29 December 2010

The Second Sunday of Christmas - 2 January 2011

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Saint Luke 2:41-52

Theotokos and Child
from Hagia Sophia 

BACKGROUND – In the Gospel for today, St. Luke comments, “…and Jesus increased in wisdom…”.  For some New Testament authors and commentators in the early church, Jesus not only increased in wisdom, he was Wisdom.  Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures was a variety of things.  It was, to some extent a reflection of the wisdom (everyday aphorisms that guided daily life) that was seen in all Ancient Near Eastern cultures.  Layered onto this was the understanding that Wisdom was a female manifestation of or emanation from God.  All of this thought makes its way into the New Testament as well, especially in the Gospels of Saint Matthew, Saint Luke, and Saint John.  For Paul, Jesus is God’s veritable Wisdom.  Matthew sees in Jesus’ actions and miracles a manifestation of Wisdom.  Jesus is the not just the promise of wisdom, but Wisdom herself.  This is the thought that underscores the naming of Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, the great patriarchal church built in 360 CE.  The name “Holy Wisdom” infers the honor due to Jesus, the Logos, and Wisdom.

Jeremiah 31:7-14

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."
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.
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.
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."
For the LORD has ransomed Jacob,
and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
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.
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.
I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty,
says the LORD.

This second Isaiah invites us to witness a scene of great joy.  All along the mountain ridge that runs between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, Isaiah pictures messengers running south to a ruined Jerusalem.  Their shouts are heard by the sentinels standing on the ruined walls.  The message is one of peace, and the restoration of Zion.  Sometime around 536 BCE, Cyrus the Great, King of Persia decreed the release of captive peoples.  In a cylinder scroll detailing the decree, the great kings says, “I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings.”  Second Isaiah saw in this decree the God of Israel active through the acts of human beings – he saw a promise fulfilled.  God was no longer the one who had abandoned the chosen people, but now a God who raises up the old walls of Jerusalem, and makes the people glad with his restoration of the ancient city.   The reading as a part of the Nativity celebrations would certainly be reflective of the Christian messenger, St. John the Baptist; and the joy a reflection of all those that celebrate Christ’s birth.

Breaking open Jeremiah:
  1. Have you ever experienced a family reunion?  What were your emotions like at that event?
  2. Has someone ever been returned to you whom you had considered lost?
  3. Has a wilderness ever bloomed for you?

Psalm 84  Quam dilecta

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.

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.

Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.

Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way.

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.

They will climb from height to height, *
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.

LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
hearken, O God of Jacob.

Behold our defender, O God; *
and look upon the face of your Anointed.

For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

For the LORD God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;

No good thing will the LORD withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.

O LORD of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!

Almost on queue, the pilgrim in Psalm 84, makes Jeremiah’s vision of the procession through the wilderness a reality.  Here the pilgrim walks through the wilderness of Judea up to Mount Zion and the holy Temple.  The psychology of the pilgrim is made quite explicit as he longs and languishes for the courts of the Lord.  The Hebrew here is almost erotic in its force of description.  The longing is so great that the pilgrim actually envies the common birds who make a home in the crevices of the temple’s stonework.  In the environs of the temple, the pilgrim, and all who accompany him find refuge and protection.  This may serve as a commentary on the young Jesus who goes to the Temple with his parents, and there exhibits his own Wisdom and caring (see the Gospel for this day).

Breaking open Psalm 84
1.     Have you ever made a pilgrimage?
2.     To what place did you make your pilgrimage?
3.     How did it feel when you got there?

Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a

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, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 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, 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, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.

Christos Pantocrator from Hagia Sophia
St. Paul cuts to the chase in his introduction of his letter to the Ephesians.  He centers immediately, and squarely upon the role of Jesus, and how that role is reflected in the Gospel that Paul preaches.  In notes that will be reflected in St. John’s prologue, Paul sees Jesus as God’s blessing and Word, chosen from “before the foundation of the world.”  And to make the point clear, it is not only Jesus who is chosen, but we who are chosen as well, chosen “in Christ.”  Paul’s choice of words make his initial point clearer and clearer as he talks about “adoption”, “inheritance”, and “called”; descriptions of our participation in the Body of Christ.  Paul links our fate and destiny not to our own will and wishes, but to the one present at the beginning, the one who knows the plan of salvation.

