Monday, January 15, 2018

Epiphany 3B Readings & Commentaries

As is typical for Mark, our short Gospel reading packs in a lot of information.  After John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus begins his public ministry with a message of (in Greek) metanoia (repent, turn around, change your mind).

1st Reading:  Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Jonah had resisted God’s first attempt to send him to Nineveh, in part because he knew God would show mercy to those who were Israel’s enemies, and he did not want to do it.  Nineveh was a great city of the Assyrian Empire.  Jonah relents the second time (after being saved from the belly of a great fish) and the city repents, and God forgives, just as Jonah had feared.  The story continues with Jonah’s bitter complaint against God.  But God’s mercy prevails, even over Jonah.

3:1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Psalm 62:6-14
Psalm 62 is a personal testimony of trust in God.  As a response to the first reading, the last line is interesting since God decides not to repay the Ninevites “according to their deeds.”  Perhaps the ways of God are not as simple as either Jonah or the psalmist imagines!

6   For God alone my soul in silence waits; *
            truly, my hope in in him.
7   He alone is my rock and my salvation, *
            my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
8   In God is my safety and my honor; *
            God is my strong rock and my refuge.
9   Put your trust in him always, O people, *
            pour out your hearts before him,
                                   for God is our refuge.
10 Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath, *
            even those of low estate cannot be trusted.
11 On the scales they are lighter than a breath, *
            all of them together.
12 Put no trust in extortion;
     in robbery take no empty pride; *
            though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.
13 God has spoken once, twice I have heard it, *
            that power belongs to God.
14 Steadfast love is your, O Lord, *
            for you repay everyone according to his deeds.

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Paul, like most early Christians, believed that Jesus’ return in glory was imminent.  In this context, the following reading makes perfect sense. Paul exhorts the followers of Jesus to rid themselves of all distractions from focusing on the glory that is to come.  Jesus, however, would not come again soon, so what does this reading have to offer us?  There is a sense in which God calls us to a certain detachment from even those things and people we most cherish, lest we lose sight of the One who is always coming into our lives.

7:29 I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 1:14-20
As is typical for Mark, our short Gospel reading packs in a lot of information.  After John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus begins his public ministry with a message of (in Greek) metanoia (repent, turn around, change your mind).  The kingdom of heaven is at hand. He then calls his first disciples who all leave to follow him “immediately” (a favorite word of Mark).

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.


The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.epiphanyesources.com , copyright © 2018.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group use, with attribution.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Epiphany 2B Readings & Commentaries

1st Reading:  1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]
Our first reading is the call of the prophet Samuel while he was a boy serving under the priest Eli.  Samuel’s mother Hannah had dedicated him to the Lord’s service after his miraculous birth. His first prophetic act is to deliver a harsh message to his mentor, signaling the end of his priestly line.  God is about to do a new thing in raising up a king to rule over Israel.  Samuel will become God’s “kingmaker.”

3:1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6 The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
[11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” 15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17 Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” 19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.]

Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Psalm 139 is an amazing reflection on the relationship between God and the individual.  God is shown to be as much seeking relationship with us as we are with God. God’s presence is shown as deep and lasting; it is the context for both our creation and our living.

1   Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *
            you know my sitting down and my rising up;
            you discern my thoughts from afar.
2   You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
            and are acquainted with all my ways.
3   Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
            but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
4   You press upon me behind and before *
            and lay your hand upon me.
5   Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
            it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
12 For you yourself created my inmost parts; *
            you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
13 I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
            your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
14 My body was not hidden from you, *
            while I was being made in secret
            and woven in the depths of the earth.
15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
     all of them were written in your book; *
            they were fashioned day by day,
            when as yet there was none of them.
16 How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
            how great is the sum of them!
17 If I were to count them, they would be more in number
                                   than the sand; *
            to count them all, my life span would need to
                                   be like yours.

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Paul begins this passage with a quote that may represent the understanding of some Corinthians. There was confusion about Paul’s message of salvation by grace and not by works. Some took that to mean, “All things are lawful.” All things may be lawful, but not all things are helpful. One’s body is to be revered as a temple of God’s Spirit, and so should not be used for “fornication.” The context suggests that this word covers any sexual act that does not intend, or is not an expression of, the unity of the partners.

