Psalm 147: 13-21
Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7
John 1:1-18 At first it is hard to see how these passages are connected, or
what the first two have to do with Christmas. But there seems to be a logical
sequence. God counts stars, sends and melts snow, hail, and frost (think about
the psalm next time you see a manger scene with snow), and heals brokenhearted
folks. A jarring juxtaposition. I read Psalm 147 while looking outside on a cold
winter's night when a couple of really bad things had happened to me. I was
struck that God counts the stars ("Abraham's folks will eventually be as
abundant as..."), and takes time to help out folks like me at the bad times. The
psalm had quite an impact on me, and has been among my favorites ever since.
Speaking of God sending snow. Some old Greek pre-Socratic recorded that his
neighbors thought that rain might be "Zeus urinating through a sieve". Probably
nobody believed this literally, even in those days. We know nowadays that God
doesn't store weather up in the sky, and we know what makes snow, although
weather's an unpredictable, chaotic system (or so they tell me). The Psalmist
tells us that in some sense, snow is God's special action. When I figure out
exactly how, and how God feeds the birds and decorates the lilies, I'll
understand what "creation" is all about in Darwin's world. God's workings of
grace are a different kind of mystery, which I don't understand, either. So when
you see snow in a manger scene, recall that you don't understand THAT gift,
either. The Old Testament theme deals with the restoration of Jerusalem and the
Jewish people's special relationship with God, which the other nations see and
admire. Paul writes about this relationship being superseded by the Incarnation.
John writes about most of Jesus's Jewish neighbors rejecting Him, and the
blessings of His Incarnation being available without regard to one's ethnic or
religious background. The New Testament theme is how the Incarnation makes us
God's family, not just slaves, employees, or subjects. Paul writes about the Law
being temporary, and Christ having followed the Law. This is continued in John 1
of course. I can't do much with John that hasn't been done much better before.
I'll leave someone else on the list to relate John's idea of Christ as "Logos"
to the Platonizing Jewish thinker Philo's similar meditations. Last week I
mentioned Acts 17: 26, in which "all nations" grope toward the supreme truth.
Why not have Christ, as the Word of God, be anticipated in the writings of an
Alexandrian Jew, deriving in turn from the Greek tradition of Socrates and
Plato? Contemporary readers may enjoy knowing that "world", into which the Word
becomes incarnate, is "kosmou", our "cosmos", the stars that God counted in
Psalm 147. This can mean anything from "the whole world" to "all people" to "the
human race" to "all the bad folks that make up this wicked world of ours" to any
orderly arrangement of things, as of folks' personal grooming (1 Peter 3:3).
With the space program and those of us wondering whether Christ has become
incarnate on other planets, "cosmos" is a nice image, whether or not it was the
evangelist's intent. The key is that in Christ's incarnation, Something Very
Other comes into the world as we know it. "Children of God" (John 1:12) may mean
literal children, or folks standing in a special and dear relationships (pupils
of a teacher, citizens of a town, favorite employees, etc.) However,
"egennEthEsan" (1:13) means "born" or at least "produced". So does "egeneto"
(1:14) the word was born flesh, a middle imperfect indicative ("was being made
flesh for itself"); the tense might be translated "the Word was becoming flesh".
The word for "dwelt" comes from "tent", and suggests possibly a temporary
dwelling. So we've found the sequence. The psalmist celebrates that God hasn't
dealt with any other nation as He has with the Jewish people, to whom He's given
the Law of Moses. Isaiah writes nothing about the Law, but about a relationship
of beauty and family love ("like honeymooners"). Paul and John talks about the
Law in the past, being superseded by a family relationship independent of one's
race. I hope no one takes offense at this little jingle: "Roses are reddish,
Violets are bluish, if it weren't for Christmas, we'd all be Jewish." Really, if
it weren't for Christmas, plus the first council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts
15:6. Or better: "Roses are reddish, Violets are bluish, Because of Christmas,
We all are Jewish. ("He is a Jew who is one inwardly." Romans 2:29.) On Good
Friday, when Christ is lifted up, He will draw us all to Himself. Back to Ed's Propers
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