Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Holy Name Day (January 1)

The Holy Name of Jesus
On the eighth day after his birth, according to Jewish custom, Jesus was circumcised and named.  We celebrate this event as “Holy Name Day” (in former editions of The Book of Common Prayer, it was called “The Feast of the Circumcision”). It is inconsequential that it is also the secular New Year’s Day.  Our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers call this day “Mary, Mother of God,” celebrating Mary’s role as Theotokos, “mother of God” (see The Book of Common Prayer, p. 864, the “Chalcedonian Definition.”

The Collect of the Day
Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting  Amen.

The First Reading:  Numbers 6:22-27
Our first reading is what is often known as the “Aaronic Blessing.”  It is Jewish custom (followed by most Christian translations of the Bible) not to use the divine name (Yhwh), but instead substitute “the Lord.” (You can tell when this happens when the translation renders “lord” in small capitals).  This blessing makes it clear that a blessing is primarily a wish for well-being.  What does it mean to “call down my name on the Israelites?”  Names are important in Hebrew thinking.  They contain the person’s identity and authority.  To “call down the name” is to totally identify with this God and live under his authority.

6:22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them, 24 The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. 27 So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

Psalm 8                                                                                              
Following on our first reading, this psalm opens and closes with an invocation of “the Name.”  It is said that this Name pervades the whole world. God is then praised in particular for the creation and humankind’s place in it, adorned with glory and honor (which is, of course, a gift from God).

1 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
2 Out of the mouths of infants and children *
your majesty is praised above the heavens.
3 You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *
to quell the enemy and the avenger.
4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
5 What is man that you should be mindful of him?  *
the son of man that you should seek him out?
6 You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;
7 You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under his feet:
8 All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,
9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.
10 O Lord our Governor, *
            how exalted is your Name in all the world!

The Second Reading:  Galatians 4:4-7
This passage from St. Paul contains the only direct mention of Jesus’ birth outside of the Gospels.  He does not mention Mary’s name (her name does not appear outside of the Gospels).  “The fullness of time” is a phrase that uses a Greek word for “time”—kairos—which we do not have in English.  It is a word that has nothing to do with “clock time” or “history.”  It is more like “when the time was right.”  Abba is an Aramaic word which is the equivalent of our word “Dad,” or even “Daddy.”  God now has for us a new, more familiar, name.

4:4 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.

Or this

The Second Reading:  Philippians 2:5-11
Paul quotes to the Philippians what was most likely an early Christian hymn.  Jesus shows us how to live in his own self-emptying (kenosis in Greek) in order to fulfill God’s purpose for him.  One result of this style of life is the unity in humility that Paul is proclaiming to the Christians of Philippi.  The reference to Jesus’ name makes this a good reading for this feast.  Despite his self-emptying his name is remembered and highly exalted.  One recalls his own teaching, “The first will be last and the last will be first.”

2:5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The Holy Gospel:  Luke 2:15-21
To tell the story of Jesus’ circumcision and naming requires only one verse, but we give it context with the latter part of the shepherds’ story and the “pondering” of Mary.  Jesus’ circumcision makes it clear that he was a Jew born of observant Jews.  They are also obedient to the angel Gabriel’s request that the child be named Jesus (actually, in Hebrew, Joshua).

2:15 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. 21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

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.  ommentaries are copyright © 2016, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, All rights reserved.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day (Proper III)

The Collect of the Day
Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever.  Amen.

The First 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.

The Second 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.”]

The Holy Gospel:  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 Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2016, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main Sty., Hornell, NY 14843, All rights reserved.