Second Sunday in Christmas
Jer. 31:7-14, Eph. 1:3-14, Jn. 1:1-18
As we begin a new year in a new building with many new opportunities and challenges, we want to look at where we are as a congregation and address our particular situation. If we have one resolution as a congregation this year, let it be that our souls get good and fat. One of the marks of some of the most evil men in the history of the world is a professed devotion and love for humanity in general and a striking lack of devotion and love for people in particular. This is the problem of swollen heads and shriveled hearts. But God came in Jesus to make us think less of ourselves and more of others, to make our souls fat with His grace.
The Texts: Our lessons today focus on the glory of the New Covenant. Jeremiah foretells the coming reunion of God and His people. Because of God’s loving kindness for His children, they will return from exile with singing and dancing. Paul says that this reunion and return has begun in Jesus, in whom all things are being gathered together, and His Spirit is the down payment of this redemption for God’s children. John says that these children are not mere physical descendants or the result of the prudence of men, but born of the miraculous, incarnational grace of God. Just as Jesus is the Word made flesh, the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth, so those who have received Him have received His fullness, grace on top of grace.
Knew Him Not
We cannot forget the fact that when God came for His people, many did not receive Him (Jn. 1:11). When the Light of the World showed up, they preferred the darkness of slavery and exile. They were hurting and sad, but when freedom and healing arrived, they didn’t want any. They didn’t know their own Maker (Jn. 1:10). What should have been the most beautiful thing was ugly and offensive. This is a deep sort of self-deception, the sorts of lies that we tell ourselves in our pain, in our disappointment and regret that set us up for believing bigger lies. In Israel’s case, it was the temptation to believe that if they had only followed the law more carefully, they might have avoided destruction and exile. With corpses littering the streets, blood flowing like water, and smoke rising over their former home – some understood what it all meant. But it would have been easier for others to plan stricter Sabbath observance and purity laws than to actually turn to God for grace. The law was always an invitation to know and love God – to seek His mercy, but when Grace shows up in the flesh, you can tell they’ve got it backwards because He’s getting in the way. We tend to build these self-deceptions out of our virtues.
Jeremiah says that the turning point in the story for Israel will be the announcement that the One who scattered them is coming to gather them. He will be their Good Shepherd (Jer. 31:10). This goodness of God will fill their souls and turn their mourning into joy (Jer. 31:12-14). They will return with the blind and lame, with weeping and supplications, but in the midst of their distress, God’s goodness will fill them and satisfy them. It’s not mere return, not mere healing; it’s something deeper, more potent, something that can satisfy our souls. John says that this fullness that we receive is the grace and truth of Jesus (Jn. 1:14, 16-17). The truth is our sinfulness, our failures, our lies, but the grace is His friendship, His dwelling with us, His sharing with us His glory. The Prince has come and taken the place of the pauper. He knows the truth about our sin and has paid for the truth about our sin with His own precious blood (Eph. 1:7). He has placed His royal robes on us and given us His signet ring, with full access to all of His treasuries (Eph. 1:3, 11-14). The rebel sons have been fully reinstated by the faithfulness of the Obedient Son. It is this Good News, this announcement, this glory that makes souls fat. You didn’t need a stricter diet, more rules, more paperwork, more theology, better liturgy, more exercise, more money, more fine print, more output. The law came through Moses, but grace and truth are found in Jesus. You need to think less of what you need to do and more of what has already been done.
John says that the beauty of Jesus is His grace and truth. This is His glory, His radiance, the glory of the Father. As we begin a new year in this new building, we want to be filled with this glory – the beauty of grace and truth. We want to be truth-tellers and grace-givers, and this must include the truth about grace and the truth told graciously. But this must not be confused with its opposites: flattery and resentment. Flattery puts on a pretty face, smiles, says pious God-words, and pretends everything is fine, but in the car on the way home, in the email exchange later, in the comments on Facebook, the anger is unleashed, bitterness comes uncorked. Flattery is manipulative, scheming, and complicated by grudges.
Self-deception cannot see the hypocrisy. It sees a cause of justice or mercy or truth, and allows some particular instances of righteousness to justify a spiritual form of myopia – causing us to miss the big truth, ultimately missing God right in front of us in a particular man. But when we see Jesus, the True Man, we are given eyes to see each and every man. But in order to see His light, we must receive His grace and truth – which is to say His everlasting love. So fix your eyes on Him. Make Him your center, the Sun of your orbit, your author and finisher, your God, your King, your everything. Make His grace and truth your love, your light. See everything and everyone through that glory. Then our souls will be fat, and the glory of God will be upon us.