2nd Sunday after Christmas

January 5, 2003
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Jeremiah 31:7-14
Reading 2: 
Psalm 147:12-20
Reading 3: 
Ephesians 1:3-14
Reading 4: 
John 1:10-18
By Bruce G. Epperly

In the days that lie ahead, we invite you to share in an adventure of vision. Epiphany is about experiencing God’s Holy Adventure in all things from the daily tasks of parenting, working, and service to remarkable experiences of insight and mysticism. In Epiphany, we open ourselves to Divine omnipresence and Divine omni-activity–to the Holy One who is present in each breath and who guides in every encounter. The God of scripture is dynamic and relational. As pastors, we paint a picture through sermons that enable our listeners to experience God in all things and all things in God.

The Holy Transitive

“Why indeed must ‘God’ be a noun? Why not a verb–the most active and dynamic of all? …The anthropomorphic symbols for God may be intended to convey personality, but they fail to convey that God is Be-ing.”  -Mary Daly

How vivid the sheer power in these Scriptures, as we repeatedly encounter a multi-moving, acting God. Don’t tell a story, writers are always told…show it!  The God who brings forth creation moment by moment, and delivers the oppressed, will come through in the future. God not only speaks…God shows!

Scripture here uses a wide range of action verbs to convey the scope of Divine Power: bringing, gathering, returning, consoling, leading, letting, fathering, keeping, redeeming, turning, comforting, giving, building, healing, binding, determining, understanding, lifting, casting, covering, preparing, making, delighting, taking, strengthening, blessing, granting, filling, sending, scattering, hurling, sending, melting, declaring, dealing, choosing…God destines, bestows, redeems, forgives, lavishes, adopts, makes known, sets forth, accomplishes, counsels, marks, pledges, creates, becomes, lives. In these multiple actions, God is always affirming, and in all these many ways, Creation is always the subject of God’s great demonstrations of affection, as the transitive verbs act on their many objects.

Holy Power is never a thing, but it is always a verb, a lively creative, saving presence. God is the transforming Intimacy who makes all things possible and gives impetus to all actuality, supplying everything with both the opportunity and power to share in Divinity itself.

Epiphany unveils the presence of this lively, innovative God in everyday life. Christ is not confined to the manger or our worship services, but moves through all things–magi from the East, the big bang, the conception of a child, and the holy death of an elder. In the season of Epiphany, we can truly celebrate the Wonder of the Word, God’s lively and ubiquitous revelation that transforms all “ordinary” moments into “holy ground,” as the promise of Advent, lovingly given human form at Christmas, holds fast. Awakened to the Presence of this verb-like God, there is no “ordinary time.”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel spoke of “radical amazement” as the essential religious virtue. His contemporary Paul Tillich described this same sense of wonder as “the ontological shock of non-being,” the pure astonishment at the very fact of Reality. Hallelujah!  We are here! We breathe!  God breathes through us! Amen!

All things are words of God, asserts the German mystic Meister Eckhardt. We are words of God, echoing the Divine Creativity in every cell and thought. Divine praise rejoices through us. “There are no ordinary people,” writes C.S. Lewis.  “You have never talked to a mere mortal…Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” The Living Word lives through us. In wholeness, we can claim our holiness and find our Christ consciousness…We can become Christ-like verbs in our own incessant creativity.

The Divine Creativity is more than just a concept. Epiphany reminds us that the Word is made Flesh. It lives among us. As the passages from Jeremiah and the Psalms proclaim, God’s Creative Word (dabhar) moves within and among all things, delivering us from captivity, inspiring us to sing and dance and make merry. And while we moderns may struggle with seeing God’s hand in natural processes, which are often destructive as well as creative, the week’s readings nevertheless challenge us to see God in all things and all things in God.

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In our respective summer vacations, both of us followed paths initially charted by Native Americans. In mesas, chimney robes, wide prairies, and cloud formations, we could imagine the wonder of communities like the Native Americans and Hebrews, who each found God in the howling wind or jagged pinnacle. Yet, as wondrous as nature can be, we also encounter times where we find ourselves as wonder-full as the natural world in which we live. As Psalm 8 notes, dwarfed by the majesty of the universe, we are still just a little lower than the Divine. Psalm 139 speaks of humankind as “fearfully and wonderfully made.” In that spirit, Ephesians speaks of the abundance of our spiritual lives. While we may “think small,” Paul proclaims a God who “…has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.”

