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Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Christmas - Set II - 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 62:6-12

The people of Israel have returned to Jerusalem, to a ravished land (although some commentators date this passage to the Exile in Babylon). The people feel that God has ceased to care for them. In vv. 1-6 the prophet writes of Jerusalem rising out of the ashes of destruction. He foretells a new Jerusalem, increased fidelity to God, a new status for the people, everlasting covenant with him, recognition by all peoples that God has blessed Israel, and a new marriage between God and his people.

Now the prophet speaks of “sentinels”, watchmen on the walls, whose role is no longer to warn of approaching enemies, but rather to keep reminding God of his promises until he “establishes Jerusalem and makes it renowned throughout the earth” (v. 7). God has promised truly (“by his right hand”, v. 8) and in his power (“mighty arm”) that he will no longer give their harvests to their enemies (as punishment for the disobedience of Israel.) (Leviticus 26:14-16 says: “-If you will not obey me ... you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies will eat it.” In Exodus 6:6, when God asked Moses to lead the Exodus, he said “ -I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement.”.)

Instead, in the new Jerusalem, harvests will be theirs and they will be joyful and praise the Lord for them. It will be like an everlasting Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, the most joyous festival of the year. (Tabernacles (booths) were set up in the fields during harvest, so Sukkot is like Harvest Thanksgiving.)

The last three verses recall the excitement of Isaiah 40:1-11, “-Comfort, O comfort my people”: “prepare the way” (vv. 10-12), “lift up an ensign”. Salvation (restoration) will come; there will be compensation (“recompense”) for suffering. V. 12 lists the titles of the new Jerusalem. No longer will the people feel forsaken by their God, because he will again seek them out. Sorrowing will give way to salvation. God will be seen to love Israel again.


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 97

This is a hymn celebrating God’s kingship. It emphasizes God’s supremacy as Lord of the earth. “The Lord is king”, i.e. he has won the battle for world kingship over the forces of chaos. May the whole earth rejoice! Vv. 2-5 are a theophany, a description of how God has appeared as he has visited earth: in a cloud and in a burning bush during the Exodus, etc. He rules with righteousness and justice. He is “Lord of all the earth” (v. 5).

Note the three occurrences of the word “all” in vv. 6-9, emphasizing God’s omnipotence. V. 7a says that those who worship other gods (“images”, “idols”) will realize their error. Other gods, recognize God’s supremacy! Then v. 8: the people of Israel rejoice in his justice. Vv. 10-12 tell us the kind of rule God exercises. Those who “hate evil” are faithful to him; he delivers them from the ways of those opposed to him, and escape their oppression. The righteous, the godly, are joyful and “give thanks” to him, praise him.


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 3:4-7

In vv. 1-3, Titus is asked to remind the members of the Christian community of their duties within society: obey civil authorities, be ready to perform good works, speak evil of no one, avoid quarrelling, be gentle, and show courtesy – to all people. Remind them that they were once “led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures”, as non-believers are.

Now the author tells them why. When Jesus, who exhibited these fine qualities, came, “he saved us” (v. 5), not because we had done good (godly) things, but due to his compassion. He restored our relationship with God (which we had lost through failing to follow God’s ways), through “the water of rebirth” (v. 5), (i.e. baptism, which washes away sin and is the start of a new era in our lives) and through the Holy Spirit. This was God’s freely-given gift (“grace”, v. 7). Why did Christ do this? So that we might be adopted by God (“heirs”), to share in his kingdom for ever.


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:(1-7),8-20

In vv. 1-7, Joseph and Mary have travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to be registered as resident aliens, not being Roman citizens. Joseph being descended from David, they had to appear in the city of David, Bethlehem. While they were there, staying in the barn on the lower floor of the inn, Jesus was born in a manger. He was wrapped in cloths, as was any infant of the time.

In vv. 8-14, we learn the meaning of Jesus’ birth. Those who hear the pronouncement by the angel are shepherds, 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 from 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).

The shepherds, rough, unkempt and ritually unclean, respond eagerly to the news, and find Joseph and Mary, and Jesus lying in the manger (or feed-trough.) (Jesus is for all people, and is their sustenance.) They tell Mary and Joseph what the angel has told them: amazing news! People expected a Messiah to appear at some distant time, but not now. Mary (v. 19) reflects on “these words” deeply, struggling with them in the context of her faith.

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