Monday, January 16, 2012

Homily for 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

If I had to pick one single verse, if it ever came to that, when for some bizarre reason, that each of us were only allowed one single verse of scripture, or when we pass through this stage of our physical lives, we have to account for ourselves with a single verse, this final line of the first chapter of John would be mine.

You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

I must admit I prefer the older translation of this:

 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

It has a certain sense of the power and presence of Jesus addressing Nathanael. 

I can still see, hear and feel the time I first heard it.

I read through the rest of gospel, eagerly waiting for this moment, when I would read about these angels and Jesus.
Chapter after chapter, they failed to appear.
I felt a bit ripped off.
I thought maybe the bible I had was missing a few pages.
They didn’t show up.
 This wasn’t too good for me as a new Christian, as here was a promise made by Jesus, but it wasn’t fulfilled.
I took some comfort by the promise at the end of John’s gospel that there many other things that Jesus did in his earthly life that weren’t recorded, and figured that this event was just one of them.

But that didn’t make sense.
How could something so marvellous as angels ascending and descending upon Jesus be “just another event” that could be left out?

I was confounded. I read as much as I can find on this passage, but found no general consensus on what it meant.
I prayed and meditated on the passage.  
What does Jesus mean?
What are these angels that will be seen?
Why is it they will be ascending then descending on upon him, the Son of Man?

One of the keys to this passage lies within the book of Genesis.
 In the same way that the writer John started his Gospel with a deliberate echo of the beginnings of Genesis, “In the beginning….’
Here he ends this section of Jesus ministry with another echo from Genesis, this time from the story of Jacob at Bethel, from chapter 28:

He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set.
Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.
And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven;
and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

So we have Jacob falling asleep and dreaming. In his dream he sees a ladder that reaches from the very soil to the very heights of heaven. He sees angels ascending and descending upon this ladder.

In his dream, God speaks and makes a covenant with Jacob. Jacob awakes from his sleep and says:

"Surely the LORD is in this place. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

So where Jacob recognises that the place he is in is Holy, and he goes on to anoint an altar to the Lord there, Jesus is using a phrase that has been used to express God’s presence, but this time it is not a place, it is a person, it is he, the Son of man.

Jacob recognises that where he is the very gate to heaven.
Jesus is saying that He himself is the same: he is the gate to heaven; he is the presence of God on earth.
Where with Jacob, the angels ascend and descend on a ladder, Jesus says they ascend and descend upon him.

So what John is doing at the beginning of his Gospel is setting the whole story of the incarnation, the idea of God in flesh, with the beginning of creation.
At the end of this section which deals with beginnings of Jesus’ earthly ministry, mainly his baptism by John and the calling of the first disciples.
He ends this section with a concept that really announces the arrival of God’s presence on earth.
 If you were in any doubt after the first section of this chapter, this last line really underlines the idea. Jesus is God incarnate.

This is all fine and well, but it still doesn’t explain where this happens, where these angels will ascend and descend on Jesus.

Now, angels are best understood as messengers of God.
They are not God, they are not man, they are a completely unique thing.
They are divine, but they are not God. They are messengers of God.
The Archangel Gabriel informed Mary of her role in incarnation. He was a messenger of God.

The angels Jesus speaks of are the same.
What they represent is a continual conversation between the father and the son. 
A continual conversation between the heavenly and earthly realms.
They are the gateway from earth to heaven, and they are the gateway from heaven to earth.
 It is a two way conversation. It is a two way conversation that centres on Jesus.
This passage not only underlines the incarnation, it also tells us what it means to us.

 And it is here that we need to read carefully. Jesus has been talking to Nathanael.

“You, (meaning Nathanael,) will see greater things than these”. 
But then it changes.

You, plural, You will see.
This plural you is important.
 It could be the other disciples around at the time, and Jesus is addressing the whole group.

I sense that it is more than this.

You, all of you, all who read this, all you who hear of Jesus, all you who recognise the Jesus as the Son of God, whenever, wherever, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

John is letting us know that as we read this gospel, what we are witnessing is this event.
Throughout the whole of the gospel, everything Jesus does and says is this event.
The event is in fact the very person of Jesus, the son of God.

 It isn’t a single event, it is a continuous thing, it is an eternal thing. God incarnate in the form of Jesus, and his continual presence as given to us by the Holy Spirit. All we have to do is look.

The promise to Nathanael is a promise to us.

By our lives lived together with Christ, we, and all who have ever believed, will see, do see, and  have seen, the angels of god ascending and descending upon the son of man, Jesus Christ, the son Of God, God incarnate.

This promise is for anyone who wants to see.
And as Nathanael was invited by Phillip, we too are invited, by the simple words: “Come and see.”

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