December 30, 2019
The Christmas 2A Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for John 1:(1-9), 10-18 from the Lectionary Gospel; Jeremiah 31:7-14 from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 147:12-20 from the Lectionary Psalms; and Ephesians 1:3-14 from the Lectionary Epistle.
Related Reformed confession: Lectionary Epistle: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1 (Lord’s Day 1)
John 1:(1-9), 10-18
Author: Scott Hoezee
The Lectionary may get the last laugh here, and savvy preachers can curl up the corners of their mouths to join the mirth. Because here it is the first Sunday of a new year and really the first Sunday in the 2019-2020 holiday season after Christmas is officially finished. For weeks now, starting well before American Thanksgiving even, it’s been all Jesus, all the time. The Muzak pumped into the shopping malls and heard in city centers, the Christmas specials, the long series of special worship services and Lessons & Carols and Messiah sing-a-longs and what all not: it’s all been about Jesus, the Child of Bethlehem, the Babe laid in the manger. It’s been one giant Christmaspalooza.
And now . . . on the first Sunday when people re-gather in sanctuaries for this one last Sunday when the sanctuary is no doubt still decked out in some kind or another of Christmas finery, the first words of the Gospel text tell us that Jesus came to that which was his own, but his own did NOT receive him.
In other words, Jesus has come, and you missed him!
“Missed him!?” not a few would want to exclaim in reply. “Missed him? No, no, no: in recent weeks there was NO missing him. Everyone saw Jesus in recent days, even those not looking for him.”
But the text of John 1:10 confronts us nonetheless, forcing us to ask ourselves, “Yes, perhaps we saw Jesus but did we recognize him? Did we receive him? Did we take his incarnation into our time and space seriously enough to realize that this changes everything? Everything!”
The truth is, we like the Jesus in the manger because he can’t say anything yet. We can project onto him anything we want. Maybe that is why in the tradition of the church we do such a rapid fast-forward to Epiphany and soon to the baptism of Jesus and the launch of the very public ministry we will consider in the weeks between Epiphany and the start of Lent. Maybe the church has long recognized that wonderful though the incarnation is, the real truth of Jesus comes when he opens his mouth to teach and preach, when we sets himself down at the table of the tax collectors and prostitutes, when he tells us to love everyone and to forgive even our most ardent enemies.
That’s the real Jesus who comes to us. Will we receive him? Will we accept the blessing of the divine grace that allows us to see him aright? Or will we continue to find John 1:10 an indictment that makes us blush?
It is a vital point because when you move on a half-dozen verses in John 1, you discover what this Child really brings (and it turns out to be the #1 thing we all need): Grace.
He is full of Grace.
When some years ago I did a word study on grace as part of a book project I was working on, I discovered what most of us already know intuitively: the word charis or “grace” does not crop up much in the four gospels. Despite the hugeness of “salvation by grace alone” for all of us who stand in some stream or another of the Reformation river, the word “grace” is restricted in the New Testament to mostly the writings of Paul. You can read “grace” once in a blue moon in the gospels (and then in non-salvific contexts sometimes, as in Luke 2 when the young boy Jesus is described as having grown up with wisdom and grace). But mostly if it’s grace you’re looking for, in the case of the gospels you’ll have to locate it in the actions and demeanor of Jesus, not in the text on the page.
But not in John 1. Here grace is as bubbly and as effervescent as a freshly poured glass of champagne. It sparkles. It pops. It delights. Grace clings to the Word of God, to the Word made flesh. It characterizes him. It is his essence.
Along with Truth, this Grace defines Jesus’ presence on the earth: he’s the only One with the ability to know exactly what is right and what is wrong with the way life typically goes on Planet Earth and he is—blessedly enough—simultaneously the only One with the Grace sufficient to deal with all the garbage of that normal way of life (which is, in the end, anything but “normal” in God’s sight).
