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Second Sunday of Christmas
Pastor Anke Deibler
- Jeremiah 31:7-14
- Psalm 147:12-20
- Ephesians 1:3-14
- John 1:1-18
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Eleven days ago, we celebrated Christmas Eve. We heard the story about Baby Jesus in the manger, surrounded by Mary and Joseph and the shepherds from the field. The pageant our kids performed showed us wise men and women adoring the baby, and angels praising God. Very specific characters met in a very specific place when Jesus Christ was born.
In his gospel account, John goes the completely opposite way: he goes cosmic. The only concrete person he names is John the Baptist who announces that something amazing is going to happen to reveal God’s grace. When that something takes place, according to John, it is a cosmic event.
“In the beginning,” the gospel begins. And every astute reader of the Old Testament sits up and takes notice. We know that line. That’s how the Bible begins. That’s how the creation of the world begins. That’s how God’s story with all people begins. That’s how God’s love story with the world begins. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
How did God create? By simply speaking the word. “There shall be …” God said, and there was. There shall be a separation of water and land, and there was. There shall be living creatures populating land, sea, and air, and there were. There shall be planets in the sky giving rhythm to days and seasons and years, and there were. God’s word is so powerful it can create just by being uttered.
What is the first thing God’s creative word makes happen? Light. When God sets out to order the chaos, the formless void of things before the creation, the first thing he says is: “Let there be light.” And there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness and called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
Let’s compare this story of the first creation with the story John is telling us today about Jesus’ coming into the world. Please turn to page __/the screen. On the internet I found this wonderful side-by-side of the two texts. I would like us to read this in two groups.
Isn’t this amazing? John is using the creation story to tell us about Jesus. What does it mean that Jesus entered the world? It means that a new creation has begun in him. A new powerful word of God has been spoken. A new light has begun shining on this world and on God’s people. A new love story of God toward the people has started. A new lavish world has been opened up for us: from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace, John writes. A new abundant, blessed, lavish place is available to us, a new Garden of Eden, where grace abounds.
Our Christmas celebration was 11 days ago. Somehow, it seems longer, doesn’t it? We spend so much time and energy and money on preparing for the feast; buy presents and decorate the house and play Christmas music and cook and bake. And then, poof!, it’s over.
By now, the new gifts have been put away and maybe the tree has been taken down, and the radio stations have moved on to other music. Somehow, bereft of holiday decorations, our house looks bare and empty. The days are still dark, many of them were rather dreary, and all the news programs at the turnover from one year to the next remind us that the world is still a mess.
It’s easy to wonder if Christmas is real. What kind of meaning does it have? Two weeks later, does Christmas still matter?
Against this kind of depressed speculation and doubt, John writes the opening chapter of his gospel account. Absolutely Christmas matters. What happened in the birth of Jesus has huge consequences, cosmic consequences. What began with the coming of Christ is that God has made his powerful, creative word heard in a new way. A new creation is taking place. A new story is emerging. A new beginning is taking shape.
I am now switching to the reading from Jeremiah this morning as an example for why the emergence of a new story is good news.
Jeremiah was a prophet in the capitol Jerusalem before, during, and after the fall of the Kingdom of Judah. The Babylonian army destroyed the city and took 10,000 people into captivity in Babylon, present-day Iraq. There these captives sit and wonder what in the world just happened and what it meant. What would their future look like; did they even have one? Where was God in all this; did he still care about them?
The Prophet Jeremiah answers these questions with a resounding: Absolutely. In fact, God cares so much, he will offer the people a new start, a new beginning. God will gather the people from all the places where they have been deported. Even children and old people, the lame and the blind will be gathered and brought home. God will be like a father and like a good shepherd to them. There will be plenty of water and grain, oil and wine, flocks and herds. God will change their mourning into joy, their sorrow into gladness.
What makes all this possible? God’s forgiveness. God ransoms Israel. God redeems the people from hands too strong for them, as Jeremiah puts it. God’s grace will be lavished over a desperate, suffering people.
How will this happen? Verse 7: “Thus says the Lord.” Verse 10: “Hear the word of the Lord.” God’s powerful, creative word opens up this new beginning, this new story, this re-creation of a people and their relationship with God.
God is forgiving and re-calling and re-creating a people. Out of love and grace, God is offering the people a new beginning. Compare that to these verses from John: “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
In Jesus Christ, God is inviting us into a new story, a new beginning, a new creation. We are reborn through the powerful word of God that showers us with grace and claims us a God’s children. We are the new people God is forgiving, redeeming, re-calling, re-creating.
In our baptism, God named us as his children forever. God called us beloved sons and daughters. No matter what anyone in the world says to us or about us, God’s voice of grace has called us beloved sons and daughters.
One pastor shared this story on-line: A number of clergy were gathered at a conference. During one Bible study, they were all supposed to share a name or title they would like to claim for themselves, something that would describe them. Around the circle they went, sharing their words.
Eventually, it was the turn of a younger pastor who said: “The only word I can come up with for myself is “worthless”, because that is what my father always called me.” And then he began to weep.
There was stunned silence in the room. Nobody knew quite how to respond. Finally, an old pastor got up and went to this young man. He placed both hands on his shoulders and said: “You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The word of God opened up a new beginning for this young man. He was re-created through the power of God’s baptismal calling. He was touched by God’s grace and uplifted, forgiven and re-claimed.
That is the true power and the lasting joy of Christmas: That Jesus’ birth connects us with God’s forgiving grace and allows us new beginnings. When the world tries to label us, when we regret things we have said and done, when a chapter of our lives seems to close, when a relationship has ended, when a business has failed, when we have already broken our New Year’s resolutions, God invites us to new beginnings. God is interested in starting a new love story with us. God is always and forever calling us his beloved sons and daughters.
This will not change, no matter how bare our houses look or how messy our lives are or how scary this world is. We are God’s children forever. This grace and truth came into the world through Jesus Christ, and from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. Amen.