NewWay people logo

New Way of Being Church
About Us What we do News Membership Contact us
Publications Reviews Reflections Links

Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice


Second Sunday of Christmas
John 1.10-18

Sharing together

"Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world."

John Milton

Bill Mollison, the co-originator with David Holmgren of Permaculture design and the Permaculture movement, tells of an 'Epiphany moment' in the 1970s when he saw what Permaculture could become, the impact it could have across the world and the way it would best be developed.

'Permaculture is a sustainable system of earth care that offers solutions to many of our grave environmental problems and a hopeful, proactive vision of change. The Permaculture movement...is now a worldwide network of skilled ecological designers, teachers, food growers, natural builders, environmental activists and visionaries.'
(zvg) 23rd October 2011

For an interview with Bill go to www.scottlondon.com/interviews/mollison.html

An 'Epiphany' is an experience of sudden and striking realisation. The word comes from ancient Greece and means 'manifestation'.

Share in pairs or threes any such 'epiphany' moment in your life experience or in that of others? What difference, if any, did it make to your (their) life?

In full group share your stories.

Reflection on the text

This passage is part of what is often called the 'Prologue' to John's gospel. Lesslie Newbigin prefers the word 'overture' to describe it, with key themes that will play out in the gospel text. (see 'The Light has Come', 1982, Eerdman's, p. 1).

John's gospel is rich in words and themes - light, life, world, believe, grace, truth, glory, fullness and so on. These themes provided the communities of faith to which the author of the gospel was writing an understanding of the manifestation of God in the person of Jesus the Christ (the Messiah) and how to live his Way.

In this passage, John tells his community that 'the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth'.

God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The revelation of God's person came into sharp focus, somewhat similar to a lens focusing light down to a pin point.

John is saying, if we want to know what God is like, look no further than Jesus. If we want to know how to live a 'godly' life then Jesus provides the pattern.
The Hebrew scriptures (First Testament) provides us with a clouded or blurred vision of God's nature, often leading to much misunderstanding to this day. In Christ, God's nature and Way of life becomes much clearer.

This revelation enabled the small household communities for whom the gospel was written to develop ways of being and living that reflected in profound ways the person, life and passion of Jesus, who was known to them as God's unique Son.

Another obvious theme jumping out of the text is that of vulnerability.
God comes among us as a helpless babe in the midst of the darkness of Empire and smack bang in the middle of an oppressed people. As a toddler he is displaced with his family as asylum seekers in Egypt following the infanticide activity of King Herod in Bethlehem.
But vulnerability is a mark of the life and ministry of Jesus.

The gospel invitation to all followers of Jesus is to become vulnerable ourselves.

Application

There are many themes that we might choose to address in group discussion but we have chosen two that you may wish to pursue.

1.Grace and Truth (read together Psalm 85)

See Tom Wright - ntwrightpage.com/sermons/Christmas06.htm

Holding grace and truth together in all our relationships is one of the biggest challenges we face as followers of Jesus. Speaking the truth in love is never easy and we often fail to do so. Either we speak the truth in anger or we are so gracious we avoid speaking honestly.

How did Jesus manage this? How might we do this? How can we help one another?

2.Vulnerability:

John Thatamanil wrote the following days after the slaughter of innocent children in Newtown, Conneticut, USA:

God does not come to eradicate vulnerability but to teach us how to welcome it. Love comes to open our eyes to look for holiness not in might and power, not in any futile attempt to secure ourselves against each other by force of arms, but precisely in our delicate bonds with each other.

Embrace vulnerability or attempt to erase it -- this elemental choice largely determines the texture and trajectory of our personal and communal lives. The former choice leads to flourishing; the latter leads to a downward spiral of disengagement, isolationism, mutual suspicion and violence. Christmas is God's embrace of vulnerability. Christmas is God's act of hallowing vulnerability by entering human history as a fragile child and living a life of nonviolent love.

"Christmas in Newtown and Bethlehem." The Huffington Post 12/27/12.
See www.huffingtonpost.com/john-thatamanil/christmas-in-newtown-and-bethelehem_b_2372220.html

Henri Nouwen says:

We have been called to be fruitful - not successful, not productive, not accomplished. Success comes from strength, stress, and human effort. Fruitfulness comes from vulnerability and the admission of our own weakness. For a long time, I sought safety and security among the wise and clever, hardly aware that the things of the kingdom were revealed to little children; that God has chosen those who by human standards are fools to shame the wise. But when I experienced the warm, unpretentious reception of those who have nothing to boast about, and experienced a loving embrace from people who didn't ask any questions, I began to discover that a true spiritual homecoming means a return to the poor in spirit, to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs.

