Hope in the Age of Darkness: Gifts of the Incarnation
As Paul closes his epistle to the Romans, he uses an interesting phrase that translates “according to my gospel” or “according to my good news.” The Greek uses the word that literally translates as “the proclaimed good news,” and here Paul refers to the mystery that is made known both in the person of Jesus and in the proclamation (or witness) of that new reality.
As we continue our journey toward Christmas with this theme of “incarnation” … God made flesh in Jesus … I am continuously reminded of the multi-dimensional truth of the story of Jesus’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. It is not just the story of Jesus, but it is also the story of the followers of Jesus … who first were called “the people of the Way.” The place of witness among the disciples of Jesus through the millennia is vitally important.
For the first 17 years of my pastoral ministry, the vows we took as members of the United Methodist Church had only four parts. We vowed to uphold the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service. We committed ourselves to these four different aspects of our commitment as members of the church. It wasn’t until 2008 that the General Conference saw fit to add the fifth significant way we support the church: witness.
It wasn’t that we were failing in the sharing of the story, but we often found it easy to leave the “witnessing” either to the clergy or people whom we often thought stood at the fringe of the mainline part of our church. What happened was that we finally awoke to the reality that it is not only the work of Jesus, but our corporate proclamation of the work of Jesus, that must be held in tandem. And it is a job for all of us! Now there are five commitments. We pledge to support the life and ministry of the church through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness!
God is not just enfleshed in Jesus alone; God is also enfleshed in our proclamation of the gifts of light, hope, and life that we experience in the faithful community we call church.
Paul understands the need for witness in community, as well. It is not just about how dedicated people are to their own piety … how much they attend corporate worship … how much they give … or even what they do to care for others. These things are all important, but we finally cannot leave it at that. God is not just enfleshed in Jesus alone; God is also enfleshed in our proclamation of the gifts of light, hope, and life that we experience in the faithful community we call church.
The reality we have discovered and now proclaim as Methodists is that God is actively and vitally alive in us. We move a step closer to the truth of Christmas when we claim, with Paul, that God is made known in our own witness of the Good News!
O God, who is made known in Jesus: We pray that you will be made known in our proclamation of this Christ who lives among us. Amen.