“The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the

 world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades

 of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and death, in ebb and flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment. ”  -Rabindranath Tagore

God is life-throb of all things.

John’s Prologue asserts that this same spiritual giftedness is ours today. “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”

When we claim the Divine presence in our lives, the Word is embodied in us. The power of the universe creates within us. It invites us to become co-creators. We do not originate what powers us. But, we can reflect and work with it, shaping with its force to bring Beauty and Joy more fully into our world.

Kathleen Norris, the poet, notes that the image of prairie grass is “a perfect metaphor for the creative process,” for although it may appear “to die all the way to the roots…the minute there’s moisture, it springs green.” Its example to us, asserts Norris, is “to remain at least alert enough to receive what the world is trying to give.” As Christians, deeply planted one and all in the creative process of Life, we are each given the chance to remain alert to receive what Creation is trying to evoke…that sense of the Holy Transitive, as that life force moving through all creation. And, so awakened to wonder, we strain to sense what God is trying to give us right now…and what God wants us to give to others as well!

But, alas, amid the world’s myriad wonders, there is also a note of sadness. “Christ was in the world; and the world came into being through the Divine Word; yet the world did not know Christ.” We can choose to turn from light to darkness. We are free to live as one-dimensional, fragmented persons in a one-dimensional, fragmented world. But, such senselessness cannot ultimately quench the power of God’s Creative Word. “I believe that God can and will bring good out of evil,” writes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Even out of the greatest evil. For that purpose, [God] needs [people] who make the best use of everything.”  “The light shines in the darkness,” reads John’s gospel, “and the darkness did not overcome it. ”

We can wake up. We can see reality for what it is–amazing, majestic, terrifying, and oh so wonderful. We can embrace our inheritance not merely as children of the stars but also as beloved offspring of an all-Generous Creativity.

“Love creates an enjoyment of contact and a desire for more of it, a sense of the worth and human beauty of those we love, pride in their advancement, joy in their happiness, pain in their suffering, a consciousness of unity…This is the wide sense in which we must use the word love if we are to realize the incomparable power and value of love in human life. Our understanding of life depends on our comprehension of the universal power of love. Our capacity to build society depends on our power of calling out love. Our faith in God and Christ is measured by our faith in the value and workableness of love.”  -Walter Rauschenbusch

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Praise lost and praise found!

The practice of praise has been lost among many liberal Christians. In our quest for a non-hierarchical world and affirmation of the immanence of God, we have forgotten the wondrous power of Cosmic Creativity. We have left the experience of praise to the evangelicals and charismatics. Our worship has become overly programmed, politically correct, and structured. In so doing, our theology has become disembodied and abstract. We have lost touch with the surprising and wondrous adventure of Divine Creativity.

But, praise is never really lost. The heart-throb of the universe beats in our hearts.

Even in the brittleness of our sterile rationality, God offers us Holy Encouragement to claim our birthright…our spiritual wholeness as God’s radically amazing children. God invites us to awaken to Divine Glory in the majestic and microcosmic, and to claim our own sacred place in the Whole.

God invites the downtrodden, the bored, the weary, and frightened to hold their pain in tension with the wonder of being. Even in the hospital room, “You can sing with gladness… You can raise shouts…You can praise, proclaim…You can say this…” because we come forth from the living Intimacy that makes all life possible.

Today’s scriptures call us to widen the notion of praise to encompass all things. Praise is a way of life…more than any chorus sung on Sunday. It is an attitude towards all life, not just moving our arms or an exclamation from the pews… A life well lived is praise in its purest form. It is prayer without ceasing. It is claiming the original wholeness into which we were born, even when dread or anxiety fills our hearts. We can rejoice, as did the children of the persecuted church in Ephesus , because even in our struggles, we encounter a God who mirrors all that is possible to us in the Holy Transitive.

Life is praise…evoking Christ, who constantly powers and empowers creation… in the Holy Process of Creativity…through the many collective actions of our lives, lived as praise.

With a contemporary hymn, we will rejoice in the Divine Bounty that creates, heals, saves, and transforms:

“For the Giver and the gift,
Praise, praise, praise.”

Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God, written with Kate Epperly, and selected as the 2009 Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy. He can be contacted for conversation, lectures, seminars, workshops, and preaching engagements.