Sermon by Rev. Canon Patrick Augustine on Second Sunday after Christmas in Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin


Jeremiah 31: 7-14, Psalm 84: 1-8, Ephesians 1: 3-6, 15-19a, Luke 2: 41-52
Church of Epignosis
Nothing packs up and leaves town quicker than the Christmas spirit. The secular trappings of the ‘holiday season” faded with the New Year celebration. The Christmas trees of many are already lying by the side of the road, extended family members have returned to their homes, and many will be returning to work on Monday morning. Liturgically, we are still in the Twelve Days of Christmas. On this second Sunday after Christmas we are given an opportunity to delve more deeply into the mystery of the incarnation, to ponder and to relish the vastness of the gift that is ours in Christ.
The prophet Jeremiah provides vivid and concrete language with which to understand the more abstract confession that the Son of God ‘homo factus est” (became a human being). It is important fact for us to underscore that God for our sake became fully, utterly human, though without sin (Verbum caro factum est) the Word became flesh, living as one like us. The unique message of Christmas is that God has not left us alone to our own devices, nor are we left without meaning and direction for our lives. We are here for more than our own comfort and pleasure. We are part of God’s great enterprise of redemption, reconciliation, and the healing of God’s broken world. Prophet Jeremiah even foresees at the coming of Christ great human migration as the gathering up of humanity in Christ:
“I am going to bring from the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together, a great company …I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.”
Christ invites and gathers up every family, language, people and nation into his new community. This is the humanity he assumes. When his life is poured into us, we receive adoption as his children, and so become part of his family. In these opening verses from Ephesians we are taken far from the narrative of the nativity, and beyond the cosmic comfort of the “God with us” aspects of the incarnation. In these verses it is as if the camera lens is backing up and lifting up, until now we are high above the galaxy even, and now we can see that in Christ we have been given a part in God’s eternal plan, and we are swept up in a hymn of praise to the glory and the wonder of it all. At this point, the “scandal of particularity” parallels the “universality” of the gospel. Jesus is the perfect image of the Father; Jesus is the perfect image of our redeemed humanity.
Paul in his letter to the church in Ephesus makes them realize that those called by Jesus are a redeemed community and they should be filled with exuberant joy. He buoyantly begins with this song (modeled with Hebrew berakah or blessing song) celebrating God’s work in bringing us salvation. For in Christ, every one of us has been delivered from self and has been given position and purpose and authority in him. And that is something to celebrate.
Paul further in this letter prays that Ephesians will develop a deeper knowledge of Christ:
“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you Come to know him” (v.1:17).
Knowing Christ is one of the New Testament’s ways of describing saving faith. Jesus himself said in his High Priestly prayer:
“Now this is eternal life: that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
What does knowing Christ involve? It involves knowing more than facts about Christ. I once met a famous movie star by the name of Charlton Heston. He had come to visit Christ Church, Rawalpindi, Pakistan. I shook his hand and we engaged in a lively conversation. But I did not know Charlton Heston—and he certainly did not know me! To truly know another, there must be mutual knowledge and a mutual exchange. And knowing Christ goes even beyond this. The word “know” here has an old Testament heritage behind it in which the word yada often expressed as sexual intimacy—“Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bore Cain (Genesis 4:1). It is the spiritual parallel of this that Jesus has in mind in describing those who have eternal life. Many of us may be Christians in name for most of our lives and have passing acquaintance with Jesus. To such Jesus has warning:

“Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!” (Matthew 7: 22, 23).
At the beginning of New Year many of us have resolutions. May all of us together adopt a new resolution at Christ Church to go deeper and deeper in our knowledge of Jesus Christ during 2011. The great need of any church, whether it is healthy or not, is knowing Christ—epignosis—a better, deeper, fuller knowledge of Christ. There is a verse in Philippians 3:10 which begins in Greek tou gnonai auton—“That I may know Him.” That is the key to all of life. Please come and attend weekly and Sunday morning Bible Study class, and be more regular in attending worship services. Participate in parish outreach ministries. Pledge and support your parish’s work. Take time to read Holy Scripture and Day by Day devotional book. Listen to preaching with this in mind to know Jesus Christ. We note here in this letter of St. Paul that he prays for the Holy Spirit to “Give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.” We know that deep knowledge of Christ can only come as the Holy Spirit ministers it. We as a church pray this morning at the beginning of this year to bless, anoint and empower us all with the Holy Spirit. We ask the Holy Spirit to build our epignois (real, deep, full knowledge) of Christ, who said,
“…how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit To those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)
The more we see of Jesus, the more we will be drawn to him, and then become like him. To become part of God’s great enterprise of redemption, reconciliation, and the healing of God’s broken world. Let this be our personal and corporate prayer for 2011.

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