Christmas 2 Study & Meditation

CHRISTMAS 2   01-03-2021

FIRST READING:  Jeremiah 31:7-14

Chapters 30-33 are a distinct section of the book of Jeremiah traditionally known as Jeremiah’s “Book of Comfort” or “little Book of Consolation”. Like the prophets who announce homecoming and salvation in the book of Isaiah, the prophet Jeremiah announces the joyous news of a homecoming of God’s people from faraway exile. There seems to some uncertainty among biblical scholars about whether Jeremiah is speaking in the late seventh century B.C. to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, seeking to encourage those who were left behind when many were killed or deported under the Assyrians in the eight century, this remnant still in northern Israel that continues to feel dispirited and dejected and defeated almost one hundred years later… or in the sixth century B.C. to the people of the southern kingdom of Judah after the city of Jerusalem has been sacked, the Temple destroyed, the king and his court departed or dead, and now these deportees who survived the journey to Babylon are dispirited and in despair in a strange land.

Through Jeremiah, God calls these people who are struggling and sorrowful – in whatever the circumstances – to break out into songs of joy and praise. God promises God’s people a great reversal – return and restoration! – that includes homecoming, tender shepherding as God’s flock, blessings of crops and livestock, tears turning to joy. The young women will rejoice with dance, the young men and the old men will be merry. People will be free and at home, tears will be dried and sorrow ended, abundance will fill and satisfy stomachs, God’s love and God’s power will draw the attention of the nations, and the humble gratitude and unlimited joy of God’s people will overflow.  

Here, in this passage, Jeremiah knows a “happy” song, a song of joy and praise. But for much of his ministry he was frustrated and dejected and singing the “blues” about being God’s messenger. It is not hard to find in the book of Jeremiah. The prophet expressed regret that he was ever born, he also accused God of deceiving him, he often complained and blamed God, and he is sometimes called the “weeping prophet”. What kind of song might you be singing in these days of your life’s journey? Are you satisfied with God, are you trusting God and full of praise? Are you angry and fearful towards God? Are you feeling thirsty and alone, desperately searching for God, wondering if God cares or even exists? 

Perhaps we will find strength for the journey as we listen to the scriptures in the Bible and to the saints in our lives who tell us of God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s patience, God’s promises… and God’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

 

SECOND READING:  Ephesians 1:3-14   

It is believed that this letter was not in fact written to any one church, but was a circular letter sent among all of Paul’s churches in the region of Asia. It is one of Paul’s “prison letters” written while he was either physically locked up behind bars or was confined to a house under soldier supervision. This situation of limited movement and activity created much “downtime” for Paul to think and reflect. No doubt, many of us who have seen our own movement and activity limited because of the COVID-19 pandemic for so many months now, can relate. Do you find yourself being more introspective about your own life, more reflective about what is going on in the world?

In this letter, Paul is asking and reflecting about: “What is God’s overall plan and purpose for this world?” The short answer is this: “To gather up all things in him [i.e., Jesus Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.” (1:10). In the Greek language, today’s reading of verses 3-14 is one single sentence, long and complicated. This isn’t because Paul lost his composition skills… he just got so excited that he could hardly control his response. 

In today’s reading Paul offers a benediction of God for what God has done and a celebration of how what God has done reveals who God is. His focus – as he speaks of what God has done – is completely, gratefully, and joyfully on Jesus Christ – how we are blessed in Christ, chosen in Christ, destined for adoption through Christ, 

redeemed and forgiven through Christ, given the knowledge of God’s will through Christ, given an inheritance in Christ, living in praise of Christ’s glory, gifted with the promised Holy Spirit through Christ. SOMETIMES, WHEN LIFE IS SO UNCERTAIN AND FAITH IS DIFFICULT, WE NEED TO BE AFFIRMED AND ENCOURAGED BY THIS TESTIMONY OF ALL THAT GOD HAS FREELY GIVEN US!

And what Paul says about what God has done reveals to us who God is. God is giving. God is loving. God is full of grace and mercy. Always. In truth, God gets angry sometimes. But that’s not God’s heart, God’s core. 

What does all this mean for our daily living? If God is, as Paul submits in 1:10, bringing everything together in Christ – we might think of the words “harmony” and “unity”, and of that great, all-encompassing Jewish word “shalom” – then how are we to live, what do we live for? Paul says in this reading that we have been chosen to be “holy and blameless” (1:4). The Greek word for “holy” means “different” – WE ARE CALLED TO BE DIFFERENT WITHIN OUR WORLD, in what we say, what we do, what we seek, how we interact with others. The Greek word for “blameless” means “without blemish” – WE ARE CALLED TO BE AS PERFECT AS WE CAN IN HOW WE LIVE IN RESPONSE TO GOD, bringing glory and praise to God by loving others, by helping to heal the world, by passing on the grace and forgiveness that we have experienced in Christ.  

