... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Christmas 2 Year C
Message January 03rd, 2016

The Gift Realized

Text: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:13-21; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:1-18

When I was a young boy Christmas morning was a time of organized chaos as the family gathered around the Christmas tree whose brightly lit boughs nestled an assortment of colourfully wrapped presents. With four children and four adults the gift opening was filled with many simultaneous gasps and “aahs” as paper was ripped off and the delights brought to light. Many of the gifts would be toys and play things, but many and perhaps most were items of clothing which the parents and grandparents seemed to be happy about but which were lost on us young folk. Yet with the passage of time the gifts which turned out to be more useful were the clothes not the toys. I was reminded of this truth by a CBC program aired just before Christmas. The panel was discussing alternative gifts for parents and grandparents to give rather than the usual panoply of toys electronics and gadgetry. Most of the panelists agreed that RESP’s would perhaps be the best as the long term benefit would help future schooling and affect rising educational costs. Some of the call in audience mentioned other gifts such as sponsoring third world countries buying a goat for an African family or looking at fair trade items. As I pondered today’s readings it struck me that often the best gifts come and we have no realization of their potential for our lives.

Such are all readings for today. And they all encourage and unwrap what God’s gift to us means in the long term.

The passage from Jeremiah’s little book of hope comes after 29 chapters of doom and gloom in which the prophet has been calling the people to see their impending destruction defeat and captivity. This is an apparent turn-about he now tells them that God has heard their prayers and will rescue them. The context for this pronouncement of hope actually comes after Israel has been destroyed and the people taken captive to Babylon. In despair poverty and disillusionment they have seen their homeland defiled, the Temple demolished and the people enslaved. They now live in hopelessness and have no prospects for a future. Jeremiah tells them otherwise stating that God has already begun the process of restoration, even though they the people cannot see or understand it. Jacob has been ransomed and the people will be again gathered from the ends of the earth into their proper lands.

Psalm 147 continues this admonition to give thanks and praise for the gift God has given even if the beneficiaries have yet to appreciate the actions of the Lord. Yes, God is the one who gives the snow the hail and the cold before which no one can endure. But it is also God who melts the snow and ice, who causes the rivers to flow and who gives the statutes and ordinances for the long term health of the nation. The author concludes that God has not done this for any other nation.

Both Old Testament lessons point out the blindness of our positions when we focus only on the present exile of our being whether it be our social cultural political economic or personal defeats despairs or dehumanization. Metaphorically we all continue to be in an exile of some form or another – we continue to focus on our despair not realizing that God’s best gift has been already given and that we have failed to comprehend it.

And that is exactly what John’s Gospel opens with – The gift has been given and we have failed to realize its significance. The longer passage for today, vv1-18 is probably best looked it in the way it really lends itself to 4 logical sequential arguments for seeing God’s gift in Christ.

In the opening five verses there is the theoretical abstract speculation on how God created the world. Based on the opening of Genesis, the author introduces the concept of God and the creative word. God spoke and they were accomplished. However the author wants us to realize that the Word is just not a form of speech but is a creative force that makes does and creates – it is a life force. The deeper understanding is that the Word is of God but not all there is to God. It is a conceptualization upon which the understanding of Trinity is derived and which became foundational to appreciating God’s gift in Jesus. Thus John continues that the Word becomes the Light of people, it shines in our darkness but we the beneficiaries fail to see it to understand it or to overpower it.

The second segment of John’s prologue introduces John – the messenger. It is John who calls people to see the gift for what it truly is. And so as to avoid any misunderstanding John’s role the author forthrightly declares that John was not the light only a testifier to the light. The third segment of John’s argument now returns to verse five but identifies Jesus as the true light and also the mirror of God’s persona. However those who needed to see and realize the value of the gift spurned the gift. Almost like most children who in getting the card detailing the RESP contribution toss it aside in favour of playing with the toy or the latest electronic game. John tells us that no matter how much we try to ignore the gift, the gift is, nevertheless, here. And those who see it accept it become the true appreciative beneficiaries.

The fourth segment verses 14-18 categorically declare it is Jesus who is the Word and he has come to us in flesh and blood not as an abstraction and that in human form is the Son of God come to bring us grace and truth. To highlight this John compares Jesus to Moses. As through Moses came the Law so through Jesus comes grace and truth. There is no hint of negation of the former in favour of the latter but rather both are necessary, both are gifts, for our salvation and in accepting the former – the law – we too need to accept the latter. And in accepting this, in realizing the significance of God’s gift there is a future consequence. That consequence is laid out more fully in the rest of the Gospel. However as a companion lesson to the Gospel, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a tidy synopsis of the consequences of God’s redemptive gift.

Paul recognizes the gift and offers praise and thanksgiving to God for what has been accomplished by that Divine gift. In Jesus we have become united earth to heaven, children to parent, present to origins. And like the gift of an RESP what is given now matures and becomes of greater value as time passes and the future unfold. But while the RESP provides the future financial and educational help, Jesus provides the eternal and reconciling help in which an inheritance of salvation is established. No longer do we need to dwell in darkness, despair or the exile of death. A new hope has been given: a hope in which we can celebrate and a hope which can govern our lives, our outlook and how we relate to one another.

God has been a faithful parent looking out for us despite our short-sightedness. God give us what we need, not what we want and God give us the gift which unlike all our gifts does not wear out break down or become obsolete. May we come to truly appreciate the Gift – the Word made flesh and see in him a reflection of our God and glimpse all that we might become.