December Commentaries

 

 

Christmas Day (25 December)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 52: 7-10

 

In the really olden days, when kings went out to war, the status of battles was reported to the king’s cities by runners. Certain runners were used to carry good news, other runners to carry bad news. The watchmen on the towers of the cities could tell what the news was in advance simply by recognizing how the runner ran. Each runner seemed to run in a characteristic fashion.

In today’s reading, we discover that the watchmen have spotted the runner and recognized what kind of news he brings. It is

good news
—news of
peace, happiness, and salvation —news that their king reigns, he was victorious.

As a consequence, the watchmen shout, they sing for joy, for they see the return of their Lord. In this case, it is because the Lord Himself has comforted his people by redeeming them and extending salvation to all the peoples.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 1: 1-6 (7-12)

 

The writer of the book of Hebrews (who is unknown) starts his letter by establishing that Jesus is God Himself. He then starts to characterize Jesus, as follows:

—God previously spoke to His people through prophets, but now, in these last days (presumably the New Testament period), He has revealed Himself through His Son.

—This Son is the heir of all things and was the person through whom the Father created the world.

—This Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact revelation of His nature.

—This Son still upholds the universe by the word of his power. 

—This Son, after making purification for our sins, sat down at the Father’s right hand.

—This Son is superior to angels; and, being God, receives the worship of angels.

Later in this chapter, the writer notes that God's Son’s throne is eternal, His scepter is uprightness, and He loves righteousness and hates wickedness. In addition, He laid the foundation of the earth, and He made the heavens. Finally, he notes that the Son does not change, and His years will last forever.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 1: 1-14 (15-18)

St. John, Jesus’ closest disciple, is also writing to his audience in order to establish who Jesus really is. After we separate out St. John’s remarks about John the Baptist, we are left with his description of Jesus:

—He is the Word of God,
—This Word of God was with God from the beginning (i.e., forever),
—This Word
is God,
—This Word made
anything and everything that was ever made (created),

—In This Word is life, and this life is the light of men,
—Darkness cannot overcome this light,
—This Light came into the world that He created, yet neither the people 
He created nor the people He had chosen recognized or received Him,

—Those few who did receive Him by believing in Him were given the right to become Children of God. This birth was not a human but a spiritual birth, being of God, and

This Word took on human flesh and lived among humans, His glory

being that of the only Son of God the Father, full of grace and truth.

St. John then goes on to note that those who believe in Him receive grace after grace. Whereas the Law came through Moses, grace, and truth came through the Word, Jesus Christ, who made God the Father known to us. 

 

 

The Nativity of Our Lord—Christmas Eve (24 December)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 7: 10-14

 

King Ahaz of Judah, the subject of this evening’s lesson, was the son of the righteous King Jotham. King Ahaz, who started to rule around 740 B.C., unfortunately, did not follow in his father’s footsteps: not only did he follow the idolatress worship of the kings of Israel, but he also sacrificed his son by burning him alive. When God allowed the kings of Syria and Israel to attack him, he and his people began to be fearful. It was at this point that God sent Isaiah to King Ahaz to tell him that God would fight for him and defeat these two armies— another example of God reaching out to this ungodly king in order to encourage him to repent. To reassure him even more, God asks King Ahaz to ask for a signanything he wanted—that God should do to convince him that God would indeed defeat the armies of Israel and Syria. Amazingly, King Ahaz refuses! It is then that God says that He will provide a sign—a sign for all people: a virgin will conceive and bear a son who will deliver all people from their slave master— sin, thereby bringing freedom that had not been experienced even during the days of Kings David and Solomon. Furthermore, the name of this son would be Immanuel, meaning God with us!

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 John 4: 7-16

 

St. John is addressing this letter most likely to the Gentile Christians in Asia minor. His themes include adhering to the faith, maintaining a correct view of our spiritual selves, discerning the anti-Christ in its various forms when it presents itself, abiding in God, and loving one another. In this evening’s lesson, he expands on this love, noting that since God loves us, we ought to love one another. So if we love one another, that is evidence that God abides in us. However, if we do not love one another, that is evidence that we do not love God.

Then St. John notes that our testimony is that God sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. And whoever acknowledges that Jesus is this Savior, God abides in him/her and he/she abides in God. This then leads to the bottom line: Since God is love, whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him/her, giving him/her confidence for Judgment Day.

 

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 1: 18-25

 

In this reading, St. Matthew records the circumstances that result in the fulfillment of the prophecy spoken by God through Isaiah, as just read in our Old Testament Lesson. But as we read this series of events, we need to be aware that God chose the two people that were to be the human parents of his Son very carefully. These two people trusted God implicitly. How so? Recall that Mary is engaged to Joseph; in God’s eyes, that meant that they were already married but without consummation of the marriage. If someone wanted to break an engagement, a divorce would be required. But when Mary consented to become pregnant by the Holy Spirit, she technically could be considered an adulterous woman—unless she had been raped out in the country where no one would have heard her cries for help (Deuteronomy 22:25-27). So these are the possibilities that would be running through Joseph’s mind when he learns that Mary is pregnant. Joseph could have assumed a self-righteous stance and called for Mary’s stoning. But instead, he just plans to divorce her quietly without making Mary an example.

