Monday, January 13, 2020

Epiphany 2A Readings & Commentaries

Behold the Lamb of God!

The Collect of the Day
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world:  Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  Isaiah 49:1-7
Our first reading today is the second of the Servant Songs in Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40—55).  The first one (42:1-9) was our first reading last week.  We read this passage this morning and, as Christians, logically link the Servant to the Jesus whom John proclaims in our Gospel reading.  In its original context we do not know who the Servant was. Most scholars believe it was meant to be the entirety of God’s chosen people Israel.  What is clear in this passage is that the Servant has a mission not only to Israel, but to the entire world, a major theme of Second Isaiah.

49:1 Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. 2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. 3 And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 4 But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.” 5 And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength—6 he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”7 Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Psalm 40:1-12
Psalm 40 is a psalm of thanksgiving with a hint of lament at its end. There is a definite structure to this psalm. Verses 1-3 are a testimonial of well-being at the hands of God.  Verse 5 may very well be a response by those gathered to hear the testimonial, or perhaps by a priest.  Verse 6 and following is a direct address to God.  This may have been a structure for use in worship.

1 I waited patiently upon the Lord; *
           he stooped to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; *
           he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; *
           many shall see, and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord.
4 Happy are they who trust in the Lord! *
           they do not resort to evil spirits or turn to false gods.
5 Great things are they that you have done, O Lord my God!
   how great your wonders and your plans for us! *
           there is none who can be compared with you.
6 Oh, that I could make them known and tell them! *
           but they are more than I can count.
7 In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure *
           (you have given me ears to hear you);
8 Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required, *
           and so I said, “Behold, I come.
9 In the roll of the book it is written concerning me: *
           ‘I love to do your will, O my God; your law is deep in my heart.’”
10 I proclaimed righteousness in the great congregation; *
           behold, I did not restrain my lips; and that, O Lord, you know.
11 Your righteousness have I not hidden in my heart;
     I have spoken of your faithfulness and your deliverance; *
           I have not concealed your love and faithfulness from the
                            great congregation.
12 You are the Lord;
     do not withhold your compassion from me; *
           let your love and your faithfulness keep me for ever.

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Today we begin a continuous reading through the First Letter to the Corinthians during the season after the Epiphany (we will not get the entire way through; we’ll pick it up again next Epiphany in Year B).  1 Corinthians was written to a church in distress and conflict and Paul’s primary message is the call of Christians to live in community. The greeting of this letter is typical for Paul, as is the thanksgiving for the local church.  It is interesting that here Paul takes a reassuring tone, since later on in the letter he will be quite challenging.

1:1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:  3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Gospel Reading:  John 1:29-42
On the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany we always read from a portion of the latter half of the first chapter of John’s Gospel or the beginning of the second chapter. This is a long tradition in the Church, driven by the ancient need to tell the Cana story close to the story of Jesus’ baptism (it is the Gospel on this Sunday in Year C). This passage is essentially John’s story of Jesus’ baptism, but the central moment here is John’s proclamation, “Behold the Lamb of God.” The story ends with Andrew’s bringing of his brother Simon Peter to Jesus. Even the future leader of the church needed someone to lead the way.

1:29 John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

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.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2020, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Baptism of Jesus A Readings & Commentaries

Our Gospel reading is Matthew’s version of the story of Jesus’ baptism.

The Collect of the Day
Father in heaven, who at the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your Beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit:  Grant that all who are baptized in his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

1st Reading:  Isaiah 42:1-9
In our first reading, Second Isaiah (the prophet of the end of the Exile of Judah in Babylon whose voice begins at 40:1) speaks the first of what are known as “The Servant Songs.”  “The Servant” is most likely meant to be Israel, although Christians have always heard resonances of Jesus in them.  Israel is about to be redeemed, released from exile.  Now it is time to return to life as the covenant people, establish justice, and be “a light to the nations,” which Isaiah proclaims is Israel’s chief calling.

