First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages from the Lectionary

Christmas 2

William Loader

Christmas 2: 4 January  Ephesians 1:3-14

In the Greek this is one single sentence! It bundles together in a kind of rolling, florid style a range of terms and phrases which produce what on the one hand reads as heavily overloaded but, perhaps in its day, read as wonderful and hymnic. A statement of blessing sometimes formed a standard element in the introduction of a letter and fitted well its probable use in a liturgical context. 1 Peter also uses such a tradition.

The blessing (and the rest of the letter or sermon) speaks of Christ as a expanding sphere of influence or power, intent on filling the whole universe. This gives shape to its understanding of mission. The earth shall be filled with God's goodness. It can also lead to understanding the church as meant to take over everything - a kind of imperialism. Sometimes the focus appears to be on renewal and positive transformation which will be good for people. Sometimes one has the impression that it is all about subordination and absorption. The heavenly and spiritual space appears not to be a far away place but a dimension of existence in the here and now as we participate in this life. The image can be turned in various ways. I think it can turn richly and positively.

The ambiguity continues with the focus on election. At worst it can be a system which rationalises failure and systematises vengeance against those who do not agree with us. At best it is hymn, much like the claim one one lover to another that 'you were always meant for me'. Other partnerships might have been just as good, but this is the poetry of love. This is how it might be here. Ii think so. The goal is relationship, expressed literally as sonship - meant inclusively for all women and men. Notice how love dominates the understanding: Christ is the 'beloved'.

The benefit appears as redemption, deliverance, spelled out as forgiveness of sins. Perhaps we have been narrowed to that and some will see no further. But knowledge also features. Here the mystery is about God's plan to bring oneness. It is all encompassing with Christ filling all things. The author's focus shifts immediately to 'you'. He means his Gentile readers. That will be a theme. Almost as a reflection on the outcome at least in his communities of the struggles of Paul and others, he celebrates that 'those afar off', the Gentiles, have also been included and the barriers which discriminated against them, the biblical law and its accretions, have been broken down.

What generally applied to all, the sense of being chosen, of being redeemed and forgiven, of being informed about the divine plan for the world (1:3-11), is now being applied to those once excluded ('and you, too,.. 1:11). The Spirit is also theirs - ours. The Spirit not only spurs on our hope but enacts it in the present as the first bit of evidence that the hope has substance. This needs unpacking. It might be something quite circular: inspiring more expansion in winning others to the cause. It might be as large as Jesus' own vision which by the Spirit he lived as an agenda which effected change and embodied overcoming barriers of discrimination in his lifetime. The redemption of the body might just be a dream of shining resurrection glory, somewhat unearthed from reality. It might be an aspect of the poetic vision of a transformed reality for all.

The doxological flight path of our passage can lead into other worlds. It can however also enable us to see ourselves, our world and our place in it in ways that are earthed, especially when read within the whole tradition.

Gospel: Christmas 2: 4 January John 1:(1-9), 10-18

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