All of this is Good News. This is all Gospel at its purest and finest. And it reaches something of a crescendo in verse 16 when we are told that from the fullness of all the Grace this Word made flesh has, we in turn have received “grace upon grace.” We get Grace-squared, Grace-cubed, Grace raised to a power of 10. It builds up and up in our lives, and how we need that assurance. Paul will later say that God’s grace always hyper-abounds to meet the sinful challenges we encounter in our lives. God knows what we know (and what we can admit if only we’re honest with ourselves and with one another): in this life and for this time yet, we’re never finished with our need for grace.
The Good News is that neither is God in Christ ever finished with doling it out. Grace is where we live. Grace is the ocean in which we swim. Grace is the atmosphere we breathe.
Don’t let Bible translations like the NIV make you miss this with its weak rendering of our having received “one blessing after the next.” That’s not what John said! That’s not what Jesus gives! Yes, we do receive a blessing but it’s the blessing of Grace, Grace, Grace. The blessing of Grace2 of Grace10 of a blessing that won’t quit, that cannot be derailed by sin and evil, and that will most surely carry us into the kingdom of our Father at the end of the cosmic day.
The first Sunday of the New Year is often a time to feel regrets for goals not achieved in the year gone by and a time to set goals and resolutions for the year to come. That’s fine. But this passage reminds us that as we embark on the journey that will be 2020, it’s not finally about us or our goals or our abilities to make things better or right. It’s about Grace.
It’s always been about Grace. And it always will be.
And that, my friends, is why we must never be among those who “received him not.”
In John 1:5 we are told the light shines in the darkness but that the darkness has not . . . and here the translations diverge. The Greek verb is katalambano which mostly means “to seize” or to nab, capture, overtake (often with hostile intentions according to the Greek dictionary. Some translations in the past, and more recently also the NRSV, have opted for “but the darkness has not overcome it” but the NIV has opted for “has not understood it.” Calvin Theological Seminary Professor of New Testament Emeritus Dean Deppe provides the following information: There are five possibilities:
1) to grasp or comprehend intellectually: KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV a) Cyril Alex; Latin tradition b) 3:19 not perceive the light brought by Jesus c) parallel to v. 10,11 -but if “understand” you’d probably expect the present tense and in John 1:5 it is aorist.
2) to welcome, receive, accept a) match paralambano in v. 11 b) Aramaic: qablâ (darkness) and qabble|h (receive it) so word play
3) to overtake, overcome (grasp in a hostile sense) RSV, NRSV, NJB a) Origin, majority of Greek fathers, Schlatter, Westcott, Brown b) in the only other use in Jn. 12:35 c) dualistic opposition between light and darkness demands this verb d) Wis. 7:29-30 compares wisdom to light that the darkness cannot supplant e) fits with Gnosticism and sectarian Judaism that the darkness is trying to completely extinguish the light (Acts Thomas 130) against: destroys parallelism with 10c and 11b (but different stanza)
4) to master, absorb: BAGD: Moffatt -try to capture both understand and overcome -playing with both meanings (Barrett, Carson)
5) Deliberate ambiguity (Silva, Biblical Words, 149-150)
I think we must first examine how an author employs the term in other passages. Because the other use in Jn. 12:35 demands overcome (“before darkness overtakes you”), I believe that must be the meaning here as well.
However one translates this, the “darkness” itself is not spelled out by John. What darkness? Whose darkness? It’s curious that John does not spell it out, but perhaps this reflects no more than the fact that John didn’t feel the need to articulate more fully what darkness he meant—there is so much darkness and fallenness and hurt in this broken world that it is too obvious to get very specific. We know what the darkness is. We’ve all felt it, lived in it, passed through particularly dark valleys. “The light shines in the darkness.” That’s good news in John 1:5 because it’s in the dark that we yearn for that light most of all.
Marilynne Robinson loves lawn sprinklers. If you read her Pulitzer-prize winning novel, Gilead, then you know that she is always on the lookout for the glory that lurks in the everyday. Along those lines, she thinks that the person who invented the garden sprinkler did something far lovelier than just provide a handy way to water grass. Because, you see, sprinklers expose water droplets to sunlight, and in that shimmering moment, you see each drop not as the stuff you use to do the dishes or mop the kitchen floor.
