Some Thoughts for the Second Sunday of Christmas
- Old Testament: Jeremiah 31:7-14 -or- Sirach 24:1-12
- Canticle: Psalm 147:12-120 -or- Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21
- Epistle: Ephesians 1:3-14
- Holy Gospel: St. John 1:(1-9 optional), 10-18
Texts in Summary:
Well first, let’s get on the same page. What are we actually reading?
It’s not terribly common for there to be two Sundays between Christmas and Epiphany, and when it does happen, the various lectionaries tend to go a bit haywire. And so, according to the Revised Common Lectionary, we are reading the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel – but this was the appointed reading for Christmas Day. That is, unless your parish reads the Lukan texts on Christmas Eve and doesn’t gather for worship on the 25th. Or if you opt for the shortened Gospel text, which begins at v 10 and only overlaps with the Christmas reading for four verses before embarking into “new” territory. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer appoints a series of options for the Gospel reading, flipping the pattern of the RCL but maintaining the Old Testament and Epistle readings. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church is marking Epiphany this Sunday. Alas, the Revised Common Lectionary is not so common as its framers hoped.
The Old Testament lection comes to us from Jeremiah, speaking words of comfort and return to the people – not those exiled in Babylon but the people of the northern kingdom, Israel, who were forcibly removed from the land by the Assyrians in the 700s BC. Ingrid Lily calls this portion of Jeremiah a “failed prophecy” from “the ultimate skeptic” writing to those already captive by the waters of Babylon, written in solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed. She warns against “recycling” the hopes of those who were not redeemed. She concludes by noting that Jeremiah urged those already in Babylon to settle in the place where they are, to prepare for numerous generations to live outside the Land of Promise.
By way of contrast, Gennifer Benjamin Brooks says: “Jeremiah is ever hopeful and his message is delivered to a people sorely in need of hope.” She understands the oracle not as addressed specifically to the Israelites conquered by the Assyrians but to all of Abraham’s descendants “that have survived the devastation of being overrun by the various conquerors of their nation” and that we, who have been grafted into Abraham’s family through Christ, can participate in this same hope even though “we are all vulnerable to the vagaries of human existence….” The hope is not for immediate geopolitical deliverance that failed in the sixth century BC but for an ultimate redemption. She further connects this hope to Epiphany: “In terms of Israel, God is reuniting the nations that have been separated….in the final analysis, Go is reuniting all people under Christ regardless of doctrine or denomination or life situation.”
The Ephesians text fits nicely with Rev. Dr. Brook’s reading of Jeremiah. Susan Hylen highlights the theme of adoption: that the Jewish Paul writes of his unity to his Gentil audience through Christ for God has “destined us for adoption as his children.” The redemption hoped for in Jeremiah comes to all people through Christ, as detailed in Ephesians.
This same theme carries over into the second chunk of the John reading (or, simply the John reading if the preacher opts to follow the shortened text of the RCL). Verses 12-13 detail our becoming children of God – not by birth and blood but by God’s glorious grace.
But then again, this depends on what texts we’re reading. Because the RCL also appoints alternate readings from Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon, which highlight the commonality between Holy Sophia and the Divine Logos. It may be a stretch for some preachers and their congregants to see the feminine Sophia of the Deuterocanonical Apocrypha as the Word of God, Jesus Christ, but for a congregation that has engaged with the apocryphal texts, this is fertile ground to explore, especially through the writings of the early leaders of the Church.
The dual list of readings force the preacher to make a choice because they focus on different thoughts.
The primary readings (Jeremiah, Ephesians, and St. John 1:10-18) point to redemption – that even when all hope seems lost, God is fulfilling the promise to bless the entire world through Abraham and Sarah, adopting us through Christ into the covenant. If this is the route the preacher chooses, it may be beneficial to follow Gennifer Benjamin Brook’s lead and look to Epiphany – especially to the themes of the revelation to the nations via the Magi’s visit and adoption through the waters via the Baptism of our Lord, using the kalendar as the “point of entry” for the sermon.
But if the preacher opts to preach on the first verses of John (because, say, they rarely get the chance to preach on Christmas Day and Christmas II doesn’t roll around very often), it would be beneficial to spend some time exploring the texts from Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon. But here’s the catch with preaching on the mystery of the Incarnation as spelled out so poetically in John 1: A preaching professor once told my class, It’s hard to ponder mystery in a sermon. Too often, you end up telling people to ponder the mystery rather than actually marveling at it. But this week, that might very well be what’s called for – to ponder the majesty of the Incarnation in John 1 and the glory of our redemption in Ephesians. Not to tell people to ponder, mind you, but to actually ponder the mystery. Consider these words from Julian of Vezelay:
And so from his royal throne the Word of God came to us, humbling himself in order to raise us up, becoming poor to make us rich, and human to make us divine. But the people he was to redeem needed to have great trust and hope that the word would come to them with effective power. Hence the description of God’s Word as almighty: “Your almighty Word” the Bible calls him.
So lost, so wholly abandoned to unhappiness was the human race, that it could only trust in a word that was almighty; otherwise it would experience no more than a weak and tremulous hope of being set free from sin and its effects.
To give poor lost humanity an absolute assurance of being saved, the Word that came to save it was therefore called almighty.
And see how truly almighty was that Word.
When “neither heaven nor anything under the heavens as yet had any existence, he spoke and they came into being,” made out of nothing. The almighty power of the Word created substance and shape simultaneously.
At his command, “Let there be a world,” the world came into being, and when he decreed, “Let there be human beings,” human beings were created.
But the Word of God did not remake his creatures as easily as he made them. He made them by simply giving a command; he remade them by dying. He made them by commanding; he remade them by suffering.
Who I’m Reading to Think Through This Week:
Via Working Preacher:
- Ingrid Lilly on Jeremiah 31:7-14
- Gennifer Benjamin Brooks on Jeremiah 31:7-14
- Karl Jacobson on Jeremiah 31:7-14
- Susan Hylen on Ephesians 1:3-14
- Brian Peterson on Ephesians 1:3-14
Via The Sunday Website at Saint Louis University:
Via Chapter, Verse, and Season: