2nd Sunday after the Epiphany (B)
January 14, 2018
“Christmas All Over Again”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is the Gospel lesson previously read.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Christmas has come and gone. Of that there is no doubt. Of course, you don’t need me tell you that. Just look around you. No more Christmas tree. No more manger, wise men, bright star, shepherds, etc., etc. Your homes probably also resemble the fact that Christmas has come and gone. The cards and wrapping paper are put away. The mistletoe taken down…or maybe you leave that up all year; maybe that’s the way YOU roll!
At and around Christmas, a multitude of gifts were given and received. As Christians you know and believe that ultimately all gifts come from God. This is most evident in the birth of Jesus, the heir of King David, the child of the Virgin Mary, the Savior of all creation. God gives gifts – the gift of Himself – of that there is no doubt, and his greatest gift to us is Jesus.
God gives, and God’s people receive. This is the most basic relation between God and his people. From the beginning of time until this time, God gives many gifts along with his greatest gift. And how do we handle or receive those gifts? Sometimes even the people of God act like spoiled children; of that there is no doubt. “Why couldn’t this or that be better?” “Why can’t I have a better house, better job, or better family?” “Why couldn’t we have this thing or that thing or have what that person has.” In spite of all of this, our text for today from St. John shows us that God continues to give, and he does not withhold his greatest gift. In this event – to Philip and Nathanael – God gives Himself and His people receive the greatest gift. It’s Christmas all over again!
From the days of old, God has promised to give gifts to His people. From the very beginning, the gift was forthtold. In the Garden of Eden, God first promised to fallen Adam and Eve the greatest gift: a Seed that would crush the head of the serpent. Centuries later, to a land-less and son-less Abraham, God promised to give the gifts of land and a son. The promise of a son by Sarah to Abraham was not just any gift, but rather looked into the future toward the greatest gift: the Seed that would one day crush the head of the serpent. Like sinful people, though, they had mixed reactions to God’s gift. Abraham scoffed and Sarah laughed. And yet, in spite of their sinful actions, God still gave to them as promised: a son.
The promise of God and the actions of his people were no different in the following generation. The Seed, first promised to Adam and Eve and later promised to Abraham and Sarah, was again promised to Isaac and Rebekah. Esau, the elder of twin sons, should have fulfilled God’s promise, but the younger twin, Jacob, in league with his mother, deceived his aged and blind father and stole his father’s blessing, which was intended for Esau. That’s some way for the people of God to behave, right? In spite of their sinful actions, God still gave to them as promised: a son. In fact, Jacob would have 12 sons and those sons would become the 12 tribes of Israel.
The nativity of our Lord, Christmas, is the celebration of God once again giving the greatest gift. The promise, first made to Adam and Eve and each subsequent generation of God’s people, was finally fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. 30 years later, God gave this gift, and Philip and Nathanael (Bartholomew) received this gift, a gift that was much more than they realized. To Philip, Jesus said, “Follow me,” and in so saying, Jesus gave himself to Philip. To Nathanael, Jesus said, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit” (Jn 1:47). What does that mean? It probably meant that Jesus knew Nathanael was an Israelite – a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – who would always speak the truth about Jesus. As far as we know, that’s exactly the case. There is no evidence to suggest Nathanael ever denied Jesus or doubted Jesus. We can only imagine that Nathanael maintained that integrity until his death in India, as tradition says, where he was tortured and then stoned to death. God gave Philip and Nathanael the greatest gift – He gave Himself. For them, it was Christmas all over again.
In Jesus, God gave the Seed that would crush the head of the serpent. On that dark Friday, the serpent bruised the heel of Jesus, and Jesus bled and died and was buried. But on that glorious Sunday, Jesus stepped upon the head of the serpent, crushing it, as he rose up out of the grave from death to life.
God gives the greatest gift to you. As He did with Philip, so also God has called you to follow Him, and that invitation changes the way you think, act, behave, and give of yourself. Sure, there are many times you don’t feel it or sense the gift. Life has become too hard, your future too unclear, your day-to-day living has become not what you imagined or expected. And yet, still to you, the gift of God in Jesus comes. As gray and uncertain as your days can be, it is a glorious Christmas all over again because of just how richly God gives to you each and every day in Christ!
It is a gift that you receive it in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus says to you, “Take, eat; this is my body. . . . Drink of [the cup], all of you, for this is my blood” (Mt 26:26–28 ESV). With your body you receive the gift still being offered; you eat and drink the body and blood of the greatest gift of God for the “remission of (your) sins” (Mt 26:28 KJV). Every time we celebrate Holy Communion, it is Christmas all over again!
In spite of your sinful complaints and rejections and doubts, God continues to give to you the greatest gift each and every day. In His Word, His endless presence, and upon the altar, and hidden beneath the elements of bread and wine, is Jesus. The body and blood of Jesus, promised of old and born of the Virgin Mary, are given to you to eat and drink for the remission of sins and the strength to live each day. Yeah, the tree is gone, but the celebration of the nativity of your Lord continues; today for you at the rail it is Christmas all over again, and of that there is no doubt.