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.


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