42:1 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. 5 Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it:  6 I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8 I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

Psalm 29
Psalm 29 is an obvious psalm for this Sunday when we read the story of Jesus’ baptism.  Here we have the heavens open and the voice of God on the waters, all images contained in the baptism story.  One thing that distinguishes this psalm is its use of the divine name “Yahweh” (translated, “the Lord”) 18 times.  In addition, the term “voice” is heard seven times.  It’s a reminder that the psalms are poetry!
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 10:34-43
Our second reading is a portion of the long story of Peter and Cornelius, which includes Peter’s epiphany (revelation) that God has accepted the Gentiles as fellow believers, going against long-accepted Jewish tradition.  In his brief sermon, Peter mentions Jesus’ baptism and the revelatory announcement at it.

10:34 Peter began to speak to Cornelius and the other Gentiles:  “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 3:13-17
Our Gospel reading is Matthew’s version of the story of Jesus’ baptism.  Matthew’s version is the only version in which the voice from heaven publicly proclaims that Jesus is the beloved Son of God.  Matthew is also careful to explain the place of John the Baptist, for those who may be troubled that Jesus submitted to his baptism.  But this is truly an epiphany event:  Jesus is revealed as the beloved Son of God.

3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”  Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom 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.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2020, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study.

Monday, December 30, 2019

2nd Sunday after Christmas Readings & Commentaries

The Flight into Egypt

The Collect of the Day
O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature:  Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1st Reading:  Jeremiah 31:7-14
Our first reading is from that portion of Jeremiah often called “the Book of Consolations.” In the midst of a very gloomy book, Jeremiah speaks words of hope and comfort.  In the midst of exile there is reason to sing. God is faithful and acting.  This makes this text a Christmas reading.  The Incarnation is God’s fundamental act in creation for us.

31:7 For thus says the Lord: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.” 8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. 9 With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. 10 Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.” 11 For the Lord has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. 12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again. 13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. 14 I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the Lord.

Psalm 84:1-8
Psalm 84 is a hymn of longing for the Temple, and perhaps a song sung by pilgrims when journeying to celebrate the Feast of Booths (Deuteronomy 16:13-15).  This song celebrates the nearness of God and the longing that comes from the heart of a pilgrim for that ever-increasing nearness.

1  How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
              My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
              my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
2  The sparrow has found her a house
    and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
              by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
3  Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
              they will always be praising you.
4  Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
              whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.
5  Those who go through the desolate valley will find it
                            a place of springs, *
              for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
6  They will climb from height to height, *
              and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.
7  Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
              hearken, O God of Jacob.
8  Behold our defender, O God; *
              and look upon the face of your Anointed.

2nd Reading:  Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Paul begins every letter with an expression of thanksgiving and blessing for the community to which he is writing.  Here he (or one of his disciples after him) writes an extended introduction which goes on for three chapters.  God is to be blessed for his many blessings!  As a Christmas reading, Paul alludes here to the “pre-existence” of Christ: “as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world…”  The early Christians came to believe fervently that Jesus existed as the second person of the Trinity from the beginning, the Word that spoke the creation.

1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19a and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 2:41-52
This story is unique in that it is the only story in the canonical Gospels concerning Jesus’ childhood.  It is a curious story that attempts to sort out relationships.  Mary refers to “your father and I,” but Jesus refers to “my father’s house,” i.e. the Temple.  That they did not understand his meaning seems very odd considering their awareness of what was happening in all that precedes this passage.  Yet Jesus, even aware of his special relationship with God, is “obedient to them.”  Jesus growing awareness of himself did not lead to his challenging the basic order around him, at least until he begins to teach.  One is reminded of Philippians 2:5-11, “he humbled himself…”

2:41 Now every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Or this

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
Our Gospel reading is from the second half of Matthew’s Christmas story (the first half being the visit of the magi).  As the magi had been warned in a dream not to return to King Herod, now Joseph is warned to flee the king’s treachery.  The “Out of Egypt…” quote is from Hosea 11:1.  Then comes the worse that tyranny can dish out—the murder of innocent children (the skipped vv. 16-18).  Herod the Great died in 4 b.c.e. His son was as cruel as his father, although he was replaced as ruler in 6 b.c.e. by a Roman procurator.  Matthew eventually gets the family to Nazareth, where he and Luke agree Jesus was raised.  The quote about being a “Nazorean” has no known source.  Nazareth is not mentioned at all in the Hebrew Scripture.