That is until one of God’s angels appears on the scene. The angel tells Joseph not to hesitate in taking Mary as his wife and makes Joseph aware that Mary’s pregnancy is from the Holy Spirit. In addition, the child is to be called “Jesus” because he will save his people from their sins, i.e., is the Messiah. Without registering a single doubt, Joseph proceeds to take Mary as his wife (i.e., brings her home to his house and starts living with her) but without having intercourse with her until after she has given birth and has completed the days of her purification (see St. Simeon’s Day, 2 February). 

 

 

The Holy Innocents, Martyrs (28 December)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 15-17

 

Jeremiah was one of God’s prophets who ministered in the period immediately before the Babylonian Captivity of the Southern Kingdom, or Judah. His call to the people of Judah to repent, with the exception of two people recorded for us, fell on deaf ears. In fact, he faced fierce opposition throughout his ministry. The place and manner of his death are not known.

In today’s reading, his message holds out the promise of hope and a future for those who are experiencing great grief. In particular, in contrast to the scene of Rachel (the favorite wife of Jacob, who died near Ramah, just north of Jerusalem) crying over her dead children, God promises that the grieving will be rewarded for their work, the captives will return from their captivity, Rachel’s future will be filled with hope, and her children will return to their own land. God was already preparing the people of Judah for the captivity that lay ahead.

But as we will see in our gospel lesson for today, this verse is a prediction of what happens when Herod’s troops descend on Bethlehem (just south of Jerusalem) to slaughter the children under two years of age. There, too, young mothers will cry over their dead children. But there also, God promises the same hope for a future, as Jesus makes his escape with Joseph and Mary so that later, according to God’s plan and timetable, Jesus’ redemptive act will make possible eternal life to all who will believe.

Bottom Line: Bad things do happen to good people. As Christians, we need to remember that whatever happens to us is used by God to achieve his ultimate plan. God’s promise to us is his eternal reward as well as hope for a future.

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Epistle Lesson: Revelation 14: 1-5

 

In chapter 13 of this book, St. John records his observation of a beast rising out of the sea, representing political kingdoms and leaders aligned with Satan to get control of all mankind. He then sees another beast arising from the earth, representing all manner of false gods and religions, to deceive all of mankind into worshipping anything or anyone but Jesus. And these two beasts are seen to work together to achieve Satan’s ends.

But in this chapter, St. John’s attention is turned to heaven, where he sees 144,00 “virgins” (i.e., those declared righteous by God because they have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, hence are without sin) singing a new song in praise of God. By numerology, this number represents the complete (10 X 10 X 10 = 1,000) assembly of all Old Testament (12) and New Testament (12) believers, thus 12 X 12 X !,000 = 144,000. Note that Mt. Zion is another name for where God dwells.

Thus in contrast to the satanic characters and events that take place as described in chapter 13, chapter 14 describes the hope and rewards awaiting believers in Christ Jesus.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 2: 13-18

 

It is approximately two years since Jesus was born. Joseph and Mary have stayed in Bethlehem, where Joseph has set up shop. Suddenly they are visited by sages from the east, who worship the young Jesus and present to him precious gifts. How did they know where to find Jesus? A star led them west to Jerusalem, where they got directions from King Herod as to where the King of the Jews was to be born. And then they find the same star now leading them south to the home that Mary and Joseph have in Bethlehem.

But then God directs the sages to return home by a different route, to avoid informing King Herod exactly where this new king is located. At the same time, God appears to Joseph in a dream, ordering him to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod, which Joseph does immediately.

In the meantime, when King Herod discovers that the sages have avoided him, his paranoia about others coveting his kingship roars into overdrive. Since his paranoia allowed him to murder his mother and some of his brothers, he had no reservations about killing children age two and under in Bethlehem, which he orders his troops to do. Thus comes true the prophecy of Jeremiah, heard in our Old Testament Lesson. 

 

 

Circumcision and Name of Jesus (1 January)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Numbers 6: 22-27

 

The book of Numbers is a potpourri of instructions to the Children of Israel from God through Moses as they traveled from Egypt through the wilderness. In today’s lesson, God instructs the priests Aaron and his sons on how to bless the people. The blessing is known as the Benediction and is the one that our pastor says at the close of most liturgical services. Let’s look at each phrase.

“bless you and keep you:”
This means that God will
guard and protect you, your family, your crops, and your reputation, and will surround you with his presence, “make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you:”

This means that God’s love and favor will be upon you as His gift.

“lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace:”
This means that, again, God’s love and favor toward you will be to give you a 
sense of well-being, contentedness, and rightness.

Notice that the person who blesses us is named “The Lord.” Notice also that the blessing is three-fold, suggestive of the three-fold person of the Trinity. Finally, notice then that the name of the second person of the Trinity is also “The Lord,” as Jesus was often called in the New Testament books.

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Epistle Lesson: Galatians 3: 23-29

 

St. Paul apparently established the church in Galatia during his first missionary journey. The church had many growing pains which forced St. Paul to write this letter to address the various issues. In today’s reading, St. Paul addresses some fundamental questions about Christian beliefs. The first question is, what is the purpose of the Law? The answer is that it serves as a guardian, to help us regulate and control our own behavior so that we might be prepared to be justified by faith.

