Sermon for Christmas 2 – Sunday January 5th, 2014, Year A
“Of Heaven and the Children of God”
As a resident of Dunedin, you are without excuse if you haven’t seen one of the great natural wonders of the world, that is an Albatross in flight. After all this is the ONLY place in the world where these mythical wanderers of the Southern Ocean wastes nest on the mainland. I remember when I first saw one. I was on interview here back in 2010 and Jo and David Fielding kindly drove me out along the Peninsula to the colony. And we stood in the car park for some considerable time watching the flocks of birds. Occasionally a ‘much larger than usual’ gull of some description flew into sight and I thought ‘Ah! That must be an Albatross!’, but it wasn’t. For when the Albatross came into sight across the headland, there was NO doubt! Whilst it didn’t exactly block out the daylight, it was just on a Completely different scale to all the other birds. There was No mistaking it. And that is God’s intention for His children – when you meet one you will Know that there is something Very different. Their lives are on a different scale – related but not the same.
Every now and again, something in the news catches your eye which reminds you of the difference Christians make in the world. How the world would be a Very different place if it weren’t for Christians. Such talk I must say can make some of us uncomfortable, but it is true. Just the other day I was reading an article about Food Banks in the UK, and how the main Nationally recognised food bank operation, The Trussell Trust, was established and continues to be run almost entirely by Christian volunteers. And it is at present supplying food to somewhere in the region of 500,000 people. Of course here we are very aware of how Christian social agencies, our own AFC and Presbyterian Support, along of course with the work Andrew does at Brockville, sees Christians providing a huge percentage of such support here in Dunedin.
It may be something of which the wider world is unaware, indeed in some places, especially in the UK at present it is a highly politically inconvenient fact, but Christians make a difference . . . Why? Because Christians ARE different . . . and that perhaps is even more difficult for us to swallow. Like viewing an Albatross, meeting a Christian should be something which leaves folk in little or no doubt that they have encountered someone who Is like them, but also in a way that affects Everything, is not. But we are trained Not to accept this and that is a terrible thing for reasons I shall unpack a little at the end.
We are still in the season of Christmas, and part of our discomfort with the idea about our being different rests I think in the phrase which I spoke briefly about last week in reference to modern carols – ‘God is With Us’. As I suggested it can leave folk feeling either ‘that’s nice’, or ‘So What’. Like ‘We have Electricity!!’ it’s somehow significant but not something we pay any attention to. As we prepare to host our reverse Mission partners here later in the year, it is worth asking, What is the message, What is the Gospel which is to be proclaimed? ‘God is with us’ is not perhaps a message that will cause people’s lives to be radically changed. I know this from my own experience in my early years when I heard over and over God loves everyone, God is with us all, and I thought, what then is the point of making Any effort with regard to faith. Certainly getting out of bed on a Sunday as a student for church was Way too much of an effort, and ‘God loves me anyway’
Like the message – ‘everyone is a child of God’. We teach people ‘Everyone in a child of God’. But Like the phrase God is With Us – we have to ask – what does it mean??? What difference does it make
The temptation, as with ‘God is With Us’ is to reduce it to an idea, a helpful metaphor. As if Faith was just a list of self help tips to get you through another day – but what if we were to take it with full seriousness? As I have said before, I wonder what would happen if we awoke to the reality of The Eucharist and what was happening when the Priest declares ‘The Lord is Here’ – so too, what might happen were Christians in general, and we gathered here at St John’s woke up to the reality of being children of God?
We conclude each Eucharist in Christmas with the following Blessing – a blessing which takes this with Full seriousness – ‘May Christ, who by his incarnation has drawn into one things earthly and heavenly, bestow upon you the fullness of inward peace and joy and make you partakers in the divine nature’
Let’s just take a moment to ponder that blessing – ‘May Christ, who by his incarnation has drawn into one things earthly and heavenly . . .’ We are Very used to the language of Christ in his humility coming down FROM heaven . . . but the language of this blessing is that once more he reconnects Earth with Heaven.
We are given the sense that Christ leaves somewhere to come here, but the deeper reality and the truth which the scriptures point to is that by his birth, Heaven and Earth are once more interwoven. Jesus who is at once the Divine Son of God and the human Son of Mary, in himself becomes the meeting place of heaven and Earth, the meeting place of God and Humankind, the Way by which we may Know God. As John says in his gospel, God the only Son has made the Father known.
