Sunday January 3, 2021 Christmas 2

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:7-14

7Thus 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.”
8See, 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.
9With 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.

10Hear 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.”
11For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,
  and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
12They 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.
13Then 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.
14I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
  and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty,
 says the Lord.

Psalm: Psalm 147:12-20

12Worship the Lord, O Jerusalem;
  praise your God, O Zion,
13who has strengthened the bars of your gates
  and has blessed your children within you.
14God has established peace on your borders
  and satisfies you with the finest wheat.
15God sends out a command to the earth,
  a word that runs very swiftly. 
16God gives snow like wool,
  scattering frost like ashes.
17God scatters hail like bread crumbs.
  Who can stand against God’s cold?
18The Lord sends forth the word and melts them;
  the wind blows, and the waters flow.
19God declares the word to Jacob,
  statutes and judgments to Israel.
20The Lord has not done so to any other nation;
  they do not know God’s judgments. Hallelujah!

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In 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, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In 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; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Gospel: John 1:[1-9] 10-18

 [1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
  6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.]
  10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
  14And 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. 15(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.’ ”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

SERMON

Prayer:  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, my Rock and Redeemer.

         The Christmas season follows the Advent season.  It is two weeks long and carries us through Epiphany, the day we remember the arrival of the wise men. Next week we enter the Epiphany season when we hear about the life of Christ.  That’s a bit confusing but “epiphany” means a new revelation or understanding.  The coming of the wise men celebrated on January 6, includes the Gentiles in the Christmas story — that was revolutionary.  The life of Christ was also revolutionary, an epiphany.  He healed, taught new ideas, and broke religious rules to the astonishment of people and powers. The significance of Christ’s incarnation as a baby is our text today.  We are in the Christmas season, second week. 

         During the Christmas season we tend to focus on the events of Jesus’ childhood. Last week we looked at the experience with Simeon and Anna in the temple at the circumcision of Jesus.  We could also look at the flight to Egypt, the murder of the innocents, or Jesus in the temple at age 12.  But all these events that come from Jesus’ early childhood are not recorded in the Gospel of Mark.  So our text today is going to draw from the Gospel of John, rather than Mark.  We are not going to focus on the events of Jesus birth.  We are going to ponder the impact of his incarnation, his coming, on our lives as we enter 2021 and reflect on 2020.

First.  Incarnation testifies to the reality of a personal being, God, the creator, who does not stay afar observing us but who enters our world and is personally involved with life. 

         Christianity is unique becauseGod comes to us, we do not climb to God.  God was with us in 2020 and will come to us in 2021.  It may be in inconspicuous ways that we may not recognize but he was here. Even as the world did not recognize the babe of Bethlehem, we may have to look to see the hand of God in our life.   Unlike “the Force” of Star Wars, God is not an impersonal energy, guiding life’s events.  We are not an accident.  God is personal and comes to us.

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”

         Some believe Jesus became the Messiah at his baptism, rather like accepting a job.  The Holy Spirit descended like a dove and Jesus took on his role as Messiah.  He was a good man who pleased God and so was chosen.  Or perhaps Jesus had a good body God took over and worked through him.  Either way, a godly man or a manly God, it is hard to relate to him.  We know we are not perfect. His godliness overshadows his humanness. Christmas season reminds us that Jesus was true man.

         We confess that Jesus is true God and true Man. Incarnation is the word we use to share about a God/man mystery that makes Jesus “touchable” and is seen as a helpless baby. “The Word” that was at creation, who made everything, who sustains our life and is our light, who is God, became real human. 

         Christmas, a time for celebrating his childhood, helps us see Jesus as true man. The Christmas season reminds us that Jesus understands all aspects of life. He understands our struggling teenagers, our babies helpless in ICU units, our elderly feeling forgotten, and even the angst of being a hormone driven young adult.  Our God did not just come down to do a job, salvation, but entered humanity and goes with us into 2021.  If leprosy did not drive him away, then Covid certainly will not. We do not perfect ourselves and climb up to God, trying to deserve his love, but he comes to us to reveal himself through all we are about to experience this year.  Our Lord understands our human dilemmas and is not just the power source to solve them but also the compassionate, empathizing God who walks with us.

