Readings: Jeremiah 31:7–14, Ephesians 1:3–14 & John 1:1–18
This week’s reading from the Old Testament comes from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, and like the reading we had last Sunday, from the book of the prophet Isaiah, it continues the theme of the return of the people of Judah from exile in Babylon.
Jeremiah began to prophesy around the year 627 BCE, during the reign of King Josiah of Judah, and he continued to prophesy until the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. It was during the reign of Josiah that the mighty Assyrian Empire fell, which no doubt would have been received as good news by the people of Judah who had lived under the threat of invasion from Assyria for many years. People understandably felt that their religion and faith in God was what had saved them from the Assyrians. Most of the prophets of Jeremiah’s day also believed this, and it resulted in a growing sense of religious arrogance or self-righteousness among the people, who began to trust in themselves and their own righteousness, rather than in God.
Jeremiah recognised this, and he began to warn the people of Judah that they were in danger of treading the same path to destruction as the Assyrians. The words of his prophesies were so threatening and frightening, that Jeremiah was vilified by the people as a traitor and heretic. Only much later, with several generations’ worth of hindsight, could the Judean and Israelite communities see that Jeremiah’s harsh words had indeed been both prophetic and accurate—indeed, they had been words of love from God himself.
Today’s passage is part of a three chapter section of the Book of Jeremiah that present some consolation amidst the many warnings and judgements that Jeremiah utters against Judah. Indeed Jeremiah foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and exile in Babylon, but he also sees what is going to happen in the future beyond that. He sees that although Judah will experience defeat and exile, God will not abandon His people. God will ultimately save the people from their enemies and from themselves.
That same sense of pre-destiny, which exists in the passage from Jeremiah, is also present in today’s passage from the Letter to the Ephesians. Writing to the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul proclaimed that all members of the church were destined to become God’s children through Jesus in whom God had revealed Himself to humankind. Like most (if not all) of the churches that Paul established, the church at Ephesus experienced tension between Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians, with the latter expecting Gentile Christians to observe the practices of the Jewish law, including circumcision.
According to Paul, all members of the church, both Jew and Gentile, had been granted forgiveness of their sins, and had been brought into a right relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. As we read in the Book of Genesis, when God tells Abraham that all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him, it was pre-destined that all the nations and peoples of the world would be brought together under God. Paul explained that this was all part of God’s grand plan for the end of time, when all things, both in heaven and on earth, would be gathered to God in Jesus.
Paul’s words in the Letter to the Ephesians, whilst written long before the Gospel of John, are in part an echo of today’s gospel passage, which is of course the Prologue from the Gospel of John. John tells us that Jesus was the word of God, and that the Word existed with God before any of God’s Creation came into being, and that in fact, the Word (that is Jesus) was God. John makes it clear that absolutely ALL of Creation came into being through Jesus; he was the active agent in creation.
Through Jesus came life, and that life was ‘the light of all people’. This phrase, ‘the light of all people’, can be understood as meaning that God has been revealed to humankind in the life of Jesus. The light that comes from his life enables humankind to see God. John reiterates this later in the Prologue when he tells us that ‘the Word (Jesus) became flesh and lived among us’. And again, ‘No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known’. John’s words can be a little difficult to understand, but he is making it clear to us that God has been revealed to us in the life of Jesus. Through the person of Jesus, we know something of the nature of God.
It is fitting for us to reflect on this on the Second Sunday after Christmas while we are still in the ‘Season of Christmas’. Christmas is a time of both anniversary and invitation. It is a time when we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Jesus, and it is a time when we are invited to accept Him into our hearts and our lives. And when we accept Jesus into our hearts and lives, we are accepting God.