No, you see that each drop is really a jewel, a mini-cathedral, as the light refracts to expose the dazzling rainbow that surrounds us always. The essence of light and water is revealed in the selfsame moment, and it reminds us of the glory that engulfs us daily, though we mostly miss it. “We have seen his glory,” the evangelist John wrote. But he also wrote that the glory of that One and Only sent from the Father often is missed. “He came to that which was his own and his own received him not.”
Glory surrounds us, John believed and Marilynne Robinson claims. But we miss it. We miss it again and again.
Author: Stan Mast
So, Christmas is finally over, I mean really over. The visitors have all gone home, the tree has been put back in the box, the decorations are down in the basement, and the gifts, well, the gifts have been celebrated, enjoyed, used, broken, returned, or forgotten.
But the Lectionary says, “Not so fast. Let’s keep our focus on gifts for another Sunday, this Second Sunday after Christmas.” The Lectionary uses this happy text from Jeremiah 31 to help us celebrate the abundance of gifts that flow from God’s gracious redemption. Indeed, the key word here is “bounty” or (what amounts to the same thing) “abundance.”
Of course, Jeremiah 31 is not about Christmas. It is about Israel’s return from Exile, which was, in fact, sort of like Christmas for the Jews. Maybe it was even better because it was so unexpected, not on their annual calendar of events. Indeed, Israel’s restoration from Exile was totally unexpected, because the Exile hasn’t even happened yet in the flow of Jeremiah’s prophecy. Yes, it has been predicted in chapter after chapter of Jeremiah’s prophecy, but here in 587 BC the destruction of Jerusalem with all its attendant catastrophes was still a year away.
Our text is part of the so-called Book of Consolation (chapters 30-33), a welcome break from the drumbeat of gloom and doom that pounds through the rest of the prophecy. Here it’s as though God says to his people, “I’ve been telling you that the worst thing you can imagine is going to happen to you. And you may think that will be the end of you. But I want you to know before it ever happens that I can redeem you even from that.” Even before the disaster strikes, God assures his terrified people that they will be completely restored.
Because they could not imagine the disaster, let alone the restoration, God paints a picture of their hopeful future using vivid images: a joyful throng marching through the desert on a level path surrounded by streams of water, a banquet overflowing with the best food and drink, a joyful dance with whirling maidens and stomping men, a garden filled with the bounty of the earth, and, best of all, their previously menacing God as their loving Father and tender Shepherd.
The dominant emotion in our text is joy, full throated joy commanded by Yahweh, their covenant God. “Sing for joy for Jacob, shout for the foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard….” It’s not clear to whom this command is addressed. One would think it is Israel itself, but Israel is spoken of as “they” and “them” throughout his passage. It would seem to be the “nations (verse 10).” As often happens in the Psalms, the very nations who are the enemy of God and his people are called upon to bear witness to what God will do for his own people and rejoice about that. Perhaps this a hint of the universal effect of God’s gracious redemption. Even though it starts with and centers on Israel, redemption is finally for the world.
Israel is called “the foremost of the nations (verse 7),” not because they are the largest and strongest, but because they are the object of God’s electing grace. They are now (in the eyes of the prophet) nothing but “a remnant” who need to be saved. But saved they will be, because Yahweh is “Israel’s father and Ephraim is my firstborn son (verse 9).” Because of his love for his sinful children, God will redeem them.
That redemption has two parts in our text: God will gather them from Exile (verses 8-11) and God will restore them to abundant life (verses 12-14).
The return to the Land of Promise is described in comprehensive terms. God will gather the remnant from “the land of the north (obviously Babylon) and from the ends of the earth (wherever they had been carried away or had fled).” Even those who are too weak or disabled will be brought back: “the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and (even) women in labor.” No one will be left behind because of their condition.
Yes, they will come with weeping for what they have been through and for what God is now doing. And they will pray along the way. It will be a difficult journey. But as he had done in the wilderness wandering centuries ago, Yahweh will provide all they need to make it home—”streams of water and a level path.”
