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City Church

THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST MARY THE VIRGIN, HENLEY-ON-THAMES

The Second Sunday before Lent

Feb 6, 2021, Author: Fr Jeremy Tayler

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Psalm 104.26-37
Proverbs 8.1,22-31
Colossians 1.15-20
John 1.1-14

+In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Delight is a word we should hear more often in church. Delight is a huge aspect of the Christian understanding of the universe.

Delight is a difficult word to define. Standard definitions include “great pleasure”, but I don’t think that quite captures the nuances and resonances of delight. Pleasure can be knowing and sophisticated, but delight to me at least means something simple, something pure. Pleasure can be corrupt, but I’m not sure that delight can be. Delight has no need to possess, to consume, to use. Delight is a word that is often used in connection with children, with the simplicity of childlike joy.

The Christian understanding of the meaning and purpose of the universe is rooted in this idea of delight. The Father delights in the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Father and Son together delight in the good and beautiful things they have made. And through the reconciling work of the cross, and through our union with the Son, the Father delights in us. And through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit we grow to delight in the Father and the Son and in the creation which is their gift to us.

Father, Son, humanity, creation, joined together in the Holy Spirit in mutual delight. That is our Christian understanding of the universe.

Our Old Testament reading today gives us a wonderful passage from the Book of Proverbs. Divine Wisdom is personified in the passage, and speaks of her role in creation. Christians going back at least as far as Justin Martyr in the second century have identified this passage with the pre-incarnate Son, with the Word that was with God in the beginning. It’s easy to see why; the parallels between the passages are very close:

John says: “In the beginning was the Word”; in Proverbs, Wisdom says “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work”.

John says: “All things came into being through him”; in Proverbs, Wisdom says: “then I was beside him, like a master worker”.

And in this passage from Proverbs we find that word delight:

then I was beside Him, like a master worker;
and I was daily His delight,
rejoicing before Him always,
rejoicing in His inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.

Divine Wisdom, like a master worker in the work of creation, is the delight of God, and rejoices before God in the inhabited world, and delights in the human race.

Similar ideas are explored in today’s psalm, Psalm 104. We don’t get to hear all of it today, it’s just too long, but it describes God’s work in creation in terms similar to the first chapter of the book of Genesis. In the passage we have used in our worship this morning, God’s wisdom in creation is applied even to the sea and all that is in it – the sea in the culture of the ancient near east being a realm of chaos and fear. The passage concludes with a hymn of delight, in which the psalmist is caught up in the Lord’s rejoicing in His work of creation:

May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works;
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will make music to my God while I have my being.
So shall my song please him
while I rejoice in the Lord.

Hearing the first chapter of John’s gospel this morning you could be forgiven for thinking that you must have stepped on the head of a snake in some strange liturgical game of snakes and ladders, and had to go all the way back to Christmas. But of course the doctrine of the Incarnation is not only for Christmas, and the pairing of this passage with Proverbs 8 brings it into a different perspective. Here we are able to connect the Divine Wisdom, the Word that was with God from the beginning, with the one we know as Jesus Christ:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

And what is offered to us here, and what is usually ignored in Christmas sermons on this passage, is something truly amazing:

to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

Children of God. That is what we are in Jesus. We are brought into the relationships of delight that are the Trinity. We share in the delight of God. We delight in God, God delights in us, and together we delight in the wonder of God’s creation.

Lent is fast approaching. A time of self-examination, a time of repentance, a time of fasting, a time of self-discipline, a time of growing focus on the cross. Not things we would usually identify with delight. We might think of Lent as being rather a grim season. As if things were not grim enough already; in a way it is as if we have already been on a year-long period of a sort of social fasting. But as Lent approaches, and especially when Lent has actually arrived, I want you to keep delight at the forefront of your minds.

Yes, Lent is about delight.

Our disciplines of repentance, of abstinence, of fasting are not a grim exercise in self-punishment. They are an exercise in delight. They are the disciplines which through the grace of God can lead us away from our complexity and our sophistication, away from our ingratitude for the ordinary wonders of life, and into the simplicity of the divine delight.

And our contemplation of the cross is not a grim exercise in guilt-inducing and misery. It is a contemplation of the love of God, it is a contemplation of our redemption, it is a contemplation of our reconciliation. It is a contemplation of that victory which has freed us from our sins of ingratitude, our sins of possession and use and abuse, which separate us from the place for which God has always intended for us, in the midst of that mutual delight that exists within the Godhead and between God and creation.

+In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.