The second question is, how do we get our faith? The answer is that we get it when we are baptized into Christ. And it does not make any difference what our status in life might be, baptism makes us one in Christ with all other Christians. The last question here is, how does that faith change our status with God? The answer is that we are now sons of God and descendants of Abraham, thus sharing through inheritance the promises made to Abraham by God. This echoes the statement that St Paul made earlier in Gal. 3:7—Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

But that raises an interesting question: By what name are the descendants of Abraham known? That’s right, Jews! Does that mean that Christians are actually Jews? Consider St. Paul’s answer in Romans 2:28-29—For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. Did you catch that? A Jew is not determined by one’s genetics (from a human standpoint), but rather by whether you have faith in Jesus. That is to say, who is a Jew is determined by spiritual, not physical, criteria.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 21

According to the directions given to the Children of Israel by God, male children were to be given their name upon circumcision on the 8th day of life. Circumcision was an outward sign that the person was included in the covenant made by God with Abraham.

The name, “Jesus,” was the name designated for the child to be born of Mary, as recorded in Luke 1:31-33—“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.”

And what does the name “Jesus” mean? Savior! 

 

 

New Year’s Eve (31 December)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 30: (8-14) 15-17

 

Isaiah was God’s messenger for over 50 years to the people of the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, surrounding the time in 720 B.C. that the Northern Kingdom was conquered and dispersed throughout Assyria. This should have been a strong message to the Southern Kingdom, but sadly it fell on deaf ears. The messages of the need for repentance from their rebellious ways, followed by God’s grace toward them and the restoration of their glory, mark the major themes of Isaiah.

Just before we begin our reading for today, God through Isaiah chides Judah for making their own plans rather than following God’s plans, for making pacts with other nations for defense and protection instead of turning to God. Then, as we begin our reading, God instructs Isaiah to write his comments in a book as a witness to Judah down the road that God had warned them. God characterizes Judah as people who are rebellious, lying, unwilling to hear, in fact, telling God’’s prophets not to speak what God wants them to hear but what they want to hear.

Because Judah has rejected him, God declares that Judah will have to bear the consequences of their rebellion against him, which will come upon them suddenly, like a collapsing wall, or a jar that has been smashed. Then God notes that if they return to him, resting and trusting in him, they could be saved. But because they were unwilling to turn to God but instead trusted in their own strength and plans, God would allow them to be defeated by their enemies.

Bottom Line: God has placed his directions for us in a book. Will we learn from history?

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 8: 31b - 39

 

St. Paul continues his discussion on the persecuted Christian by assuring us that, if we love God and are following His will, then He will make any circumstance we face turn out for our good. After all, God has determined from the beginning of time that true believers would be called for His purpose, justified by Jesus’ death and resurrection, and destined for eternal glory. But we need to remember that God the Father allowed His only Son to die for us after being falsely accused, but raised him from the dead. Likewise, even though God is for us, we can expect to be falsely accused because of our witness, and even condemned. But it is God who ultimately judges and Jesus is interceding for us. Consequently, no one or anything can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus, whether it be tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, war, demonic rulers or powers, or anything in all creation. Again, we need to love, trust, and obey God, no matter the circumstances!

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 12: 35-40

 

Jesus has been in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount where he decided to address the propensity of people to worry about their earthly needs. Jesus’ advice, however, was that we were not to concern ourselves with earthly, material things, but rather to lay up treasures in heaven by focussing on and furthering God’s kingdom. God then could assure us that, just as he takes care of the birds in the air and the plants in the field, so he can take care of usif we are willing to let him. Sound familiar?

But then Jesus issues a warning: we are to be ready for Jesus’ arrival at any time, whether it is on the day we die or when Jesus comes for the second time. And how are we to be ready? By busying ourselves with the work of the Kingdom that God has given us to do, rather than striving to serve ourselves by running after the things and pleasures of this world. When Jesus finds us so involved in his work, then he will bless us—ultimately with eternal life. But we do need to be ready. After all, Jesus may require our soul at a time that we do not expect. 

 

 

St. John, Apostle, and Evangelist (27 December)

 

First Lesson: Revelation 1: 1-6

 

Our reading for today finds St. John on the island of Patmos, just off the southwest coast of present-day Turkey, because of his witnessing to the reality of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. He begins this document by stating that it is a revelation to him by Jesus himself of the things that are to happen soon. Note that “soon” in biblical terms is in God’s time, not man’s time. In this case, it means the entire New Testament period, starting from when St. John starts to write. Then St. John notes that reading or hearing this revelation will be a blessing, provided of course that they hear and obey.

St. John then identifies to whom he is writing this letter: to the seven churches in Asia minor. But it can easily be interpreted that this includes all Christian churches of all time since all Christian churches will be able to see themselves in some part of this letter. Then St. John identifies Jesus as the one who is actually dictating this letter and then describes Jesus as THE witness, the one who is trustworthy, the first human to be resurrected, and the one who now is the true ruler over all other rulers (i.e., King of kings and Lord of lords). He then observes that glory and power belong to Jesus because (1) he loves us, (2) he has freed us from our slavery to sin, and (3) he has made us a kingdom of priests for God his father (confirming what St. Peter said in his first letter: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 John 1: 1 - 2:2

 

In this letter of St. John to the Christian churches at large (again, of all time), he again directs the reader/hearer to Jesus:

—the one who existed from all time
—the one
with whom the disciples walked
—the one who revealed God’s plan of
eternal life with the Father

for us.
He notes that it gives him great
joy to share this good news with the reader/ hearer. Then he describes the relationship that we (should) have with God:

—Since God is light (i.e., pure righteousness) without any darkness (i.e., evil), we are not being truthful with either ourselves or anyone else if we claim to have a relationship with God but continue to live in darkness (i.e., continue to live a sinful life).