Note that the emphasis here is on God’s gracious actions on behalf of his chastened remnant. In words that resonate with Psalm 23, God says, “I will lead them…. He who scattered Israel will gather them and watch over his flock like a shepherd.” And in words that echo God’s covenant promises to the Patriarchs, we read “Yahweh will ransom Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.” To make it even more personal, Yahweh says, “I am Israel’s father….” What Israel cannot imagine, God will do by his grace—ransom, redeem, restore.
These last words about God are the words Israel desperately needed to hear, and so do we. When we go through hard times, even if we are assured that these troubles come from God and that God will finally make it all well, we wonder about God’s love. How could a loving God allow this, put us through it, even send it upon us? What kind of God does this kind of thing? Our text answers: the God who makes covenant, loves us as our Father, shepherds us with tender care, promises us redemption from the trouble, and (here’s where Christmas comes in) becomes one of us in every possible way, suffering and dying for our sins and our salvation.
What can that salvation amount to? Ok, God will ransom, redeem, and restore, but to what? What does a redeemed life look like? Or to put it bluntly, how can anything make up for the hell we’ve been through? What possible good can compensate for the bad I’ve endured? To put it in terms of Israel’s life, what kind of existence will Yahweh give Israel in the Promised Land after Babylon had destroyed everything back there?
Here’s where verses 12-14 speak so vividly. Israel will not come home dragging their feet and hanging their heads because life is so barren and the land so ruined. No, “they will come and shout for joy on the height of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord.” Then come those images I mentioned before: a banquet, “the grain, the new wine and oil,” the flocks and herds abounding with young, a well-watered garden, maidens and men dancing for joy, the priests overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of sacrifices. God will reverse their fortunes completely, turning “mourning into gladness” and giving them “comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” In summary, “my people will be filled with my bounty,” declares the Lord. God doesn’t save just a little bit; he saves to the uttermost, “restoring the years that the locusts have eaten (Joel 2).”
We’ve just celebrated Christmas, when God in the flesh began the gracious work of ransoming, redeeming, and restoring a sinful world that had exiled itself from God. But, so what? What difference does it all make? The Epistolary reading for today speaks of all “the spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms” that we have in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14). This reading from Jeremiah spells out the blessings of redemption in very earthly terms. Put those two texts together and we have a tiny glimpse of what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full (John 10:10).”
What a timely reminder to keep thanking God for all the Christmas gifts we have received!
As I write, much of California is burning. Hopefully by the time you read this, that nightmare is over. Driven by historically fierce Santa Anna winds, wildfires have consumed hundreds of thousands of acres and burned down hundreds of homes and businesses. After the fires have reduced their beloved buildings to ashes, the residents return to… nothingness. “It’s all gone. Everything we worked for, everything that meant something to us, everything… just gone.” We see it after floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, bombings—people lose everything and they cannot image how they can ever put their lives together again. That was Israel in Exile. Babylon had taken it all away, even their God, who had clearly been defeated. How could life ever be good again, even if they got back to the Land? Only by God’s grace, as pictured by Jeremiah.
Author: Scott Hoezee
Two rather striking features to this psalm leap out at you. First, there is the singularly positive, sunny statements about how God has strengthened Jerusalem, given peace within Israel’s borders, and just generally provides a warm and safe environment for God’s people. The second striking feature is the celebration at the end of Psalm 147 of the laws and ordinances of God and how lucky Israel is to know them because no other nation does. In fact, Israel’s knowing God’s Law is WHY God treats Israel so well.
Why are these two things so striking? First, because the Book of Psalms was probably compiled and edited into its more-or-less final form sometime after the exile into Babylon. In other words, after the time when Jerusalem proved to be not so well fortified after all and when there was zero peace within Israel’s borders. And then second it’s striking also because it was Israel’s singular failure to observe God’s ordinances and statutes and laws that led God to punish them in the first place.
