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Readings: 2nd Sunday of Christmas

20 December 2013

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Jeremiah 31.7-14; Ephesians 1.3-14; John 1.[1-9] 10-18

Almighty God, in the birth of your Son you have poured on us the new light of your incarnate Word, and shown us the fullness of your love: help us to walk in his light and dwell in his love that we may know the fullness of his joy, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

THIS Sunday, we hear the Christmas Day Gospel in an extended form, alongside different readings and a different collect. From exile, Jeremiah records how God has saved, redeemed, and gathered his sheep, and led them back home.

Yet, in Christ, there is still more. Ephesians falls over itself in a breathless paean of praise about every blessing, being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, being redeemed, chosen for adoption as children, experiencing God's good pleasure in Christ, and more, and more . . .

When the author of Ephesians finally pauses for breath, it is to conclude that all this is given so that we might live for the praise of his glory. That leads us to John, who tells us that we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth.

John's opening, "In the beginning", echoes Genesis. Scientists' discoveries about the scale and beauty of the cosmos are mind-boggling enough for us to cope with, but "In the beginning was the Word" takes us beyond the beginning of created time, as we know it, to eternity. The ancient hymn "Of the Father's heart begotten" gives poetic voice to this mystery.

Part-way through John's theological litany of wonder, amazingly, human time and space are suddenly interjected, and become part of the story: "There was a man sent from God whose name was John." God's eternal light and life are let loose in the world that we know. We are people upon whom the riches of God's grace are lavished, blessings of which Jeremiah's exiles were promised a foretaste.

John's prologue is like an overture, playing phrases of themes that will be repeated and developed richly throughout his Gospel. "The light shines in the darkness" looks forward to other references to light and darkness. That the Word is "the true light" points to another of John's themes: that of truth and what is true.

The Word "came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him" is a succinct summary of the first half of John's Gospel. The prologue then turns on verse 12, "but to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God." This is a theme that Jesus explored with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman.

The Old Testament resounds with the steadfast love of the Lord, now revealed and shared in the Son, through whom we have received grace upon grace. John writes of the Word's dwelling, or pitching his tent, among us. That recalls God's presence in the tabernacle, as his people journeyed through the wilderness (Exodus 25.8), and the prophets' words that God would again pitch his tent among the people (Ezekiel 37.27, Zechariah 2.10). Jeremiah glimpsed this when speaking of God's leading and gathering his scattered people.

Another Old Testament theme repeated in this overture is that of glory (Exodus 24.16, 40.34-35). "We have seen his glory," writes John. He does not, like the other Gospel-writers, record the revelation of that glory in the transfiguration, but instead, locates the revelation of God's glory in Jesus's signs (John 2.11), and ultimately in the crucifixion (John 12.23, 13.32, 17.1).

This theological overture serves a similar purpose to that of the (quite different) prologue to Job. Both tell the reader more than the people in the subsequent story know, who have to discover it for themselves as it unfolds. John does not name Jesus until the very end of the prologue, and immediately says that no one has ever seen God, not even Moses (Exodus 33.18-23), through whom the law was given. The Son, however, has made him known, and this is the lens that John gives, through which his readers can interpret what they read (John 20.31).

In the light of all this wonder, we pray to walk in God's light, and to dwell in his love. One way to do this afresh, before Christmas ends, is to read through John's Gospel, soaking up the wonderful themes with which he tantalises us in the prologue.

Writing what we notice by hand (dare I suggest, on good quality paper, with a fountain pen?) slows us down, and allows us to absorb what we record in a way that typing on to a computer screen cannot. Take time to savour God's Christmas gift to you, then perhaps write your own version of Ephesians' outburst of praise.

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