God Does not Stand Far off from our Suffering but transforms reality by enduring it
This morning we have a second celebration of Jesus’s birth. But our readings today certainly take us in a more theological direction as you might intuit given what you just heard from John’s gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Our reading from Hebrews actually summarizes John’s point here really well: “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain.” In and through Jesus Christ God the Father created everything and draws everything to himself in his Son, Jesus, by his Holy Spirit. Not just humans, but everything that exists. If God created all that exists through Jesus, then God will judge all people on the basis of who Jesus is, since he is the perfection of a human life and the first Person to exist. And in these passages we hear God say, all that will remain when he comes with to bring all that exists to perfection - the final judgment - are those who have submitted themselves to Jesus. As 1 Corinthians 15:28 puts it, when God is all in all, i.e. when this world has run its course, every knee will bow before him and that which has not bowed, or been conformed to him, will perish.
Some of the things that we’ve heard will not exist at the final judgment are marriage, for example. We heard Jesus say exactly this to a group of Pharisees who were trying to catch him up in violating the Law by not giving the right answer to which man, a woman who had married seven men who had each successively died, would be married to in heaven. There is no marriage in heaven, he responded. The implication being that marriage has a purpose only on Earth that is shaped by the calling to point, in one’s marriage, to God. Why? Because only our relationship in and to God will remain. So therefore, let us make sure we let as many people know this as possible through what we do in our marriage, so that they might be gathered to God when history comes to its completion. So too do we hear that mourning and suffering and tears will end. They will be no more - we hear in a passage from Revelation often read at funerals - presumably because we will find our completion and a satisfaction of our deepest longing and so healing from all the atrocities, the losses, the sadness, the pain and anguish we have experienced in our lives when we are in and with God; no longer subject to the tempestuous storms of a fallen world.
In these passages, God declares that he will make right what no one else can. He alone creates, gathers, prunes, heals, sanctifies, and will bring all things to completion in him, who is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega of all things. That is, in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit working in us, God our Father, will bring to pass the goodness and righteousness that he intended for every one of us. A goodness and righteousness fulfilled in Jesus’s birth and life, his death and resurrection, a wholeness of being we lost as we are caught up in the original sin of the first human beings; a cascade of effects that we cannot escape.
And yet it is right into this world and into your own life, where darkness still mixes with the light of grace, right into those trials and tribulations, that Jesus comes. He doesn’t stand far off standing apart from the cascade effects of sin. No he enters the world as a weak babe with the same vulnerabilities, fears and worries you and I share. He flees from rulers who murder children. He experiences betrayals and misunderstandings. He experiences the excruciating separation from his fellow brothers and sisters who turn away from him. He weeps with those who suffer and die and those who grieve for them. He willingly suffers arrest, torture and execution for the false accusation of people convinced they alone have the right way they must bring about in the world. He does not stand far off at all. He enters right into this suffering, right into the darkness we live in, the shroud created by our sin and ignorance. God came into the world and, in Jesus Christ, took on our flesh, born to a virgin, poor, with a potentially bleak future.
God in Christ came into the world for us, to change the very destiny that each of our lives would otherwise have – where the falsely accused, the poor, the weak, the children who never get to grow up, the children taken too early from us, the people who lose their parents, siblings, cousins, partners and friends, the people now sitting in a bomb shelter in the Ukraine, my friend Gift struggling to put food on the table with a job he despises but denied any opportunity to do anything else, the people angry, or disappointed or frustrated or depressed, the people broken by failure, frailty, age, abuse or addiction, war, or disease – where all of these people, all of you sitting in the pews experiencing at least some of these things, are not left just as they and you are, forever marked and judged by these things - by values contrived by a society so often enamoured with the young, the strong, the powerful, the wealthy, the healthy, the best. Where the last in the world’s eyes, the humble, those who make themselves vulnerable so that others might live, are instead the first to inherit the kingdom of God; for they are the most open to receiving it as those who must live so often solely by faith and hope, in humility, rather than by certainty and strength.
So from wherever we are in life, young, old, strong, weak, lost, struggling, desiring, hoping, holding on, mourning, from wherever we are, we are invited, called, pressed by the weight of the truth about reality brought in the light of the Son’s coming into the world, to open ourselves to being adopted and conformed to this one who will remain. To open ourselves to the Word who became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth, so we can receive this Jesus Christ, be made new, and share God’s love with others, especially those who are most in need of God’s comfort and ours, this season. AMEN.