Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
(Texts for Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon are not included in the teaching plan, but are covered in the previous Year A commentary — see link above.)
One of the more striking features of this text (among several, actually) is its future orientation. The action of the Lord in redeeming and restoring Israel is in the future. They will be carried away into exile (as Jeremiah has prophesied throughout the book) and they will suffer — but, they will also be preserved and brought home. The promise is that, even before and in the midst of suffering and trials, God’s people can pray “faithfully” — having faith in advance — for God’s deliverance.
How hard or easy is this to do? What makes it possible to have faith “in advance?”
There are a number of very tangible illustrations in this psalm. God strengthens the “bars of your gates;” God fills the belly with “the finest of wheat.” These are items that people can feel with their hands and know in their guts (literally!)
The storms that are mentioned are quite experiential, as well; who hasn’t felt the force of snow, ice, wind, or water? God’s presence and power are just as tangible as these elements. In what ways have your experiences — the everyday things you feel and touch — taught you about God’s presence with you? If you have never stopped to consider how God is just as close as the wind across your face or the steel-reinforced walls within which you dwell– give it a try this week!
It might be more than a bit mind-blowing to consider that God planned for our redemption in Christ “before the foundation of the world.” Before there was light or the sun or the stars; before there were seas or land or birds or cattle; before God ever breathed the “breath of life” into the first human being, God planned for our wandering and our return. How can that be? How wonderful is that?
John 1:(1-9), 10-18
The beginning of John’s gospel is quite different than that of the other three writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke.) There’s no baby born in a manger here; rather, there is a Word that exists before anything else — a Word that is with God and actually IS God! This same word becomes flesh and lives among human beings. John lets us know that he has Jesus in mind as he writes these things, by connecting him to John the Baptist, the word given to Moses, and the grace and truth that come from God as a proud heavenly Father.
How many things about Jesus can you learn from John’s description here in these first few verses? Make a list of the characteristics John includes. Also, discuss what the word “incarnation” means (anybody have a dictionary on their smartphone or laptop?) This is a big idea for John — one that he will write more about throughout the rest of his book.
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Several years ago, before my Daddy died, I went to see him and my Mama in the old farm house out in the country from Mount Airy, NC. As I headed out the two-lane road from town to the farm, I started to notice that every farm had what I grew up calling a “pole light” — an electric light that illuminated the farmyard all night. I played a game with myself, trying to see if I could find a place in that 8 mile stretch where I was out of sight of one of those lights. It couldn’t be done. All the way out into the country, a new yard light would appear up ahead before the last one was out of sight in my rear-view mirror.
So, I changed games. I decided to count the houses that didn’t have a pole light. Again, it couldn’t be done. Every house, every shed, every trailer and barn was awash in the purplish florescent glow of pole lights. Every one, that is, except Daddy’s. There was that big old farm house, sitting forlorn and silent and DARK in the middle of a field, not a speck of light visible except a night light near the kitchen window.
As I pulled into the driveway, I laughed quietly to myself, “Leave it to Daddy to be the only person for miles around too cheap to have a light in the yard.” I got out of the car and gathered my things, and being too cheap and too careless to own a flashlight, I stumbled through the dark toward the back door, I fell over the lawn-mower and raked my shins over the well-house and bloodied my nose by walking directly into the corner of the house. Finally, I stumbled into the house and Daddy called out from the bedroom, “Well, you’re here then are you? Cut that light out in there. It’s burning ‘lectricity.”
Sometime the next day I pointed out to Daddy that his was the only house on the road without a yard light and, as politely as I could, I asked him why he did not have one. He looked at me, rubbed his nose, took a deep drag on his cigarette and said, “Well son, I was born in this house almost 80 years ago, in this very room. I’ve lived here my whole life. I know where everything out there is, so I don’t see as how I need a light.” In that moment I realized that pointing out to Daddy that other people might need a light to get around in his backyard was unlikely to be a persuasive argument, I let it go and forgot about it. Until this week, when I was reading today’s Gospel lesson, especially these words, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Then my experience of stumbling about in the dark in Daddy’s backyard came rushing back to me. There is one way in which my Daddy and God Almighty were alike; they had both been wandering around their respective back yards for a long time, they knew everything that was there and they didn’t need a light. But unlike Daddy, God has taken account of the visitors and strangers stumbling around in the world’s darkness and God has provided a light to show us the way. The true light, which enlightens everyone, has come into the world. Jesus Christ, the light of the world, has come to show us the way.
Our Gospel lesson begins with the words, “In the beginning.” This is a deliberate echo of the first words of the Bible, of Genesis, of the time of creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” John connects Jesus to that creative moment, when light first shined into the darkness of the world. In the time of the Exodus, when the Children of Israel escaped The Pharaoh in Egypt and headed for the Promised Land, they wandered in the desert and were guided by a “Pillar of Cloud by day and a Pillar of fire by night.” More light. Light is an image, a metaphor, we use all the time almost without thinking.
When someone gives us new information that helps us to understand something, we say they have “shed new light” on the subject.” What is the cartoon symbol for a good idea? A light bulb. We usually refer to a very good plan as a “bright idea.” We say an intelligent person is “very bright.” We refer to an indistinct time after the end of the Roman Empire as the Dark Ages and we call the time when education and learning began to expand as “The Enlightenment.”
All these references play off one essential idea: ignorance and the darkness of sin and suffering go together; while education and intelligence and learning will throw off that darkness and bring healing and wellness. It’s a wonderful idea. There’s just one problem with it. It isn’t necessarily so.
While it is true that education can and does improve life, it is also true that simply an increase in learning is not enough to change the human heart. Our current economic crisis was created by some of the smartest people in the country, people whose good sense and prudence and concern for others was overcome by their willingness to do whatever it took to make money. The simple truth of the matter is that a simple increase in knowledge will not change the human heart.
That is why Christ came. That is why Christ still comes. We need a light that learning and intelligence and technology cannot provide. We need to learn the lessons of love and caring and compassion and sacrifice. These are lessons that can only be taught by example, most especially the example of a Living God who has come into our midst to show us the way. “And the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
God becoming flesh and living among us shows us that God was not willing to let us wander about the universe in the dark. And God knew that the light we needed had to be more than words on a page and instructions from a pulpit. The light we needed had to be “fleshed out,” and this fleshing out began in the birth and life, and yes the death and resurrection of Jesus.
And, this “fleshing-out” continues in the life of the church. The church is the body of Christ. We don’t represent the body of Christ, we don’t stand in for the body of Christ, it is not an image, or metaphor or simile. We are not a symbolic idea, we are a fleshly reality. We are called to embody our faith and love for God in our efforts to live lives of love with one another, and in the world.
The world is still dark. It is still in need of light. We are still called to be that light, beginning in our own backyard and expanding out into the whole world.
Amen and amen.