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Second Sunday after Christmas: January 2, 2005.

Jeremiah 31:7-14

Psalm 147:12-20 (NRSV)

Ephesians 1:3-14

John 1:1-9 [10-18]

First Reading

The Second Sunday after Christmas continues the transition in which the community first hears God's new song and then begins the task of learning to sing that song for themselves. The focus of this season of transition begins with Psalm 147. Unfortunately, the call to the song begins in 147:1 which is not included in the lectionary. The first words of God's new song are a call to the universe. In a literal translation the psalmist calls forth, "Praise the Lord! For it is good to make melody to our God, a song of praise is seemly!" Verses 13-21 provide the words for our new song that we are singing to the God of the universe. The cosmos sings of God's strength, God's salvation, and finally of God's Word.

Jeremiah calls the people to sing the story of their relationship to God. Chapter 31 begins one of the most powerful expressions of the prophet's visions of the power and compassionate love of God. Jeremiah, who has suffered much at the hands of his friends and at the suspicions of his king, continues to sing the song that God has proclaimed through the universe. The song affirms the promise that God brings strength to the weak. The metaphor of the people being like trees planted by streams of living water is familiar in Jeremiah.

Ephesians may be the text that draws one's attention, because the Gospel seems to be an uncomfortable repeat of Christmas Day. The reading encompasses a unit that begins in verse 3 and extends through verse 14. A powerful sermon can be constructed from this prayer that focuses on God's song and our learning that song.

Beginning with "Blessed be" (v. 3), this hymn opens with a traditional prayer form of recognition or thanksgiving to God. This form sets the tone for the song that follows. The ties to baptismal liturgies are obvious in the recitation of God's salvation work accomplished through the life, death and resurrection of the Christ. Verse 3 tells us that God's work [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "in the heavenly places," is now God's work in the concrete world.

By utilizing verse 7 the preacher gains the power of Paul's concept of Christ's work of redemption. A [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], redemption, tells the hearer that freedom from oppression is found in Christ. Freedom from oppression is a powerful song to be sung by God. The concluding words to this song are the promise that those who sing and live the redemption found in Christ will have a heart made light with the hope of God's love and purpose for all creation.

All of God's song of redemption is accomplished [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "in Christ." This phrase occurs in Ephesians nearly twice as many times as in other writings of Paul and the Pauline school. Learning the song of God in Christ established two poles in the life of the believer. Those who are "in Christ" are grounded in the preexistence of the Word with God before the creation. These faithful now live in this cosmos within the active and powerful presence of that Word which entered history in Jesus.

Any of these lessons will carry the message that the Christmas season is a time of transition. The people are learning two things vital to life in the creation. First, the faithful are learning to hear the song, the Word that God sang in creation and now sings in the incarnation. Second, the faithful are learning to make God's song the song of their own hearts and to sing it back to the universe.

The Gospel can either complete this picture or confuse the preacher. This reading from the first chapter of John adds a brief four verses to the passage from Christmas Day. The new voice in this passage can be John the Baptizer. John sings the song of God that the Incarnate Word from his fullness gives to us "grace replacing grace," "love in place of love." We may find that our Sunday readings use the phrase "grace upon grace." This translation suggests accumulation. As the Word comes into the world, we add Christ's grace to God's grace. Raymond Brown proposes that the original purpose of the phrase is to show that God's grace/love matches and exceeds whatever we as humans can bring to the cosmos.

Pastoral Reflection

It is the Second Sunday after Christmas. Attendance numbers may not have recovered from people traveling over the school holidays. Fatigue is still lingering for those who carry the load of festival services. The challenge continues. This is the final moment in this transition time where the song sung by God is still ringing in the ears of the faithful. The lessons are filled with the personal stories of believers who heard the song of God and allowed the song to enter into their hearts. The psalmist, Jeremiah, Paul, and John the Baptizer all stand before us as examples of people who listen to God sing to the cosmos and then sing that song to others.

The song from God has taken form and content. It began with angels singing glory to God. This is the pretty message of Christmas Eve. But we know that we cannot sing like angels! It became the song sung by Stephen repeating God's proclamation that redemption is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. We know the end of that story: Stephen died because he sang the song of God. So here we are again, being called to listen for the song of God in this season of transition.

We can give in to the fear of transition and convince ourselves that we cannot sing. This is the message that we teach to each other. It sounds something like "God's song is so perfect and you are so imperfect, so please don't sing!" Our response is like the child who is told once too often to be quiet and has decided to stop speaking. In some forms this message demanding our silence says, "There can only be one song that is the repeat, the replication of God's song." This Christmas season of transition brings us a new song of hope to replace this old message of failure.

The twin black boxes sat in the back of the choir room, shifted often but never opened. At one time, when the congregation was larger, these boxes, filled with handbells, had brought joy into worship. Now the music director said that handbells were too difficult for the members to handle. So the bells sat in the dark, silent. A new pastor and a new music director announced a new invitation for a handbell choir. The music director said, "To join, all you need to be able to do is count to four." The members had to make the transition from believing that they were without talent to the confidence to take a risk. They revived the handbell choir, answering God's invitation to sing a new song.

If the sermon addresses the joy of the time of transition, the message of the Word is affirming and joyous. The song of God has been sung since before the cosmos had formed. It has been sung by God through the universe for generations. Many have heard the song. Each has heard the song in a unique way, because the song comes to us through each beat of our hearts, each breath of air, each snap of a neutron.

We must now begin to practice singing the song ourselves. We can approach this task because Christ has given the song to us and lives the song through us. The sacraments can become the foundation of this idea. We see the Word outpoured in baptism. We taste the Word in bread and wine at the table of the Lord. Knowledge of the song comes with practice of singing it. ES
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Preaching Helps
Author:Siemsen, Elaine
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2004
Words:1338
Previous Article:St. Stephen, deacon and martyr: December 26, 2004.
Next Article:The Epiphany of our Lord: January 6, 2005.
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