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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Christmas - Set I - December 25, 2013



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 Venerable Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. 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 to 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 9:2-7

In the preceding verse, Isaiah has recalled “the former time” (v. 1) when the northern territories, Zebulun and Naphtali, were conquered by the Assyrians. But, he writes, “in the latter time” God will return these lands to Israel: “he will make glorious [i.e. honour] ... Galilee”. Israel, the northern kingdom, and Syria attacked Judah, the southern kingdom, in an attempt to secure Judah’s help in throwing off Assyrian domination, but (against Isaiah’s advice) King Ahaz of Judah formed an alliance with Assyria. The result was that Assyria annexed Zebulun and Naphtali (including Galilee) and Judah paid a hefty annual tribute to Assyria. Judah also acquiesced to some Assyrian religious practices.

In its historical context, today’s reading may relate to the birth of Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah. Good things were expected of him; he was expected to be the light at the end of the tunnel; but Hezekiah did not fulfill the expectations expressed here. Isaiah later ( 11:1-9) transfers his hopes to a future, undefined, time.

Vv. 1-4 foresee Ahaz’s heir restoring the northern territories. As when Gideon led the people of Israel to defeat the Midianites (v. 4), a vastly superior force, with God’s help (Judges 7:15-25), the people will be freed from Assyrian oppression. Gideon’s war was a holy one, and so will be the one with the Assyrians; in a holy war, the victor takes no bounty, so the spoils of war will be “burned” (v. 5). Then v. 6: the child, born to “us” (Judah), is a gift from God, powerful (“authority rests upon his shoulders”), a counsellor himself (so he will not be led astray as Ahaz was – by false counsellors), a caring and loving father to his people, and a king who brings peace and prosperity (as promised by God to David in 2 Samuel 7:16.) V. 7 reaffirms God’s covenant with David regarding his dynasty. This kingdom will, through God’s “zeal”, be eternally based on justice and godliness. To us, Christ fulfills this promise.


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 96

This psalm celebrates God’s kingship. The singing of a “new” song signifies the start of a new era. (The Ark received a new cart for its journey to Jerusalem.) All peoples are invited to “sing to the Lord” and to share in God’s kingship (v. 10a). Vv. 1-3 are a summons to worship. In vv. 4-5, God is more to be “revered” than other gods; in fact, all other gods are just idols; it is God who is creator. Then v. 8: recognize him as the supreme God! He is to be held in awe by all humanity (v. 9b). Then vv. 11-12: let the whole universe rejoice in God, now and when he comes as judge. His basis for judgement of all people will be godliness (“righteousness”, v. 13) and truth.


Titus

In the letter to the Galatians and in 2 Corinthians, Titus is mentioned as Paul's companion. The author writes to Titus, giving instructions for the management of new churches in Crete. But was the author Paul, or was the book written in his name, out of respect for him and his theology? Titus, 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy, together known as the Pastoral Epistles, are markedly different in vocabulary and literary style from epistles we know to be Paul's. They also present a more institutionalized church. For these reasons, most scholars believe that the Pastorals written a generation or so later than the letters we are sure are Pauline.


Titus 2:11-14

In v. 1, the author has admonished his readers to “teach what is consistent with sound doctrine.” They are to teach and practice good ethical behaviour, proper living in their life setting, the household, “so that the word of God may not be discredited” (v. 5).

How are they (and we) to do this? “The grace of God” (v. 11), personified in Christ, has come to bring salvation to all people, to enable us to renounce what is immoral, and to live virtuous lives. (God achieves for the faithful “training” (v. 12), true education – something of great value in Greco-Roman society.) We are to live virtuously while we await the second coming of Christ, who is God and Saviour (v. 13). Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was so that we might be cleansed from sin, be redeemed from slavery to sin to forgiveness of sins, be made godly, and be people who live ethically (“zealous for good deeds”, v. 14).


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 2:1-14,(15-20)

Luke is concerned to place Jesus in the time-line of history, as a real human being. We know of Augustus’ attempt to clean up the taxation system: as well as requiring more reasonable practices of tax collectors, he introduced a truly equitable tax: a poll-tax. Every 14 years, a census was held: people were required to present themselves in their ancestral towns, to register for the tax. Records are fragmentary but we do know that a census was held by “Quirinius” (v. 2) of Syria in 6-7 AD. Perhaps Judea was included in a census of 8-7 BC, “the first registration”. From Matthew 2:16, we know that Herod the Great sought to kill Jesus by slaughtering all children aged two or less. Because Herod died in 4 BC, Jesus was born no later than 6 BC. The dates agree. Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem, the city of David, to “to be registered” (v. 5). Jesus is born in Bethlehem in fulfilment of the prophecy of Micah 5:2-5: a shepherd-king is to be born there.

In v. 7, Jesus is treated like any other newborn of the time: he is wrapped in cloths , but there may be a message in his being born in “a manger”: animals normally fed from it; Jesus is sustenance for the world. In vv. 8-14, we learn the meaning of Jesus’ birth. Those who hear the pronouncement by the angel are “shepherds” (v. 8), lowly people. David too was a shepherd; in Luke, Jesus comes to the poor, the lowly. The message of Christ’s birth is indeed a joyful one – for all.

V. 11 mentions our great claims as to who Jesus is: “Saviour”, “Messiah” and “Lord”. As “Saviour”, he restores us to wholeness, rescues us from sin and alienation from God. In Jesus, God is present with sinners and saves us from destructive self-isolation to union with him, in a nurturing community. As “Messiah”, he inaugurates the era of heavenly peace: the end-time has begun. As “Lord”, he is God come in human form. The kingdom is for all those whom God has chosen (v. 14b). In vv. 15-20 the shepherds visit Jesus, Mary and Joseph. They tell them and many others the good news the angels have told them.

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