6:12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

Gospel Reading:  John 1:43-51
The great tragedy in John’s Gospel is “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (1:11).  Here the facts about Jesus do not impress Nathanael. The Hebrew Scriptures do not even mention Nazareth, so how can the Messiah come from there?  Nathanael changes his mind when he actually meets Jesus and Jesus reaches through his bravado for relationship.

1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”


The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.epiphanyesources.com , copyright © 2018.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use, with attribution.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Epiphany 1B (Baptism of Jesus)

And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

1st Reading:  Genesis 1:1-5
The Bible begins with a faith statement:  “In the beginning God…”  There is nothing to prove here, just something on which to stake one’s worldview.  “Wind” and “spirit” are the same word in Hebrew, so there is a double-meaning in what is sweeping over the waters.  Notice it is water whose creation is not told.  It is the substance “before all things came to be.”  Then light is the first created thing.  Water and light are the two predominant images of this day, and, arguably, of the biblical record.

1:1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Psalm 29
Psalm 29 is a song of praise.  Its setting is a council of heavenly beings. The word “gods” in the first line is misleading.  In Hebrew the actual term is “sons of god,” and most scholars today translate it as “heavenly beings,” implying angels.  Psalm 29 shares many characteristics with a Canaanite hymn to their “storm god.”  This psalm is probably an appropriation of that hymn, but also a refutation.  Israel’s God is God alone.  The voice of God on the waters echoes our first reading, and anticipates our gospel reading.

1 Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
   the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
   the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.
9 And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.
11 The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
              the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

2nd Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 19:1-7
A follower of Jesus from Alexandria named Apollos had been preaching in Ephesus and a small community formed there.  In encouraging new believers to Baptism, he spoke only of the Baptism of John.  Soon afterward, Paul made his first trip to Ephesus and teaches them about Baptism in the Name of Jesus with the Holy Spirit, who would empower them for ministry.  Through the Spirit they would join in God’s revealing of himself to the world.

19:1 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John's baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—7 altogether there were about twelve of them.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 1:4-11
Our Gospel reading is Mark’s version of the story of Jesus’ baptism.  It is spare, just three verses, and, unlike the accounts in Matthew and Luke, only Jesus himself sees the phenomena and hears the voice.  Mark clearly understands this event as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, his revelation to the world.

1:4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”


The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.epiphanyesources.com , copyright © 2018.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use, with attribution.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas 1 Readings & Commentaries

Today we read the poetic opening of the Gospel of John in which he proclaims that this Jesus born to a human mother was also the Word (in Greek, logos) made flesh from before the beginning of creation.  John skillfully weaves together here language from the Greek notion of the primal “logos” with the Hebrew figure of Wisdom. 

1st Reading:  Isaiah 61:10—62:3/4
In the beginning of our first reading, Zion herself speaks, proclaiming the newness that is a gift from God to her.  This newness will be a witness to all the nations. The prophet then speaks (“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent…”).  He will proclaim to the world what God has done for Zion, and tell of her new names: Hephzibah (Delight) and Beulah (Married) [in 62:4, which is added as an optional extension].

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  [You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.]

Psalm 147:13-21
Psalm 147 praises the God who reigns over creation and provides for it.  The use of the word “Zion” reflects the first reading.  The origins of the word “Zion” are murky.  It may have originally referred to a fortress.  In 2 Samuel 5:6-10), “Jerusalem,” “Zion,” and “the City of David” are used interchangeably.  “Zion” is most often used as a personification of Jerusalem.

13   Worship the Lord, O Jerusalem; *
              praise your God, O Zion;
14   For he has strengthened the bars of your gates; *
              he has blessed your children within you.
15   He has established peace on your borders; *
              he satisfies you with the finest wheat.
16   He sends out his command to the earth, *
              and his word runs very swiftly.
17   He gives snow like wool; *
              he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.
18   He scatters his hail like bread crumbs; *
              who can stand against his cold?
19   He sends forth his word and melts them; *
              he blows with his wind, and the waters flow.
20   He declares his word to Jacob, *
              his statutes and his judgments to Israel.
21   He has not done so to any other nation; *
              to them he has not revealed his judgments.  Hallelujah!

2nd Reading:  Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7
The epistle reading today is Paul’s only direct mention of the birth of Jesus. It is in the context of his ongoing argument about the primacy of justification by faith. Probably the most important thing to note here is that God is the actor. For Paul, the Christmas story is a story about God making himself available to all people. Non-Jews are adopted children and, therefore, joint heirs with Christ.

