A Few Words From Pastor Brian
Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep...I am the gate whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
- John 10:7, 9-10
As we begin another year, let us go back in time a bit – to the days of Isaiah and around 700 BC. The Assyrians had just sacked Israel's capital city of Samaria and were laying siege to the cities of Judah, even threatening Jerusalem itself. Elsewhere in the world, the Romans (the sons of Romulus) had just defeated the Etruscans and were building “the eternal city” on the 7 hills overlooking the river Tiber. Their second king, Numa, had just set the calendar we still use today (with some adaptations by Julius and Augustus Caesar). He began this official calendar with homage to the Roman god of beginnings and endings, Ianus (Janus).
Janus is unique within the Roman pantheon as he is considered a primal deity, one without beginning or ending. Only two others share that distinction; Gaia (earth) and Caelus (sky). He is the deity responsible for war and peace (beginning and endings of conflicts), light and darkness (day and night), transitions between old and new, and all doorways, gates, harbor entrances, and any other “crossing over” points. His main function within the Roman pantheon was as the gatekeeper / doormaster between earth and the heavens. No god could cross to the realm of men (not even Jupiter or Mercury the messenger) without his leave. Also no mortal could ascend to the realm of the gods without homage and the customary rites to Janus. Every Roman religious rite began with prayers and oblations (sacrifices) to Janus so he would open the portal to access the deity one wished to supplicate. He was often pictured as having two faces; one looking forward, the other looking back.
As we have once more celebrated the Incarnation of Jesus, the Christ and God crossing the thresh- hold to become man, God-with-us, Immanuel, we now enter into the season of Epiphany. This is when the light shines in the darkness and God is revealed in the person of His only begotten Son. We must also remember that Jesus (a Latin name) was born into a Roman world. The mythologies around Janus would have been well known to those who lived under Roman occupation for the last 65 years or so and figures of Janus would have adorned the thresh hold of every Roman house. Much of what the Romans mistakenly attributed to Janus we see revealed in Jesus. The light now shines and dispels these Roman (and contemporary American) shadows.
John begins his gospel account by highlighting the eternalness of Christ, that He is without beginning or ending and is in charge of both. Later in his Revelation, John records Jesus, the eternal Word saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13). The Epistlist reminds us that Jesus is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb. 13:8) We further learn from John that “in Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot fathom it.” (John 1:4-5) and “When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). As John records his revelation, he talks of how the new Jerusalem will be lit up - “The city does not need the sun nor the moon to shin upon it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” Jesus has more than fulfilled all that was hoped for in Janus.
Yet the most interesting part of the Janus mythos is that of being the mediator or the access point between the gods and mankind. In this too Jesus shows the glorious reality underlying the Roman shadows. St. Paul writes, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have also gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Romans 5:1-2). Again, St. Paul writes, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (I Tim. 2:5). Jesus Himself speaks of no one coming to the Father except through Him and that if anyone has seen Him, that one has seen the Father as well. Jesus is certainly a greater mediator (go between) than the mythological deity for whom our month is named.
But probably best known of Janus' functions was that of being two-faced. He would simultaneously be looking backwards and forwards. In this there is no Christian parallel, for Jesus is always pointing us to the future and the Kingdom which is both now and not yet. As we stand on the thresh hold of a new year this month, I have to wonder, do we view God as something in the past, as ancient history, or is He a present reality in our day to day lives, or is He something only relevant to our future – when this mortal life comes to an end and we enter into the life of the world to come? Really it's all 3 (there we go with God working in threes again!).
Certainly God is rooted in history. The Incarnation happened at a specific time in human history as Luke records, “In those days Augustus Caesar issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” (Luke 2:1-2). The stories we read about in the Bible; the Exodus, conquest of Canaan, reign of David and Solomon, Nativity, crucifixion and resurrection, Pentecost, missionary journeys, and the like, were all rooted in history. God is indeed the “God of our Fathers” and a God of the past.
Yet He did not stop acting n behalf of His people after the last verses of Revelation were written around 95 AD. Even today He makes His love, grace, and power known. The words of Christ from the cross, “It is finished” are in the tense of the pluperfect passive participle. That's linguistics for a past event with present and eternal consequences. In other words, while Christ spoke those words many centuries ago, their effect still resonates up to this day. When we come to worship and hear the words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins”, the “It is finished” impacts, affects, and works in us today. God is still with us, working His will in our lives in, with, and through us. We see this in the many ministries of His collective people who have been called out (ecclesia) of darkness into His marvelous light (I Peter 2:9b). We see Christ at work as sins are forgiven, sicknesses healed, hope restored, families gathered and strengthened, and so many other ways.
And God also holds the future in His hands. Before going to the cross and tomb, Jesus told His disciples that He was departing this world to return to His Father and our Father and that He was “going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will also come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2b-3) We know from Jeremiah that God has plans for us, plans to prosper and not to harm us. We know from Paul that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God the Father which is ours in Christ Jesus. What the future will be is not revealed to us, but what has been revealed is that whatever the future may bring, God will be there with us, even unto the ending of the ages.
So Happy New Year and a blessed Epiphany season to you. Whether your 2017 was bad or good and whether 2018 bodes well or ill, remember that our God made man, Jesus, stands at the thresh hold of all undertakings and walks with us wherever our life journey may lead. As His sheep, may we continue to come in and go out and find pasture in Him. May God's peace be upon you this new year and always.
Peace in Christ,