—If, on the other hand, we live in the light (i.e., trust God and obey him), then we do have a relationship with God and each other, in which case Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf cleanses us from
our sin.

—If we claim to be righteous, we are not recognizing our own condition; we are deceiving ourselves and we are untruthful. In fact, we are saying that God is a liar.

—If, on the other hand, we acknowledge our sinfulness, then God can forgive our sins and declare us righteous.

St. John concludes that he is writing this letter so that we may stay away from sinning. But even if we do sin, Jesus is our attorney before God, pointing out that he (Jesus) is the sacrifice for us on our behalf (“propitiation”).

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 21: 20-25

 

At the time of Jesus’ arrest before his trial and crucifixion, Peter denied to the servants in the chief priest’s courtyard that he knew Jesus, just as Jesus had predicted. Immediately after his third denial, Peter suddenly realized what he had just done, and was devastated, probably thinking that he had just excluded himself from God for all time. In fact, that happens often enough today: we fall into a grievous temptation and think we can no longer be forgiven. But Jesus forgave Peter, and he forgives us. Just before our reading for today begins, Jesus takes Peter through the process of realizing that forgiveness, predicting that he will also die by crucifixion, and ending with Jesus telling Peter to follow him.

But just then Peter notes that John is following them at a respectful distance, and wonders out loud to Jesus how John is going to die. Jesus’ response is a rebuke to Peter, saying that it isn’t any of his business; and if he wanted John to live until he came back the second time, that was Jesus’ choice. Peter’s only concern was to follow Jesus. St. John then concludes his gospel by noting that he included in this book only a small fraction of all the deeds and miracles that Jesus did. If he did include all of Jesus’ acts, there simply would not be enough books in the world to contain them all. 

 

 

St. Stephen, Martyr (26 December)

 

Old Testament Lesson: 2 Chronicles 24: 17-22

 

It is approximately 795 B.C. The Northern Kingdom is still in its death spiral because of rampant idolatry. In the Southern Kingdom, 50 years earlier, King Jehoshaphat had made an attempt to reconcile the two kingdoms. Upon his death, his son Jehoram became king, who unfortunately adopted the ways of the evil Northern Kingdom by killing all of his brothers, and then marrying the daughter of King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom (you remember him, the guy married to Jezebel). This marriage gave rise to a son, Ahaziah, who ascended to the throne upon King Jehoram’s death. But King Ahaziah’s mother, Athaliah, had raised him in the ways of King Ahab and consequently, God allowed him to rule for only one year. Upon his death, Athaliah appointed herself the ruling queen and started to assassinate the royal family. Only Joash was saved, and when he was seven years old, the faithful priest Jehoiada had Joash anointed as king and had Queen Athaliah, the usurper, and murderer, killed. As long as the priest Jehoiada lived, Joash ruled righteously, but as soon as Jehoiada died, Joash turned to the idolatry of his mother from the Northern Kingdom. Then the son of the Priest Jehoiada, Zechariah, was inspired by God to rebuke King Joash. But instead of repenting, King Joash ordered Zechariah to be stoned to death, thus rewarding the righteousness and compassion of Jehoiada with evil.

See more on this story in the reading of the Gospel Lesson.

 

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The Second Lesson: Acts 6: 8 - 7:2a, 51-60

 

Times were hard for the early Christians, especially for the widows. Consequently, the church organized a food pantry and other assistance for these widows. But a problem arose when the people distributing this assistance discriminated against the Christian widows who spoke Greek. This issue was brought to the attention of the apostles, who recommended that seven men be chosen who were spiritually mature and faithful, to distribute the assistance in an equitable manner. Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to serve in the food pantry.

But Stephen was more than a pantry worker. He was filled with the Spirit, and apparently not only witnessed to the risen Christ but also performed miracles. And when some Jews tried to argue with Stephen, they became so enraged by his wisdom that they bribed people to lie so as to accuse Stephen of slandering Moses and God. This prompted Stephen’s arrest, and he was brought before the Jewish Council. There Stephen gave a concise account of the Jewish people, from Abraham through Moses, then noting that they were the ones who had murdered not only Jesus (the prophet predicted by Moses—Deuteronomy 18:15) but also all of God’s prophets. The Jewish Council responded to this correct accusation of premeditated murders with hate and rage, resulting in their dragging Stephen outside where they stoned him to death. Amazingly, Stephen’s last words were to forgive his murderers.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 23: 34-39

 

The scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees were constantly confronting Jesus about his beliefs and about who he was. At the end of chapter 22 of Matthew, the Pharisees have the tables turned on them when Jesus asks them a question, which the Pharisees (supposedly the religious teachers) could not answer. This gave Jesus an opportunity to advise the people to do as the Pharisees say but not as they do, following which he addressed the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, calling them poisonous snakes and unable to escape being condemned to hell. Jesus notes that he had sent prophets, wise men, and teachers, but they had persecuted, whipped, killed, and crucified them all, including Zechariah (recall our Old Testament Lesson?).

