Preached on 3rd January 2021 at St Michael’s, Abingdon By Revd Jennifer Brown
Have you ever been entrusted with a secret or important information that nobody else, or only a few other special people, knew? If so, you’ll know that to be in that position can make you feel privileged, special, important. It can also feel like a great responsibility. What we do with any special knowledge we are given, how we use it, matters.
Of course, in reality, you all have been in that position – all followers of Jesus are. Because, as Paul so eloquently writes to the church in Ephesus, “he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” God has let us in on the mystery of his plan for creation. This isn’t knowledge that can be come by in ordinary ways by just anyone.
It is revealed to us in Christ. So being ‘in Christ’ is necessary if we are first to know and second to understand, God’s mysterious plans.
Not only does Paul tell the Ephesians, and us, that Christians are let in on the secret, he tells us what it is: “to gather up all things in him,” that is, in Christ, “things in heaven and things on earth.” This is worth taking a moment to consider. For centuries, the emphasis within much church teaching has been human sinfulness and our need for redemption and salvation. That is, of course, a valid concern. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We did and do need God’s salvation offered in Christ Jesus. But we’ve become, over the centuries, so focused on that, that we’ve lost sight of the fact that it’s not the whole story.
The rest of creation isn’t just the backdrop, the stage-set if you like, for the drama of the human salvation story. Salvation is about the whole of creation. All things are being gathered together − rescued and restored − in Christ.
And when Paul says ‘all things’, he means ‘all things.’ He emphasises this by explaining that this includes, “things in heaven and things on earth.” In other words, heaven and earth are brought together in Jesus. Because Christ redeems the world from its fallenness and human sin, there need be no barrier between heaven and earth. We know that this work isn’t yet complete. There is still plenty of human sinfulness around and the world is far from a state of perfect goodness.
But if we look back through history, I think we’ll find that there has been a fairly steady development from the time of Jesus’ earthly life to now. For example, while we know that modern slavery exists, no nation argues that it’s natural for human societies to include slavery as an accepted institution. Wars still exist, but we tend not to glorify them and think that they are inevitable. Instead, we work for peace. Both human attitudes and human actions have been changing, and much of that change, at least in western societies, has been driven by a Christian worldview. The birth of Jesus opened the door for God’s kingdom to come on earth. His death and resurrection pushed that door open wide and cleared the way for the kingdom. And although it hasn’t yet arrived in all its fullness − all things in heaven and earth are not yet fully brought together in Christ − the kingdom continues to grow.
What does that mean for us?
As Christians, we know ourselves to be citizens of that coming kingdom, and we have been given knowledge of God’s plan for creation. How we respond to and use that knowledge matters. It is our civic duty as heavenly citizens to work towards the goals of the kingdom. Because we know that God’s plan involves the restoration and salvation of all creation, we need to value all creation accordingly. That starts with valuing ourselves and our human neighbours and offering to all the love that God has offered to us in Christ. But it can’t end there. As the prologue to John’s Gospel reminds us, all things came into being through Christ, the Word of God. Everything that exists was created through him and is loved by him and is part of the great plan of salvation.
We need to value the earth and our fellow creatures as God does – see in them a value that transcends any usefulness they have to us, recognising them as creatures loved and cherished by God for their own sake. It is our job to tend and to nurture, so that all the earthly creation can flourish.
Throughout this Christmastide, let us remember the angels’ words to the shepherds, those words that are so familiar to us, “peace on earth, goodwill towards all people.” To be genuine, peace on earth must include peace with the earth and our fellow creatures who inhabit it alongside us. As God’s adopted children, those who have been shown God’s plan for all things, we have it within us to make that peace real.