In short, Psalm 147 is celebrating an idealized portrait of God and Israel but as it turns out, this happy picture of security and obedience never really happened. Or at best it happened in fits and starts now and again in Israel’s history but was never a sustained reality for very long. Surely a song like this must have stuck in people’s throats after 587 BC. Even those who returned to Jerusalem years later under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah never came anywhere close to seeing Jerusalem restored to its old glory. And the people of Israel would remain in an occupied state from that time all the way up to the diaspora after Jerusalem’s second destruction in 70 AD.
What do we do with a poem like this given the historical and spiritual realities we know only too well? Well, this is a psalm assigned in the Year A Lectionary for the very first Sunday of a new calendar year. It also comes the day before Epiphany on January 6. The just-finished holiday season is receding in life’s rear view mirror and we are all gearing up for a new year, replete with some of those New Year’s resolutions a few folks will have made in recent days. It’s a year in the United States that may be starting out with a political firestorm of impeachment and that—believe it or not—may actually get only worse after that as we hurtle toward what promises to be yet another highly fractious election in November. Buckle up!
All things being equal, we cannot easily see Psalm 147’s portrait of happy serenity—spiritually or otherwise—applied to our own lives just now either. Even so, is there a way to view this poem as aspirational? Or can we view it as the reality we as Christians really do now have in Christ if only we have the eyes of faith to see it?
I suspect there is something to this. “In the world you will always have trouble” Jesus said to his disciples on the most troubling night of his own life. “But take heart: I have overcome the world.” In other words, Jesus assured his disciples that no matter what was roaring all around them in society at any given moment, within the citadel of Christ’s love and Easter resurrection power, there would be a chance for spiritual calm, for hope, even for joy. That ought to provide us with no small measure of comfort no matter what our circumstances. What’s more, Christ revealed himself to be the end of the Law—not the “end” in the sense of its coming to an end but “end” in the sense of Jesus’ being the very purpose and culmination of all that the Law of God had all along been aiming at: the flourishing of God’s people in God’s creation. The Law was the Owner’s Manual for creation and by following it, people had a chance to experience the delight in this world that God intended (even as they—as part of that delightful living—are warned off from doing things that would be spiritually and physically perilous).
It is perhaps no coincidence that throughout Psalm 147—including in the first 11 verses that are technically not part of this lection—it is God’s mighty power in creation that the psalmist points to over and over as proof of God’s love and grandeur as well as his ability to do whatever he promises. Rain, snow, hail, winds, the care of animals: it’s all testament to God’s majesty. And THIS is the God who loves us, who loved Israel enough to give them the gift of the Torah, of the Law that would keep them safe while at the same time helping them to flourish.
It’s all part of one grand package of loving revelation to God’s people. And it has all culminated in Jesus Christ now. This is the Savior, the Lord and King of Creation, in whom we now dwell through baptism. Indeed, the New Testament reveals we have been made “a new creation” already. We lean into and participate already now in all the goodness that is yet to come in God’s kingdom.
Who knows what the year 2020 will hold for whole nations much less for our individual lives or for our families. A new year is always a two-edged sword: on the one hand a new slate of 12 months holds out lots of promise even as there are big events—weddings, graduations, the birth of a child—we anticipate happening sometime in 2020. On the other hand, though, there are lots of possibilities for disappointment, for the unforeseen, for exceedingly tragic events that we may or may not dimly suspect to be possible on New Year’s Day. But whatever the world has in store for us, in Christ we know we have been built up to be spiritually strong and already in Christ to be also victorious.
There is more than a little hope in all that. Thanks be to God!
Psalm 147 is an example of many biblical psalms and other passages that celebrate how active God is within his own creation. C.S. Lewis once noted that when it comes to God and creation, we are always fighting on two different fronts to keep things in perspective. On the one hand are those who remove God fully from creation. This is the Deist view—the universe is like a giant clock that God wound up long ago but has ever since God has just let it tick down on its own with little to no divine awareness of what is happening (much less any divine activity within that creation). On the other extreme are the pantheists—and the cousin school of thought of panentheism—that identity God so closely with the creation as to make the creation itself God (or part of God). Neither extreme will do, Lewis observed.