Then Jesus laments that he had many times tried to gather them to himself—all through the Old Testament period up until the present time, but they stubbornly refused. Consequently, they would not see him again until they stood in judgment before him.

So what was the problem with the scribes and Pharisees? They were great at playing church, pretending to be righteous and religious, but inwardly concerned not with the things of God but with themselves. 

 

 

St. Thomas, Apostle (21 December)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Judges 6: 36-40

 

The period of the judges is a fascinating approximately 400-year time period.
You see, by the time Joshua had finished conquering the Land of Canaan and assigned
property to each of the tribes, the people were left with just mopping up any remaining Canaanites—as God had said, by driving them out. And shortly before Joshua’s death, he warned them again to follow God alone, and to destroy the idols of Canaan—never to worship them. But life became easy for the Children of Israel: they had homes they did not build, fruit trees and vineyards that they did not plant, etc. And they neglected to drive out the Canaanite inhabitants. Sure enough, just as God predicted, the Canaanites tempted the Israelites into idolatry. So severely into idolatry that God allowed neighboring nations to conquer and enslave them. When the Israelites finally realized that it was they who brought their grief upon themselves, they cried out to God for deliverance. And God responded by sending them a judge. Not a legal authority, but rather an ordinary citizen that God chose to lead the Israelites into an uprising that led to their freedom.

Now you might think that this experience would cause the Israelites to remember this bit of history. But no, soon enough they returned to their idol worship, and God responded in the same way. So this series of events kept on being repeated, the Book of Judges recording at least 16 episodes of these ups and downs.

Our reading for today is a part of one of these ups and downs. The Israelites are now in slavery to Midian, with the Midianites annually raiding the land and stripping it of its produce. Gideon is hiding in a winepress, threshing grain by hand in order to keep it hidden from the Midianites when God appears to him and calls him to be a judge. It takes a special sign from God to convince doubting Gideon that God is really calling him, and he consequently follows through on God’s first assignment. But then God tells Gideon that he is to lead the army against the combined armies of Midian, Amalek, and Kedem. Gideon again doubts so he asks for a sign that he really is to do this. The sign: Gideon will put a wool fleece on the threshing floor, and the next morning, God is to have dewfall only on the fleece while the surrounding ground is dry as a bone. Sure enough, that is exactly what happens. But Gideon is no dummy. He thinks to himself, “What if this is what happens naturally?” So he asks God for a second sign, this time dew on the ground but none on the fleece. And God again satisfies Gideon’s request. We probably all remember the event that followed: God pared-down Gideon’s army to 300 men, and then God himself caused the enemy army to defeat themselves!

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 4: 7, 11-16

During St. Paul’s third missionary journey, he spent over two years in Ephesus, teaching the disciples how to be Christians. From here, he made his way back to Jerusalem, being warned along the way that he would be made a prisoner if he went to Jerusalem. But he was determined to go to Jerusalem, where he was made a prisoner and eventually was transported to Rome for trial before Caesar. From his prison, our reading for today finds him writing to the disciples in Ephesus to encourage them to live up to their full potential of their calling in Christ Jesus. In particular, he points out that each one of them has been given the grace from God to realize that potential. He then notes that God has given certain gifts to the church, notably apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors and teachers, whose purpose is to serve God and to help build up the body of Christ as each one of us becomes mature in his/her faith. As we mature, we become united not only in our faith but also in our knowledge of the faith, so that, working together, we can lovingly defend our faith. In other words, as members of the body of Christ, each one of us has a role to play, and our responsibility to get ready to carry out that role.

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Gospel Lesson: John 20: 24-29

 

After Jesus had arisen from the dead on that first Easter morning, he had appeared to his disciples that evening to show to them that he was indeed alive. But Thomas had not been with them that evening, so that when he returned to the disciples, Jesus had already left. When the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, Thomas doubted—in fact, refused to believe unless he could verify for himself the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side—the signs of Jesus’ crucifixion.

One week later, Jesus suddenly appears in their midst, despite the doors being locked, and lovingly invites Thomas to verify the signs for which he had asked. Thomas does so, and cries out, “My Lord and my God.” But Jesus notes that Thomas only believes because of a sign, but rather more blessed are those who believe without requiring a sign.

What is the bottom line? If God really is God, his word should be good enough that we can believe what he says without requiring God to prove to us that he really is God. In other words, do we really trust God, the creator of all things? 

 

 

Christmas Day

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 52: 7-10

 

In the really olden days, when kings went out to war, the status of battles was reported to the king’s cities by runners. Certain runners were used to carry good news, other runners to carry bad news. The watchmen on the towers of the cities could tell what the news was in advance simply by recognizing how the runner ran. Each runner seemed to run in a characteristic fashion.

In today’s reading, we discover that the watchmen have spotted the runner and recognized what kind of news he brings. It is

good news,
—news of
peace, happiness, and salvation, and

—news that their king reigns, he was victorious.

As a consequence, the watchmen shout, they sing for joy, for they see the return of their Lord. In this case, it is because the Lord Himself has comforted his people by redeeming them and extending salvation to all the peoples.

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 1: 1-6 (7-12)

 

The writer of the book of Hebrews (who is unknown) starts his letter by establishing that Jesus is God Himself. He then starts to characterize Jesus, as follows:

—God previously spoke to His people through prophets, but now, in these last days (the New Testament period), He has revealed Himself through His Son.

—This Son is the heir of all things and was the person through whom the Father created the world.

