Second Sunday in Christmas: The Backstory

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.

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  Share with your neighbor what sort of things your family does to get ready for Christmas.

PRAYER:  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.


Today is the second Sunday of Christmas, a time when we look at the childhood of Jesus, but it is also the first Sunday of 2022.  We stand in this liminal space between the past, the present and the future.  Yesterday the world welcomed the New Year. January 1st I gave birth to twins.  So Christmas and the birth of Christ and the birth of twins all cause me to be reflective of the backstory leading up to the “big event.”  Today our Gospel text reflects on the “backstory” of the birth of Christ.

         The internet defines “backstory”:

         Backstory is the stuff that went on before the story begins, or more      precisely, before the kick-off event in scene 1. As such, backstory          might better be called “pre-story”. It is a necessary component of any         story. After all, the characters come from somewhere – they have      pasts, they have histories.

Another way to describe today’s text is “flash-back.”  It is easy to think of Christmas as scene 1, the “kick-off event,” the big event around which we orient our Christian faith.  But there is a backstory that goes into “deep history” even before prophecy.  Our eldest son and his wife went through the agonizing process of three miscarriages.  They had dreams and feelings about pregnancy before they received the news of the hoped for birth.  Our son wrote a book that helped him process his grief and which shared the impact on him as an expectant father, the “backstory” for him and his wife. Despite accidental pregnancies, babies have a backstory whether it is accident, rape, or love.  We are products of those backstories of love, of dreams and anticipations or of lust and anger.  Baby Jesus has a backstory and we find it in our Gospel text today.

“the Word was God”

Apostle John describes baby Jesus as “the Word.”  “The Word was with God and the Word was God.”  We are entering into the mysteries of the Trinity here and probably none of us would claim to be experts able to handle that topic but let’s ponder a moment. 

         Our words flow from our hearts and minds and express a truth about us.  We might well backtrack and say we didn’t really mean what we said but in fact the words flowing from our mouth, represent us whether spoken in deceit, in jest, or in truth.  Jesus as the Word of God, is an expression of God, in ways none of us as children of God, as creations of God can claim.  Jesus flowed from God and was God.  Our words flow from us and are an expression of us.

         Jesus as Word of God was at creation, as the spoken Word, “Let there be light!”  and it was so.  Our words have creative ability.  When we stand at the altar and say “I do”, something that was two becomes one.  When we baptize, we believe the words of baptism represent the Holy  Spirit now indwelling our personhood and helping us spiritually in our journey.  Words create new realities.  When the jury reads the word, “guilty,” life of the accused changes.  When the judge said, “From this day forward this child will be a Collins,” the life of two little orphans changed forever.  Words have power to destroy and to create.  Jesus as the spoken word of God changed history forever by entering into our reality.  That little baby of Bethlehem had power even as a small seemingly innocent word has power.  As we enter 2022 we might ponder how we use our words, to destroy or to create value and vision in others we relate to.

         Baby Jesus was the spoken word of God with power to create but also Jesus was the light of God coming into a world corrupted by evil and that word overcame our darkness.  I think of the scene in Les Miserables when Jean Valjean learns that a man is being tried as him and he goes to the trial and confesses his hidden secret.  Monsieur le maire is convict 24601.  Truth brings to light and overcomes darkness.  In the same way Jesus incarnates not as a dictator of power and force but as a small baby and living a reality that love and forgiveness is the only way to bring healing out of wrong and hate. Jesus will ultimately walk through the darkness of death and the cross to emerge alive and offer hope in our world darkened by Covid, war and crime.  So in 2022 will we be agents of light, of love and forgiveness, or will we be agents of darkness and despair?

         The backstory of Jesus, coming to us as the Word that creates and overcomes darkness points to our backstory grounded in sin and possibly shame. Through this little baby, we can grow and have lives of hope in 2022 as we grow in faith.  We do not have to be the person we were in 2021 but can grow with the help of a babe who represents God, creates new life in us, and who shines light into our darkness. The babe left his throne on high as one with the Father to come to Bethlehem as an innocent baby that we might live a life of hope in 2022.  That backstory changes our story.

John the Baptist: The Word was human

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.

Apostle John draws us from “the beginning” backstory to the human historical backstory.  Jesus is preceded by John the Baptist, a real man, a real historical person who testified.   Jesus’ birth happened in a human context.  He is not an invisible, imaginary super hero, Greek god, or impersonal “force” like in Star Wars.  Jesus was born into a recorded history with historical people.  These people remembered and testified about Jesus.  The shepherds spread the good news.  The wise men came from afar and returned with the news.  Herod was alerted and so alarmed he killed innocent babies.  Jesus is not a fairytale told to make a point but “true man” and “true God” living with us and experiencing all that we experience.

         So our reflection question as we ponder facing 2022 is not only does the eternal God walk with us but how will we testify about Jesus?  Can we like John the Baptist bow to this baby that does not look like our concepts of God?  Will we bow and allow him to speak into our lives even as we share with others about him?  We speak of 2021 as being the year of Covid but I would challenge us to ponder if indeed it was not more importantly a year of God’s mercy!  John the Baptist testified to “the light.”  Let us think how God brought light into 2021 and how we know he will bring light into 2022.

the world did not know him: The Word worked with our free will

Jesus, the Word of God, became flesh as a man who was testified about by John the Baptist.  Our text goes on to tell us that we did not know him nor accept him.  How can that be?  Jesus did not come as a kingly heir, as the creator of drones and robots but came into a creation that was gifted with free will.  Many look at baby Jesus and see just that, a baby, cute, historical but powerless, a crutch for those who are weak.  Jesus could not demand allegiance but came to woo us into relationship.  Relationships grow and change.  As I just saw this Christmas when grandchildren came that I had not seen for a year, they had grown into young ladies, hair long or short or colored, resembling parents, now driving, and new interests and likes.  Checking in with Jesus at Christmas, Easter and other odd times like funerals is like trying to recognize a bridesmaid forty years later in the airport. The truth is that we do not have to believe that babe of Bethlehem is the person the angels, the shepherds, and the wise men witness to.  We have a choice.  Relationship is not automatic because of baptism or confirmation that our parents made us attend.  Relationship with Jesus is something we accept and grow into.  “Grace and truth” come from relationship with Jesus. 

         He “gives us the power to become children of God.”  As Lutherans we believe that this relationship can be claimed in baptism through the faith of our parents but then through confirmation, we too decide how we want to “buy in” to faith.   When I was a chaplain, I liked to use the image: in the mysterious relationship, the handshake between God and us, he holds on to us when we forget who we are, when we are to discouraged to claim relationship, when we are too sick to proclaim it, when life darkens our eyes, God holds on to us.  But that relationship is not automatic because of our birth.  We were created with free will and Jesus’ backstory is that he wants to work with us as free agents choosing to love him.  We are not in a forced marriage with no say.  We are real people with real choice .

         So as we look through a glass dimly this first Sunday in 2022, we listen to the backstory of Jesus and we ponder how his story intertwines with our on going journey.  The babe of Christmas is God from eternity.  The babe of Christmas is truly human with a story to tell this year that reveals the character of the unseen God we worship.  The babe of Christmas will not force his way into our lives, will not force us to come to church or read our Bible or pray.  The babe of Christmas will not force us to be in relationship. The choice is ours.  His backstory is our story!

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