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.

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