—This Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact revelation of His nature.

—This Son still upholds the universe by the word of his power.
—This Son, after making purification for our
sins, sat down at the Father’s right hand.

—This Son is superior to angels; and, being God, receives the worship of angels.

Later in this chapter, the writer notes that God's Son’s throne is eternal, His scepter is uprightness, and He loves righteousness and hates wickedness. In addition, He laid the foundation of the earth, and He made the heavens. Finally, he notes that the Son does not change, and His years will last forever.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 1: 1-14 (15-18)

 

St. John, Jesus’ closest disciple, is also writing to his audience in order to establish who Jesus really is. After we separate out St. John’s remarks about John the Baptist, which we heard in our gospel reading of two weeks ago, we are left with his description of Jesus:

—He is the Word of God.
—This Word of God was with God from the beginning (i.e., forever).

—This Word is God.
—This Word made
anything and everything that was ever made

(created).
—In This Word is
life, and this life is the light of men.
—Darkness cannot overcome this light.
—This Light came into the world that He created, yet neither the people 
He created nor the people He had chosen recognized or received Him.

—Those few who did receive Him by believing in Him were given the right to become Children of God. This birth was not a human but a spiritual birth, being of God.

—This Word took on human flesh and lived among humans, His glory being that of the only Son of God the Father, full of grace and truth.

St. John then goes on to note that those who believe in Him receive grace after grace. Whereas the Law came through Moses, grace, and truth came through the Word, Jesus Christ, who made God the Father known to us. 

 

 

First Sunday After Christmas

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 61: 10 - 62: 3

 

Isaiah was one of the prophets that God chose to speak to the peoples of the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, over the time period preceding and following the collapse and disappearance of the Northern Kingdom, from around 740 to 695 B.C. His ministry was to call the people to repentance and to assure them of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promise to give to them—and all mankind—a savior. But in today’s reading, Isaiah is not just speaking God’s words, he is speaking the Messiah’s words some 700 years before he appears on earth in human form. As we read these words, we find Jesus describing himself and his mission:

—He will rejoice in his God, the Father because He has clothed Jesus with salvation and righteousness.

—He will be dressed as a bridegroom for his bride (the Church).
—God will cause
righteousness and praise to spring up before him in the same way that seeds will sprout up in a well-fertilized garden.

—The Messiah will cause righteousness and salvation to appear to all nations because of the presence of his redeemed.

—God will give Jerusalem a new name (see Revelation 21:1-3), and it will be a crown of glory for the Lord.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Galatians 4: 4-7

 

One of the main themes of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is that God did everything to accomplish our salvation. We only need to believe in God (that is to say, have faith in God and what he has done for us). There is no righteous deed that will enable or enhance our own salvation. Here, in today’s lesson, St. Paul explains how this salvation was realized. At just the right time in history, God’s Son became a human being by being born of a woman, to redeem us who were unable to keep God’s laws ourselves. When we understand that, to redeem means to “buy back,” we can appreciate why St. Paul uses the term “adoption.” When we were born, we were not God’s children initially, because of sin—which separated us from God, but by buying us back by the shedding of Christ’s blood, God has adopted us as his children, making us brothers and sisters of Jesus, and enabling us to not only call God our Father but also to share in the inheritance with Jesus of all of God’s goodness.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 22-40

 

 

St. Luke has described the birth of Jesus and his circumcision on the eighth day, at which time he was officially given the name of Jesus. But now, Joseph and Mary bring Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem not only to present him to the Lord as the firstborn male, but also to make the required sacrifice of a lamb (or, in the case of a family that could not afford a lamb, a pair of mourning doves or pigeons) to complete the purification of Mary 40 days after the birth of a male child (Leviticus 12:8).

But God has a surprise waiting for the family. A devout and righteous man in Jerusalem, named Simeon, has been waiting for the coming of the Messiah.
And God had told him that he would
not see death until he had seen the Messiah with his own eyes. So on this day, the Holy Spirit leads him into the Temple, just at the time that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus appear to offer the required sacrifices. Simeon is led to pick up Jesus and bless God by exclaiming that he now can die in peace because he has seen with his own eyes the Promised Messiah for all peoples because he will bring the revelation of God’s salvation to the Gentiles and will be the glory of Israel. But then Simeon addresses Mary by saying that Jesus’ life will result in the rising and falling of many in Israel, a sign of opposition to the established but unrighteous religious leaders, their hidden thoughts being revealed, and with Mary feeling like a sword has pierced her heart as she watches her firstborn son crucified.

Moments later, the prophetess Anna, married for only seven years and a widow for another 84, who worshipped, fasted, and prayed in the temple day and night, appears to the family and gives thanks to God, saying that Jesus is the redeemer for whom the Children of Israel have been waiting.

Subsequently, the family returns to their original home town of Nazareth, in Galilee, where Jesus, untouched by sin, grows up, becoming strong and filled with wisdom, because God’s favor was upon him. 