In pairs and then in full group share how your community might maintain a stance of vulnerability in relationships.

Praying Together

We live in a deeply troubled world, full of many uncertainties and on the brink of self-destruction as we look at the economic, social and environmental crises that are overwhelming us. We are witnessing the end of Empire and the end of growth yet, at the same time, the vast majority of people in the richer nations accept the status quo and are lulled into a false sense of security.

As a group you might like to use this reflection from Tom Wright's sermon (see above link) as the starting point for prayer, as we look ahead into 2014.

Psalm 85 is a prayer for restoration, for forgiveness, for the mercy and grace of God to break through the long dark night of Israel's exile and bring about that new life for which God's people ached...

First, (the Psalmist) sees that God will speak a fresh word, a word of peace to his people, to those who have faith.

Second, he sees that God's glory will come once more to dwell in the land - in other words, that the Temple will be restored, and the tabernacling presence of the living God will come to live there in full majesty.

And, thirdly, he sees that when this happens it will be like a cosmic wedding, with heaven and earth coming together in a rich and fruitful embrace: grace and truth will meet at last, justice and peace will kiss each other; truth will spring up from the earth, and justice look down from heaven.

Psalm 85 is, in other words, a Christmas poem: Advent is over, God's fresh Word is spoken, breathed out, received by those who have faith deep in their hearts, and God's glory, his tabernacling presence, has come to live in our midst. The word became flesh, and dwelt - the word means, 'pitched his tent', or 'tabernacled' - amongst us, and we gazed upon his glory. And in this glory we find the coming together of heaven and earth, of grace and truth.

Going Deeper

Creating Communities of Vulnerability

AMBIGUITY

Eduard Schweizer highlights Luke's emphasis on God encountering us through Jesus 'in a confusion of events, words, deeds and experiences of a concrete human life in Palestine.'

A theology of Incarnation leads us to minister from within the ambiguities, ironies and complexities of contemporary life.

Ambiguity is the ability to understand in more than one way. When a thing is ambiguous, there is more than one interpretation or explanation. A paradox is like ambiguity. It is a self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated may nonetheless be true. In a way, paradox is systematic ambiguity.

The self-emptying Jesus of the Cross is not likely to be found in "strong churches" but in those "weak" places where people are unsure of themselves, groping for a few glimpses of truth to hold onto, even where it seems that the roof is about to fall in. The gift of faith is enough for fragile and uncertain people who gather in communities to struggle to remember Jesus and hope. Our appreciation of ambiguity as a human disposition rests on the promise of God's abiding grace.

VULNERABILITY

Writer Henri Nouwen, who left an illustrious career at Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame Universities to serve people with disability, understood vulnerability as few others have:

We have been called to be fruitful - not successful, not productive, not accomplished. Success comes from strength, stress, and human effort. Fruitfulness comes from vulnerability and the admission of our own weakness. For a long time, I sought safety and security among the wise and clever, hardly aware that the things of the kingdom were revealed to little children; that God has chosen those who by human standards are fools to shame the wise. But when I experienced the warm, unpretentious reception of those who have nothing to boast about, and experienced a loving embrace from people who didn't ask any questions, I began to discover that a true spiritual homecoming means a return to the poor in spirit, to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs.

Paul's emphasis on strength through weakness in his Corinthian correspondence encourages us to accept our own vulnerability as we minister among vulnerable people. We are called to build 'communities of vulnerability' where the grace of God, freely and abundantly given and joyfully received, is shared gently and generously between members and overflows the communities' boundaries. These communities are not havens from the world but reflect the ambiguities and complexities of their context.

'Ambiguity' and 'vulnerability' are themes which seem to run counter to much of the 'development' and 'growth' emphases of Western culture, which have spread everywhere through globalisation and which are reflected in the strategies of many churches. Perhaps 'ambiguity' and 'vulnerability' are better measures of church 'growth' and 'development'.

Seeking Peace Resource for 2014:
The link - cdn.plough.com/~/media/Files/Plough/ebooks/pdfs/s/seekingpeaceEN.pdf


Building Kingdom-shaped communities
  © New Way of Being Church 2007