As Psalm 147 shows, God and creation are at once distinct AND YET God is intimately involved in it, taking delight in it, directing the rain and the snow, superintending the care of animals and of all creation. It’s a balancing act. For those who exile God from his own creation, we need to show how much delight God still takes in the cosmos on a rolling basis—God delights in your vegetable garden, for instance. For those who blur the lines between God and creation, we need to put some daylight between the two while at the same time keeping God passionately involved.
Like so much else in theology, orthodoxy tends to lie in the territory of both/and rather than that of either/or!
Author: Doug Bratt
Christians know that God didn’t create us to “eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow we die.” Yet that popular philosophy raises a number of interesting questions. It makes us wonder how God’s people should evaluate the purpose of our lives. How do we think about why God has put us here?
Something in a sermon by the Rev. Fleming Rutledge stimulated my thinking about that issue. She said, “American Christians, for the most part, are not thinking theologically. To think theologically means to think from God’s point of view… We are thinking sociologically, politically, psychologically, experientially, nationalistically, spiritually and even religiously, but not theologically.”
Perhaps no biblical passage provides a better antidote to such thinking from a human point of view than the text the RCL appoints as its Epistolary Lesson for this Sunday. On this first Sunday of the year of our Lord, 2020, Ephesians 1 helps us to think about the purpose of our lives from God’s point of view during this year.
This is one of those sweeping biblical passages whose grandeur nearly overwhelms us. But it may have also nearly overwhelmed the apostle Paul. After all, as a colleague says, Ephesians 1’s words seem to almost burst out of the apostle like the air out of a popped balloon or like floodwaters spilling over a crumpled dam. In fact, our whole text is one long sentence in its original language. So we might picture those who first read it aloud as taking a deep, deep breath and then letting loose with a stream of 13 verses of nearly unbroken glory.
Yet one of Ephesians 1’s proclaimers’ greatest challenges it to help hearers at least begin to glimpse just how sweeping it really is. It, after all, covers immeasurable eons of time, beginning even before creation and ending with the return of Jesus Christ. And in between Paul insists that God planned in the fullness of time “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together.”
What’s more, Paul invites a culture that looks at virtually everything from a human perspective to look at things as God looks at them. God is, after all, the initiator throughout this whole magnificent passage. Eight times “God/he” is the subject of a sentence. “We/you” is the subject of only four sentences. And in three of those sentences the people God creates in God’s image are little more than the passive recipients of God’s blessings. In the fourth we read about the amazing results of receiving all of this grace.
Paul tells his Ephesian readers that God blessed, chosen and predestined those whom God has adopted as God’s sons and daughters. However, he also insists that God has freely given grace to us, has lavished grace on us, has made known to us the mystery of the gospel and has redeemed us.
It is hard for those who proclaim Ephesians 1 to lead our hearers on a full exploration of this biblical goldmine. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, one of Britain’s great twentieth century preachers, once preached on it for six months to his undoubtedly fascinated congregation.
Those who proclaim Ephesians 1 over a slightly shorter period – say, 25-40 minutes or so — will want to note a couple of things. Quite simply, as many commentators and preachers note, this passage is almost all about Jesus Christ. He, after all, is our link to our heavenly Father, the Creator. Christ is both the means and the goal of our salvation. In him all things hold together. Our text reminds us that Christ is what Len Vander Zee calls “the glue that binds the universe.” So it’s no wonder that our text makes both its hearers and proclaimers look so passive.
All that we need and all that we’ve now received or ever will receive took place “in Christ,” as Paul repeats a remarkable eight times in this short passage. After all, God chose us “in Christ” before the creation of the world to “be holy and blameless in his sight.” Among other things, this means that God somehow linked Christ and us together in God’s mind.
In the mysterious mists of eternity, God graciously chose to make those who didn’t even yet exist God’s own children through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Though God knew that we would be unholy and blameworthy, God chose to make us holy and blameless.
That makes Ephesians 1 a song of grace for the whole world. It sends God’s people out to all spiritually darkened people who need the gospel of God’s redeeming love. Our text, after all, reminds us that God’s people don’t choose whom God saves. What’s more, while we also don’t know whom God has chosen, we do know that the faithful reception of God’s grace is a sign of that choice.
