Getting Ready for Sunday by the Rev. James Detrich
Editor's Note: This blog post was originally scheduled and written for publication the last week of December.
Merry Seventh Day of Christmas! No, not the seven-swans-a-swimming thing—I mean the real thing, the seventh day of Christmastide, as we continue in the celebration of our Lord’s incarnation. And part and parcel to this season of days is rejoicing in that which has come down from heaven, for us and for our salvation, as the old creed says. The that which has come is the Son of God, both in terms of his person and his work.
But the number seven is helpful here. When we think of seven biblically, it normally brings the thought of creation to mind, since in that most famous creation story we read of God creating all things in seven days (or acts). How fitting it is that our lectionary decides on this, the seventh day of Christmastide, to tell us the story of how God— through the incarnation of the Son—would re-create all things! The only fitting response to such a wonderful story is the one provided for us in the first verse of the first reading: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God.”
Perhaps it’s best to begin there. I propose this because we have already been there. Isaiah 61:10-11 was already read—on the third Sunday of Advent. This was Gaudete Sunday (translated “Rejoice Sunday”) when the Advent season takes a pause from the customary penitential emphasis and reminds us of the joy of the season. On that particular Sunday, these verses ended the lection in order to stir up the rejoicing; now, post-Christmas, they begin the lection because that’s the normal response after seeing Christ come. So the question is: what should we rejoice in?
We should rejoice in the Son’s work. Through his redemptive acts, we have been given the opportunity to participate in God’s re-creative kingdom. The language coming from Isaiah is striking as he says that we’ve been clothed with the garments of salvation and covered in the robe of righteousness. Christ and his church become one in this new marriage of re-creation. We see this most clearly in the sacrament of baptism, for it’s there that we put on Christ as we are brought into his body. But if the temptation here is to decrease your view of what God is doing through this clothing-salvific act, Isaiah disallows it. This is the seed of God’s grand kingdom. All nations will see the vindication
and the glory and the beauty of Christ through his body, because God is a divine person who will not be kept silent but will show forth his glory.
We should also rejoice in the Son’s person. What I mean by this is that we should resist merely rejoicing in the gifts we are provided to the exclusion of the provider. This supposes something untrue, namely that it’s possible to separate Christ from the salvation he brings. St. Paul doesn’t allow the Galatian people to go there, and this is why he instructs them to keep their minds on Christ—not the law. It played well the “schoolmaster” function, but now that Christ has come, the one who fulfills that law, he is the true conduit to God. It is through Christ that we become a child of God.
It is right to remember the words St. Paul uses: “God sent his Son.” God didn’t send a concept, or a notion, or a mind map; he sent a person. He sent his Word. St. John frames his glorious masterpiece within a re-creation perspective as he uses the words, “in the beginning,” harkening back of course to Genesis 1. Space limitations don’t allow any justice to be done to the apostle’s tour de force, but I do want to underscore St. John’s three-fold use of “Word” to describe the Son of God. Word here conveys a number of things as it plays on multiple levels of meaning. But one solid interpretation of the way it’s used here is that Word is the expression of the triune God. Again, our question: What should we rejoice in? We should rejoice that God has spoken through his Son in the giving of this perfect gift to us. This gift is not some abstract notion of redemption—the gift is God himself. And because of this Word sent by God, we have life and light. The whole creation has life and light! God is re-creating all things through his Life and Light!
If that’s not fitting to rejoice in, then all is lost. But if it is, then go the psalter and worship. Rejoice in a God who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Rejoice in a God who “sends out his [word] to the earth and [it] runs very swiftly.” Rejoice in a God who “sends forth his word and melts” those who resist his acts of re- creation, for the Lord will not be kept silent but will show all his glory. “Hallelujah!” indeed!