Second Sunday after Christmas Day January 4, 2009 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Christmas 2 January 4 , 2008 Textweek

Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:(1-9), 10-18

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

We continue in the season of Christmas. Jeremiah talks of singing with gladness, of bringing all people together; he speaks of being kept as a shepherd a flock, of being ransomed and redeemed. He says in verse 12, ‘we shall be radiant and our life shall become like a watered garden’. Jeremiah is providing us with a post-Christmas image and Israel continues to bomb Gaza. The reality of Christmas continues to be an unrealized reality. It does not make it not true, if anything it calls us to look again and to look deeper.

And why is Christmas an unrealized reality? Perhaps it’s because we actually don’t appreciate the enormity of what Christmas is about. On Christmas Day the orthodox teaching of the church takes us to a celebration of the birth of Christ. Once that was established as a starting point, we then looked towards Jesus as our saviour, and it’s the man and the event of Christmas that is the turning point – Jesus is born and all will be well. This remains the foundation of the faith and the practice of the Christian church. The secular world adopts exactly the same process, and is currently engaged in that same process with Barach Obama as the Messiah – ‘he’s the one, let’s get him to sort it all out’. Today again, we’re invited to grow and to go beyond such simplistic Sunday School theology. As I said on Christmas Day, that was not Jesus’ birthday, it was Eddy’s birthday.

And John’s gospel gives us a more developed or more abstract appreciation of the process of Christmas. In verse 14, ‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.’ This is the beginning of John’s Gospel, the starting point of the revelation of Christ according to John. The nativity story, the one that we capture in carols, and in the readings of Christmas night and Christmas Day, is Luke’s version of that same Christmas process: the Word became flesh and lived among us. Somewhere in the reading, it received a literal interpretation such that most Christians have been taught that Jesus is the Son of God in a literal sense, and this son has a birthday and the birthday is at Christmas. “The Word became flesh and lived among us; we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth’ - as of a father’s only son. In its day that relationship of father and son is the relationship of life; in its day it’s the relationship of inheritance; in its day it’s the relationship of fulfilment, and so it is the closest, most honoured, most valuable of all relationships that we will have experience of. For John Howard that relationship the relationship is between husband and wife.

What Luke gives us in his nativity story is a dramatised illustration of the Christmas process. He draws on that most valuable of relationships to dramatise the process of Christmas, inviting us and seeking to help us to find an understanding as to what this is about. When I was writing these notes last night, at this point I could actually feel angry with the church, and I thought, it has misled us, it has left us with a teaching that completely misses the enormity of the truth that we can hear, almost feel, echoed in John’s words. ‘The Word became flesh’, the Word was in the beginning, the Word, the very breath of God, the voice of love, the power of creation – it is the same word that we hear in Genesis that moved over the waters of chaos and wrought everything into being. ‘The Word was in the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ ‘All things came into being through him?’ How did that get in there? The true reading of that is that all things came into being through the Word. And scholars that know languages better than me suggest that the Word has a feminine rather than a masculine connotation. It almost looks like a subtle slip, it almost looks like ‘we want this to fit with Luke’s version as well, and because Luke picked a ‘him’…”. As we stay with John’s gospel, ‘the Word was in the beginning was, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things come into being through the Word’. And what has come into being in the Word, was life and the life was the light of all people, a light that dispels the darkness’ And, in verse 11, ‘his own people did not accept him’ – Israel continues to bomb Gaza. But in verse 12 is the key the whole Christmas process: ‘To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God’. That’s the bit to get about Christmas: to all who received the Word, who believed in the voice of the Word, then there is power to become children of God’, and it’s that key that allows Paul to see ‘God has destined us’ - all of us - ‘for adoption as God’s children’. Paul says again in verse 11, ‘we have also obtained an inheritance’. To all who received the Word, who believed in his name, is given power to become children of God.

John, in the beginning, the prologue to John’s Gospel, underlines the significance of Christ: ‘No one has ever seen God. It is God, brackets, the only Son, brackets – that is, it is God enfleshed – who makes God known. Not someone from the past, but the Divine enfleshed, that makes God known. Christ has revealed that. All of the gospels seek to give us that, so that we can actually understand that God is revealed in and through us. Christ is the coming of the light: that’s what is revealed. Christ is the coming of the light, not as a person, not as someone to be worshipped, not as someone to have endless birthday parties for every December. Christ reveals the coming of light in humanity, the coming of light into all, including us – ‘all who receive and believe in God are given power to become children of God’.

Christmas is not a celebration of Christ, it is a celebration of the fullness of humanity; an invitation, an invitation that continues to wait to be realised. It’s a process, a process that calls us and leads us into our fullness into our Christ-likeness.

So happy Christmas!
Peter Humphris