Those whom God has chosen God also adopts as God’s forgiven sons and daughters. That means that, among other things, God graciously gives us access to God so that we know that God will hear and answer our prayers for our best.
However, because of what Jesus Christ did, God also shapes and molds us to be more and more like our Savior. That work of transformation may be painful. The Holy Spirit, after all, takes a wire brush to scrub away the dead skin of God’s adopted sons and daughters’ sins.
Paul reminds us, however, that God didn’t just choose to make us God’s children whom God transforms to be more and more like Jesus Christ. God also reveals to us some of God’s plans for the future. In sending Jesus Christ into our world, God has revealed a mystery to us.
While we often think of a mystery as something we need to solve, Paul simply refers to it as what God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ. By sending Jesus Christ, God shows us how much God loves both God’s whole world and us. Christ’s coming shows that God plans to lovingly unite all things in Jesus Christ.
As Vander Zee notes, God insists that because of God’s love and Christ’s victory over sin and death, history is not some meandering path towards nothingness. God insists that we aren’t some chemical accident that wandered out of oblivion and moseys back toward annihilation. God insists that we aren’t alone, unconnected and ultimately left to our own devices.
No, God’s plan is to finally bring all things under the loving rule of Jesus Christ. Our destiny is to finally experience perfect love between God and all of God’s children, as well as the rest of God’s creation. One day, Paul promises, God will unite all of God’s creation in God’s love, unity, peace and completeness so that we can worship the Lord forever in the glory of God’s new creation.
How, then, shall God’s adopted sons and daughters live? We begin by remembering that God chose us, made us God’s children and is moving us toward eternity in God’s glorious presence. In the words of our text, we are God’s “saints,” God’s “sons” (and daughters!) and God’s “possession.” In the stirring words of the Heidelberg Catechism, we belong to God in life and in death, and in body and in soul.
As a result, God’s people seek to live to what verses 12 and 14 refer as “the praise of” God’s “glory.” Quite simply, God chose God’s people before we were even born to bring glory to God. The Westminster Catechism’s first question and answer summarizes this purpose beautifully: “What is the chief end of man? To glorify him and enjoy him forever.”
As a colleague notes, the glory of God is the revelation of God. So to glorify God is to serve the Lord by our words and actions as the gracious God that he is. To live to the praise of God’s glory is to orient our lives in such a way that they always honor not us, but the Lord.
However, to live to the praise of God’s glory is also to do all that we can to encourage others to live for God’s glory as well. Quite simply, God’s choice of us to be God’s children propels us to encourage others to recognize that choice in their lives as well.
God has done all the heavy lifting in choosing us, making us to be more and more like Jesus Christ and eventually drawing us into God’s eternal presence. That, however, is no excuse for passivity. Instead it motivates us to bring that good news to the whole world.
A number of years ago Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko wrote about a man named Bill Mallory who traveled to India to discover the meaning of life. He didn’t, however, find it. On his return to the United States the disappointed Mallory saw a sign outside a Chevron gas station that read, “As you travel, ask us.” So each time he entered a Chevron station, he would say to an attendant, “I’m a traveler, and I’d like to ask a question. What is the purpose of life?”
Sometimes Mr. Mallory received answers like, “I’m new here” or “I don’t remember reading anything in the manual about that.” Mostly, however, he just got blank stares. Yet his persistence made Mallory famous among Chevron station employees. Eventually a Chevron district manager called him to suggest he put his question on paper and mail it, with a self-addressed envelope, to corporate headquarters.
Mallory did precisely that. A few weeks later he received a letter back from Chevron’s customer service department. So what was Chevron’s corporate headquarters’ idea of “the purpose of life? Mallory simply received an application for a company credit card.
While Royko’s story may make us smile, a credit card may actually be a good metaphor for the purpose of life for many North Americans. After all, we use credit cards to buy the bigger, better, faster, more beautiful things we so deeply crave. We assume they’ll allow us to pursue the “eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow we die” purpose we naturally treasure.