Sunday, January 03, 2021

Christmas II

 Ephesians 1

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ[a] before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,[b] having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this[c] is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Ironically, one of my favourite films begins with the news that the theatres have been closed on account of the plague. Henslowe, the owner of the Rose Theatre, has just been accosted by Mr. Fennyman, the producer (aka “the money”). Demanding to know what will happen to the play he is paying for, we get this exchange:

Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

Fennyman: So what do we do?

Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.

Fennyman: How?

Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

“It’s a mystery” becomes a touchstone throughout the film, as we get a highly fictionalized account of how a young Shakespeare transforms “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter” into the play we know and love. Does anything in this account resemble what really happened? I don’t know, it’s a mystery.

I share all this because of my love for romantic comedies set in Elizabethan England, and because of one critical verse in our reading:

God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together in Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.*

So often with St. Paul, we get the answer to the question without actually getting the question. Sometimes the question appears earlier in the text, and sometimes the question may have come in the half of the correspondence we did not see, and sometimes the question is just a question someone might ask. In this case, it seems to be the last one, the kind of question that lives all around us: what is God’s plan?

This is not the micro “plan for your life” question, although we are certainly part of God’s larger plan. This is a larger question, like ‘what is it all for?’ What is God’s plan for creation and creature, the work of God’s hands. And where does Christ come in, aside from in the present season?

Maybe that’s too many questions, so we’ll stick with ‘what’s the plan?’ Imagine that something as simple as ‘what’s the plan’ inspired Paul to write. And further imagine that Paul is addressing an audience that understands the troubles of this life. There is the obvious “nasty, brutish, and short” nature of life at the time, and then there are the universal constants of loss, heartache, and a quest for some semblance of meaning.

What is the plan? For much of time, the answer would be “it’s a mystery.” Seasons of life and faith unfolded, and God would chide and bless in good measure, sending prophets and people of goodwill to communicate God’s desire for our lives. Being human, we found ways to enjoy the blessing and ignore the guidance, often finding trouble even before trouble could find us. God needed a new plan.

God being God decided to take the bold step of entering our world. And since the plan called for experiencing all of human life, an obvious part of the plan was to enter our world as a child. The details are well known to us. And upon entering our world, there would need to be a sign, some manifestation of the unfolding before us. In time, we would come to call this Epiphany, which we mark on January 6—the season of light.

At Epiphany, we celebrate the first light of God’s plan. All the signs come together, the star of Bethlehem and the Light of the World, the Word made flesh and the light that shines in the darkness, the very light that the darkness shall never overcome. ‘The time was right,’ as Paul tells us, because “at the right time he will bring everything together in Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.”

Just now you might be thinking ‘ah, yes, but the trouble remains.’ And that would be true. The coming of the light didn’t take away our trouble, it simply began a process that continues to this day. Recall that Jesus prayed “Thy will be done (meaning God’s plan), on earth as it is in heaven.” This tells me that the plan continues, with a beginning, a middle, and a future end. And this is where we find ourselves. In the very middle of God’s plan, a plan that continues here in the heart of Epiphany.

Here’s how I know: “You are the light of the world,” Jesus said, and then he said ‘you must let your light shine for others, that they may see me in you, and in the God who made you’ (Matthew 5 and John 14). When we let our light shine for others, God is glorified, and the light is cast further and further in the shadow places of our world. We don’t make the light, we cast the light. This is always God’s work, the work that we share. But in sharing this work, in casting the light of love and mercy, we see Christ in others and in ourselves. And the plan continues, ever forward, to that final moment when heaven and earth are joined again.

May the light of love and mercy surround you, as you surround others, Amen.

*New Living Translation, adapted.


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