A wondrous event has taken place, has come among us, but to many it is still a secret.
The Lectionary has a second Sunday after Christmas a little over half the years—whenever Christmas falls on a Wednesday or later in the week. (Christmas Season lasts until Epiphany, January 6th.) Many congregations will make this Sunday the celebration of Epiphany itself, which has its own set of readings—commented on in a separate unit below, about the Light of Epiphany and the Nations to whom it is directed.
Coming shortly after Christmas, this Second Sunday is one for the perfect tense. The perfect tense grammatically: something “has happened,” “has taken place,” “has come about,” “is all about us.” And that something is GOOD! That is the mood of all these readings.
Except in the case of prophecy, of course. The prophecy is still in the future tense, but it is the prophecy of that Good stuff that the other scripture readings will celebrate and shout about as having arrived.
The Jeremiah prophecy sees the return of the exiled peoples of Israel—perhaps the old kingdom exiled to Assyria (in the eighth century, BCE), perhaps the last folks of Judah exiled to Babylon (in the sixth century), and finally, in some mystic way, all of them in God’s own time. These are the same folks foreseen in the readings for the third week of Advent, who found healing on the way back to Zion:
…[A]mong them the blind and the lame, …
With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
(Ah ha! There is a perfect tense here too!)
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn. (Verses 8-9, NRSV.)
The message of the secret deliverance is about something that has happened, has become a fact of the spiritual life.
The last five psalms in the Book of Psalms are a kind of concluding doxology, a cluster of hallelujahs! Our selection here is from the midst of that cluster.
Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!
For he strengthens the bars of your gates;
he blesses your children within you.
And however we Chicago-dwellers may feel about it, snow is also treated as a natural blessing in the flow of God’s gifts!
He gives snow like wool;
he scatters frost like ashes.
He hurls down hail like crumbs –
who can stand before his cold?
He sends out his word, and melts them;
he make his wind blow, and the waters flow. (Verses 16-18.)
The revelation of the Christmas event re-opens the eyes of the people to the world renewed by God’s faithful word!
This exuberant, overflowing passage from the Letter to the Ephesians is both awesome and baffling. It is an on-going flow of terms that reach to the heavens and extend to the limits of the globe. (The entire passage is a single sentence, as modern editors punctuate it in Greek.) If we are compelled to extract a prosaic message from this highly liturgical language, we can get something like the following.
The whole passage is a blessing, a benediction that turns into a kind of creedal confession of God’s mystery of salvation:
1) we were elected, verse 4 (“he chose” NRSV);
2) we were *predestined8 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, “inheritance,” a promised future, verses 11 and 14;
both for us Jews, verse 12;
and for you non-Jews, who are 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.
But the decisive events have already taken place!
John 1:(1-9), 10-18
For this second Sunday after Christmas, the Lectionary assigns as a Gospel reading what is probably the loftiest passage about the nature of the Christ in the Scriptures. The Prologue to the Gospel According to John combines the most extravagant claims for Jesus’ Godhood with some quite down-to-earth statements of his human-hood.
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (verses 10-11, NRSV).
We often forget that the Gospels present the message of Christmas (God becoming humbly human) as a great secret. The Christmas readings present the message as a glorious declaration through Zechariah (John the Baptist’s father), Mary in her great Song, angels to shepherds, magi with heavenly wisdom. But all of that was for insiders. They all declare what is an inside secret—not evident to the rest of the world. Herod and the rest of the world keep doing business as usual—using armed force to search out and destroy the true good for the world, which has come secretly among the people!
“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (verse 12).
And that secret message and recognition became THE gospel for the future: “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” (verse 14).