Sermon - Christmas 2 Years A, B and C - | DB Home | RCL Resources Index |
Christ in creation
[Note: For a word on millennial prophecy, judgment
and hope see the sermon for Advent 1 B: Waiting for
For a sermon on the theme of Epiphany see next week in Year C: The mystery of being included.
For an application of the theme of Christ in the world to work for justice and freedom see the note on Thomas Marsom's hymn May this new year ]
How quickly we move from Christmas to New Year! We move from the other-worldly wonder of angels and the special birth, from sacred songs, symbols and sentiments, to worldly excitement and hopes of achievement, ans to reliance upon human effort in secular time; we move from the church and the home, to the beach, or the place of daily work. In Australia the contrast is sharper than in the once traditional Christian societies of the Old World. When Christmas virtually marks the beginning of the summer vacation period, secular interests and satisfactions quickly overwhelm and displace the momentarily quiet otherworldly celebration of the Christmas Eve service. There is a sense in which this rapid change actually fits quite well with the message; for no sooner do we celebrate Christmas than we come to Epiphany when the emphasis is upon the relationship of Christ to the whole wide world.
Before we leave the Christmas season to celebrate the showing of Christ to the world at large, which is the what Epiphany is about, I want to share with you another important aspect of the Christmas story. It is about how Christ was already in the world before he came to be born at Bethlehem. The visit of the wise men (Matthew 2:1-12) introduced the showing of Christ to the world. Because they were foreigners they represent the important theme of Epiphany, which is traditionally celebrated on the 6th of January. But before you can appreciate the significance of that, you need to see that the foreign or gentile wise men, coming from outside the community of faith in Israel, were not ignorant of God. Indeed they came to worship Christ because they already knew something of him.
There are some deep and mysterious sayings in the way the Gospel is introduced in the first chapter of John from which we read today. One important aspect of it is that the Word which became flesh was already in the world. In a sense Christ was already in the world, in creation. John the Evangelist wrote:
It should have been possible to recognize him from what was already known of him in creation. When God spoke to the world in the life of Jesus Christ, he spoke the same Word that he had spoken when he created the world. The Word of God spoken long before in creation, and through the prophets, was the same Word as appeared in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. As the writer to the Hebrews expressed this faith:
Christian believers often have a very limited view of Christ, not always recognizing how he existed before he was born at Bethlehem and the part he had in creation of the world. To acknowledge him fully it is necessary to accept that the life of Christ did not begin when the baby Jesus was born; and this is very important for understanding his relationship to the whole wide world. Just as we believe he rose from the dead and continues to live in the glory of God, we believe he shared that glory from the beginning. As John begins:
As Paul wrote to the Colossians,
He should have been known already but was not. Why?
From the beginning he was already among the people who were being called to be members of his kingdom. He was already in the world. As John said he came to his own people (John 1:11). He should have been accepted like a long lost brother coming home to the family as their leader. When he came, he was re-establishing a relationship that had existed for a long time. The trouble was that the family did not recognize him, though there was enough in their lives for them to have known him very well.
John appears to refer to the Jewish nation in particular as "his own people", but not exclusively, for it is the world in general that should have known him and yet rejected him. The Jews had more reason than others to have known what he was like and should have known God better, but people of all nations had some knowledge of what God was like through his creation, the creation that had been made through the Word that became flesh. Why was it that although many different peoples had some insight and caught a glimpse here and there, people in general knew so little of God? Paul said they were without excuse:
The philosophers who wrote of God in the period between the Old and New Testaments, in what we call the Wisdom literature, pondered this question: why was God not better known from the things he had made?
This was written at the time when the many gods of the Greeks and others were worshipped widely in temples with idols. In a fairly sympathetic reference to other religions of the time the Wisdom writer said what is still relevant for people today, as they seek to construct their own spiritual lives through the arts, nature and other alternative sources of inspiration:
I find that remarkably applicable to contemporary thought over 2000 year later, and surprisingly sympathic, but the writer of these ancient wise observations agrees with Paul about their lack of excuse,
I am amazed when I read these ancient words and see how they might have been written by a similarly wise observer of the spiritual striving of people today. As the prophet Isaiah had said centuries earlier:
Sin (estrangement from God) blinds people to his presence
Neither Israel nor the pagans knew God as they might have done, and as they had good reason to know. Why was that? Basically it was because knowledge of God is personal and requires commitment and faithfulness whereas people tend more often to be rebellious and self asserting. You cannot just know about him, or know God in the abstract. According to Isaiah and Jeremiah and the prophets generally, the reason that the people did not know God as they might have done was that they were sinners, treating each other unjustly, and they were not so much ignorant as estranged from God [eg. Isaiah 1:4,16-17; Jeremiah 9:4-6]. As we have been remembering during Advent, and we are reminded again today, John the Baptist was a prophet in the same tradition. He called on people to repent of their sins so that they would be ready to receive the one whom God was sending into the world. There is a clue in this preparation. It was their sinfulness of which they needed to repent that would prevent them from recognizing the Messiah, the Word of God made flesh. It is the same freedom that enables people to become children of God rather than slaves, which gives them the power not to acknowledge God. To know God means to know in action, worshipping and serving him; so it is never enough to know about God. That was what happened when Christ came. They had plenty of reason to know who he was, but if they had recognized him they would have had to change themselves, to love God and love one another. So there was darkness surrounding the light when it came into the world.
The darkness surrounding the light did not overcome it, as John said, but it took him through death before the light overcame the darkness. The cross was necessary for the fulfilment of God's purpose. That is why we say that while the nature of God can be known from the world he has made, he cannot truly be known as the God and Father of us all except through Christ.
It is a big claim and one requiring more time than we have now. Let me now
just give an illustration. I remember Austin James, a greatly revered former
missionary, saying that he never went into a village in India without feeling
that Christ had been there before him. As John wrote, he was in the world
... he came to what was his own ...
He may be known in creation, including the lives of ordinary people, even if they do not know his name. As Paul said to the philosophers in Athens
That is the faith proclaimed by the apostles, that Jesus whom they had known in the flesh was the incarnation of the Word of God which had been expressed in many and various ways visible to all sorts of people, if they had eyes to see it.
That is why it was necessary for him to come in the flesh to show the glory of God in human life, even if it led to the cross.
To him be the glory.
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