Monday, December 28, 2015

Mercy for Exiles – 3 January 2016 – Second Sunday after Christmas

As Ephesians explains our faith: “In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of God’s grace lavished on us.” We are to know the great blessings of the incarnation.

Yet we are called to answer questions asked by this world: Who is Jesus? Really. A memory? A miracle? A metaphor? Is his role in our lives defined by history or philosophy, art or another kind of experienced feeling?

This Sunday gives us Christ in images of light. We are preparing for Epiphany. And somehow the light is described by the bringing together of exiles. Is Christ about mercy toward the stranger? Could this be a word from God specifically for our time?

John 1:1-18

Eugene Peterson in his The Message translation renders John 1:10 this way: “He was in the world, and the world was there through him, and yet the world didn't even notice.” And yet the world didn't even notice. It's an odd note to sound in the wake of a month-long celebration of the birth of Christ, but the reality is the world has noticed Christmas, while there is serious doubt as to whether it has noticed Christ.

Of course, that's what the church's witness has been about, ever since the day John the Baptist came out of the wilderness, especially since the day he pointed to Jesus as the Christ: “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me'” (v 15). Not many people got it then, and not many people get it now.

The problem is, because it is so difficult to get people to see Jesus as the Christ of the scriptures, we in the church are tempted to make it easier for them by presenting a more visible and palatable savior. This is not a fault simply of liberals or conservatives, liturgicals or evangelicals, mainliners or megachurches; we are all guilty. We all try to present Christ in a way that is attractive to our niche of the culture. Though somewhat necessary, we must be careful not to bend Jesus out of shape, not to turn the Gospel into something it isn't. This text is a reminder to us of the unlikeliness of the story of Jesus and of our call to tell it as it is, trusting God to use our telling to open eyes and change lives.

Let us endeavor only to be faithful to the vision set before us. Nothing that outstrips Jesus of the hard edges of his witness will feed us in the end. We must listen to John who tells us that believing in the Word is life, even though the words about the Word can be misconstrued.

Jeremiah 31:7-14

How are people of faith to find our way in this world guided by the Word?

Consistent with the deepest values of the covenant, God will include those in the community who are most vulnerable (the blind, the lame, and those in labor). God guides the people through the desert by brooks of water and along straight paths on which they will not stumble. To a people in a semiarid land, the reference to brooks signifies that God provides all that they need even in the face of threat. God becomes a parent to Israel. The community is no longer orphaned (as in the exile) but is a part of God's family: they have a place and a protector.

. . . . The people will be radiant in the presence of overflowing produce, “life shall become like a watered garden” (a new Eden), young women and young men will be dancing and exchanging mourning for gladness, and “satisfied with [God's] bounty.”

Ephesians 1:3-14

Today's reading is a berakah, a traditional Jewish form of prayer that blesses God. . . . God is acting through Christ to adopt the Ephesians into God's family in the coming new world (the realm of God). Indeed, God had planned this adoption from the beginning of history and is now bringing it about. . . . God has given the Ephesians the Holy Spirit as a seal of the divine promise.

We await the redemption of this world, freedom for those who suffer under tyrants, peace for those whose villages are assaulted by the ruthless, food enough and shelter for those who wander without a home. But we know, as well, that where the Word resides, compassion has found its home for the infinitude of the Alpha and Omega has come to dwell with us in our finitude. Alleluia!

Contributing to this commentary:
Ronald J. Allen, professor of preaching and New Testament at Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, Indiana. Delmer L. Chilton, assistant to the bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA in Atlanta. Aaron J. Couch, co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church, Portland, Oregon. Virginia S. Wendel, Health Care Coodinator for the Cenacle Sisters, Chicago, Illinois.  

Homily Service 43, no. 1 (2009): 74-81.

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