2:13 After the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” 19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Or this

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 2:1-12
In Christmas pageants, elements of this story are tacked onto Luke’s story (2:1-20), but they are very different stories and the visit of the Magi deserves to be known in all its richness.  The wise men (magoi in Greek) were likely astrologers or emissaries of foreign courts.  They were not “kings” (a later notion).  They also were not necessarily three in number.  The text does not give them a number; we have implied it from the three gifts.  Those gifts are highly symbolic in nature:  gold for a ruler, incense for a priest, myrrh for one who is to die.  Revelation comes to people in the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel via dreams (1:20, 2:12, 2:13, 2:19, 2:22).  The prophecy concerning Bethlehem is from Micah 5:2.  That the wise men first went to Jerusalem to consult the current king was only natural, but the “king” they seek is of a very different nature.

2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:  6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

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.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2019, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.

Monday, December 23, 2019

1st Sunday after Christmas 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. 

The Collect of the Day
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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.  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].

61:10 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. 11 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. 62:1 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. 2 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. 3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  4 [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.

3:23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian. 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 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”).

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.  15 (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.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 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.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2019, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available. See our website for more information.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Advent 4A Readings & Commentaries

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  Isaiah 7:10-16
Our first reading is tied to our Gospel reading, in which Joseph is to proceed with his marriage to Mary and raise her son. The angel quotes from this passage about “the virgin” who is to conceive. There is a translation problem with the use of “virgin” in the Gospel, which comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures with which Matthew would have been working, which translated “young woman” (in the original Hebrew) as “virgin” in Greek. The description of the dilemma in which King Ahaz finds himself can be read in 2 Kings 16:1-20.  This is taking place about 734 b.c.e. Hebrew scholars highly dispute the identity of the child described here. Christians have always seen this as a foretelling of Jesus. The difference between “Immanuel” and “Emmanuel,” is that the former spelling is Hebrew and the latter Greek.

7:10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
Our psalm today is a communal lament, calling on God as Shepherd to deliver the people from their enemies.  It follows on the first reading in that it invokes the shepherd image, with Bethlehem in the first reading being the home of the Shepherd King, David. In our context verse 16 may refer to Jesus, or perhaps to Joseph.

1   Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock; *
              shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.
2   In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, *
              stir up your strength and come to help us.
3   Restore us, O God of hosts; *
              show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
4   O Lord God of hosts, *
              how long will you be angered
              despite the prayers of your people?
5   You have fed them with the bread of tears; *
              you have given them bowls of tears to drink.
6   You have made us the derision of our neighbors, *
              and our enemies laugh us to scorn.
7   Restore us, O God of hosts; *
              show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
16    Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, *
              the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.
17    And so will we never turn away from you; *
              give us life, that we may call upon your Name.
18    Restore us O Lord God of hosts; *
              show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

2nd Reading:  Romans 1:1-7
As Paul opens his lengthy letter to the Romans, he calls attention to Jesus’ lineage from David and his descent “to the flesh.”  He was then declared “Son of God” by his resurrection (although the Gospel writers use the title for him long before his death and resurrection). Verses 2-6 may have been an early creedal formula.

1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, 6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 1:18-25
Matthew’s birth story differs greatly from the more familiar Luke.  Here, at its beginning, it is Joseph who is the main character, not Mary.  It is he who receives a dream and makes the decision to proceed as if he is the father, thus making Jesus a son of David (as the genealogy which precedes this passage has made clear).  The quote from Isaiah 7 is noted above, including the switch to the title “virgin.”  The most important thing about this passage for Matthew is found in the title “Emmanuel,” meaning, “God with us.”  This is the child of the promise.

1:18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

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. All rights reserved. The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2019 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.