Meeting Times at 4th United Presbyterian Church

Cafe' Worship: 9:15 a.m. each Sunday in Gathering Hall (activities provided for children; coffee; snacks)
Adult Sunday School: 10 a.m.

Sunday Worship: 11 a.m.

Bible Study: each Thursday at 6 p.m.

Community Forum: last Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. with meal (no community forum in November, 2011)

About the 4th United Presbyterian Bible Blog

Posts on this blog are from me, Rev. George H. Waters, one of the two organizing co-pastors of 4th United Presbyterian Church. Our other organizing pastor was Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen, who is now pastor of a church in Charlotte, N.C. Since June of 2011, Rev. Elizabeth Peterson has been our parish associate pastor for new church development. The earliest posts are sermon notes from the few I have typed the last two years. Then, there is a series of notes posted on the book of Romans. After that, it varies from week to week, sometimes church news, sometimes reflections on a happening, a passage of scripture, or even some pictures. This blog is meant to open the conversation we have going on in our church to others in our community.

The picture below is of our church's sanctuary, built in 1913.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Rebirth of Humanity: What Christmas Brings

The Universal Reach of Christmas: reading Luke 2:14

In Luke 2:14, it is written that the angels were singing:"Glory to God among those on high, and peace among humankind with whom God is well-pleased."According to many scholars, the Greek words "en anthropois eudokias" are to be translated "to human beings upon whom God's favor rests or with whom God is well-pleased." So, the verse is translated by them as: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to human beings upon whom God’s favor rests.” These scholars rely on evidence of the use of this Greek phrase in the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered during the mid-1900's.

The old King James translated the same Greek words "en anthropois eudokias" as "good will to men." But, that King James translation, made in the 16oo’s was long before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (writings of Jewish religious group near the time of Jesus birth) which revealed the type of language used around the time of the New Testament and the types of meanings of terms as well. So, the King James renders Luke 2:14 as "Glory to God in the highest, and peace, goodwill to men." And, scholars have changed that translation due to archeological discoveries which allow for better understanding of the Greek language used by Luke.

Some other scholars have translated the same verse as "Glory to God in the highest, and peace upon human beings of good will." But, since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it appears that this translation has lost much of its support as well. And, I am glad about that. Because, if God's peace was only for those who had good will at the coming of Christ, then where is our hope for this world? Of course, the translation that I favor: "Glory to God among those on high, and peace among human beings with whom God is well-pleased" could be understood as referring to only a certain group of human beings that are "the elect" and "chosen" of God. But, I think to understand things this way would be to have the same misunderstanding that so many in Israel had of the salvation that would come through the Messiah. That is why Jesus provoked some real outrage among the scribes and Pharisees. He proclaimed a salvation that was coming from God to all people. In fact, if you read scripture closely, it appears at times that God was pouring out that salvation to the Gentiles and Samaritans through Jesus before Jesus was preaching the universal reach of it. I am reflecting now on the times when Jesus recognizes genuine faith in Gentiles and Samaritans and others who were not considered among the "elect" of God. But, Jesus in the end does proclaim a message that encompasses all humanity or better put: "Jesus is the Word of God spoken as a blessing over all humanity."

And, that gets me back to Luke 2:14. It is a remarkable message, what those angels are reported to have sung:GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST PLACES, AND PEACE ON EARTH AMONG HUMANITY WITH WHOM GOD IS WELL-PLEASED!It causes me to think of another passage – the one about Jesus being baptized by John, and a voice from the heavens says: "This is my Son with whom I am well pleased" or in Mark's Gospel: "You are my beloved son, with you I am well-pleased." The Greek word that is translated here in Mark as "well-pleased" is the verb form of the same word "eudokias" which Luke uses in Luke 2:14 which we are talking about. For Luke, the apparent meaning is “peace on earth among human beings WITH WHOM GOD IS WELL-PLEASED.”

Several years ago the deep connection between these two announcements from the heavens struck me. One at the birth of Christ; one at his Baptism. Both of them are about the parental joy of God, the rejoicing of the father in his son - the joyfulness of God at the birth of Jesus and at his baptism, a joyfulness that causes God to embrace the entire human race with that fatherly care and pride. To see that newborn child, who was flesh of our flesh, but also just as deeply of God's very being, was for God to fall in love all over again with human life in all of its fragility and beauty and tragedy and joy.

Of course, as John’s gospel tells us, that very love was what conceived the Christ child: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son . . . .”

I don't know how else to say it than to say: "God threw in his lot with us that day in Bethlehem – that first Christmas. He gave himself into the life of humanity for better or worse when Christ was born – when he heard the first cry of that little baby boy. He made the heavens shake with the joy of his love for all human beings." God's heart was so full of love at the sight of the newborn Jesus that that love overflowed to all people, and has ever since.

But, to love, to really love another, is to become vulnerable. When you love someone else, you are affected by what happens with them and to them. When you love someone outside yourself, you might just take a risk in that love to help or even try to rescue another. God came among us so humbly, so simply, so joyfully, without pretense or pomp. The purity of the Christ awakened the hope of many, but also caused shame and hiding among those who loved their impurity.

God loved, and so God became vulnerable to the most heart-breaking of all losses – the loss of a child. That's the way real love is - it is risky. God was revealed in this love, in this flesh and blood of Jesus, whose very flesh was able to fully bear the life-giving Spirit of God in this world.

The glory of the incarnation. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." Yes, for God to do this, it must have been just as the angels said on that day of Jesus' birth:

"Glory to God among those on high (angels in heaven praising and congratulating God with all their might), and peace among those on earth (below) whom God loves beyond all imagining.

"When Jesus was born, we were all reborn in the heart of God. Amen.

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