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Thursday, December 30, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-12, Psalm 147:12-20 or Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21, Ephesians 1:1-4, John 1:1-18

The Christmas season is a time when some feel particularly grateful for the blessings of family as well as material comforts and pleasures. I recognize that there are those for whom Christmas is a “blue” time. We even had moments of feeling blue in recent weeks, when we have been unable to reproduce some treasured experiences of Christmases past. Most, however, even in the midst of down times can recognize or identify some blessing in their lives.

Feeling blessed may lead to a sense of entitlement. I must have received this or that blessing because I deserved it. The other side is a feeling of blame or unworthiness if blessings are not received or perceived.

Receiving blessings can even lead to feeling privileged or superior. Theologically it may be expressed as a sense of being “chosen.” “I have been specially chosen.”

In the Bible, God’s people often felt that way. Scriptures, in fact, describe them as a chosen people, selected by God from among all people. And when things got tough, they wondered what happened to their “chosenness.” Some of the founding fathers even saw America as heir to that tradition of being chosen.

There is danger when people or nations begin to feeling that they have been specially chosen, especially if they feel chosen to dominate other nations, deserving a privileged place in the scheme of earthly relationships. Even in the Old Testament there are two understandings of what it means to be chosen. Oversimplified, the distinction is between being chosen for privilege or chosen to serve. In Genesis 12:2, God tells Abraham (Abram), “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” “Blessed to be a blessing.” It is something God’s people in every age have too often forgotten.

Many of us would probably just as soon discard the doctrine of “chosenness.” Before we do, perhaps we might consider expanding it. We often talk about every child being “special,” about each of us having a calling, being put on this earth for some purpose. There is a sense in which we are all “chosen,” not in a narrow, privileged, sense. Every one of us matters as a beloved creature of God. It might be worthwhile to reflect on that from time to time, asking what it is that we have been chosen for. In what ways are we special and how does that “specialness” get applied and used in daily relationships and activities?

Most of the lectionary readings for this Sunday speak of feeling blessed or chosen.

The reading from Jeremiah comes as a word to those who wondered whether God had forgotten his special relationship with them. It speaks of a time of joy and celebration, addressing the people in exile as “the chief of the nations.” (Jeremiah 31:7) They are to be gathered and led back. (vss. 8-9) Their will be dancing and mourning will be turned into joy. (vs. 13)

We are given the choice between two apocryphal readings, from Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon. Without getting into a dissertation on these writings which are not included in the Protestant Bible, it is sufficient now to know that both come from about two centuries before Christ. They are part of what is called Wisdom literature, collections (like Proverbs, for example) intended to give guidance for right living.

In some of this literature, including these passages from Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom is embodied in a feminine spirit. Is she an Old Testament aspect of the Holy Spirit?

In Sirach she comes from heaven searching for a resting place. (Sirach 24:3-7) Is this in the Christmas readings because there is the suggestion of the divine coming to earth? The Creator chooses a place for her, saying, “Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.” (vs. 8) So, Wisdom says, “I took root in an honored people, in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.” (vs. 12) It is a passage about “chosenness.”

In Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom is the one who “entered the soul of a servant of the Lord,” guiding the “holy people” through the Red Sea,” etc. (Wisdom of Solomon 10:16-18) As a result, there is celebration. “ . . . they sang hymns . . . and praised with one accord . . .” (vs. 20) The people are blessed and they celebrate.

The words from Psalm 147 are also a celebration of blessings: peace, the blowing wind, the flowing water, etc. (vss. 12-18) At the end we see that the blessings are taken as a sign of being special. God “has not dealt thus with any other nation.” (vs. 20)

Ephesians explicitly speaks of being chosen by God, connecting it now with Christ who was there “before the foundation of the earth.” (Ephesians 1:4) The blessing is that we have been adopted as God’s children. (vs. 5) Being children means there is an inheritance, which calls forth praise. (vss. 11-14)

The Gospel from John is one of the traditional readings for the Christmas season, presenting us with Jesus as the embodiment of the eternal “Word.” In Greek, it is “logos,” which can be translated as “word” but also was a concept used in Greek philosophy to represent something of an eternal principle or force energizing the cosmos. We could also look at the significance of “Word” as a living expression of God in Hebrew scripture and theology. In the reading from John, “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (John 1:14)

This eternal dimension is present in the reading from Ephesians, which speaks of our being chosen “before the foundation of the world.” (Ephesians 1:4) It may not be too much of a stretch to see the eternal Logos as something like “Wisdom” in Sirach, which “came forth from the mouth of the Most High” (like a word spoken by God?). (Sirach 24:3) In both Sirach and John we have God’s Spirit coming to live in our midst. It’s enough to make anyone feel special. John expresses it by saying, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)

Do we feel blessed and special? The coming of the New Year is sometimes seen as a time for making resolutions. May it also be a time for counting of our blessings and knowing that we are special—not in the sense of being given special privileges but in the sense that each one of us counts and has a place in God’s scheme of things. We are blessed to be a blessing. We are loved to be instruments of love. We have been given so that we can pass it on.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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