Second Sunday after Christmas
January 4, 2015
The Episcopal Church in Okatie
Like most prayers, our collect today recalls a particular attribute of God. That is, our prayers identify something about the nature of God prior to identifying the point of the prayer’s petition. Thus, today’s collect begins this way: “O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature” (BCP, p214). It is an attribute of God Almighty to create and “yet more wonderfully” to restore. God creates, and even more wonderful, God restores.
It is interesting that what we plan to do here in church today involves following the example of God, as we involve ourselves – first of all – in creating some new things. Yet, in a more wonderful way, what we do today involves restoration – that is, making things new once again. Confirmation offers the opportunity for a person to renew his baptismal promises. For many of us, those promises were made by others on our behalf, at the time of Baptism. Then, we renew those promises at Confirmation, in a wonderful and personal way.
Also this morning, we have the opportunity to consecrate this place for the worship of God. The community known as “The Episcopal Church in Okatie” is new in some ways. Yet in other ways, you represent a community that is being wonderfully restored. And this chapel is a sign of that restoration. It is my privilege to take part in this step of restoration today.
Our readings this morning offer perspectives on the process of restoration. Indeed, within those readings we find indications of the promise, the danger, and the hope which accompany restoration. Promise, danger, and hope are all involved.
First, the reading from Jeremiah expresses the promise involved in restoring things previously created. The biblical image of a remnant people presents a sign of the promise for community restoration. In the remnant, therefore, there exists the promise that the community will come to life again. Speaking on behalf of God, the prophet instructs the people to make this plea: “Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel” (31:7). And, the Lord responds to the plea with words of assurance and promise. “See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth” (31:8). Further, the Lord promises, “with consolations I will lead them back” (31:9).
The reading concludes with words that refer to the promise of restoration for the remnant of God’s people. “‘ I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty’, says the Lord” (31:14).
Thus, the initial attribute of restoration involves a sense of promise … and with that promise comes assurance about the future. Yet, with restoration there also comes danger. Difficulty and risk are involved in making things new.
Our Gospel reading reminds us of the danger which may accompany the task of restoration. The incarnation of God in Jesus has everything to do with restoring the relationship between God and human beings. That restoration identifies the very intention of God in sending Jesus. Yet, danger also comes with this work of restoration.
Therefore, we read today of the real dangers that confronted Jesus and the Holy Family early on in this story of restoration. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus first fled to Egypt to escape the slaughter of innocent children, as commanded by Herod. Some years later, after Herod’s death, the Holy Family returned to Israel. However, they were warned again – this time about Archelaus – and they changed their plans and settled in Nazareth of Galilee. The message for us today, then, is that the process of restoration can be difficult and, even, dangerous.
Along with promise and danger, restoration also involves hope. We may sense such hope this morning in the Second Reading, from Ephesians.
St. Paul begins this passage by writing of the blessings received from God – and, especially, of the blessing which comes as the result of God’s restorative action in sending His Son Jesus to the world. St. Paul quickly names the hopeful expectation which the work of God’s restoration produces. “(God) destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ” (Eph 3:5).
That action – adoption – is the biblical image which expresses the hope for restoration. At baptism, we are adopted, by the grace of God, as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. We say to the baptized one, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever” (BCP, p308). At baptism we are adopted, and in that action, we find our hope – hope for restoration of our relationship with God Almighty. Further, it is precisely that relationship – our adoption through baptism – which we confirm this morning.
Therefore, in summary, God creates and yet more wonderfully restores the dignity of human nature. Indeed, that action is in the nature of God. In that process of restoration, there are involved promise, danger, and hope. St. Paul expresses best our hopeful prayer for restoration with these words which conclude our reading from Ephesians. “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him; so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe” (Eph 3:17-19). Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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