Radiant Morning Star,
you are both guidance and mystery,
Visit our rest with disturbing dreams,
and our journeys with strange companions.
Grace us with the hospitality
to open our hearts and homes
to visitors filled with unfamiliar wisdom
bearing profound and unusual gifts. Amen.
It’s New Year’s Eve, a day that is (for me at least) filled both with the promise of a whole new year and with memories of the year drawing to close. I will admit that 2013 has been a challenging year for me, and my memories are tinged with a bit of sadness, yet I am excited and hopeful for the possibilities 2014 holds, personally and vocationally. And speaking of possibilities, preaching this week offers us LOTS of them.
The RCL readings for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas may be found here; once again the Episcopal RCL offers some additional options, and if that weren’t enough, with the Feast of the Epiphany falling on Monday, some of us may be transferring that celebration to Sunday.
The readings for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas begin with a passage from the part of Jeremiah known as the “Book of Consolation” (Jeremiah 30-33). In these words we hear many of the same themes we’ve been hearing in the words of Isaiah during Advent: words of hope, promises of redemption, salvation from God, spoken to God’s people at a time of desolation and despair. Many of these promises remained unfulfilled for their original hearers, yet they still speak profoundly to us, all these centuries later. Can we make sense of them in their own context and still hear their promises to us?
Our second reading comes from the opening of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and as such sets the theological stage for the entire letter. It is full of blessings, and reminders of God’s goodness, and hope for God’s chosen. The commentary at Working Preacher does an excellent job showing how being “chosen” extended God’s blessing to more (all the Gentiles) rather than restricting it to a few as we often hear it interpreted.
The gospel for the 2nd Sunday after Christmas comes from the Prologue to John–which has come up already several times in the last 10 days; my first thought was, “Is there anyone who hasn’t already preached this?” but if you did Holy Innocents last week, maybe you’ll go with John this week. It is a beautiful passage and I refer you to previous discussion here.
The Episcopal Lectionary, which focused on John’s prologue last week, offers 3 gospel choices: the Holy Innocents passage the “standard” RCL used last week, Luke’s story of Jesus’ trip to the Temple at age 12, and the Epiphany gospel (which we’ll get to in a moment). Episcopal preachers, how will you decide?
Because there is one more option: transferring the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) to Sunday, and that’s the route I’m taking. The readings for Epiphany begin with the beautiful passage from Isaiah 60, “Arise, shine; for your light has come..” and move on to Matthew’s story of the coming of the Magi, following a star to find Jesus, and then, warned by an angel in a dream, returning home by another road. I am reminded of Barbara Brown Taylor’s wonderful sermon on this text, published in a volume taking its title from those very words, “Home By Another Way.” James Taylor’s song by that name also provides an interesting slant for preaching.
[As an aside: it’s become my tradition to offer blessed chalk for house blessings on the Feast of the Epiphany; this is the way I do it, and it has become very popular. The link also provides helpful background info, and there are many other similar resources.]
So preachers, as we close out 2013, which way are you headed? As you prepare your New Year’s celebration, are you thinking ahead to Sunday? Celebrating Epiphany? Going with John? Share your ideas, your inspirations, your struggles and your hopes with us. And Happy New Year–may 2014 be filled with blessings, love, and joy!