January: Meeting Jesus in our neighbours
Sunday 2 January: John 1(1-9),10-18
A brand New Year has just begun. But the dreadful memories of the past year cling to us when we felt as if God was not with us. Those memories cloud our vision for the new year. In today’s reading John reminds us, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, but the world didn’t know he was there.”
If it were not for God, we would not be here. Yet often we fail to see God. To help us overcome this problem of invisibility, John writes, “(So) The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… and we saw his glory …” The invisible God came down among us in the form of a human baby, who grew into a young traveling preacher, who loved the loveless, forgave the sinful, lifted the lowly, healed the hurt, and spoke of a new Kingdom which he started building bit-by-bit, and person-by-person. This kingdom, when it is complete, people will see God face-to-face, as peace will reign, justice will flow like a river, and the tears will be wiped away from every eye. As the New Year begins, may we meet the invisible God by reaching out to meet the visible Jesus in our neighbours and among the poor and the needy.
Sunday 9 January: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
The two cousins meet. But it is not a typical Middle Eastern family gathering over felafel and kebabs in the backyard. It takes place in the wilderness by the river of Jordan. This venue is significant and full of symbolism. This is the same wilderness in which Moses led the people of Israel for forty years after their liberation from slavery in Egypt. This is the same Jordan in which they were immersed before they entered the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. To go out to the wilderness and to be baptized in the Jordan, is to recover the roots. It is to rededicate to the freedom journey with God!
Today’s encounter between John and Jesus, and the baptism that ensues heralds a new beginning, an entry into the Kingdom of God under the leadership of the One of whom God says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This baptism is the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry.
Today as we remember Jesus’ baptism may we remember that in our baptism we too have been plunged into a new way of being, living, and acting in the world.
Sunday 16 January: John 2.1-11
For John, Jesus’ miracles are “signs” that reveal Jesus’ glory as God’s Son through whom salvation enters the world. In other words, John says that putting on human skin God came and dwelt among us in Jesus, so we could see the glory of God.
Jesus does just that in the first “sign” of his public ministry. Instead of doing any headline grabbing “sign” he goes to a village wedding and turns water into wine in the presence of some lowly servants.
Lack of wine could cause huge embarrassment and shame on the host. It could deprive the bride and the groom and the invitees the joy of their life. Jesus saves the host. He saves the wedding party. In this story by seeking help from the servants in filling the jars Jesus reveals that doing God’s will require divine-human co-operation. The abundance of wine, and not just any wine but the very best, reveals the new and abundant life Jesus brings to our life and that of the world.
Sunday 23 January: Luke 4:14-21
Jesus has just been baptised by John and then tempted by Satan to embark on a mission that Satan wants him to go on. But Jesus thwarts Satan’s plan and embarks on the mission to which God has called him. Then filled with power of the Spirit Jesus goes the synagogue before he begins his Galilean ministry and declares his mission statement with the words from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
From the very beginning Jesus makes his mandate clear that he has been anointed and sent out to bring the Good News to those who are rejected and, on the margins, and longing to be included into God’s family. After stating his mission when all eyes are fixed on him, he rolls up the scroll, sits, and says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He makes it clear that he has not just come to state his mission, but to embody his mission right there in their midst. He has come to live God’s love among them in a way that breaks down the barriers that keep people outside the love, grace and mercy of God.
Sunday 30 January: Luke 4:21-30
The hometown crowd loved his sermon last week. They clapped and cheered. But this week? They jeer him and heckle him, even want to hurl him off the cliff. Why is this abrupt reversal of people’s reaction? Verses 23 through 28 give us some clues. “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself.’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” There’s more involved in this conversation, of course, but just these two comments reveal the source of tension. It’s the age-old ‘us and them syndrome’. If you’re going to heal people, heal your own people, Jesus! If you’re going to use God’s power, use it here in Nazareth, not over there in Capernaum!
Then with the illustrations of Elijah who went on God’s behalf to relieve the suffering of a Sidonese widow during the great drought, and of Elisha who healed Naaman the Syrian leper, Jesus blows off the cover nationally, religiously and racially. He points out how God through history has defied this human sentiment to favour us over them. And the crowd was filled with rage.
This story challenges us to redefine our mission, rewrite our priorities and refocus our attention to those who are looked down and looked at with fear and suspicion and disbelief, as Jesus continues to nudge and persuade us that God’s love is inclusive and embracing and universal.
Rev. Dr Manas Ghosh is Minister at St John’s Uniting Church, Wahroonga