This blog provides a daily meditation on the episcopal bible readings along with a headline from world news.
Daily Headline: Bethlehem Church celebrates first Christmas since UN recognition of Palestine.
1 John 4:7-16
God Is Love
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world.15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
In their wisdom the compilers of the Episcopal Lectionary have chosen this passage for meditation on Christmas Day. Amongst other things it reminds the reader that the New Testament tradition bearing the name of John knows nothing about a birth at Bethlehem, but simply speaks of Jesus as the “Word made flesh”. Jesus, a human being is the very speech of God, not only, or even primarily when he speaks, but in all his actions and suffering: Jesus is God-with–us in a more radical sense than Isaiah, the author of the phrase, could have possible imagined. God no longer gives the world a sign of his presence through a human being who is separate from him. He comes to humanity Himself as human.
This theology is the connection, which may not be obvious to non-Christians between “abiding in love” and trusting in Jesus as God’s son. It may seem that love is universal while Jesus is specific to one religion. But the writer wants to say that love requires definition to be meaningful and that God has provided that definition in Jesus. Love means that the source of life and love abandons his safety to become one with those He loves. That doesn’t negate the universality of this love. In Jesus, in this specific person, God declares His love for the world.
Am I saying that it’s not possible to abide in love if you don’t believe in Jesus? No, not at all. I’m saying that in all those who truly love, Jesus Christ is born, for he , the one born in Bethlehem, is still the One in whom we can share the life of God. “To those who believe in his name, God gave the right to be called children of God; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of a man’s will, but of God.” Believing in his name, is trusting in his character, which many people who are not Christian believers, are able to do, because he is universally available in his ascended life (“he fills all worlds”) and through his Spirit, as well as by the witness of his followers.
The “Word made flesh” should not be translated as it often is in modern bibles, “the Word became a human being.” Flesh is shared with all living beings. God in Christ becomes a creature, a mammal, an ape, Homo sapiens. He too shares a significant proportion of the genes of the fruit fly. He too has evolved for eating and excreting and sexual reproduction. He too is the product of evolution. For this reason we might be tempted to say that God’s experience of his creatures was amplified by his earthly sojourn in Jesus. Christian thinkers rejected that idea; God has always been and always will be as S/He is revealed in Jesus: dear Father, beloved Son and holy Spirit. The Christian teaching about God is stranger than many conventional thinkers imagine. I don’t need to go looking for God because He has come to me. In for example, my human genes, he comes to be with me as Creator, that is, as the “Not-me”; as the Son, that is, as “Myself” flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone; and as Spirit that is, as the power to become God’s child, the savage love that binds Father and Son together.
All this is implied in what we call Christmas.
Yet this Christmas morning I’ve been unable to go to church because I’ve been looking after an alcoholic in an attempt to shield him/her from self-harm. In this situation there’ s a mixture of heartbreak and duty. In this good person, by means of heartbreak and duty, God comes to me this morning. I might wish it otherwise, indeed I long with every fibre of my being for it to be otherwise; but as it is, there are worse companions than these, which keep me stretched and humble.