Second Sunday After Christmas
During this season, it’s somewhat natural to be immersed in thoughts of the new. As I write this, I’m looking out the window at a new blanket of white snow covering my front yard. My kids are shuffling around the house in new pajamas, reading new books and assembling new Lego sets, the excitement of exchanging and unwrapping packages still lingering in the house. And of course, we’re just a few short days away from New Year’s Eve, the date when people around the world will gather to count down the moments when we move into a new calendar year. It’s an event that, even in normal times, brings with it heightened expectations of change, a hope that, whatever has transpired in recent days and months, there is some magic in turning the calendar over that casts a vision of better possibilities ahead. We map out the new and different ways that we plan on approaching our personal lives, our physical well-being, our workplace goals, the changes in our routines and habits that will make us new people.
Yet, as we are painfully aware, newness doesn’t last forever. Even now, the sunshine beating down on the landscape threatens to turn this fresh snow into a slushy mess. I’ve already heard the words “I’m bored,” from one of my kids this morning, a testament to the ephemeral attraction that new stuff—even a new Baby Yoda Lego set—holds. And no matter how much hopefulness we invest in the coming of a new year, we know that the act of swapping out calendars doesn’t actually accomplish anything substantial. Soon, we will be plunged into the rhythms and habits of 2021, which probably won’t be markedly different from the years that came before. The forms of newness and change that we pursue and embrace and even purchase might be thrilling, but they ultimately don’t endure.
However, if we haven’t quite figured out how to make what is new remain that way, the God we serve, the God who once proclaimed through the prophet Isaiah, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert,” is a God who is constantly making things new, bringing new life where there was once death and inspiring new energy where before there was stagnation. The newness that God brings doesn’t fade with the melting sun or wear out with our ever-shifting moods, because it is rooted in God’s eternal purposes and God’s enduring character.
In John’s gospel, we read about perhaps the most incredible, the most shocking, the most thrilling event that has perhaps ever occurred in history—“The Word became flesh, and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.” The incarnation is undoubtedly a new thing, the sort of action on the part of a loving God that has the power to make a way in the wilderness for all of us who are stumbling through the darkness. The sort of work that brought rivers of living water into a desert world dying of thirst. The light shining in the darkness, the fullness of God’s grace abounding to all who would receive it—these are new and unprecedented and powerful works of a mighty and merciful God. But if we look closer, we’ll realize that for all the unexpected newness of this event, it is the kind of thing that our God does and the kind of thing that our God has always done. The Word was with God in the beginning. The Word by which God spoke into existence the creation that he loved was the same Word that became flesh and dwelt among us in order to inaugurate a new creation. The light that God commanded to shine in those first moments of creation is the same light that shines into the dark places in our hearts, the dark places we create with our sin, to expose our need for God and to illuminate our way back home.
Likewise, as Paul tells the Ephesians, the part that we play in God’s work–our setting apart as holy and blameless, our calling to bear witness in our words and deeds, our adoption into the community of God’s people–while all of this is new to us and exciting to us, is part of the plan that he had set into motion since before the foundation of the world. The life to which God has called us, a life of love and service, a life of grace and peace, a life in which, rather than living for ourselves and pursuing our own desires and striving after power and prominence, we seek to love the Lord our God with all our heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves, this is the life to which God has always called his people. This life is fully embodied in the Jesus whose birth we celebrate during this season. It is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit in whom we are marked. In the fullness of time, all things, in heaven and on earth, are being gathered up into him, the one who has brought into existence a new creation, but who in reality has always been at the father’s side, doing the father’s work, the one who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Thanks be to the eternal and unchanging God, who always and forever makes all things new.