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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

First Sunday after Christmas - December 28, 2008



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures

Saint Dominic
contemplating the Scriptures

Comments have been prepared by Chris Haslam using reputable commentaries, and checked for accuracy by the Rev'd Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Montreal. While not intended to be exhaustive, they are an aid to reading the Scriptures with greater understanding.

Comments are best read with the lessons.

Feedback is always welcome.


Lessons for this week from the Vanderbilt University web site

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Isaiah

This book can be divided into two (and possibly three) parts. Chapters 1 to 39 were written before the exile, from about 740 BC to about 700 BC. These were difficult times for the southern kingdom, Judah: a disastrous war was fought with Syria; the Assyrians conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, in 723 BC, and threatened Judah. Isaiah saw the cause of these events as social injustice, which he condemned, and against which he fought valiantly. Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile. Some scholars consider that Chapters 56 to 66 form a third part of the book, written after the return to the Promised Land. These chapters speak of hope and despair; they berate the people for their sin, for worshipping other gods. Like Second Isaiah, this part speaks of the hope that God will soon restore Jerusalem to its former glory and make a new home for all peoples.


Isaiah 61:10-62:3

The prophet identifies himself with Jerusalem, with the people of Israel now back in their homeland. The people rejoice greatly, for God will save the city and its inhabitants. “Garments of salvation” and “robe of righteousness” probably refer to the garb of priests, so are reminders that Jerusalem is a holy city. The bridegroom’s “garland” is a symbol of strength, and the bride’s “jewels” symbolize beauty. Israel will be married to God. Once adulterous, she is restored to the state God intended. That God will rescue his people is as certain as new growth in the Spring, but God will continue to be the source of good (godly) life (“righteousness and praise”, 61:11). Either “all the nations” will see God’s action, or will all have the opportunity to join in receiving it.

After a silence of many years, a time when the people heard nothing from him, God will speak (62:1). He will establish the merit (“vindication”) of Israel as suddenly as “the dawn” comes in the desert. Her redemption will come rapidly. All peoples will see the reinstatement of Israel to God’s favour; all rulers will see the power of God (“glory”), (62:2); God will call Israel by a “new name”, indicating her change in status. To God, Israel shall be a “crown” (62:3) and a “royal diadem”: a royal house, a kingdom under him.


Psalms

Psalms is a collection of collections. The psalms were written over many centuries, stretching from the days of Solomon's temple (about 950 BC) to after the Exile (about 350 BC.) Psalms are of five types: hymns of praise, laments, thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, and wisdom psalms. Within the book, there are five "books"; there is a doxology ("Blessed be ... Amen and Amen") at the end of each book.


Psalm 148

The psalter ends with five hallelujah (“Praise the LORD”) psalms, of which this is one. In vv. 1-6 the psalmist invites the heavens to praise God, then in vv. 7-12 he bids all on the earth to do so. Even inanimate objects (e.g. “sun and moon”, v. 3) are to praise him. (Ancient cosmology held that the sun, moon and stars travelled on concentric hemispheres above the earth, and above them was God’s storehouse of “waters above the heavens” (v. 4), the source of rain and snow.) God commanded that the heavens be created (v. 5). The movement of the celestial bodies are per an everlasting law (v. 6). The heavens shall praise him for creating them and making their existence permanent. In vv. 7-12, the list of created things proceeds from the lowest forms (“sea monsters”) to the highest, humans. The “wind” (v. 8, Hebrew: ruah) does God’s will; ruah also means spirit. In v. 11, “all peoples” are invited to praise the Lord.


Galatians

There were some teachers in Galatia who claimed that a convert to Christianity must first embrace Judaism, that a Christian must observe Mosaic law. Paul wrote this letter to rebut this argument, to insist that one comes into union with God through faith in Christ, and not through ritual observances. This book is a charter of Christian liberty; it was instrumental in transforming Christianity from a sect of Judaism into a world religion. Galatia is in central Turkey, and was settled soon after 300 BC by Celts. In 25 BC, the province of Galatia was extended southwards. (Modern-day Ankara is in Galatia.)


Galatians 4:4-7

Some teachers in Galatia have claimed that a Christian must first embrace Judaism, observing Mosaic law. Paul wrote this letter to rebut this argument, to insist that one comes into union with God through faith in Christ, and not through ritual observances.

In vv. 1-3, he takes the example of an orphaned boy of minor age, an heir: although he owns his dead father’s property, it remains under the control of trustees until the date his father set (per Palestinian practice.) He cannot speak or act on his own behalf. So it is with Paul and his readers: before “we” accepted Christ, we had no power to speak or act, being slaves to spiritual elements, celestial beings that control the physical elements of the universe.

But, at the time our Father set (“fullness of time”, v. 4), “God sent his Son”, born a human (“of a woman”), indeed a Jew (“under the law”). God sent him so that we Jewish Christians might be adopted as God’s children, be made part of him. Then v. 6: being his children, he sent the “Spirit of his Son”, God’s Spirit, to empower us to call him Father. (“Abba”, v. 6, is Aramaic for father. Jesus prayed “Abba, ...” in the Garden of Gethsemane: see Mark 14:36.) So, v. 7, you are free from the obligations of Mosaic law, and being his child makes you an heir to God’s kingdom, through Christ.

In vv. 8-9, Paul questions how, now that God has chosen them to know him, can they go back to spiritual elements. (Contemporary Jewish belief was that at Mount Sinai the Law was spoken by angels, celestial beings, spiritual elements.) How can they want to be enslaved again?


Symbol of St Luke

Luke

Three gospels in the New Testament offer similar portraits of the life of Jesus; Luke is the third of them. Its author, traditionally Luke the physician who accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys, draws on three sources: Mark (via Matthew), a collection of sayings (known as Q for Quelle, German for source) and his own source. It is a gospel that emphasizes God's love for the poor, the disadvantaged, minorities, outcasts, sinners and lepers. Women play a more prominent part than in the other gospels. Luke never uses Semitic words; this is one argument for thinking that he wrote primarily for Gentiles.


Luke 2:22-40

Jesus has been circumcised, marking him as a member of God’s chosen people, Israel, through whom world salvation was to be achieved. After childbirth, it was 40 days before a mother could be purified before a priest in the Temple, so it is at least that long since Jesus’ birth. She was expected to offer a lamb, along with a turtledove or a pigeon; if she were poor (as Mary is), two turledoves or pigeons sufficed. Exodus 13:1-2 required that every firstborn boy be consecrated to God. Jesus’ presentation in the Temple is like Samuel’s. Jesus and his family fulfil the requirements of Mosaic law.

Simeon looks forward to the coming of the Messiah to restore Israel to favour with God (“the consolation of Israel”, v. 25). The Spirit has told him that he will see the Christ before he dies (v.26). Simeon’s words in vv. 29-32 are known as the Nunc Dimittis, from the first words in Latin. He begins by saying that God is setting him free, as a slave is granted liberty. He is now free to die (for the Spirit’s revelation to him is now fulfilled), and Israel is free of bondage. God has saved Israel, as he promised to “all peoples”; his salvation is for Gentiles too. In v. 33, Joseph is Jesus’ legal father. Simeon prophesies in vv. 34-35 through the Spirit (v. 25). Jesus is destined for the death and resurrection (“falling” and “rising”) of many; he will meet opposition, and will cause many to think deeply about him. Mary too will need to decide for or against Christ (“own soul”, v. 35). Simeon and Anna together stand before God; to Luke, men and women are equal in God’s eyes. Anna praises God, and tells many the meaning of Jesus, as Simeon has prophesied. Like Samuel, “the favour of God was upon him” (v. 40).

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