The Second Sunday after Christmas for Year B (January 4, 2015)

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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Jeremiah illustrates that God takes both credit and blame for the results of God’s own action in the world. Verse 10 anchors the other vivid details in this text — “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.” God both scatters and gathers, all in God’s time. Not that we always understand that timing, nor do we fully comprehend the significance of either the scattering or the gathering. But, we do come “from the farthest parts of the earth,” weeping, thirsty, blind, lame — and we find rest in God. Worth an amen, I think!

Sirach reminds us that God’s “timing” was put in place before there even was time — v.9 says, “Before the ages, in the beginning….” I wonder if God loves it when a plan comes together?

Psalm 147 encourages us to “count our blessings” (in the word of the old gospel hymn I grew up singing.) Just how many of those ways God has blessed can you count in this psalm portion — and in your own life? A great exercise to begin the new year, by the way — counting blessings and giving thanks to God.

Wisdom of Solomon gives us further reason to trust God, no matter the circumstances that surround us: the wisdom of God (here, personified) dwells with us — an ever-guiding presence.

The opening of Ephesians gives us a second accent on the idea that God has worked from “before the foundations of the world” (v.4) to secure our salvation — choosing us in Christ. Our salvation is 1.) through the blood (life-source) of Christ; 2.) brings forgiveness for sin (an awfully handy commodity), and; 3.) flows from the absolutely stunning riches of God’s grace (v.7).

There are few better texts for preaching a “New Year” sermon on beginnings than the opening of John‘s gospel. “In the beginning” takes us back to the Genesis account — where we are informed that the Word was present. In Genesis, God’s first creative act is bringing forth light (no sun or stars yet…just light, which I always find fascinating!) Now, John takes that light as the presence of Christ in the world — from the beginning, in John’s time, and in ours, too. Whatever 2015 holds, God is with us as the “Light of the world.” And the darkness will never overcome that Light!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In 1675 a fire destroyed most of London, England.  Therefore, many of London’s most impressive, beautiful, and famous buildings were built between 1675 and 1725.  In 1684 Sir Christopher Wren laid the cornerstone for what would be his greatest building, St. Paul’s Cathedral.

It took thirty-five years to complete.  When it was finished, Queen Anne took a tour of the building.

Wren waited breathlessly to see what she would say.  At the end of a through tour, the Queen pronounced her verdict.  “It’s awful, it’s amusing, it’s artificial.”

What?  “It’s awful, it’s amusing, it’s artificial?”  Wren must have been devastated, we think.  But he wasn’t. He was delighted.  In those days – awful meant, “full of awe, awe inspiring, awesome,” amusing meant, “amazing, unbelievable,” and artificial meant “artistic.” What sounded to us like a devastating critique was, to Wren’s ears, the highest praise.

Today’s Gospel lesson says that “The Word became flesh and lived among us.”  I am wondering how we make sense of this sentence in the modern world.  Perhaps it is as foreign to our ears and our understanding as the Queen’s praise of Wren’s Cathedral.

It must be admitted that the Incarnation, God’s act of become human, has been difficult to comprehend and accept in any time and any place, not just the West in the 21st Century.  Martin Luther said, “The mystery of humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.”  It is not a truth that can be explained by science or logic; it can only be proclaimed as revealed truth. But once it has been proclaimed, it can be explored so as to better understand the difference this mystery makes in our lives.

In these few verses, the writer of John two  philosophical and religious ideas current in the first century in order to get at what happened when God got born as a baby in Bethlehem. There is Logos from Greek philosophy which is the truth or wisdom of God.  Then there is the Jewish Biblical idea that when God created the world, God spoke the world into being, “God said, let there be light, etc.” (Genesis 1:3 and following.)  John then taps into the early church’s memory and proclamation about the man Jesus and the things he said and did.  He puts it all together with soaring, poetic prose to show us Jesus as the living expression of God’s truth and wisdom spoken into earthly existence.

John proclaims to us that Jesus was the living, breathing, very human, creative, and life-giving power of God. John shows us God on one side and humanity on the other and Jesus in the middle as the word which God spoke to us about God’ love and purpose for us all.

A few years ago at a funeral over which I presided, a young man spoke lovingly about his father, Henry, a working class guy, a factory worker.  The son had gone far, both far in life and far from home, studying in major universities in far-flung cities as he became first an M.D. and then a well-respected expert in his specialty.  At the funeral, the doctor said that often when he called home, he would apologize to his father for being so far away, for seldom being able to visit. And Henry would say, “It’s okay son, it’s okay.  Alexander Graham Bell was a great man.  He allowed us to go cheek-to-cheek anytime.”  Jesus was God’s way of going “cheek-to-cheek” with us.

This is important because it made God’s love for us real and tangible.  Holy love is like human love in that it has to be embodied in order to be experienced.  It is one thing to believe in “romantic love,” in two people finding their heart’s desire in each other, candlelight dinners, moonlight walks, eternal bliss. It is quite another thing for two people to live together, to struggle to work out their differences, to accept one another’s flaws and shortcomings, to live face-to-face in a living, breathing less than ideal but oh so realistic relationship.

So it is with us and the holy.  God became flesh and lived among us because God was not willing to be a far-off, spiritual ideal.  God knew that for the divine/human relationship to be real, it had to be fleshed out.  That “fleshing out” continues in the life of the church, the “body of Christ” as we embody our faith and love for God in our efforts to live lives of love with one another and the world.

Just like a marriage, it is seldom perfect, it is always a work in progress, it requires work to iron out our differences and accept one another’s flaws and shortcomings, to forgive and trust and love and go forward together.  It is difficult.  It is also “awful, amusing, and artificial.”

Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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