         The challenge:  As we enter 2021, let us reflect on our concept of God.  Do we think of God as being distance and impersonal or do we see God present, personal, and relevant daily.  Perhaps there is something that we are keeping in a closet in our heart because of guilt, because of fear, because we were so stupid, because we were so abused, because we were soooo human.  The Christmas story reminds us that the Word who created us, walked through all phases of life responding in all those situations we are challenged by and is not repulsed, not driven away by our human sinfulness.  The eternal became mortal testifying to a perspective that is broader and more eternal, not impersonal or bias, not distant and analytical but a true union of God and man.

Second.  The incarnation calls for belief in a personal God who created and identifies but it also testifies of a God who wants to have relationship with us.

            11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept    him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave       power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of        the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God

The purpose of incarnation is not just God “doing his thing,” executing his plan, but his heart’s desire is that we might believe.  If the goal of faith is to believe that God is real then all paths lead to Rome and all faiths are equally acceptable as all believe there is a God and people just choose the flavor of Kool-Aid they will drink, as youth say.  Incarnation is about more than proof of reality but creates grounds for relationship.

         This relationship is not something that is not forced upon us, a marriage set up by parents or a means to social acceptability.  Relationship with Christ is a gift we choose to receive, we choose to invest in.  Like all relationships, it is a struggle to “hang in there” on the down days.  Life does not always unfold the way we would like.  (Do I hear an “amen” to that?)  Jesus gives the “power” to become children.  Relating to God is not accidental but intentional and we need more than human strength to do it.

         So as we enter 2021, how are we intentionally growing our relationship with a God who incarnated to be with us?  Are we choosing the relationship or does it just kind of happen when we see a sunset or have a good day?  How will we grow this relationship in 2021?  Relationships are not just automatic; they are intentional and need work to thrive.

         Incarnation testifies to a personal being, God, who created heaven and earth who comes to us.  We are not an accident and relationship is not accidental.

Third.  Incarnation testifies to truth and grace.

            17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came     through Jesus Christ. 

The incarnation of Jesus draws us into a confrontation with the reality of this world.  Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.  We call it “the Law.”  The Commandments are 10 universals by which life works best.  We will be happier if we do not go around killing others.  All cultures have rules about murder.  If we build happiness in our marriages, we will be happier than continually shifting partners in uncommitted relationships.  Slander and mistruth help no one.  Resting one day a week and honoring parents when possible also lead to a balanced life.  Of course, keeping God most important – is most important!

         These laws, these guidelines are ideals and life does not happen nor are we be able to force life to be the way we think best, no matter how many civil laws we pass.  We have seen demonstrations and destructions this year that make our head hang.  We have seen mass bombings and terrorism in the name of finding a better tomorrow – we grieve.  In spite our best efforts to mask and distance, disease claims lives at times we would not choose.  One more day with our loved one, we beg.

         The incarnation, the coming of God in human form and entering in relationship with us shows a Messiah who healed, who taught love of enemy, who encouraged going the extra mile.  Those responses do not come naturally.  We are naturally self centered and selfish.  Choosing relationship is choosing to believe there is truth bigger than my perspective.  Forgiveness will bring a better world as we let God handle vengeance.  Being in relationship to Jesus and confronting our self-centeredness makes us realize our need for grace.  “By grace we are saved through faith.”  We do not become good enough to deserve relationship to a God who wants to relate to us.  We must humble ourselves, accept his gift and acknowledge his way – that takes grace.  Grace and truth came in Jesus Christ.

         As we enter 2021 and as we use these two weeks to shift from Christmas celebration to surprising truths found in the life of Christ, we realize that the incarnation, the birth of the babe in Bethlehem, means God has come to us to be with us in 2021.  It means he wants to be in relationship with us as we face and handle our various challenges.  And it means he will be leading us into deeper truth that we experience by his grace.  God incarnated in Jesus and lives in us that we might be more like Christ.  It is a journey, not a sudden one-day experience but he will be faithfully beside us, guiding us, and speaking to us in 2021.  Praise his name!

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