By Ed Little
A Reading from Colossians 1:15-23
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — 23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
Many years ago, I was teaching an adult Bible study on today’s passage: “In [Christ] the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” From there, we turned to John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:14). The New Testament bears witness, I said, not only to the humanity of Jesus Christ, but also his divinity. At that point, an older parishioner named Bob looked up from his Bible with amazement on his face. “Father Ed,” he asked, “are you telling me that Jesus is God?” “Why, yes I am.” “But that’s wonderful!” he replied. My friend was a long-time Christian, a dedicated member of the church; and now, late in life, the coin finally dropped. Jesus’ identity came clear.
Paul is writing to people he’d never met. Someone else had founded the Colossian church. But Paul wants to be certain that he and his readers are on the same spiritual page; and so he begins his letter with the basics. At the heart of these basics is the identity of Jesus — who he is and what he does on our behalf. “You who were once estranged and hostile in mind … [Christ] has now reconciled in his body through death.” The miracle of the Incarnation leads wondrously to the miracle of redemption. Christmas and the Paschal Mystery are forever bound together.
There’s always a danger of dismissing these basics as “mere doctrine” and moving too quickly to action, whether on a personal or on a corporate level. Actions, to be sure, are essential. They give reality to our Christian proclamation. But they are rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It’s no surprise, then, that many of Paul’s letters begin with the identity of Jesus, and only then move to the moral implications. My friend Bob discovered that truth late in life, and it changed him ever after. How has the identity of Jesus transformed you?
The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Lebombo – The Anglican Church of Southern Africa
All Saints Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, Fla.