Old Testament Reading
For thus says the LORD: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel.”
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.” For the LORD has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the LORD.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
John 1:(1-9), 10-18
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. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But 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. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Last week we heard in Luke 2:41, Mary and Joseph lost Jesus, and then found Him again in the temple where Jesus asked his parents a question we could all ponder: Why were you searching for me? Mary treasured these things in her heart. Before that happened, after the birth of Jesus the shepherds came to see the baby and when they left we are told that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
So picture yourself as a shepherd. It is dark but they are far out in the country so the stars are clear and it is so quiet, they can hear far off, as more people pour into Bethlehem. I imagine a moment when the groaning of childbirth has ended, and Joseph wraps the baby and places him in an exhausted Mary’s arms, where everything just stops. Silence. There was a line that I read somewhere that taught me a new word. The word is plangent and it means reverberating or resounding.
It went something like this” The silence in the stable after Jesus’ birth, was as plangent as any clanging bell.
Kind of but not exactly like the silence after you have had family at the house all day and now they have gone home. The silence after a funeral, the dinner eaten, and again, the family has gone home. The church service over and the last person has left, locking the door behind them. That silence is loud. The silence out in the field with the sheep, just before the angels started singing and telling the shepherds to get up! Go! See! And then tell!
This week we get this beautiful end of the silent void when God spoke the world into existence which is where the book of John begins. I was drawn to this scripture over and over but at the same time, I could not think of anything I could say that could be better than just what it is. So I decided to just talk about how I came at it from different directions. How I pondered it in my heart. We know the power of words. Words can cut deep and sometimes those words once spoken, cannot be taken back or erased. Words can heal and lift up. Words can be creative. Poems and prayers and songs.
Sometimes silence can speak better than words ever could.
Now, just a few details, sort of a commercial break. Some of you may know that each week we go by scripture readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. The lectionary is on a three year rotation – years A, B, and C. We are beginning year C. Each of the years features one of the gospels so one year we will read mostly from Matthew, the next mostly from Mark, and the next mostly from Luke. The Lectionary is used by a variety of churches. Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, and others.
John does not get his own year, but instead is scattered throughout the other three years, most often around Easter. The other three gospels are filled with the things Jesus said and did, but John’s primary focus is who Jesus IS.
Mark introduces Jesus to us as an adult. Matthew and Luke tell the story of Jesus from His conception and birth. John takes us even further back.
So maybe it is appropriate to begin the new year with this poetic image that places Jesus, not just beginning with His birth, but at the very beginning of creation. Now THAT is something to ponder in your heart!
There is a beautiful quote by Saint Augustine that shows that even people who have achieved sainthood spend time pondering these things.
“He was created of a mother whom he created. He was carried by hands that he formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy. He. The word. Without whom all human eloquence is mute”
One pastor wrote and I quote “The spirit of a man is the candle of the Lord, and it was the eternal Word that lighted this candle.”
We are told in Exodus 33:19-20 (God was speaking to Moses) Then the Lord answered, “I will show my love and mercy to anyone I want to. So I will cause my perfect goodness to pass by in front of you, and I will speak my name, YAHWEH, so that you can hear it. But you cannot see my face. No one can see me and continue to live.”
This seems very clear but just before this passage there is Exodus 33:11 Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.
Well wait a minute…
Okay. I had to look further into that. I am not Cheryel so I will probably butcher the pronunciation but in Hebrew, this word that was translated into “live” in English is “Chayay” This word “Chayay” is used in other places in scripture and was meant not necessarily as a word describing mortality but instead it meant revived or strengthened inside. Jesus used it when He quoted scripture in response to temptation in the desert. Man isn’t revived or strengthened by bread alone, but he is revived and strengthened by God’s word.
So in Exodus, we are being told that no one can actually “see” God and continue as if nothing happened. We are changed. We are revived and strengthened inside.
In John 14:9 we read Jesus answered, “Philip, I have been with you for a long time. So you should know me. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father too. So why do you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Throughout the old testament, God chose people who would speak to specific groups, prophets who would try to communicate who God is and how God wanted them to live. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet and most of the book of Jeremiah is Jeremiah telling the people what they are doing wrong and what is going to happen if they continue. His job was not a good one and I have a feeling he was not invited to a lot of parties. But we get this one glimpse in todays’ reading, of what God wants for His people. It is hopeful and joyful!
You can probably tell by now, that I am just kind of dancing all around this reading in John. But maybe that is John’s point.
Something that I noticed in these readings today after a conversation with Marion, is that the word love is only used once, in Ephesians. . Not one time other time.
God spoke. He spoke the world into being. He spoke us into being. In the Old Testament He spoke through the prophets. At Christmas He spoke love by making love visible. We, His people, just could not quite understand when the prophets spoke God’s word. When they spoke of his laws, of obedience, of worshiping Him above all else.
So the Word put on flesh and showed us. The Word from the beginning, that created all things, the light, came down to earth in the closest way that we humans could understand. The love of a parent for a child. And then that child grew and through the way He lived again, showed us what the scripture means in Micah 6:8 Mankind, he has told each of you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
The plan that through Jesus Christ, God would gather all things to himself. The letter to the Ephesians speaks about how God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Jesus was there.
We worshiped and waited through advent because we know that The Word was at the beginning and then we celebrated Christmas because the Word put on flesh and walked the earth. We are called to follow His example in how we live and because we can’t do it in our own power, He left the Holy Spirit, to convict, to nudge, to intercede and be with us here and now, and now we are the church, the body. Kingdom people and Christ will be coming back for us. So we celebrate the life and light and love that came into the world through Jesus Christ.
Now we move towards the Sunday when we celebrate Epiphany. Webster’s dictionary defines the word epiphany as a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way. I think in order to do that we have to not only read the Word, but treasure up these things and ponder them in our hearts. I invite you this year, to recommit your life and your heart to following Jesus Christ.
I would like to pray now and if you would like to pray with me, you will find the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer on page 607 in your hymnal.
The Wesleyan Covenant Prayer
“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”