform supported by spinning wheels surrounded by angels (we can see their faces among a flurry of wings) and the four creatures (faintly in the red at the image corners. This is an illustration of the vision from Ezekiel 1-3 where Ezekiel sees the Son of Man in glory.

Icons are important images not only for what they illustrate. They also teach and contain important symbolism. A quick walk through this particular form shows us a red diamond shape behind Christ symbolizing earth and a blue oval representing heaven. These are a nod to Christ’s dual nature of both God and human. Then we have those four creatures long understood to represent the four Gospel writers. Here the red rectangle they “stretch” out is their presentation of Christ to the world. We see the red letters at the top of the image “IC XC” — these are the Greek abbreviation for the name “Jesus Christ”. Letters on the cross shape within Christ’s halo spell “I AM” in Greek. The book held is an open Gospel. Christ gestures a blessing with his right hand.

Rublev is considered the master of the Russian icon tradition and his version of this form here is no exception. New for me looking at this icon was the symbolism of “heaven is round/earth is square”. Early church structures such as the Hagia Sophia were constructed precisely around this symbolism — a square base with a round dome on top. I continue to be amazed at how theology is repeatedly incorporated into the things early Christians created. This really resonates with me. I find myself wanting to do the same in my work.

To ponder… What about this image is hopeful? grounding? centering?

There will be earth-shattering events —the heavens themselves will seem to be shaken with signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars. And across the earth the outsider nations will feel powerless and terrified in the face of a roaring flood of fear and foreboding, crashing like tidal waves upon them. “What’s happening to the world?” people will wonder. The cosmic order will be destabilized. And then, at that point, they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and blazing glory. So when the troubles begin, don’t be afraid. Look up—raise your head high, because the truth is that your liberation is fast approaching.

LUKE 21:25-28

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