Happy New Years to all of you. I hope you all enjoyed any celebrations you may have taken part in this past holiday and I wish for each of you a wonder filled New Year. It seems every New Year, many people take a close look at their lives up to that point and re-evaluate where they are and where they would like to be. Then, many people make resolutions to change their lives to get them closer to where they would like to be.
Unfortunately, most New Years resolutions don’t last very long and the next year many people often make the same resolution again. Now, there is nothing wrong with taking some time to look back on our lives and re-evaluate what and who we are, and try to improve ourselves. In fact, I believe it is an important thing to do periodically, and New Years seems to be a good time to do it as we say goodbye to last year and look forward to the New Year ahead of us, and try to imagine what it has in store for us. As I get older, this has become even more important for me and perhaps it has for some of you as well.
I remember a scene in an old movie, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”. In this scene, British Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson played by Alec Guinness is standing on the completed bridge with the Japanese commandant of the prison camp. As Alec Guinness stands there looking out at the river he reflects on his life and says to Colonel Saito: “I've been thinking. Tomorrow it will be 28 years to the day that I've been in the service, 28 years in peace and war. I don't suppose I've been at home more than ten months in all that time. Still, it's been a good life. I love India. I wouldn't have had it any other way. But there are times when suddenly you realize you're nearer the end than the beginning. And you wonder, you ask yourself, what the sum total of your life represents, what difference your being there at any time made to anything, or if it made any difference at all really.”
I think it is important for people to think about that from time to time, to look back at what their lives have meant, what they have stood for, what their priorities have been, and compare them to what Jesus teaches us and calls us to do. In many ways that is what we do when we meditate on Scripture. We listen for the gentle voice from God as God opens our eyes and ears and hearts, and reveals Gods plan to us. Then when we start to understand. When things become clearer for us, we experience an Epiphany.
The Western Christian Churches celebrate the Epiphany starting on January 6th. In the Church, the Epiphany refers to the realization that Jesus is the Son of God, and is celebrated on the 12th day of Christmas when the Magi visited Jesus. And while our readings this morning do not include the texts about the Epiphany, for many Christians, what we read this morning could lead to an epiphany of their own.
Today’s readings are all about Jesus, and us. Many biblical scholars believe Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus was actually written by one of Paul’s followers after Paul’s death. They believe this because the literary form is different than the letters they know Paul wrote.
The writer of this letter tells us that through Christ, we have been destined to be adopted by God as God’s children. Through Christ, we have been forgiven our sins. Through Christ, God’s plan for humanity has been revealed to us. And through Christ, we have been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit
The letter celebrates the vision of the universal Church. God’s plan for humanity is revealed, to gather everything together in God, all that is in heaven and all that is on earth, to gather Jew and Gentile together, to reconcile them. In today’s world there is still some tension between Jews and Gentiles, but the real conflict is between Muslims and Jews, and Muslims and Christians. I believe in the fullness of time, God will gather Jews and Muslims and Christians, and Hindus, and people of every faith together and reconcile all of us, so that we can live in peace as brothers and sisters, all God’s children.
The Gospel of John is my favorite of the four Gospels. John stands alone. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all share many parts with each other. Mark was the first Gospel written and Matthew and Luke both used Mark as the base for their Gospel. But John is different. The key to understanding John is the first part of the Gospel, the part we read this morning. John needs to be read through a certain lens in order to understand what John intended.
The passages we read this morning are the prologue or introduction to the Gospel. These passages set the stage for the rest of the Gospel and define the lens through which John wants the reader to view the Good News of Jesus.
He starts in the very beginning, before creation. The other three Gospels start with the birth of Jesus or with John the Baptist’s ministry. But John wants his readers to understand that Jesus was present long before his birth to Mary. John wants his readers to understand that Jesus is a deity, John wants his readers to understand that Jesus and God are of the same essence, and John wants his readers to understand that Jesus is the true Light, the Light that illuminates the darkness so prevalent in our world.
John ends his prologue with the following words: And 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. (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.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
These words bring us to the Christmas season we are celebrating. The Word became flesh and lived among us. God gave us the law through Moses, and God gave us grace and truth through Jesus. The second didn’t negate the first. The grace the disciples experienced may have been some of the miracles Jesus performed. Perhaps some of them drank the wine Jesus made from water at the wedding in Cana. Perhaps they ate some of the food Jesus miraculously supplied to the crowds. Perhaps they were in the boat when Jesus calmed the storm that put their lives in peril. Or perhaps it was more. Perhaps the grace John is referring to is the revelation they experienced as they saw God revealed to them in Christ when Jesus laid down his life for them, when they experienced the gift of eternal life that Jesus makes available to all who believe, and when their ascended Lord fulfilled his promise and sent the Holy Spirit to be with them forever.
Those same gifts are available to us as well. Through Scripture, God is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, through his teachings and his actions. Jesus laid down his life not just for the disciples, but for all humanity, including us, and we will experience eternal life as we believe, and the same Holy Spirit that Jesus sent to his disciples is with us today and everyday, to guide us, to comfort us, to teach us.
As we celebrate a New Year, perhaps a new beginning, it may be helpful for us to take some time and examine our lives. It may be a good time to start a new spiritual practice, one that helps us take some time alone with God and listen for God’s Word for our lives.
Take a moment or two and close your eyes and think about these words and what they mean to you: But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (Silence)
Let us pray:
God Most High,
your only Son embraced the weakness of flesh,
to give us power to become your children;
your eternal Word chose a dwelling among us,
that we might live in your presence.
Grant us a spirit of wisdom
to know how rich is the glory you have made your own,
and how great the hope to which we are called
in Jesus Christ, your Word made flesh,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
in the splendor of eternal Light,
God forever and ever.
Amen and Amen.
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