“He has made known to us the mystery of his will...as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph. 1. 9-10)
As a kid growing up I loved football: the thrill of the game, the big personalities, the competition. I especially loved the charismatic football manager that was Brian Clough. He once said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day. Then again, I wasn’t on the job.”
I can’t really think of a much better way to talk about Christmas. We have heard over the past two weeks some powerful words echoed in today’s readings: John’s Gospel tells us that the eternal Word became a helpless baby for love of us; Jeremiah praises God’s mighty act of salvation; and Ephesians declares that the great rescue mission of God bears fruit in Christ.
But Rome is not built in a day. Brother David preached last week about the finding of the boy Jesus teaching in the Temple. David showed us how even God, in human form, had to mature and learn, to grow into what it means for a human being to be fully alive in God. The same is true for us: Christmas transforms us, but not absolutely, not immediately. In the words of Ephesians, the power of God becoming one with our human nature is a “plan for the fullness of time.” God draws us, in the frailty of our bodies and in the finiteness of our time, to be slowly transformed into who it is that we were created to be. Or, through the words of the Gospel, “The Word became flesh” so that we might become like God, “full of grace and truth.”
The power of Christmas takes longer than the twelve days of the season to work in us the image of Christ. It takes our whole lives, our whole journey. And on any journey we sometimes need to take our bearings and check the map. The New Year is not a Christian festival, but it does afford us a chance to re-examine where we are and pledge changes so that we may get back on course, as individuals and as a community. Here are what I think should be our New Year’s Resolutions as a parish.
First, we should be a joyful people rooted in God. That means bringing joy to worship of God. The reading from Jeremiah poetically records the joy of the returning exiles, those Jewish peoples forcibly removed from their homes and taken into slavery. In the midst of their hardships, they have joy in God: they “sing aloud with gladness,” they “give praise,” and they “rejoice in the dance.” In worship, the priests “have their fill of fatness,” (an idea which I like very much!) and the people are “satisfied with [God’s] bounty”. So too should we come to worship: we should bring our trials, our temptations, our cynicism that God is absent, and give them over to God so that we can be filled with joy. We should sing aloud, not complain that this isn’t our kind of hymn, that we don’t know this song, or that singing isn’t for us. “Sing aloud with gladness,” says Jeremiah. We should give praise, not criticism; we should rejoice, not slink glumly back in our chairs. God will reward those little gifts of song, praise, and joy with His “bounty,” His spiritual gifts to help us join in His mighty acts of healing and restoration in our world hurt by greed, violence, and oppression.
Our second resolution should be to seek ways through which to live out our salvation. Faith and acts always walk hand in hand: faith without works is dead, and works without faith are limited. Ephesians shows us how the Trinity is the source of all our blessings. Father, Son, and Spirit have committed themselves to bringing the people back not just from exile to home but into glory as adopted children of God (vv. 3, 5, 13). And this saving plan of God extends from eternity into our present situations. It draws us “in the fullness of time” into God. All we have to do is work as partners of God. To be God’s partner means spending your time, your money, your prayer in His service, as He spends his infinite love and grace on you. We should ask ourselves a number of questions. Can we give just a little more money to sustain this parish church as a witness of God’s commitment to Ingleby Barwick? Can I offer not just worship but service, in the parish office, as a server, as a Reader, as a home visitor, as a person of prayer? And can I make my Christian voice be heard in local and national government to help protect the homeless, the poor, the immigrant, the prisoner, the children, the earth itself? Through all of this, we will add our own notes to the song of redemption, we will “lead [lives] worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called.” (Eph. 4.1)
Finally, we should commit ourselves to letting go of fear and see ourselves and creation as the throne of God. Whatever we feel about ourselves – our faults, our sins, our brokenness – and however we feel about the world – its violence, hatred, and selfishness – God “became flesh” in the words of John’s Gospel. The Word did not merely love flesh, or forgive flesh, but the Word became flesh to give us “grace upon grace” (v. 16), perhaps better rendered as ‘gift upon gift’ or ‘glory upon glory’. In Jesus we see who we really are, who we are called to be: a human being brought to the likeness of God, a friend of God, a bringer of healing and wholeness. We are called to love as God loves: to let go of our suspicion and fear and to share God’s perfection with one another and creation. So, since we are the throne of God, let’s love ourselves, let’s love our neighbours in any way we can, and let’s love creation by replenishing rather than polluting. I would suggest as an immediate way you can do this is to donate £10 to Christian Aid, who are struggling so much in this recession that they will be forced in February to pull out of projects across the world that reflect God’s love. We must not let that happen.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, but then again I wasn’t on the job.” God’s vision of our and the universe’s salvation works through flesh and bone, through time and space. It may not be obvious in the mundanity of our daily lives. But it is there as a “plan for the fullness of time.” Let’s co-operate with God and build His kingdom in and through ourselves. Amen.