The creation is good. You are good. That’s God’s word from the beginning, in Christ’s Incarnation, and now incarnated in you.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Second Sunday of Christmas, year ABC
Texts: John 1:1-18 (with Genesis 1); Ephesians 1:3-14
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
In the beginning, God said, “This is good.”
The holy and eternal God spoke a Word into the chaos and called a universe into being. Incarnated a creation in the heart of the life of the Triune God, within God’s inner dance.
And on this planet God made water and seas, plants and creatures of all sizes, heavenly bodies to give light and hope, land and mountains and valleys and deserts and gifts abundant. Minerals, fruits and vegetables, sunlight and grass, beautiful breezes, all for God’s creatures to dance and play and thrive. And God said, “This is good.”
And God made human beings, too, in the beginning. In God’s own image these creatures were made. And God said, “This is good, too.” You are good. God said so.
You may not have heard that message often from people of faith.
Somehow that song of God was waylaid. People were told they were not good, not beloved, sinful from before birth. But in this time of celebration of the Incarnation of that creating Word of God, where God’s Word took on our human body, gave us a face and a voice to know God’s own Triune heart, this is the only song that makes sense: God said humanity was good in the beginning, and in taking on our own body, God said, “This is still good.”
“Did you not hear me in the creation?” God asks at Jesus’ incarnation. “I meant it then, and I still mean it. You are good enough for me. Good enough for my life to live within you, to be born as one of you.”
John says this Word in our flesh, whom we know as Jesus, reveals God’s true heart to us. Not our view of what God must think. God’s true heart. And God’s true heart is that you, and this whole creation, is and always will be good.
Paul sings this song with joy and gladness today.
Did you hear it? You were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, Paul sings, in the beginning, to be holy and blameless before God in love. You are destined for adoption as God’s own child, Paul delights.
Take a moment to absorb that: before the foundation of the world – you were chosen. Your destiny has always been to be God’s child. You are good, in God’s heart, from before you even were, you have always been God’s hope and dream. Your adoption has been God’s plan from the beginning, to draw you, along with the whole creation, into the Triune God’s heart and life.
I call you good, God says in Christ’s coming. Beloved. My child.
But you say, “what about sin? Am I not sinful?”
Of course you have sinned, and sin grips your life at times. You can and do feel stuck and unable to change. You can and do feel guilt and shame over thoughts, actions, inaction. But the Incarnation of Christ Jesus tells you this truth: sin is not your core identity. At your core, you are God’s beloved, God’s child. And God says, “you are good.”
Maybe as Lutherans we got waylaid by Martin’s own experience. Luther felt deep pain at his sinfulness. He had a voice inside him – and some of us hear this voice, too – a voice that said, “You’ll never be good enough for God, you deserve punishment now and in eternity.” And the Church repeated that Word to him. And when he discovered that the Word of God in Scripture said something completely different to him, it changed him forever, changed the Church. He found God’s grace, God’s welcome, God’s love. Whatever was broken and flawed in him was covered by God’s wholeness and completion. Nothing could separate him from God’s love in Christ.
Our problem is we’ve developed a theology that tries to get everyone to feel what Martin felt, the shame, the guilt, the fear, before declaring to them that God loves them anyway. That was a mistake. For centuries we’ve focused on making everyone believe their core identity is sin, that they are worthless and bad. And then somehow trying to move from that to saying, “But good news – God loves you!”
A friend of mine who’s struggled with pastors and other Christians telling her this for years put it this way to me recently: “It’s like a parent putting their child to bed, and every night giving them a kiss, tucking them in, and saying, ‘Good night. The most important thing you need to know is that I love you and you don’t deserve it.’” Even we human parents know that sounds like abuse. But how often have you been told that’s God’s view of you?
Jesus and Paul speak of sin, but not as your core identity.
They speak of it much more as we might use modern language of addiction. It’s not your true self, but it does stick to you. Sin can be life-long habits that are extremely hard to break. Addictive behaviors, where you keep repeating your sins over and over again, and seemingly can’t break free. Paul called this living by the way of the flesh, and somehow we misunderstood and said, “our very humanity is sin, and hateful, and bad.”
But that’s not the heart of God Jesus showed you. That’s not the rich grace Paul talks about in Ephesians today, a grace that gives us, gives me, forgiveness of sins, but in the context of being chosen from before the foundation of the world to be God’s beloved.
Do you sin? Yes. Are you stuck in sin at times, like an addiction? Yes. But sin is, as many wise believers have said for centuries, a disease. And disease is not the core reality. Disease is what you want to get rid of, cure, heal. So that you can be your true self.
And God’s Incarnation in our human life is exactly that healing.
In Greek, the word “salvation” also means “healing.” So Jesus says to you, always: “God loves you. I, God-with you, see you as beloved. I forgive all that needs it. Now come, follow me.” Entering into God’s life that Jesus reveals heals you so you can be who God truly sees in you.
And God means the whole world to know this joy. True salvation for God, true healing, happens when all God’s children hear “you are good, you are beloved,” and believe it and live into it. As Paul says today, this is mystery, but it is God’s will, and God’s good pleasure – it pleases God, Paul says – “to gather in Christ all things in heaven and all things in earth – all things – in the fullness of time.” To draw all things into God’s life of love, and heal all things, transforming suffering and pain, forgiving sin, giving hope. And God will only be satisfied when the whole creation is gathered in.
Good. That’s what God said in the beginning.
That’s what God said again in Christ’s Incarnation. That’s what God proved in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. And that’s God’s message to you today in this season of celebrating the Incarnation.
And God is still incarnate, but now in you. Because you are good enough for God to live in. Good now. Good always. So you incarnate God’s love in your life, and God’s love and life heals your sin, breaks you free when you’re stuck. To be what God says you are: good.
And then you get to join Paul’s song and reveal this hope and joy to the rest of God’s beloved creatures, and to God’s precious creation.
In the name of Jesus. Amen