Reading Ramblings – December 25, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Christ Mass – December 25, 2016

Texts: Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 2; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-14

Context: The promise fulfilled. The Messiah comes. Let the Earth receive her king! The readings resonate with joy and call us to celebrate. Isaiah delights in the excitement of good news announced and passed on. The psalm asserts the reality of the King and calls people to obedience. Hebrews insists on the absolute supremacy of the Son of God incarnate. And John speaks in eloquent poetry of the mystery of light coming into darkness, of the maker becoming part of the made. Jesus truly is the one and only reason for the season!

Isaiah 52:7-10 – Previous chapters have talked about the Servant of the Lord, contrasting his obedience to Israel’s disobedience. It is this Servant who will accomplish God’s reconciliation with his people, who will be the source of joy and hope for the people of God. The Lord’s return to his people – physically (“eye to eye”, v.8) is the cause of celebration. Those who stand watch convey the good news, and even the “waste places of Jerusalem” (v.9) are exhorted to song. The Lord has not just returned, but returned in a way visible to all peoples (v.10) so that there can be no denying what God has accomplished for his people.

Psalm 2 – A royal psalm, likely used at the coronation of Judean kings, this psalm contrasts the surety and strength of God and his designated ruler against the weakness of any and all other powers and rulers. It is certain that God’s ruler will be plotted against – his authority will not be acknowledged easily. But resistance is pointless to the point of being funny, from the divine perspective. God’s appointed will inherit all power and all dominion, to the ends of the earth. Those who rebel will be crushed. This is a certainty. So the psalm concludes with a warning and exhortation to other rulers – they should seek peace with God’s anointed, giving themselves over in service of the one true God. This God will ensure that his coronated Son has all power. That power will be destructive and dangerous to any who oppose him, but to his faithful people, that power will be a source of comfort and refuge. His own people need not fear him. This sets God’s appointed ruler apart from just any king, for this king will exercise his power and authority perfectly.

Hebrews 1:1-6 – While doubt continues about the actual author of Hebrews, tradition has that it is St. Paul. If so, he begins this letter quite different from any of his other writings, without the typical address and thanksgiving of his other letters. He begins this letter with a theme mentioned elsewhere in his writings (Romans 1:1-2, for example) – that the Gospel is not some newly devised plan of God, but rather what God has planned all along and revealed all along in Scripture. Jesus is not a new word, but the final Word, the final and ultimate testimony of God’s intentions to save us from our sin. Jesus is not some new creation, but part and parcel of the Godhead, bearing the Glory of God and his very nature. It is this eternal Word of God which sustains creation (rather than ceasing to speak after the six days of creation). It is this divine Word that has purified us from sinfulness, and as such, should not be doubted in any way to be superior to all creation, including the angels. Paul then quotes from Scripture (Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14) to support this assertion. Perhaps Paul is addressing uncertainty from some as to Christ’s position relative to the angels. Paul wants to make it clear that Jesus is far superior, and that Scripture has already prophesied and explained this. We don’t await the return of just any spiritual entity, but rather the fully divine Son of God, the King of Kings to whom all authority has been given over both physical and spiritual realms.

John 1:1-14 – This may be the most poetic passage in all of Scripture. Because it is so unlike the rest of John’s gospel, there are many theories about it’s origin. Some wonder if John actually wrote it. Some think it is an early Christian hymn or creedal statement. Others think that John actually borrowed it from another tradition, such as gnosticism. If it’s an early Christian poem/hymn/creed, this wouldn’t be surprising as scholars agree that such things are incorporated into other places in the New Testament. If it’s borrowed from another source, we have absolutely zero evidence of this. It seems best to interpret it as John’s authorship, a prologue to his formal narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry.

It seems obvious that John’s opening words are intended to reflect Genesis 1:1. While Genesis 1 deals with the creation of the physical universe, John’s opening verses deal with God prior to speaking creation into existence. John affirms with both positive and negative statements that this Word of God is the source of all creation. Verse 5 introduces a disruption of harmony. There is darkness that resists the light and seeks to overcome it but has not. Some scholars think this is a reference to Genesis 3, and is the powerful assurance that God’s power remains active and vital in creation despite sin. Others think this verse is referring only to the resistance against the Incarnate Word, Jesus. I think both interpretations could work well together.

Perhaps John is dealing with a persistent idea that John the Baptist was actually the important one, rather than Jesus. Otherwise, it seems strange to introduce him here and go to such efforts to distinguish his role from Jesus’. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He had followers and created quite a stir, but St. John wants to make clear that it is Jesus who is the bigger deal, who is the true light of the world.

But He isn’t recognized by that universally. First of all, creation itself, the world (v.10) did not know him. Then more specifically, (v.11), his own people, the chosen people of God – they didn’t know him either. They rejected him. But not everyone did (v.12). Some believed. Those who knew God the Father rightly through Holy Scripture, who hadn’t recast him and his work in their own image, those people received Jesus and gained through him new identity as children of God. Not in the strictly created sense, for everyone and everything is a child/creation of God the Father. But rather in the redeemed and reconciled sense – brothers and sisters in Christ. This identity can not be conveyed by any mortal means. It is not a matter of genealogy. It is only and always the gift of God by faith created by God the Holy Spirit, in the work and person of the Son of God Jesus the Messiah, which reconciles the believer to God the Father through the forgiveness of sins.

Finally, (v.14), John begins to move to his narrative. This is all specific, not theoretical. This isn’t a Once upon a time sort of thing. It happened, and it happened by that eternal Word becoming flesh. Becoming one with us. Here. Among us. Dwelling with us. And we, John says, we have seen his glory. John includes his readers and hearers – many of whom would have remembered Jesus, having heard or seen him firsthand. He calls on them to give credence and support to his words. John does not write alone. John writes what others have witnessed. It is John’s unique perspective, but what he conveys was apparent to others from their own perspectives as well. But those differing perspectives were united in apprehending the glory of the only Son from the Father.

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