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.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Advent 3A Readings & Commentaries

The Third Sunday of Advent traditionally is called Gaudate Sunday, a name which comes from the first word of the Latin Mass introit on this Sunday:  Gaudate, “be joyful, or “rejoice.” The color is sometimes lightened to rose, signaling that we are more than halfway to Christmas.  Some people call this “Stir Up Sunday” because of the first words of the Collect of the Day.

The Collect of the Day
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  Isaiah 35:1-10
Last week Isaiah’s vision (11:1-10) was of nature transformed, especially the natural enemies within the animal kingdom.  This week the land is transformed as well.  This is especially true of the wilderness, the desert, the places hostile to the people of God.  The highway of which Isaiah speaks is the way back to Israel from Babylon, where much of Israel has been in exile.  Read Psalm 137—a description of life in exile. This vision is meant to be its opposite.

35:1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8 A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Canticle:  The Song of Mary (Luke 1:46b-55)
In place of a psalm today, we are using Mary’s song upon hearing the greeting of her cousin Elizabeth, in the translation from The Book of Common Prayer (Canticle 15). It is commonly known as “the Magnificat” (the first word in its Latin translation). Mary rejoices in what God has done for her but sees a much larger implication:  the overturning of systems of oppression. She also sings in unity with her ancestor Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Her song also anticipates the words of her son in today’s Gospel reading.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
The Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit,
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our fathers, *
       to Abraham and his children for ever.

Or this

Psalm 146:4-9
Psalms 146-150 are sometimes called the “Hallelujah” psalms, as they are all psalms of celebration that begin and end with “Hallelujah” (Hebrew for “Praise the Lord”). Collectively, they serve as a kind of doxology to the entire collection of psalms. Psalm 146 declares happy (or blessed) those who hope in God and then proceeds to give reasons, a description of the God of Israel.

4 Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! *
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
5 Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;*
who keeps his promise for ever;
6 Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.
7 The Lord sets the prisoners free;
   the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; *
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
8 The Lord loves the righteous;
   the Lord cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
9 The Lord shall reign for ever, *
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

2nd Reading:  James 5:7-10
Our second reading reminds us that we are still in Advent and still pondering the mystery of the Lord’s future coming.  Patience is needed, the patience of a farmer. Strength is also needed, and the will to keep from grumbling.  All this is to protect us from anxiety and fear.  The prophets are an example to us because they suffered while they were patient, steadfastly speaking a word of hope.

5:7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 11:2-11
On the Third Sunday of Advent we read something about the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. In this passage from Matthew we get a perspective from both sides. John, from prison, asks if Jesus is truly the one for whom they have been waiting. Clearly, he has some doubts, perhaps simply because he is in prison, but perhaps also because reports about Jesus’ ministry are not meeting John’s expectations of the Messiah. Jesus, on the other hand, is clear about John’s purpose and appreciative of it. John was to prepare the way, and that was a mighty task. Yet in the ultimate manifestation of this way—the kingdom of heaven—all will know this greatness, and more.

11:2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John:  “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

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 translation of the Psalm are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries 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.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Advent 2A Readings & Commentaries

 “The stump of Jesse” refers to the dynastic line of David (Jesse was David’s father).  It has become a stump, of little worth, bordering on death. 

The Collect of the Day
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  Isaiah 11:1-10
“The stump of Jesse” refers to the dynastic line of David (Jesse was David’s father).  It has become a stump, of little worth, bordering on death.  The prophet sees a shoot from the stump, however, and, perhaps more importantly, the spirit of the Lord.  They indicate a new possibility.  The shoot will yield a new king who will be an advocate of justice and a bringer of peace, even to enemies within the creation.  The new king will restore and reconcile creation itself.  Can we still trust this promise, this spirit, this vision of a new creation?  It is a significant question on our Advent journey.  Verses 2 & 3 include the traditional sevenfold gifts of the Spirit, still used in our liturgy of Baptism in the prayer over the newly baptized (BCP. P. 308).

11:1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Psalm 72 is royal psalm ascribed to Solomon (one of only two psalms ascribed to him, the other being Psalm 127). It places the Davidic line of kings firmly into both the theology and socio-economic life of Israel. The first portion of the psalm (vv. 1-7) lays out the covenant demands on the king. The portion we do not read today lays out the divine promises to a just ruler. Verses 18 & 19 are actually an ending to the second book of the psalms (Psalms 42-72), and indeed in Hebrew the text goes on to a “verse 20”:  “The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.”

1 Give the King your justice, O God, *
       and your righteousness to the King’s Son;
2 That he may rule your people righteously *
       and the poor with justice;
3 That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
       and the little hills bring righteousness.
4 He shall defend the needy among the people; *
       he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.
5 He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
       from one generation to another.
6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
       like showers that water the earth.
7 In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
       there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall
                     be no more.
18 Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, *
       who alone does wondrous deeds!
19 And blessed be his glorious Name for ever! *
       and may all the earth be filled with his glory. Amen. Amen.

2nd Reading:  Romans 15:4-13
At the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul gives a word of encouragement, but also an exhortation to radical welcome in the community of faith.  The welcome includes the Gentiles (non-Jews), who are now fellow heirs of God’s promises with the Jews.  All have cause to “abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  This is the good news we proclaim. The Scripture quotations are, in order: Psalm 18:49, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:10.

15:4 Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; 10 and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; 11 and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; 12 and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 3:1-12
On the 2nd & 3rd Sundays of Advent in each year of our three-year cycle of readings, we read about John the Baptist. Who was John and what was his role in the unfolding drama? John prepares the way, and it is a radical way. Everything about John is radical—his dress, his diet, his message. It is a dangerous message as well, challenging the religious elite not to be presumptuous about their relationship with God. Claiming relationship with Abraham is not enough. They (and we) must “bear fruit worthy of repentance.”  Advent suggests to us that there may be some way in which we need to “turn around” (the literal meaning of repentance) so that we can see the child in the manger for what he truly is. The Scripture quotation in verse 3 is Isaiah 40:3.

3:1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the canticle) 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 and the translation of the Psalm 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.  And like us on Facebook!