Sunday 4 February 2024
Second before Lent
How do you understand Jesus?
Proverbs 8:22–32; Colossians 1:15–20; John 1:1–14
Context: a parish Eucharist with congregation of around 50, mostly older white English-speaking people with a few families and a handful of international students
Aim: enabling reflection on ideas of who Jesus is ahead of the season of Lent
WISDOM VERSES KNOWLEDGE
When I was at school, the motto on my blazer badge was ‘Wisdom Giveth Life.’ I paid little attention to it at the time. I knew it was from Proverbs but just assumed it was reminding us we’re meant to be learning stuff and passing assessments. Any difference between wisdom and gaining GCSEs completely passed me by. That Wisdom gives life in all its fullness through Christ (John 10:10) was not a connection I made. Of course, now I am rather older and wiser, I have helpful Lectionary compilers to show very clearly that we’re not just talking about succeeding in exams. Three very different readings help us shape our understanding of Christ.
We’re two Sundays away from Lent. Perhaps you are well ahead with preparations for how you will observe the six weeks of Lent. Perhaps Lent creeps up on you unexpectedly - time whooshes past quickly and Ash Wednesday arrives before you know it.
Today’s readings come as something of a primer, the pass notes, before the big event of Easter. A reminder that we are not just following the story of an ordinary man, good teacher or prophet – but that as we begin Lent, we do so worshipping, and walking alongside, the Son of God.
WISDOM AS A FOUNDATION
Proverbs 8 tells us the world was founded on Wisdom. There’s something reassuring about Wisdom being part and parcel of creation – woven into heaven and earth like golden threads in fabric. Wisdom in Proverbs 8 is personified as a woman, but this isn’t an actual person we’re talking about. That’s quite important because otherwise, we might think Jesus was an ordinary created being. We are invited to identify this Wisdom with Jesus as the firstborn of creation – and Wisdom with the Word of God.
DIFFERENT WAYS TO UNDERSTAND JESUS
I wonder if we find today’s Gospel something of a jolt. We associate it so closely with Christmas. The Word that became flesh and pitched their tent among us was also there at the creation of the world.
John’s Gospel and Proverbs speak of Jesus in abstract ways – in mysterious ways – and the third – Colossians - frames the description in what feels like rather concrete terms. Attributes of Christ are very clearly spelled out. Firstborn of creation, head of the Church, the beginning. In him all things were created – there’s our link back to Wisdom and the Word.
The letter was written to a group of people that Paul hadn’t directly taught, and in the letter, he’s trying to share the doctrinal basis for their faith so they’re not led astray by other teachers. That’s why we’re left in no doubt about the nature of Christ.
Well, I say that, but some ideas are hard to wrap our heads around. There is no easy way to explain how the fullness of God dwelt in the humanity of Christ – it is perhaps the kind of mystery that if we can explain it, we haven’t understood it. Does holding something as a mystery equate to doubt? I don’t think so. I think it’s a tenet of faith that we celebrate that which feels impossible to us.
FIRST PLACE IN EVERYTHING
Which way of thinking about Jesus sits best with you? Do you prefer John’s version or the exploration of Wisdom? Or perhaps you find Paul’s ideas the most helpful. All of them help us see a different way of understanding Christ.
Paul says that Jesus was the firstborn from the dead that he might come to have first place in everything. First place in everything – and that includes us.
So, what are we preparing for as we prepare for Lent? Can we shift the priorities of our lives so that Jesus takes first place? Might we make time and space to sit with our understanding of Christ as the one in whom the fullness of God dwelt? Whatever we do, we have three good guides in scripture today to help us understand exactly who Jesus is.
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