 

 

Second Sunday in Advent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 40: 1-11

 

In today’s reading, it appears that Isaiah has been given a vision 200 or more years into the future where the people of Judah are lamenting their captivity in Babylon. The words of Isaiah are words of comfort to the people from God because God is having compassion on his repentant people; their sin has been forgiven, they have been punished for their wickedness. Furthermore, God encourages his people to prepare a pathway for the glory of the Lord to again be seen, this time by all peoples. And this is not just a human promise that flares up in beauty but then disappears in smoke, but a promise of God that stands forever. Therefore God’s people are to broadcast this good news so that everyone can hear, because God is coming to all people, rewarding those faithful to him, tending to them like a shepherd, gently leading them.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 2nd Peter 3: 8-14

 

It is believed that St. Peter wrote this second letter, for all Christians, in Rome as he awaited martyrdom. In this third chapter, St. Peter addresses what appears to have been a common concern among the early Christians: the second coming of Jesus. As we begin today’s reading, we find St. Peter cautioning his readers not to expect Christ’s return very soon, since one day to the Lord might be a thousand years to us. But there may be a reason for the Lord delaying his return: to allow more people to repent, for God does not wish anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9).

But when that day does come, it will be when it is not expected. In addition, the universe will dissolve in flames, and the works of humankind will be exposed for all to see. Under these considerations, St. Peter notes that Christians should therefore be living lives of holiness and godliness, which would therefore hasten the day of Christ’s return since such behavior on our part will draw more people to Jesus. Then we can look forward to a new heaven and a new earth where sin will be no longer, and where righteousness will dwell.

Just thinking about that, why don’t we start to practice that righteousness with each other right now?

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 1-8

 

As St Mark begins the writing of the gospel bearing his name, he quotes the passage from Isaiah that we read in our Old Testament Lesson for today, but changes it just enough so that we understand that Isaiah was writing about John the Baptist, who would be the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Repent, and prepare to meet the Lord Himself.”

Mark then describes John and his ministry: proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This message rang with the common people, who came out to him to confess their sins and be baptized. Interestingly, Mark describes John as being clothed in camel’s hair and wearing a leather belt around his waist and eating locusts and honey. Sort of reminiscent of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). But what is more interesting is John’s description of the coming Messiah:

—he will be mightier than John (certainly in message and deed), —he would be worthy of such great honor that even John would not

be worthy to untie his sandals in order to wash his feet, and —he would be characterized by his baptizing with the Holy Spirit.

As we look forward to Jesus’ second coming, do we see him with the same humility as John, and fully recognizing his ministry? 

 

 

Second Sunday After Christmas

 

Old Testament Lesson: 1 Kings 3: 4-15

 

King David has relinquished his throne to ensure that Solomon becomes the next king. After dealing with some matters leftover from King David’s reign, King Solomon established himself as the next king. At this time, King Solomon was a humble young man who loved the Lord. And he was grateful to the Lord for establishing him on the throne. So he went to Gibeon, where the tabernacle was located and offered sacrifices to God there. The Lord then appeared to Solomon in a dream and asked him what he would want from the Lord; God essentially was giving King Solomon a blank check. But King Solomon’s humility saved the day, in that he acknowledged his inadequacy for the position he held and asked God for understanding and discernment.

God was more than pleased with King Solomon’s request, so not only did He give King Solomon what he asked for, but also what he didn’t ask for: riches and honor. But then God promises King Solomon long life only on condition: that he walk in God’s ways, and keep His statutes and commandments.

[Note what happens next. King Solomon returns to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the Lord before the Ark of the Covenant. Why isn’t the Ark in the tabernacle where it belongs? You’ll have to read 1 Samuel 4-7:1, 2 Samuel 6, and 1 Chronicles 16:39.

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 1: 3-14

 

As St. Paul begins this letter to his Christian converts in Ephesus, he is overwhelmed with joy as he details the love that God has shown them (and us). What are some of these details?

—God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.
—He chose us and planned to redeem us
before the creation of the world.

(Think about that! God knew that if he created humankind, humankind would sin and need a redeemer. That redemption would require His only Son to die. At this point, God had a choice: He could proceed with the creation of man, at the expense of the life

of His Son; or He could abandon that initial plan and create something else. Can you now appreciate how much God loves His creation of humankind?)

—Through Jesus’ sacrifice, our sins are forgiven and our adoption as God’s Children is assured.

—God has revealed to us the mystery that through Christ we and all things in heaven and on earth are united in Him.

—As Children of God, we share in Christ’s inheritance, per God’s original plan.

—The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance. Do we have a great God, or what?!

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 40-52

 

It is Passover time, a time when every adult male Jew is required by God to appear before Him at the appointed place (Deuteronomy 16: 16-17). At 12 years of age, Jesus might also be considered an adult, to accompany his parents to Jerusalem. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which immediately followed Passover, lasted a week. Since there was much celebration at that time, and large crowds from every city and village were there, it would not be surprising that Joseph and Mary would assume Jesus would stay within the village group and join the group for home at the appointed time. Now, Nazareth is at least 100 miles from Jerusalem, and mountains intervene. So this is going to be a several-day hike. Furthermore, people traveled in groups for safety reasons. So after the group had traveled for one day and Joseph and Mary discovered that Jesus was missing, they were now on their own while trying to find Jesus. And four days later they do find Him, in the temple with the teachers, demonstrating to them a more thorough understanding of His Word than the teachers could ever have imagined.

We as parents can understand the distress of Joseph and Mary. Still, we might wonder whether they really understood that they were dealing with a sinless human being who already was about the mission on which His Father had sent Him. His actions certainly met with the Father’s favor. And as a human being with untainted genetics, He must have stood out above his brethren in wisdom and stature. 