Breaking open Ephesians:
  1. Think about the various “families” that you belong to.
  2. What are your families of “blood”?  What are your families of “choice”?
  3. How is the church a family to you?

Saint Luke 2:41-52

Now the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem every year for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 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. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 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." He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus become the pilgrims in Psalm 84, trekking down from Galilee and then up to Jerusalem, and the temple, as thousands had done before them.  Here the family observes what was customary amongst Jews at the time, a visit to the Temple at three festivals: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.  The law allowed for those who lived at some distance to only come to the Passover celebration.  That it was the Passover, and that he was still considered a child (12 years), and that he is found after “three days” links the boy Jesus to the Jesus of the Passion.  His maturity would be celebrated at a Passover in which we would be the sacrifice, and after which he would be absent for a three day period. 

This period in Jesus’ life, as Luke sees it, is not only a cusp the demarks childhood from manhood, but also as one that separates a seemingly normal family life, from a life that is totally connected to the God who is Father.  We see a Jesus who is compliant with and understands the Law, but also as one who will break the moulds.  His parents do not understand, especially his comment about his “Father’s house” (business).  Like the Mary of the nativity, all things return to normal – but she ponders. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What did your parents expect of you as a child?  As an adult?
  2. Which of your parent’s values did you keep, and which did you reject?
  3. How have you grown in wisdom?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

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.

23 December 2010

Saint Stephen - Deacon and Martyr - 26 December 2010

Jeremiah 26:1-9, 12-15
Psalm 31:1-5
Acts 6:8-7:2a, 51c-60
Saint Matthew 23:34-39


BACKGROUND – By chance, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord is followed by three significant commemorations that offer some level of commentary on what it means to celebrate Christ’s birth.  The days are: St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr (26 December), St. John, Apostle and Evangelist (27 December), and The Holy Innocents (28 December).  Some have spoken of these days as “three heavenly birthdays” following the birth of the Christ.  Others have commented on the days by noting that Stephen was a martyr “in will and in deed”, John was a martyr “in will but not in deed”, and the Innocents were martyrs “not in will, but in deed”.  The days point out the cost of honoring the Baby born in Bethlehem, and serve as a caution when Christmas is over sentimentalized.  There is little cost in these days if one honors the Christ, and perhaps we should be aware that there ought to be.  Stephen knew that cost, and freely accepted it.  In the account in Acts, Stephen mirrors the attitude of Jesus on the cross.  His service and his death points out to the Christmas Church what Dietrich Bonhöffer would call “the cost of discipleship.”

Isaiah Jeremiah 26:1-9, 12-15

At the beginning of the reign of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word came from the LORD: Thus says the LORD: Stand in the court of the LORD's house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the LORD; speak to them all the words that I command you; do not hold back a word. It may be that they will listen, all of them, and will turn from their evil way, that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings. You shall say to them: Thus says the LORD: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to heed the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently-- though you have not heeded-- then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.

The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, "You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, `This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant'?" And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.

Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, "It is the LORD who sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God, and the LORD will change his mind about the disaster that he has pronounced against you. But as for me, here I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the LORD sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears."

One can quickly see the wisdom behind this reading chosen for this day.  There is a cost to prophetic works.  Jeremiah’s difficult words, called “the Temple discourse” (7:1-15) result in the reaction of the powerful in Judah.  Jeremiah’s challenge to them about their faithfulness to Jahweh is met with threats of death and persecution.  Such attitudes on the part of Jerusalem’s elites will be noted by Jesus as well – Jerusalem will be known as the place that “kills the prophets” (Luke 13:34).  Jeremiah sees and understands what is going in in Judah, and in its attempts to find a political solution to its problems, rather than on returning to God.  So the prophet speaks harsh words, and the powerful utter threats.  There is nothing new under the sun.

Breaking open Isaiah
  1. When you think of prophets, what modern men and women come to mind?
  2. Have any been martyred or persecuted?
  3. Have you ever had to speak hard words to those around you?

Psalm 31:1-5  In te, Domine, speravi

In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame; *
deliver me in your righteousness.

Incline your ear to me; *
make haste to deliver me.

Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
for you are my crag and my stronghold; *
for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.

Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me, *
for you are my tower of strength.

Into your hands I commend my spirit, *
for you have redeemed me,
O LORD, O God of truth.

An Assyrian Siege

The writers of psalms were not ashamed to use other materials from psalms, and even other works.  In this work we have quotations from other psalms, from the Book of Jonah, and from Jeremiah as well. One can see the almost haphazard collection of verses, where in verse three, we have images of “castle” and “stronghold”, both military in nature.  The following verse, four, has an altogether different image, using a hunting scene as its base. As we read the lines of the psalm we can well imagine them in the mouth of Stephen as he faces his martyrdom.

Breaking open Psalm 31
1.     What are your favorite biblical passages?
2.     Could you string them together into a psalm?
3.     Would it be a psalm of lament, or of thanksgiving/

Acts 6:8-7:2a, 51c-60

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated some men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God." They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. They set up false witnesses who said, "This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us." And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Then the high priest asked him, "Are these things so?"

And Stephen replied: "Brothers and fathers, listen to me. You are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it."

When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he died.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke has a program in which Peter walks in the footsteps of Jesus, both miracles and statements, which is then followed by Paul (whom we meet late in this reading) doing much the same thing.  Luke also has a similar approach to Stephen, whose passion bears a strong resemblance to that of Jesus.  Appointed a deacon to help serve those who were needy among “the Hellenists”, Stephen serves as a model for all diaconal ministry.  The deacon, Stephen, certainly channels the risen Christ, and Stephen’s words of “wisdom and the Spirit” are not understood by those around him.  It is not his service that gets Stephen into trouble, but rather his preaching and confession of faith.  His death points out the difficulties in the Jerusalem church, as it struggles to organize itself for a mission to both Jew and Gentile.  Stephen becomes the protomartyr, the first of many martyrs to come. 

Breaking open Hebrews:
  1. What do you understand the work of a deacon to be?
  2. What is Stephen’s great vision in the reading?
  3. Have people ever reacted against you when you spoke as a Christian?

Saint Matthew 23:34-39

Jesus said, "Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, `Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

Most of this text is unique to Matthew, who structures a series of Invectives or Woes against the Scribes and Pharisees.  In doing so, he has Jesus respond to the entire spectrum of Judaism at the time.  This reading is largely from the Seventh Woe, which anticipates the suffering and death of Jesus, and by extension, of Stephen as well.  Especially moving in this reading is the comparison of Jesus to a mother hen.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Do you ever image Jesus as an angry man?
  2. What is his anger all about here?
  3. Are you ever an angry Christian?  Why or why not?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

21 December 2010

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ III - 25 December 2010

Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98
Hebrews 1:1-12
Saint John 1:1-14

St. Mary Major, Rome

BACKGROUND – Christmas.  There is an aspect to Christmas celebrations (although it is not only Christmas, but also Lent and Easter as well) that is largely lost to us in English-speaking America.  In the Lectionary there are provisions for readings for three separate services, which is a shadow of a more ancient practice surrounding the Nativity as celebrated in Rome.  The liturgy was not isolated to just one church, but in fact moved from one stational church to another, the faithful following in procession from one mass to another.  The first mass was celebrated at St. Mary Major in Rome, followed by a celebration at the Byzantine court on the Palatine, and finally at The Basilica of St. Peters.  In this way the Roman Church attempted to reflect the ancient practice of the Church in Palestine, where the first mass was at the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, and a second mass at Jerusalem.  The Las Posadas celebrations of Mexico certainly replicate the processional nature of Christmas worship, but their intent is to reflect May and Joseph searching for an Inn. 

Isaiah 52:7-10

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."
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.
Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the LORD has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
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.

The Decree Cylinder of Cyrus the Great

This second Isaiah invites us to witness a scene of great joy.  All along the mountain ridge that runs between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, Isaiah pictures messengers running south to a ruined Jerusalem.  Their shouts are heard by the sentinels standing on the ruined walls.  The message is one of peace, and the restoration of Zion.  Sometime around 536 BCE, Cyrus the Great, King of Persia decreed the release of captive peoples.  In a cylinder scroll detailing the decree, the great kings says, “I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings.”  Second Isaiah saw in this decree the God of Israel active through the acts of human beings – he saw a promise fulfilled.  God was no longer the one who had abandoned the chosen people, but now a God who raises up the old walls of Jerusalem, and makes the people glad with his restoration of the ancient city.   The reading as a part of the Nativity celebrations would certainly be reflective of the Christian messenger, St. John the Baptist; and the joy a reflection of all those that celebrate Christ’s birth.

Breaking open Isaiah
  1. Is there an anticipation when you get a real letter in the mail?
  2. When you receive a particularly good message from some one how do you feel about them?
  3. What are your feelings when you return from home after a long absence?

Psalm 98  Cantate Domino

Sing to the LORD a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.

With his right hand and his holy arm *
has he won for himself the victory.

The LORD has made known his victory; *
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel, *
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands; *
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

Sing to the LORD with the harp, *
with the harp and the voice of song.

With trumpets and the sound of the horn *
shout with joy before the King, the LORD.

Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
the lands and those who dwell therein.

Let the rivers clap their hands, *
and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,
when he comes to judge the earth.

In righteousness shall he judge the world *
and the peoples with equity.

This psalm is a celebration of a great victory – although the Hebrew root can also mean “rescue”, and it is that word that seems appropriate here.  The preceding reading from Second Isaiah is really about a God who rescues, who brings back a people from harm and destruction.  The psalm celebrates a similar notion, but unlike Isaiah, the celebration extends to the whole of creation.  In a crescendo of sound the rejoicing moves from all the lands, to musical instruments, to the seas (which in the Hebrew mind was a monster that God had conquered) to rivers and hills.  At the center of all that cosmic praise stands the God that will judge the world with righteousness, and equity.  This reading represents the hopes of those who celebrate the birth of Jesus – finding in him a similar rescue.

Breaking open Psalm 98
1.     Have you ever been rescued?  From what?
2.     What were the emotions that you had about that?
3.     What role does nature play in your prayer and worship life?

Hebrews 1:1-12

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 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. 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, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
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"?
And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
"Let all God's angels worship him."
Of the angels he says,
"He makes his angels winds,
and his servants flames of fire."
But of the Son he says,
"Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions."
"In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like clothing;
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 Adoration of the Mystic Lamb

We don’t know who the author of the Letter to the Hebrews was, but his program is clear and evident.  Jesus is the great high priest, and through a series of comparisons, the author points out to his largely Jewish-Christian audience how Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the promises.  He is clear that promises were made and revealed in “many and various ways.”  The third and fourth verses may be the remnants of an ancient liturgical hymn that the author has used to bolster his arguments and comparisons.  What follows, then, are a series of seven quotes (Psalm 2:7, II Samuel 7:14, Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 97:7, Psalm 104:4, Psalm 45:7-8, Psalm 102:26-28, and Psalm 110) from the Hebrew Scriptures that underscore Jesus’ enthronement as a messianic king.  That Jesus is superior to the angels is a curious tack, in that the notion of angels was a relatively recent addition to the Hebrew Scriptures, and served as a bone of contention between the Pharisees (pro) and the Sadducees (con).  The author is clear, however, Jesus is the best expression of the hopes of the prophets.
Breaking open Hebrews:
  1. In what various ways has God spoken to you in your life?
  2. How has Jesus served as a creator in your life?
  3. How does Jesus make things new for you, how does he rule over them?

Saint John 1:1-4

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

William Blake, The Ancient of Days

In this elegant and stunning prologue, St. John introduces us to his theological ideas about Jesus.  Although the Prologue (1:1-18) may have existed much earlier as a separate liturgical piece, John stamps it with his own theological stance.  It begins with his “genealogy”, but not of the human kind.  These are divine generations with Jesus appearing as the Logos, the very Word (breath) of God.  It is a rewriting of the creation story, placing Jesus at the beginning and at the end of time itself.  The book is the last of the Gospels written (at the end of the first century CE) and reflects and reflects upon the ministry of St. John the Baptist.  These verses cut through the sentimentality that often accompanies both the narratives of Luke and Matthew.  This is no babe lying in a manger.  John’s images (signs) of Jesus are of power, and creative might.  They are images, he readily admits, that are often misunderstood or dismissed.  That, however, is the purpose of his Gospel, a “Book of Signs” that deciphers the mystery and ministry of Jesus. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What is your reaction to the notion that God is your very breath?
  2. What do you know about John the Baptist?  What do you think about him and his role in the Christmas story?
  3. What does it mean to you to hear “and the word was made flesh”?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

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.