Around this time of the year we read familiar passages of the Bible and perhaps think that we know it all so actually just skim read. The words at the beginning of John’s Gospel are very familiar indeed. ‘In the beginning was the Word ..’ Further on in that chapter we are told that it was Jesus who made God known to us. Jesus was the final piece of the picture to allow we finite human beings to see God so much clearer than ever before. We can’t now walk beside the Sea of Galilee with Jesus or touch him but the Gospel writers allow us to see him through their eyes and so come to understand as they understood.
The readings for this, the Second Sunday of Christmas, were Jeremiah 31:7-14, Psalm 147:13-end, John 1:10-18. My reflection follows:
In many churches today the feast of Epiphany will have been celebrated. The actual date of that feast is 6th January but it can be moved to the Sunday before. I intend to celebrate Epiphany on Epiphany on Epiphany! Just in case you think I have a stutter, what I mean is to celebrate the Feast of Epiphany on Epiphany Island on the actual date designated as Epiphany.
Epiphany means striking appearance or manifestation in its ancient Greek form. It can be used now to mean a sudden understanding, the time when someone finally ‘gets it’ or ‘the penny drops’. It might be that the last piece of information has finally been found and suddenly the whole picture makes sense. We sometimes use the German word Gestalt for this also.
The Christian feast of Epiphany was originally celebrated in the Eastern churches and took in the birth of Jesus, the visit of the Magi, the childhood stories of Jesus, and Jesus’ baptism. What was all tied up in one feast is now a whole season until Candlemas (2nd February) in the Anglican Church. On 6th January we will concentrate purely on the visit of the Magi.
I think that by concentrating on the visit of the Magi we become too focused on the baby Jesus and forget that this is God being revealed as a human being. The Eastern Orthodox Church call this the Feast of the Theophany, God shining forth, particularly as Jesus is revealed as the Messiah at his baptism.
It’s this which struck me today in the Gospel passage. “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” Jesus is the missing piece of the picture, the last item needed in order for us to get the full picture of who God is.
When you read the Old Testament the people we meet there really did very well in getting to know God. He was a voice in dreams; he was a pillar of cloud or fire; he was glory which made Moses’ face shine after he had been on the mountain; he was the fire and glory that so filled the Temple that the priests couldn’t enter. On that occasion everyone bowed with their faces to the ground, worshipping and giving thanks. David was close enough to God to be called a man after God’s own heart. The psalmist could extol God’s qualities, the blessings he gives, the provision he makes for his people, the power of his word. Jeremiah could state confidently that God would act to bring his people back to their land, providing for them and bringing joy, like a father providing for his children. But how do you get really close to fire and cloud, thunder and lightning?
I remember when Grizzy had a week for avatars to appear as something very different from normal. Some changed to furries, or to the opposite gender, or to nekos, or tinies and so on. All found that there were some differences in how people responded to them as a result of their different appearance. Grizzy decided to do something really unusual and appeared as a glowing orb. It seems that no one quite knew how to relate to this appearance. It had no facial features or limbs, nothing to make it even slightly like a person. The nearest equivalent in SL is a dance ball, and that’s what some thought Grizzy was! (Not a very good dance ball as it didn’t work when clicked on.) I think this is a little like people trying to relate to God. Even though he wanted a relationship with people and worked very hard to create one, there was such a huge difference between him and humans that people struggled and often resorted to gods made with human hands because at least they could see them.
The missing piece that we need to finally get to know God properly is Jesus. As John said in his first letter: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands … we proclaim also to you.” It was in listening to Jesus’ human voice, letting eyes meet while in conversation, observing him in action or sleeping, touching his real flesh and blood body that the disciples got to know God. This was the shining forth of God finally with no barriers to get in the way of relationship.
We cannot see Jesus as the disciples could but we have their record of his life. The Gospels show us how Jesus lived and related to the people he met, people very much like us despite the passage of two millennia. John says at the end of his Gospel that he wrote it ‘that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God’. Christ as God’s Son bears the perfect family image, Jesus is exactly like God. And even more important than that is that God is exactly like Christ.
The late Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsay once said: “God is Christ-like and in him there is no un-Christ-likeness at all.” Many of us look at Jesus and relate to him. When we think about God we may see him as very different, scary, judgemental, the big policeman in the sky checking up on our behaviour. There’s a story of a little boy who went to Sunday School and came back to tell his mother he had been learning about God and Jesus. When she asked what he thought of them he answered, “ I like Jesus a lot, but I’m not sure about his Father.”
If we read about Jesus in the Gospels, unlike the little boy, we can be very sure about his Father. The love, forgiveness, patience, compassion, humility, servant-hood even, we see in Jesus is in God also. Occasionally I can catch a moment of humour in Jesus and I’m certain that God has that too.
I’ve been in conversations in recent weeks with several people who have wanted to get closer to God and wondered how to set about it. I can really see no better way than to read through the Gospels and meet him in the person of Jesus as he interacts with the people of 1st Century Israel. Having done that it seems easier to see that same God in the Old Testament. We don’t always understand why God acts or doesn’t act in certain circumstances but if we have once met him as a loving person just like Jesus, it’s easier to trust what he says about himself through Jeremiah:
“I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.”
No one has ever seen God but the Son has made him known.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor