“Jesus Makes Known the Father's Will”
Sunday, January 3, 2016: The Second Sunday After Christmas Day
Jeremiah 31: 7 – 14/ Psalm 147: 12-20/Ephesians 1: 3 – 14/ John 1: 1 - 18
Fr. Gary W. Thurman
For most people, Christmas is finished. My wife and I were at one of the malls last Wednesday, the day before New Year’s Eve, and the Christmas trees were already being taken down. Nobody will buy Christmas stuff anymore, so what is the next event? And already, advertisements, displays, and billboards are going up for the next big sale event which is Valentine’s Day. You won’t find any traces of Christmas. Everything is Valentine’s Day which is six weeks away.
This was a special Christmas for us as our Bishop challenged us to try to make it less commercial. Trim away the commercialism which has been placed there and let us find what was really there in the beginning before the Madison Avenue types and the merchandisers made it into what we know it today. What we ended up left with is really what we have now. In the Church, we have the Belen, the white color, but outside the Church, there is really not much evidence that it is still the Christmas Season. What we have left when everything is stripped away is we simply come and say, “Lord, here it is, the Season of Christmas.” When we have the Belen, we have a reminder of the incarnation of Jesus, the nativity of Jesus, the obedience of Mary, the obedience of Joseph, the wonder of the shepherds, and the reverence of the Wise Men. But are these all? Is there something beyond this stable, in the manger?
After all these trimmings and trappings are swept away, what is left of Christmas? This is really what God set it out to be in the beginning. Scriptures show to us many things. In the Book of Jeremiah, he gives us so many things that tell us the results of Christmas and the things that we learn from Christmas. First of all, it says in Jeremiah 31:9, “I am a father to Israel.” It's easy to remember Christmas that God sent His Son and Jesus is God’s Son. The other message of Christmas is God is our Father also. When the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, how do we pray?” He didn’t say, “Pray this way, ‘Ama Ko.’(My Father)” This was not the prayer; it is, “Ama Namin. (Our Father).” God is Ama natin (Our Father), not just Ama ko (My Father). Jesus didn’t say pray, “My Father,” but pray, “Our Father.” This is what Jeremiah says, “I will be your father to them all.” All the things that we expect from a good, perfect, and loving Father are there and God says that He is not just a Father for one for all of us but God is Ama natin! (Our Father!)
In Jeremiah, God also says, “I will turn your mourning into joy.” For those virgins, those bridegrooms who have been waiting for so long for the expectations and the celebration at the moment, He said, “I will turn their mourning into joy. Now is the time to celebrate. Now is the time to dance. Kick off your shoes and dance like never before.” The Lord says, “I am bringing you to that time of joy, not mourning.” He even says, “I will fill the souls of the priests with abundance.” As a priest, this sort of perks up my ears and a thought came to me, “If the Lord promises to fill the souls of the priests, and in order for Him to fill it, there must be a lack somewhere along the line. You can’t fill something that is already full.” If the Lord says, “I will fill the soul of the priest,” this means that somewhere, there must be priests with empty souls. Isn’t this sad, and yet, I can be honest and confess before you that sometimes, my soul feels a little empty. Sometimes, even the souls of priests feel a little empty. We are not the only ones that carry the mantle of priesthood. Every believer has a mantle of priesthood. Every clergyman – be it a bishop, a priest, or a deacon – and every baptized believer has a mantle of priesthood. We all carry that role in the Church, in the Body of Christ. God says that He will fill with abundance the soul of every priest so that there is no priest with an empty soul. This is true Christmas because Jeremiah 31 is prophesying about the time when God sends His Messiah.
In Ephesians 1, it tells us that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ, in the babe in the manger; and through Him, God has given us every spiritual blessing. He has given us redemption; forgiveness. God has bestowed grace upon us through His beloved. This is all in Christmas. Ephesians also tells us that we have received, through Christ, an inheritance. Not only do we receive these gifts and blessings, but there is also the inheritance that goes on for eternity. This is a lot of blessing that came at Christmas.
This is something that we need to see: if we only stop there, all we have done is replace Santa with Jesus. All these things are about, “What can I get? What do I receive? What is it for me? Where is mine?” All these are the blessings of God for us and they are there. They are good and God wants to give them to us, but if we only stop there, the Church’s message is, “Here is what Christmas really is.” The Church cries out and that has been for a long time and there is something new to say, “Let us get rid of these other things out of Christmas. Let us get rid of the vestiges of the snowflakes, the snowman and the mistletoe. Get rid of these things and let us get back to what Christmas really is.” When they look to us and say, “What really is Christmas?” and if all we say is just what I said earlier, then, we have just replaced Santa Claus with Christ. There is a lot more to Christmas than this. There are things beyond the obvious; the things beyond the sparkling gifts and the spiritual gifts and all the wonderful things.
One of the important messages of Christmas is in the gospel of Matthew chapter one; repeated in the gospel of Mark, prophesied in Isaiah which is: Jesus’ mother, Mary, was a virgin. This is something that is not talked about a lot anymore, but it is an important part of the Christian faith. The minute that we get away from the fact, from the belief that Mary was virgin because it is quite embarrassing, hard to describe and impossible, we have stepped outside of the Christian faith. The thing is, this is hard to preach. Do you preach it on Sunday with all the little children around? It is quite uncomfortable if you are ask, “Mommy, what is a virgin Mary?” So what we do is to save it for Catechism. In Catechism, the catechumens are aged eleven to twelve years old and sometimes younger, but then, it is a touchy subject to bring that to a person that age. Perhaps because of this, the tenet of the Christian faith that Mary is a virgin is not being talked about. We say it in the Creed, but Virgin Mary becomes a title, not an adjective phrase. Virgin is not part of Mary’s title, but a word, an adjective that describes her female condition is that of a virgin.
This is a problem to get it to the congregation and still be mindful of the youth and the children. One of the Rectors in another Parish said, “Yes, I really had a problem with that. I wanted to describe it to the congregation and preach to them about the virginity of Mary. What I did was I asked all of the Sunday School teachers to teach about the virginity of Mary to the students. The teachers did teach the virginity of Mary to their Sunday School students, and that Sunday we came home, I asked the children at the dinner table, “How was your Sunday School today?” They answered, “Ang galing! Meron bagong balita. Sinabi ng guro namin na ang nanay ni Jesus ay doktora.” (It was good. There is good news. Our teacher told us that the mother of Jesus is a doctor.) I said, “Paano?” (How?) One child answered, “Kasi ang pangalan ni Santa Maria ay ‘surgeon Mary.’” (Because the name of Mary is surgeon Mary) It is not surgeon Mary, but virgin Mary. Another child said, “Sabi ng guro namin na ang nanay ni Jesus ay isda kasi ang pangalan niya ay ‘sturgeon Mary.’” (Our teacher said that the mother of Jesus is a fish because her name is sturgeon Mary.)
It is a problem, but it is something that I want you to understand today. It is an important tenet of the faith that Mary was a virgin because the Lord had a pure vessel to make Himself incarnate Him. To take a step outside of the virginity of Mary is to take a step outside the Catholic faith. You won’t get a Christmas card printed with, “Praise God! Mary is a virgin!” It is much of an important part of the Christian faith like, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” It is one of the things that have been lost in Christmas which the Church needs to remind ourselves of.
Another thing that we might not have heard in Christmas, but the Church needs to remind ourselves of is that: Jesus Christ, who is a baby, is God! He is not just sent from God; He is God. He wasn’t just sent from the Father; He is the Son, which is a part of the Trinity. He is God! Again, you don’t see many Christmas cards from Hallmark saying, “Hallelujah! God came to us!” You will see, “God sent His Son,” but how often do you hear, “God came to us as a baby.” It is very rare, but that is the message of Christmas. This is the part that gets lost in the trappings and in the snowflakes, but that baby is God. God sent His Son, but the Son is God. John 1:1 says, “The Word was with God; the Word was God.” Many did not believe and many in the Church had trouble with that, but God did not only send His Son, the Son was God. God made Himself incarnate in that Son. Colossians 2:9 says, “For in Him, all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form.” Christ is not part God and part man. Every bit of the Diety is living in that little Child. As He grew, every bit of the Diety is still there. It's not like the demi-gods that you see in Greek or Roman mythology that the gods come down to man and they create children that are half god and half man. This is not the Christian faith. The Christian faith is that Child is God.
Another message of Christmas is seen in the last part of John 1:18: Jesus has explained the Father. Another translation puts it in words that should sort of prick out our ears: Jesus has made Him known. This sounds familiar: to know Him and make Him known. This is not only the introduction of the new generation Koinonos, but it is the introduction of the new generation Vision/Mission of the Cathedral of the King. We start it in the very first chapter of John, in the very second Season of the year, in the very first Sunday of the calendar year. It says: Jesus made Him known. The Lord Jesus had explained the Father. No one understood the Father before. No one had ever seen the Father before, but the Lord Jesus made Him known. Jesus has done this in several ways. In the Upper Room, in John 16:25, Jesus said, “I will tell you plainly of the Father.
”There are a couple of important things that I want to remind us of how that Jesus has explained about the Father. Generally, Jesus has explained to us God’s will. A couple of Scriptures show us what God’s will is for us. In the gospel, it says that God’s will for us – each one of us – is to become children of God. Here is the good news that many Christmas cards and many advertisements forget. Christmas is not just about the birth of Christ. Christmas is about our new birth. Christ’s new birth is our new birth. We have to take our understanding of Christmas beyond where SM or Channel 5 is taking us. We have to take our understanding of Christmas where our Christian faith takes us. Christ’s new birth is not just His new birth, but it is our new birth into the kingdom of God. As Jesus said, our new birth is according to the will of the Father. It is not by the will of man, but the will of God.
How were we born? It is not a husband or a wife wanting a new baby, getting together, filling up a form and making requisitions to have a new baby. The new birth is not about the parents. God told Abraham, “I want a lot of children as many as the sands in the seashore.” God decided He wanted a lot of children and this was His will and this is when our new birth came to be. God Himself said, “I want you to be My child.” In fact, in Ephesians, it tells us that coming to be a child of God, this new birth, is by adoption. Nobody got adopted by accident. Nobody accidently adopted a child. It is not like having a woman having a pregnancy test and finds out that she is positively pregnant and says, “Oh no, unbelievable! I have an adopted child.” There is planning involved; there are paper works involved. When God said, “I want you, My children, as adoption,” it didn’t just happen. It happened because He willed it to be. He decided He wanted children, which includes all of us. This is Christmas! Again, most of us did not see a Christmas card that said this. This is Christmas, according to the Church. This is Christmas, according to the gospel.
Another message of Christmas is that in Ephesians, it tells us that God’s will is that there should be a summing up of all things in Christ, a suitable administration for the end times. Christ is the Head of all. Not all would have Christmas cards that say, “Born a baby; He is our Boss! He is the Lord of everything!” Ephesians says that God’s will in everything is to be summed up in one thing, in one Head, which is Christ. This is a suitable administration.
I have always wanted to preach this part of Ephesians somewhere in election time and today is my chance. All of these guys that are running for office, whatever administration they come out with, are not really going to be suitable for the kingdom of God. They will do their best and we pray that the Lord will hopefully give us somebody that follows Him as well as they can. But there is only one suitable administration for the summing of all things here in the last days and this is Jesus’ administration! He may not look like a presidentiable but He is way better than any president. This again is the gospel of Christmas. One suitable administration is that of Jesus Christ and His saints, His angels, and all of us, who according to Him, will judge throughout the ages to come. This is what God brought forth in this incarnation. It is so much more than just a birth of a baby. It is so much more than just a charming tableau. It goes way beyond that, way beyond the purpose for us to be existing.
A strong message of Christmas is seen in the gospel and Ephesians which talks about the light and darkness. Christ came as the Light. He came to be the Light. He came to bring the light and He enlightens every man. To enlighten means to help us to see. To say that Christ is the Light is another way of saying that He helps us to make known. Christ is the true Light that enlightens every man. In Him was light and that light was the light of man. It is the Light that shines in the darkness. Ephesians 5:8 says, “You were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.” 1Peter 2:9, “God has called you out of darkness into the light.” Christ has shown us the light, the way, and He has come to be the Light and to make us the Light.
In Ephesians 6:20 and 2Corinthians 5:20, Paul says, “I am like an ambassador.” This is what Christmas makes us. When Christ came at Christmas, He came forth as the King of the kingdom. It is not a new kingdom because the Kingdom existed from eternity. In that kingdom, we call it the Kingdom of Light. God says, “My will for all My children is to be a part of Me in that kingdom of Light.” Paul said, “You were once in darkness. You didn’t used to be in this Kingdom.” We all know that there are people who are not in the kingdom of Light, but are still in the kingdom of darkness. Christmas tells us: “Take this Light and shine this Light and make Me known.”