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Gospel Reading:  John 1:1-18
Today we read the poetic opening of the Gospel of John in which he proclaims that this Jesus born to a human mother was also the Word (in Greek, logos) made flesh from before the beginning of creation.  John skillfully weaves together here language from the Greek notion of the primal “logos” with the Hebrew figure of Wisdom.  John carefully explains the testimonial place of John the Baptist in verses six through nine.  Jesus is both the Word of God and fully human.  He “lived among us” (literally, “pitched his tent among us”).

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But 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. 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.  (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.


The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2016, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission given to copy for group study.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Christmas Eve & Day Readings & Commentaries

The historicity of the census is unclear, but it serves to set up the contrast between the Emperor who was called “lord” and “savior,” under whom the Empire lived in “Pax Augusta,” with the child who was born in weakness who will also bear these titles and be the One who brings true peace.

Note:  The Proper I readings are traditionally used on Christmas Eve; Proper III on Christmas Day.  The Proper II readings have their origin in an early morning Christmas Day service often known as “The Shepherd’s Mass.”

Proper I

1st Reading:  Isaiah 9:2-7
In its original context, this passage is an oracle of hope for the kingdom of Judah. The first verse of chapter nine speaks of a “former time” and a “latter time.” The former time is probably the failed leadership and oppression under King Ahaz (735—715 bce). The promise is now his son, Hezekiah (715—687 bce), prophesied to be a true king of David’s line. Christians have long interpreted the “child…born for us” to be Jesus. Whatever the interpretation, this is a poetic statement of the capacity of God to bring newness out of despair, and light out of darkness.

9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Psalm 96
Psalm 96 is an “enthronement psalm,” celebrating the rule of the Lord. Along with Psalms 93, 95, 97, and 99, it may have been originally used at the fall new year festival at which there was a symbolic (re-) enthronement of God. As a response to our first reading this psalm is primarily about the newness God can bring.

1  Sing to the Lord a new song; *
sing to the Lord, all the whole earth.
2  Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; *
proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
3  Declare his glory among the nations *
and his wonders among all peoples.
4  For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; *
he is more to be feared than all gods.
5  As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; *
but it is the Lord who made the heavens.
6  Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! *
Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!
7  Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; *
ascribe to the Lord honor and power.
8  Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name; *
bring offerings and come into his courts.
9  Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; *
let the whole earth tremble before him.

2nd Reading:  Titus 2:11-14
Titus was a colleague of Paul, who had been sent on mission to Crete at the time of this letter.  The letter is important because in it Paul provides a basis in theology for living in the way of Jesus.  In this brief passage, Paul proclaims that the purpose of the incarnation (“God has appeared”) is to establish in us a way of life that is attentive to our actions in the present and expectant of God’s complete manifestation in the future. Note that the word translated “salvation” can also be translated “healing.”

The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 2:1-20 (only 1-7 may be used)
Luke begins his birth story by setting it in historical context. The historicity of this “registration” is unclear, but it serves to set up the juxtaposition of the Emperor who was called “lord” and “savior,” under whom the Empire lived in “Pax Augusta,” with the child who was born in weakness who will also bear these titles and be the One who brings true peace. That shepherds were the first to receive the news is an important sign that the gift of this Messiah, the Lord, is for all.

2:1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Proper II

1st Reading:  Isaiah 62:6-12
This passage comes from the post-exile portion of Isaiah. Israel has returned to Jerusalem and the city is rebuilt. It is significant that the sentinels do not have the task of watching for enemies, but that of reminding the C to remember his promises, and to keep reminding him until the work is done! Verses 8-9 then are the Lord’s solemn oath that the promise will be fulfilled. The rest of the passage makes clear that the rebuilding of the city (and of the relationship between God and his people) is a two-way street. The Lord will do his part, but Israel must do its part. God will act, but Israel must enact. The final verse is a reiteration of the promise through the giving of a change in name. The final words are crucial for Israel’s future (and perhaps make this passage relevant to our celebration of Christmas:  You will be “not forsaken.”

62:6 Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have posted sentinels; all day and all night they shall never be silent. You who remind the Lord, take no rest, 7 and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it renowned throughout the earth. 8 The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink the wine for which you have labored; 9 but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the Lord, and those who gather it shall drink it in my holy courts. 10 Go through, go through the gates, prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway, clear it of stones, lift up an ensign over the peoples. 11 The Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to daughter Zion, “See, your salvation comes; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” 12 They shall be called, “The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord”; and you shall be called, “Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.”

