Second Sunday After Christmas
Sunday, January 4, 2015
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
Watching the evening news on television or the internet, reading newspapers in print or online, listening to the radio or listening to a podcast, one would quickly realize that while changes in the world are constant, it also seems that not much has changed. The headlines are familiar.
If we had all of the technology we have today back in 722 BCE, the evening news on television or online last night would have sounded something like this:
“Assyrian forces, under the command of king Shalmaneser, have captured the city of Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The Israelites supported the rebellion against Assyria in an effort to secure its national independence. They defended the city for three years against the attacks following the imprisonment of Israelite king Hosea before the siege began. (2 Kings17:1-6)”
“Shortly after Samaria was taken, Shalmaneser died. Following his death, Assyrian forces began to withdraw and return home.”
“In spite of their recent defeat, the Israelites resumed their rebellion and the word out of Samaria is that they have now risen up in defiance of Sargon, the new Assyrian king.”
(Preaching Through the Christian Year B, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity International Press, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1993, page 62)
Later reports would indicate that Sargon recaptured the city (Hosea 10:5-6), and that an estimated three and half million Israelites were deported and exiled. The city was rebuilt and resettled with foreigners.
The dislocation of families and friends is something we see in countries around the world today both externally and internally. By the end of 2013, there were 16.7 million people worldwide seeking refuge in bordering countries because of war and armed conflicts.
Others were fleeing poverty; others the devastation of natural disasters; still others religious or social persecution. In addition to the 16.7 million people seeking refuge, another 33.3 million people have been forcibly uprooted and displaced within their own countries including Colombia, the Central African Republic, Mali, Somalia, Iraq and Syria. (Global Trend Report, United Nations)
Many in North America today are not able to fully comprehend the trauma of being an exile or a refugee or of watching family and friends being deported and settled elsewhere. But many in the ancient world, including the Northern Kingdom of Israel watched as their children were led away and spent the rest of their lives hoping to see them again. (Ibid., page 63)
Our reading from The Book of Jeremiah is concerned with the return of the exiles to their homeland. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of the return of the northern Israelites and the renewal of their lives in the land.
Even though he preached over a hundred years after the exile, the hope of return still remained alive. He calls on the people to celebrate the return and restoration that is to come – “cry out in joy, shout at the crossroads, sing aloud in praise (Jeremiah 31:7).”
Those returning will include the lame, the blind, the pregnant and the newborn. There will be weeping for joy. Others will know of this great joy.
The prophet Jeremiah makes the following proclamation: “For thus says the Lord . . . see I am going to bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” (Jeremiah 31:8, 13)
Through Jeremiah, we are made aware of God’s steadfast love and presence in the lives of people devastated by loss and despair. It is that love and presence we continue to celebrate this Christmas season – of the One whose name is Emmanuel – which means “God is with us.”
We have heard the proclamation of another prophet. The word of God came to John the baptizer and he went into all the region around the Jordan proclaiming as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Make straight the way of the Lord.” (John 1:23)
In our reading from The Gospel According to John, we recall John’s proclamation and the depth and intensity of God’s love for the world that was born on Christmas day: John writes, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) (Preaching Through the Christian Year B, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity International Press, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1993, page 67)
It is an affirmation “that the God whom no one has seen (John 1:18) is both known and available in Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals God (John 1:18) and makes God available to us (John 1:14) in gracious ways (John 1:16).”
“Believing in Jesus is . . . clarified and informed by what is seen in the person and work of Jesus. Jesus’ statement ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9) does not simply tell us what Jesus is like but what God is like, and to know God is life eternal (John 17:4).” (Op. cit.)
The writer of John’s gospel reminds us: “The law indeed was given through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s (sic) heart who has made him known (John 1:17-18).”
David Bentley Hart writes in his book The Beauty of the Infinite the following: “ . . . the scandal of Christianity’s origins, the great offense this new faith gave the gods of antiquity [was] . . . a God . . . who apparels himself in common human nature, in the form of a servant; who brings good news to those who suffer and victory to those who are as nothing; who dies like a slave and outcast without resistance; who penetrates the very depths of hell in pursuit of those he loves; and who persists even after death not as a hero lifted up to Olympian glories, but in the company of peasants, breaking bread with them and offering them the solace of his wounds.” (The Beauty of the Infinite, David Bentley, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2003, page 162)
Whether as a people or a nation broken by the violence and trauma of war or as individuals broken by the pain and suffering in our own lives, God is with us in “our flesh of weakness, mortality and pain.” (Feasting on the Word, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2008, page 90) For that we give thanks to God.