Remember, you are chosen… adopted… given an inheritance… living in praise of Jesus Christ. God has created a new people and a new life. And God is calling upon us to create a new world of love and unity that transcends the racial, ethnic, and social distinctions between people. 

When people look at the Church, when people look at us Christians, do they see the Christ… do they see God’s plan and purpose revealed and unfolding? Let’s not focus on our imperfections, faults, and shortcomings as God’s people as we enter into Year 2021! Let’s focus on how loved, blessed, and empowered we are! Let’s continue to grow, to show, and to shine the light of Christ’s unifying love! May the Spirit of God breakthrough our small thinking and reveal to us more of who we are and what we have become through Christ.

 

GOSPEL READING:  John 1:1-18 

We look to the four Gospels for the proclamations of the arrival and birth of Jesus Christ into our world.

MARK has nothing to say. His account begins with Jesus as a grown man, coming from Nazareth to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.

MATTHEW tells of a genealogy that can be traced all the way back to the great Jewish patriarch Abraham

(and his wife Sarah) – 42 generations in all. He speaks especially of Joseph – Joseph’s righteousness, Joseph’s dream, Joseph’s obedience to God. He merely mentions the birth of Jesus with almost no detail. Then he tells of the visit of the wise men and their gifts; the escape of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to Egypt for a while to avoid Herod’s paranoia-turned-genocide; and their return after a while to Nazareth.

LUKE has the fullest account, one that is fairly familiar to us, including: 

     the angel’s visit to Zechariah, and the foretelling of John the Baptist’s birth;

     the angel’s visit to Mary and the foretelling of the birth of Jesus;

     Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, the mother-to-be of John, confirming Mary’s own pregnancy and causing Mary to

burst into song;

     the birth of John and his father Zechariah’s spoken prophecy;

     and, of course, the stated time in history and the census journey to Bethlehem… no room in the inn… the birth

and the baby placed in a feed trough… angels hovering and rejoicing, shepherds hurrying to see

and telling;

     then the naming of Jesus at 8 days;

     then the presentation of Jesus and Mary’s purification rite in the Temple at 40 days, leading to prophecies from

  old Simeon and also from old Anna;

     and, finally, the 12-year-old Jesus not as lost as his parents thought, in the Temple, in his Father’s house.

And then there is the JOHN… this Sunday’s reading. The first sentence in the Gospel of JOHN echoes the first sentence in the entire Bible to draw an unmistakable parallel between two unrelated texts that are separated by 2,000 years in the authorship (give or take a day or two).

The elegant words of GENESIS 1:1-3 read: 

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “LET THERE BE LIGHT”… and there was light.

JOHN begins his Gospel this way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Why does JOHN do this, begin his Gospel like GENESIS? Well, in JOHN 1:1-18, John the writer, the

deep thinker, John the poet wants to make two connections between GENESIS and Jesus. He wants to say:

#1    In Jesus, God created the world.

#2    In Jesus, God redeemed the world. 

JOHN wants to connect creation with redemption, the Creator with the Redeemer, first life with new life. The same eternal Word of God that had created life “in the beginning” was spoken forth again in the awesome new beginning of “the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

What God said in this awesome new beginning, this living Word, was born of a young woman
          in a stable in a little town. But JOHN doesn’t speak much about this.

What God said was expressed in a little, tender baby, dependent on others for nourishment,
          protection, and love. But JOHN doesn’t say much about this.  

What God said would grow up among us as one of us. And JOHN does say that.
What God said would be an infant, a toddler, a child, and a young man… and would be
          vulnerable to temptation and weariness, to fear and anger, to the hatred and sin of others and to death. And JOHN does tell the story of all this his way.  

JOHN’s interpretation of what God said to us is, in essence:

“LET THERE BE A LIGHT FOR THE WORLD!
LET THERE BE LIFE FOR THE PEOPLE!
I CREATED YOU, I LOVE YOU… AND NOW I AM REDEEMING YOU, SAVING YOU.
NOW LOVE ME BACK!”

Who would refuse a gift? Why are some people uninterested in the life-giving grace of God?

God has no other word to say, no other sign, no other light to give than this man Jesus, born to

       be our Brother, born to die our Redeemer. As the twelve days of Christmas approach their

       end, may we lay bare our hearts to God’s own Word, accept the message we have heard, 

       not refuse the Savior’s mission, and resolve to keep him, Jesus Christ, God’s Word among

       us, the Word-made-flesh, today and always.

God’s living Word in Christ continues to dwell among us and even inside each of us. May Jesus

       Christ shine out through us to a hurting world that knows the night and needs the Light!

“MERCY CHRISTMAS AND HOLY NEW YEAR!”

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