Psalm 97
Psalm 97 is an “enthronement psalm,” celebrating the rule of the Lord.  Along with Psalms 93, 95, 96, and 99, it may have been originally used at the fall new year festival at which there was a symbolic (re-) enthronement of God.  As a response to our first reading this psalm is primarily about the joy brought about by God’s reign.

1   The Lord is King; let the earth rejoice; *
let the multitude of the isles be glad.
2   Clouds and darkness are round about him, *
righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne.
3   A fire goes before him *
and burns up his enemies on every side.
4   His lightnings light up the world; *
the earth sees it and is afraid.
5   The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord, *
at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
6   The heavens declare his righteousness, *
and all the peoples see his glory.
7   Confounded be all who worship carved images
      and delight in false gods! *
Bow down before him, all you gods.
8   Zion hears and is glad, and the cities of Judah rejoice, *
because of your judgments, O Lord.
9   For you are the Lord, most high over all the earth; *
you are exalted far above all gods.
10   The Lord loves those who hate evil; *
he preserves the lives of his saints
and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
11   Light has sprung up for the righteous, *
and joyful gladness for those who are truehearted.
12   Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous, *
and give thanks to his holy Name.

2nd Reading:  Titus 3:4-7
Titus was a colleague of Paul, who had been sent on mission to Crete at the time of this letter. In this brief passage, Paul connects the incarnation with baptism. Both were profound acts of grace and mercy.

3:4 When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 2:1-20 (see above, only 8-20 may be used)

Proper III

1st Reading:  Isaiah 52:7-10
In this passage there is an announcement that the Lord has acted decisively, bringing “good news” to Zion (this is Isaiah’s second use of the term “good news”—see Isaiah 40:9).  The Gospel writer Mark will pick up on this announcement and use it to open his story of Jesus (Mark 1:1) and the word will come to define the story of Jesus itself (in the form “gospel”).  Much is tied up in this term gospel:  the return of God to an abandoned people, comfort and the promise of well-being conquering despair, and salvation which will be known to all.

52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” 8 Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion. 9 Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Psalm 98
Psalm 98 is a hymn to God as ruler of a universal kingdom, in which all nature gives glory to the Creator.  It is a “new song” implying that there was an old song of despair, perhaps even abandonment, by God.  The new song is one of victory and joy.

1   Sing to the Lord a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.
2   With his right hand and his holy arm *
has he won for himself the victory.
3   The Lord has made known his victory; *
his righteousness has he openly shown in
the sight of the nations.
4   He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel, *
and all the ends of the earth have seen the of our God.
5   Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands; *
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.
6   Sing to the Lord with the harp, *
with the harp and the voice of song.
7   With trumpets and the sound of the horn *
shout with joy before the King, the Lord.
8   Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
the lands and those who dwell therein.
9   Let the rivers clap their hands, *
and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord,
when he comes to judge the earth.
10   In righteousness shall he judge the world *
and the peoples with equity.

2nd Reading:  Hebrews 1:1-4, [5-12]
The Letter to the Hebrews begins with a proclamation of the incarnation, which includes the notion (important to our Gospel reading today) that the Son was also the agent of creation, using language much like that used for the figure of Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures.  This Son is a greater being than angels, a point which is driven home in the second portion of the passage with seven biblical quotes:  Ps. 2:7, 2 Sam. 7:14, Deut, 32:43, Ps.  104.4, Ps. 45:6-7. Ps. 102:25-27 and Ps. 110:1.

1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
[5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? 6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God's angels worship him.” 7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.” 8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” 10 And, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; 12 like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.”]

Gospel Reading:  John 1:1-14
Today we read not the birth story from Luke, but the poetic opening of the Gospel of John in which he proclaims that this Jesus born to a human mother was also the Word (in Greek, logos) made flesh from before the beginning of creation.  John skillfully weaves together here language from the Greek notion of the primal “logos” with the Hebrew figure of Wisdom.  John carefully explains the testimonial place of John the Baptist in verses six through nine.  Jesus is both the Word of God and fully human.  He “lived among us” (literally, “pitched his tent among us”).

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 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.


The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Psalm translations are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2016, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com.  All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study.