Paul says, “I am an ambassador.” An ambassador is a citizen of one country who goes to another country to help people understand his country. His job is to make the people in the place where the government has sent him to understand what life is like in his country and to understand the will of the leader of his country. If there is an international situation, the ambassador to this country will say, “My leader says this. Here is his position.” We are ambassadors, and as such, we are to go to another country called darkness and we are to make known what things are like in the kingdom of Light. We are to make known the kingdom where the child Jesus is King.
In the kingdom of Light, there is no darkness at all. In the kingdom of Light, we overcome darkness, pain and sorrow. In the kingdom of Light, we walk in love. We have the attitude that Christ Jesus had. We consider others more important than ourselves. This is the job of an ambassador – to show others in other countries what life is like in your country. It is not just to know Him, but to make Him known as royal ambassadors of His kingdom.
This is our calling. There are two things that an ambassador can never do. First, an ambassador can never give his own opinion. He can’t say, “Let me tell you what I think about this.” He will be brought home instantly if he does this. He says, “In my country, our leader says…” When we come as ambassadors to those in darkness, we don’t give our opinions. We don’t give what we think and what we hope. We say, “Here is the Word of the Lord. Here is the Word of my Leader in my Kingdom; and He says, “Love one another. Forgive one another. Blessed to be a blessing.”
The other thing that an ambassador never does is nothing. When you go to another country, you are not called to be one of them. You might be living there, but you are never one of them. You are always a citizen of this other country. This is what Abraham was. He lived in Canaan for years, but he never became a Canaanite. He was always Abraham, the called of God. Christ left heaven and came to earth, but He always remembered He was God also, and He always responded the way His Father showed Him. He never responded the way Herod told Him to. He never responded the way Pilate told Him to do or He never even responded that way Simon Peter told Him to. He responded according to the kingdom of Light, the way He saw His Father do things.
As royal ambassadors, we should always reflect the kingdom of God and never ever just say, “I don’t have to do anything.” You are there for a mission. You are here for a purpose. God brought us into the kingdom of Light and brought us into this planet called earth, into this place called Philippines to share with people in the kingdom of darkness, in the kingdom of hatred, in the kingdom of lust, and in the kingdom of unfulfilled desires what life is like in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is to make Him known in the darkness; to shine His light in the darkness. This is Christmas. This is what Christmas is all about. This is why the Church celebrates Christmas. It is not just to paint pretty pictures, not just to sell toys, but to remind us who the Father is, who the Son explained Him to be. Who are we? We are the children of God, by His own will.
Bishop Ariel’s Message:
Merry Christmas! It is still Christmas and to us, children of God, Christmas is twelve days. Actually, it is for a lifetime and God intended it for us for eternity.
I wish I could be there on this first Sunday of the year, but I am in Novaliches visiting our brothers and sisters in the Parish of the Holy Name.
Last year has been full of challenges. I want to thank God for you. I want to thank you for staying faithful, committed, and hopeful. Greater things are yet to come as God has promised. It is God who going to do the work in the Cathedral of the King and He will be faithful to accomplish it. This is His promise. As for us, let us do all for His glory.
We may or may not see the results of what we have been planting and doing, but our attitude should always be, “Not to us, O Lord, but to Your Name be the glory.” What we do is for His glory, not ours, not the Cathedral of the King’s, not CEC’s but God’s. We simply have been given the privilege to participate in His work. We are thankful. Personally, I am thankful to God for you – clergy, all leaders, and lay people – all of you. You are doing the work of ministry, obeying God’s will, and being zealous in His kingdom’s work.
Thanks to you all for the help in moving from our former location in Pasig to Bicutan. I would also like to thank the TCU Management and Staff particularly Leila Ramos for her untiring work and ensuring that we have a place to worship our God. We will be forever indebted to you and you will be forever part of our history.
I am not thanking all of you for making you look good. I am simply thanking you for making God known through your good works. It is an awesome privilege and honor to be the Bishop of such a people. I am joyful and proud.
Again, Merry Christmas! Jesus laid His privileges to participate in our human life with all its limitations to accomplish something. St. Augustine says, “Man's maker was made man that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother's breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that Truth might be accused of false witnesses, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.”
All of these He submitted to so that we can be restored back to participating in God’s divine life as was meant in the beginning, as in the Garden of Eden. This is what the incarnation brought to us. This is what Christmas means. This is what eternal life is all about and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.