Second Sunday after Christmas (5 January 2014)

Contents

Lectionary

  • Jeremiah 31:7-14 & Psalm 147:12-20 (or Sirach 24:1-12 & or WisSol 10:15-21)
  • Ephesians 1:3-14
  • John 1:(1-9), 10-18

Introduction

A Second Sunday of Christmas only occurs when Christmas occurs late enough in the week for a two Sundays to occur between then and Epiphany on January 6. The focus on this day falls on the theological significance of the Incarnation, and this is especially well brought out by the alternative reading from the Old Testament, together with its canticle in lieu of a Psalm.

Since Sunday, 12 January 2014 is Epiphany 1A (also observed as the Festival of the Baptism of Jesus), many communities will observe Epiphany this coming Sunday, rather than the propers for Christmas 2A.

Alternative First Reading: Sirach 24:1-12

This reading, together with its alternative canticle from Wisdom of Solomon, draws on the ancient Jewish traditions about divine Wisdom.

In several of the writings from the Ketubim and the deuterocanonical books, we can trace a developing interest in a mysterious figure, Lady Wisdom. Wisdom is a feminine noun in both Hebrew (hokmah) and Greek (sophia). This may have prompted the earnest but chaste scribes of Jerusalem to project their interest in women upon a more worthy and yet entirely unattainable woman, Lady Wisdom.

Lady Wisdom stands in the street calling for wise men (sic) who will respond to her call and make the pursuit of her pleasures the center of their life. By contrast to Lady Wisdom, the forbidden woman is a dangerous option.

In words that will later be echoed by the depiction of Jesus as “Child of Sophia,” we find Wisdom building a house and laying a feast for those who will come when invited.

Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
“You that are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.” (Prov 9:1–6)

For further details of this significant theological trajectory in ancient Judaism and earliest Christianity, see:

The alternative canticle listed for this week represents one of the highpoints of the Lady Wisdom trajectory. It comes from the Wisdom of Solomon, a text believed to be more or less contemporary with Jesus. In the Wisdom of Solomon we find ourselves in a universe of ideas not very far from the prologue to John’s Gospel, the passage set for today’s Gospel.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14

The early Christian hymn quoted at the beginning of this deutero-Pauline letter provides a glimpse into the earliest stages of Christian devotion to Jesus as a divine figure.

The hymn has echoes of the wisdom mythology, including the idea that God’s secret and eternal purposes are known to the Christ and revealed to his followers. In traditional Jewish wisdom theology, the one who is with God at creation and knows all his plans is none other than Lady Wisdom herself. Here those attributes seem to be reassigned to Jesus.

According to this hymn, all God’s cosmic purposes are known to and embodied in “the Beloved.” However, there is also a collective dimesion to this Christ myth, since all who are one with the Beloved will share in his destiny and be drawn into the fulfillment of God’s purposes.

It is interesting to observe how quickly early Christian devotion to Jesus developed such cosmic imagery, as we are still at a period when the Synoptic traditions are taking written form and they seem to present Jesus in a much more terrestrial mode. The advanced Christological speculation of Ephesians does not seem to have gained a hearing in the circles from which we received Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Gospel: John 1:1-18

The prologue to the Gospel according to John is designated as the Gospel for this Sunday.

This ancient hymn represents the high water mark for NT claims of divinity for Jesus. In this poetic text Jesus is identified as the incarnate Logos, the supreme expression of God’s own being in human experience. While most attention has tended to fall on the opening verses with their echoes of Genesis 1 and their high Christology, the literary structure of the poem suggests that the intended message is more about the special status of Christ’s followers.

In his influential article, “The Pivot of John’s Prologue” (New Testament Studies 27 [1980]: 1-31). R. A. Culpepper has suggested the following chiastic structure for the prologue:

vv 1–2 are balanced by v 18
vv 3 is balanced by v 17
vv4–5 are balanced by vv 16
vv 6–8 are balanced by vv 15
vv 9–10 are balanced by v 14
v 11 is balanced by v 13,
v 12a is balanced by v 12c

v12b is the pivot of the chiasmus: “He gave them authority to become the children of God.”

If this is a valid reading of the prologue, then it its primary purpose is to encourage the reader to embrace his/her own calling as a child of God, rather than to promote a particular Christology. It assumes a very high view of Jesus, perhaps by drawing on the familiar Wisdom/Logos traditions. But its point in doing that was to promote an understanding of the Christian life as a call to be(come) the children of God.

By analogy, we might suggest that the point of Christmas is not so much to celebrate the birth of Jesus as to proclaim an even more radical religious claim:

That everyday people are children of God,
if only we would accept the truth revealed by the child whose birth we celebrate,
and choose to live into that mysterious new reality.

Jesus Database

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

Other recommended sites include:

 

Music Suggestions

See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. Currently serving as the locum priest at Byron Bay Anglican Parish.
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