Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:(1-9), 10-18.
God’s own Word came to people, bringing awesome gifts of grace.
There isn’t always a Second Sunday after Christmas in the liturgical year. It happens only when Christmas falls on a Wednesday or later in the week, pushing Epiphany (January 6) past the 2nd Sunday.
The texts for this Sunday are in the maximum voice.
- For Israel there is the most emphatic celebration of the end of Exile and the abundance and glory of Restoration.
- For the Jesus communities, magnificent but somewhat opaque passages make the greatest and most encompassing claims for the action of God in Christ to be found in the New Testament.
All of Jeremiah 30-33 is about the future of Israel and Judah, the two kingdoms that had been judged by their God as hopelessly guilty of disloyalty and punished by defeat and destruction at the hands of world powers.
At some point in the history of the Jeremiah tradition it was understood that the Lord instructed Jeremiah to write down a separate set of prophecies that looked beyond that judgment. “Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you. For the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their ancestors and they shall take possession of it” (30:2-3, NRSV).
Scholars through the ages, therefore, have talked of this part of Jeremiah as “the Book of Consolation.”
After the judgment, the people have prayed, “Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel” (verse 7). What survives the judgment and becomes the object of future hope is the Remnant of Israel. The proclaimed answer to their prayer follows (in the New Jerusalem Bible translation):
Watch, I shall bring them back
from the land of the north
and gather them in from the far ends of the earth.
With them, the blind and the lame,
women with child, women in labour,
all together: a mighty throng will return here!
In tears they went away,
consoled I shall bring them back [following translator’s note].
I shall guide them to streams of water,
by a smooth path where they will not stumble.
For I am a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my first-born son. [verses 8-9, NJBV]
God has made the return from exile a family matter, lordly parent rescuing lost offspring.
The rest of the passage declares how mourning will be turned into joy and need into abundant prosperity in the restored land. “I shall refresh my priests with rich food [because the tithes will be so abundant], and my people will gorge themselves on my lavish gifts” (verse 14, NJBV).
The Psalm reading is virtually a continuation of the Prophetic passage. The complete psalm began, “The Lord builds up Jerusalem; / he gathers the outcasts of Israel. / He heals the brokenhearted, / and binds up their wounds” (verses 2-3, NRSV).
Our reading summons Jerusalem / Zion to praise the Lord for the security of the City, protection through hot and cold weather, and the gift of God’s statutes by which to live righteously and well. The conclusion to be drawn from these blessings is, “He has not dealt thus with any other nation; / they do not know his ordinances” (verse 20).
After restoration from exile to a blessed holy city, Israel has the security and joy of living their lives entirely by God’s ordinances.
The reading from the Epistle is an outpouring of religious language that overwhelms sense with eloquence.
An early 20th century commentator wrote of this passage,
The twelve verses which follow [the opening] baffle our analysis. They are a kaleidoscope of dazzling lights and shifting colours: at first we fail to find a trace of order or method. They are like the preliminary flight of the eagle, rising and wheeling around, as though for a while uncertain what direction in his boundless freedom he shall take.
(J. Armitage Robinson, Commentary on Ephesians, 1904, Kegel reprint of 1979).
The difficulty is compounded by the fact that what are six complex sentences in the NRSV translation is a single sentence in Greek, as modern editors punctuate it.
So much is clear: the whole passage is a blessing, a benediction (“Blessed be the God and Father…”). It is common to find the center of the thought in the phrase “the mystery of [God’s]will” (verse 9). It is also possible to see (as do the notes in The New Jerusalem Bible, 1985 ed.) this topic developed in a sequence of blessings running through the whole as follows:
1) we were elected, verse 4 (“he chose” NRSV);
2) we were predestined for adoption, verses 5-6;
3) we were redeemed from our sins, verses 7-8;
4) we received revelation of the mystery of God’s will, verses 9-10;
5) we received hope, verses 11 and 14;
both for us Jews, verse 12;
and for you non-Jews,
who have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, verse 13.
The overall sense of the passage is that there is a vast work of God underway throughout the cosmos and the ages, and we are the blessed recipients of its benefits, without any reference to our works or merits.
John 1: (1-9), 10-18.
The Gospel reading presents the highest Christology in the New Testament. That is, here Jesus is most completely identified as divine, as side-by-side with God Almighty, as in some sense identified with God (“… and the Word was God,” 1:1, NRSV).
The “Word,” Greek Logos, means something like the rationality, the intelligibility, of the entire cosmos, of all reality. That rationality is inherent in all creation. The creation was an expression of God’s deliberateness, of God’s logos character. Creation makes some sense. (“All things came into being through him [the Logos], and without him not one thing came into being,” verse 2.)
The great difficulty of such views for a modern reader is the personification of this logos-character of God and reality. Here the Logos is a semi-personal entity, even before it assumes human form. And the impossible transaction that is the most scandalous and the most radically important is that the Logos, this rationality of God and creation, became human: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…” (verse 14).
This fantastic event in the life of the universe did not happen in the academies of Athens, where the schools of the old philosophers continued their transmission of wisdom. Nor did it happen in the newer, modern-style universities of Alexandria in Egypt, where the accumulated scientific, philosophical, and religious wisdom of the ancient world was gathered in libraries and lecture halls. It happened in backwater Judea, and its human manifestation was a Jew. A Jew who was in line for a great worldly dominion as successor of an ancient king David, but a Jew who was so paradoxical in his worldly course that he ended up executed in a shameful (not even tragic!) death as a political criminal. (Behold the audacity of the early Christian message!)
This Logos of the universe came to the Jewish people, “to his own,” but “his own people did not accept him” (verse 11). However, it was not only the Jews who did not accept him. “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him” (verse 10). A colossal event for the entire universe had happened here, and practically nobody knew it!!
Only a handful of folks knew the immeasurable significance of all this; it was an inside secret for some time. But some did know: “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, … not of blood [like all Jewish people] or of the will of flesh [by human contrivances] … but of God” (verses 12-13). Therefore, “From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (verses 16-17).
Only as time had passed, as local lore about Jesus of Nazareth had gradually expanded through the interpretation of the old scriptures in the light of the loftiest wisdom of the age – only then were reflective and born-again Jesus believers (John 3:3) able to grasp and proclaim the awesome declarations of the Prologue to the Gospel According to John.