The Second Sunday after Christmas, 3 January 2016

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
St. Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
St. Luke 2:41-52
St. Matthew 2:1-12 see The Epiphany of Our Lord

Background: A Rant (Of Sorts)

The Lectionary for today represents the demise of the traditional holy days in our time. And this has been with us for some time. For example the Gospel readings for this day offer three options: The Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23), Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52), and finally, The Visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12).  I wish that the framers of the lectionary had stuck to the three-year cycle even on these days. That way we could have devoted ourselves to Luke in this cycle, and left Matthew for year A. The anticipatory reading of the Visit of the Magi discourages the celebration of the Epiphany, and diminishes the richness of the Christmas Season, to my way of thinking. In the Lutheran Lectionary (slavishly following the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), Christmas 1 has a deferent reading for each of the cycles, and on Christmas 2 has the reading from the Prologue to John (although it does truncate the reading to 1:10-18, an addition of four verses to the Christmass III reading. It all seems a bit of a hodgepodge in the exclusively Episcopal readings for this day. One wonders what the wisdom was in changing course at this point. I will reserve commentary on the Epiphany Gospel to that day’s edition of this blog.

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 is theatre, perhaps in the Greek sense. The Oracle addresses the people of Israel (verses 7-9) and then a silent chorus of on-looking nations (10-12), with a summarization at the end (13-14). The conundrum is whether the verses inviting praise are YHWH’s request for forbearance, or praise as a response to God’s deliverance. The oracle of the Lord makes clear what is needed in either situation in a list worthy of Paul – Sing aloud, raise shouts, proclaim, give praise, say. The dual purpose is reflected in the next verse where we hear the words, “Save, O Lord, your people” and “See, I am going to bring…and gather.” There are qualifications, however. It is not the pure-bred that God seeks here, but a wider gathering (perhaps looking ahead to the nations that are observing all of this.) There is another of list – those to be gathered – “the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together.” It is a spectrum of those to be saved, the ones who are debilitated in some way, and those who represent the future of the community.

In case the observing nations do not understand what they are witnessing the oracle of the Lord explains about the ransoming of Jacob, and the redemption of the people. The metaphor is that of a watered garden, lush, abundant and happy. There is no response from the nations – they are to see and to learn, to hear and to understand. The doormat of welcome is well laid out, however, and this welcome will be developed further in Jeremiah’s writing. The long and the short of it is well said in this phrase, “and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty.”

Breaking open Jeremiah:
  1. What does the world see when it looks at religion?
  2. What do you see when you look at Christianity?
  3. What do others see in your religious life?

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!

The connections between these readings may be strong, loose, or non-existent, however the connection between the psalm and the first reading seems to be a strong one. If one can see through the eyes of the people whom Jeremiah addresses, one can see in this psalm the love of Jerusalem that was a part of those whose lives were lived there. Implied, of course, is the centrality and meaning of the Temple. Like the oracle in Jeremiah, all are gathered here – bird and swallow along with the faithful. Later in verses 7 and 8 we have similar images of rain and blessings and the pilgrims who make their way to the holy city. In this Jerusalem, however, the king is still strong and in control. The psalmist uses several descriptive phrases to describe his power – Defender and Anointed – kingship is a part of God’s plan and protection of the people. The psalmist compares several possibilities – living in the courts of the Lord, living in my own chamber, or living in the tents of the wicked. Like the Jeremiah text, the psalmist implies the request for a choice.

Breaking open Psalm 84
  1. What do you love about being in your church?
  2. How does that translate into the reality of your life?
  3. Is there a “church space” in your home?

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.

This reading begins with a blessing and ends with a thanksgiving. The blessing is addressed to God, who in turn has blessed the Ephesians with the Son, Jesus, the Christ. We are assured that such blessings and such presence are not a last minute thought but rather planned for, “before the foundation of the world.” The action verbs, destined, and adopted, give the intent of the eternal plan. It is God’s will that in God’s gift to us of the Beloved, we are also beloved.

The thanksgiving is for those who have accepted this new distinction, and who hold to the faith that Jesus calls them to. Paul wishes further gifts, wisdom, revelation, and hope ought to accompany the further knowing of this Son of God.

Breaking open Ephesians:
  1. For what do you give thanks during this past year?
  2. How have you been blessed in this past year?
  3. How are you adopted by God? To what are destined?

St. Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

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." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 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."

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "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." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 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. 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."

Matthew has his own program and agenda in telling us of the birth of the Messiah, and in its telling he uses the Old Testament story of Joseph. Thus this reading is in a sense a reverse of the Salvation History stories of Israel, and then a repeat. The wise ones are the fulfillment of the ancient promises (see Isaiah 60:1-7) where peoples from the East come to do “homage” or “worship.” All of this is seen as a threat to the powers that be, and the magi are quickly shunted home to avoid a conversation with Herod. There are other prophesies to be fulfilled here, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” And thus the story continues, but with new players and new promises.


St. Luke 2:41-52

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.

In Luke’s birth narrative there are four parallel stages that are shared between the Baptist and Jesus: An annunciation (to Zechariah, to Mary, and to the Shepherds), Birth and Circumcision, Prophetic Recognition (Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, and Anna), and finally Growth and Call. This Gospel reading represents the latter, where Jesus, accompanying his parents to Jerusalem and the Temple exhibits his Knowledge and his sense of Call. Earlier visions of Mary see her acceptance of what God has called her to do, her pondering over the events surrounding his birth, and now she seems at odds with it all. Perhaps Luke has Mary represent every believer as the move from disbelief to belief and all points in between, becomes a good description of what we all have experience.

St. Matthew 2:1-12

See the entry for The Epiphany.

Breaking open the Gospels:
  1. Which of these Gospels do you like best, and why?
  2. What point is Matthew making in the story of the Flight into Egypt?
  3. What do you think of Jesus’ behavior over against his parents, in Luke?
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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller


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