Sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas
Sunday, January 3, 2021
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace. Amen.
What if the prophet wasn’t talking about a place?
It sure sounded like the prophet was talking about a place. The place the prophet talked about was home. “See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,” proclaimed the prophet Jeremiah, as we read in our First Reading [Jeremiah 31:7-14] this morning …“a great company shall return here. With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back … (Jeremiah 31:7-8)
The people to whom the prophet spoke, were a people described by Juliana Claassens as a people destroyed and broken down, plucked up out of their homelands and scattered by God to countries far away” (end quote). The people were suffering in Babylonian exile far from home, in a painful, and strange, and unfamiliar place. It was to this defeated and despairing people the prophet appears to speak a promise of place.
God promised … to build the people up again (31:4) … that the people would once again plant vineyards and enjoy the fruit from the harvest (31:4) … that God would gather Israel and to be the good shepherd keeping the flock safe (31:10). Claassans writes, “In this hopeful message of deliverance, God promises to overturn the people’s experience of pain and suffering and return them home to the land of their ancestors.”
But, was it really a promise of place? Or, perhaps said another way, as Christians today, do we receive this prophecy as a sign that God’s work is about leading us to a place today? Is God’s work about leading us to physical places of prosperity, material blessing, and happiness? Some Christians say yes.
Some Christians preach what is called the prosperity gospel. They believe that God rewards faith with economic blessing – that economic prosperity, a good job, a big house, perhaps a second house, lavish vacations, are all signs that God rewards the faithful for lives well lived. They would see in Jeremiah’s prophecy, yes, it is God’s work and will to lead the faithful to a place – a place of prosperity.
Many Christians are guided by what is called Christian Nationalism. Christian Nationalism is the belief that God has blessed the United States in a special way that God has not blessed other countries. That it is God’s will that this country, of all the countries of the world, experience prosperity, blessing, and prominence among nations. They would see in Jeremiah’s prophecy, that yes, it is God’s work to lead the United States to a place – a place of power.
All of us are bombarded with consumerism. Consumerism is the belief that the increasing acquisition of material items will lead to increasing happiness. Advertisers fill us with images and messages: if only you had XYZ, then you’ll look like this, you’ll behave like this, you’ll have friends and status like this. This, too, is a modern-day living out of Jeremiah’s prophecy: that the good life is about a place – a place of material blessings.
The problem, with each of these beliefs, however, is sin. We know that economic prosperity can also be the result of exploitation and unfair policies – too often the wealth of some is built on the poverty of others … we know that a country’s prominence can come as a result of another country’s, or of another people’s, subjugation – in too many cases countries are wealthy because others have been exploited … We know the emptiness that comes even after getting what we want – even people blessed by great material blessing are empty and search for meaning.
We also know that when place is defined – place is defended. In sin – even Christians – get wrapped up into turf wars deciding who is in and who is out of place. Patriarchy, racial hierarchy, class systems are just some of the many ways we divide community into places of welcome and places of exclusion.
But … but what if Jeremiah wasn’t promising a place?
As Christians today, on this Second Sunday and Tenth Day of Christmas, two thousand years after the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ … what if we receive the promise today, not of place, but of person? Namely – the person of Jesus Christ?
Today, for this Second Sunday of Christmas, the lectionary pairs Jeremiah’s prophecy with the prologue of the Gospel of John. [John 1:1-18] “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” writes St. John to at the start of his Gospel. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” As Christians singing again our Christmas proclamation of the birth of Jesus Christ, here is the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy of homecoming, deliverance, and restoration!
Consider verse 3 of the First Chapter of John: “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:1-3). Think about that: we each came into being through the Word, through Christ, who was in the beginning with God. Therefore, in faith, as we see the Jeremiah’s prophecy fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, we are returning home into the one through who we were first created! To us, exiles that we are, in sin and death, when we live in faith in Christ, we return home, wherever we are/and in whatever is happening in our lives, we return home into Jesus Christ.
Jeremiah’s prophecy, and John’s prologue, are also paired with our reading from Ephesians this morning [Ephesians 1:3-14]. Ephesians proclaims God’s home coming work in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God has:
- Chosen us before the foundation of the world (vs 4)
- Destined us for adoption as God’s children (vs 5)
- Bestowed upon us grace (vs 6)
- Made known his will to us ( vs 9)
- Accomplishes all things (vs 11)
This homecoming work in the person of Jesus Christ lavishes upon us blessing upon blessing: Adoption as God’s children, election as the chosen of God, redemption as sinners proclaimed saints, forgiveness of our sins, wisdom & insight from the Holy Spirit, and the inheritance as children of God of all the blessings of God.
Friends, as Christians, we see Jeremiah’s prophecy fulfilled not in a homecoming to place, but in a homecoming to person. Jesus Christ is God’s work liberating the captives, freeing the sinners, and is our home! Jesus Christ is God’s reconciling work bringing enemies past their former divisions and into new respect, understanding, and harmony. Jesus Christ is the place into whom we are called to live our lives and to die our deaths.
Returning to Jesus Christ, we reject the prosperity gospel, nationalism, and consumerism – these places of death must be rejected, in order for us to live the life God has desired for us to live. “The life of faith is one of continual movement deeper and deeper into Jesus, and into the relationship shared between the Father and the Son,” writes Brian Peterson. “In John’s Gospel, discipleship means an eternal journey into the depths of that love which has no end. This is what the incarnation has made possible. Thus this text is not only about the “beginning” of the incarnation; it is also about the beginning of the church.”
Growing in Christ, however, is not about shrinking from the world, it is not the false choice between either leading a spiritual life in Christ or a life in the body lived in this world. The Word becoming flesh drives our attention to God’s work dwelling in us, among us, and around us. Returning home to Christ through faith, is to join God’s movement of Christ into the world taking upon all flesh.
As we grow in Christ’s love our love for the world will grow …
As we grow in love for the world our anger at injustice and cruelty will grow …
As we grow in Christ our resistance to the forces of evil will grow …
As we live and grow in the word becoming flesh among us, we will see the word that has taken on the flesh of the poor, the hungry, the weak, the oppressed, the ignored, and the rejected …
Seeing the word that has taken on suffering flesh, the word becoming flesh in us will lead us to live as ambassadors of healing and reconciliation, as peacemakers and bridge builders, as protestors and agitators …
Returning home to Christ through faith, we will become Christ for one another, living with sacrificial love, forgiveness, mercy, kindness, and healing.
Friends, the Good News today, is that indeed, Jeremiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.
That’s Good News for us today, because here today among us, Jeremiah’s prophecy is fulfilled! We don’t have to we don’t have to wait for a return to some past time and place … nor do we have to wait for deliverance to some future time and place.
Today. Here. Now.
Among us in this place Jeremiah’s prophecy is fulfilled. Here, in Water and Word, in Bread and Cup, in the assembly gathered here in the Nave, in the assembly gathered at home watching online or television, or reading this sermon, here Christ is present among us, and in us! Here, you are called home to faith in Christ, here, you are sent forth as the body of Christ to love and serve the world.
Indeed may it be so!