At once we see that this language of ‘God is with us’, if used in the common contemporary way as if God were some divine chaplain come to help us out with our life, is somewhat undone. Indeed John puts it very differently in his prologue – The Word [that Is God and With God in the beginning] became Flesh and dwelt amongst us. Now literally here the word dwelt should be read tabernacled – that is In Jesus we See the restoration of God’s presence at the heart of His people. The Tabernacle of old in the desert and the first Temple, were the place where God’s presence was to be known on earth – put another way – the tabernacle, the Temple WAS Heaven. So In Jesus now we encounter Heaven, Not just a remote God sending his son from Somewhere else, but in the birth of Jesus, Heaven and Earth rewoven together . . . and in fulfilment of the words of the prophet ‘God is with us’ – that reconnection finds its home HERE, in the heart of his gathered people.
Which leads us to our second point, that is with regard to what it means to be a child of God. Access to the Father is through Jesus, the Word made flesh . . . now here perhaps as much as anywhere we Must See why the language of Father Son and Spirit is Vital and Life Giving.
Jesus, St John tells us the Word, living amongst us revealed the Glory, ‘the glory as of a Father’s only Son. Jesus the Son through HIs relationship with the Father draws Us into that relationship also, in the fullest of senses. As He is the eternal Son of the father, eternally begotten, So we might Also become Children of God. He ‘draws into one things earthly and heavenly’. He doesn’t abandon the heavenly aspect of his being and comes to share in our human nature. No he brings his heavenly nature so that our human nature might be once more made heavenly.
This to be frank is all but beyond our capacity of speech. St Paul as he wrote to the Ephesians was SO enthralled by the message of what God has done in Jesus, that he writes one of the worst bits of grammatical Greek you will find anywhere!! Almost the entire reading of the Epistle is One sentence, verses 3-14 is One sentance in the Greek – Paul is Just so overflowing with wonder – it just pours out of him. He is thought to have written by dictation, but here the poor transcriber can hardly keep up! And at the heart of it ‘before the foundation of the world . . . he destined us to be adopted as His Children, through Jesus Christ’
Jesus in his Incarnation draws into one things Earthly and heavenly . . . one of the Great flaws of So much Incarnational theology is that it pays NO regard to this juxtaposition. In effect it is written as if Christ abandons his divinity to be with us. Whereas the truth is far more profound – in his Incarnation the Life of Heaven is revealed on Earth – as John puts it ‘And we have seen his Glory’ Glory a word associated with ‘Heaven’, with the very Presence of God. AND this reconnection of Heaven and Earth makes itself known in all who believe in Jesus in the most breathtaking of ways . . . The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
Just for a moment, ponder . . . born of God. What does it mean that we Really Are God’s Offspring. If its more than a nice theological idea, a bumper sticker, or a label we can use to describe humanity humanity in general. What does it that as much if indeed not moreso as we are children of our earthly parents, we are Born of God??? What If God is our True parent?
Through faith in Jesus Christ we are made partakers of the Divine Nature. He becomes One with us, not so that we can continue in the life we once knew, but SO THAT we might become one with Him. The Purpose of the Incarnation, of the Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus is that we might participate in the Divine Life, the Life of Heaven, the Life of the Triune God. Why do we NEED forgiveness of sins?? Not primarily because we are sinners, but because God Desires above all to forgive us SO that we might share in his very life. And thus as St Paul puts it Live for the praise of his Glory. That our LIves are His lives, that He lives in us and therefore In Us, the World encounters Him.
The denial of this is perhaps the very worst thing we can do. So much modern theology seeks in one way or another to do this, and we are often taught that we are no different – but we are. Put another way, like when that Albatross first flew into view, there should be No Doubt in the minds of those we encounter that we are His children
The story of the Prodigal reveals this in utter clarity – the Overwhelming forgiveness of the Father is a Welcome into the Divine Life, symbolised by the Party that is thrown for the Prodigal. The Life is revealed and Then becomes Invitation to the elder Son. A gospel which pronounces forgiveness of sins WITHOUT participation in the Divine Life is no gospel at all, because the Gospel IS the one who comes to us, in whom heaven and Earth hold together. Christ the Lord. The Word made flesh, God with us, that we might be born of God.