 

 

Third Sunday in Advent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 61: 1-4 and 8-11

 

Isaiah was one of God’s messengers to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, at the time (around 720 B.C.) that the Northern Kingdom was spiraling into obscurity. This was a time when Judah also had fallen into apostasy, especially during the reign of King Ahaz, who had brought every form of idolatry and evil into the Southern Kingdom as King Ahab had done for the Northern Kingdom some 130 years earlier. The messages of God at this time included those of a call to repentance, warnings of justice to follow if they continued in sin, and promises of grace when they repented. This was especially significant at this time since God’s bestowing of so much privilege upon the Children of Israel from their release from slavery in Egypt till the present time, some 800 years later, had been rewarded with arrogance, pride, and ingratitude.

Today’s reading, however, focuses on God’s grace as He promises good news for the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners, the mourners, those dealt injustice, and those brought to ruin. That this was God speaking through Isaiah to all peoples was confirmed when, over 700 years later, Jesus the Messiah identified himself as the speaker of this passage in Isaiah as he stood up in a synagogue in Nazareth, read this passage, and declared that today this Scripture was fulfilled in their hearing (Luke 4:16-21).

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24

In today’s lesson, we read St. Paul’s words to his Christian converts in Thessalonica in which he makes a listing of those behaviors that would indicate that they were following the will of God. These behaviors included

—always rejoicing and giving thanks, no matter the circumstances, —praying continually,
not trying to control the manifestations of the Spirit,
not despising prophecies but rather testing them,

—focusing on what is good,
—and abstaining from every kind of evil.

 

Under these circumstances, God would be their keeper and giver of peace. These words obviously apply to us as well. And that is a promise of God that we

can bank on!

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Gospel Lesson: John 1: 6-8 and 19-28

 

In today’s lesson, John, the writer of this book and one of the sons of Zebedee (i.e., one of Jesus’ disciples) introduces us to another John, this being John the Baptist. John the disciple intends to show his readers who the real Messiah is, and to do that, he relates some current history that demonstrates that John the Baptist is not the Messiah. The purpose of John the Baptist was to direct those who heard him to the Messiah, whose coming was imminent. This was done when the Jewish leaders sent some priests and Levites to enquire of John as to who he really was. When asked whether he was the Messiah, John replied, “No.” When asked whether he was Elijah (referring to the prophecy of Malachi, chapter 4, verse 5: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.), John the Baptist again answered, “No.” And when asked whether he was the prophet (referring to Moses’ statement in Deuteronomy 18, verse 15: The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen . . . .), John the Baptist again answered, “No.” But when the Jews asked him then, who are you? John replied with a quote from Isaiah 40:3: A voice cries, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” But then John continues, saying that the Messiah is already standing in their midst, a person whose sandals he was unworthy to untie. What did he mean by that? When a guest entered the home of a Jew, the lowest servant was required to remove the guest’s sandals and wash his feet of all the dust accumulated while walking on the unpaved walkways. John was saying that the Messiah would be of such honor that even John was not worthy enough to be that lowest servant. 

 

 

Fourth Sunday in Advent

 

Old Testament Lesson: 2 Samuel 7: 1-11 and 16

 

Let’s first of all set the stage for this lesson:

King Saul has died during a battle with the Philistines,
—David has become king of Judah, while Saul’s son
Ishbosheth has become king of Israel (the Northern Kingdom),

—7.5 years later, upon the assassination of Ishbosheth by some of his subjects, David is chosen king of all Israel,

—David defeats the Philistines,
—David captures Jerusalem, makes it his capitol, and brings the
Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem,

—and, with the help of King Hiram of Tyre, builds for himself a

magnificent palace of cedar.

King David now finds himself sitting on his throne, pondering all that God has done for him. He decides to show his appreciation to and love for God by building a temple for Him. But when he passes his intent by God’s representative, the prophet Nathan, God instructs Nathan to tell David that he has it backward. God is going to demonstrate his love for David and all mankind by building a house for David. And not only a house, but an eternal kingdom.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 16: 25-27

 

St. Paul is finishing his letter to the Christians in Rome with a sentence that could be regarded as a doxology—a song of praise in which mankind expresses its love for God. The praise is for

—God strengthening the believers in faith by the gospel and the words of Jesus, and

—the revealing of the secret that God had planned a redeemer to save all mankind from its sin.

For all of this, and more, St. Paul offers eternal praise and glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ.

 

Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: 26-38

 

Today’s lesson presents an interesting contrast between the announcement of the angel Gabriel to the priest Zechariah of the forthcoming birth to him of John the Baptist and the announcement of Gabriel to Mary of the forthcoming birth to her of Jesus. Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, is now in her sixth month of pregnancy when Gabriel appears unannounced to Mary. Remember that Mary is engaged to Joseph, which in God’s eyes meant that they were married but had not yet consummated the marriage by living with each other. So when the angel announces that she will be the mother of the Messiah (“the Son of the Most High”), Mary of course is wondering how this is to happen; what is she supposed to do? The angel explains that the Holy Spirit will implant in her the fertilized egg which would represent the Son of God or the second Adam. Then he tells her that her relative Elizabeth, considered barren, was now in her 6th month of pregnancy, noting that with God, nothing is impossible. And what is Mary’s response? So be it!

You may think that this is no big deal. But Mary is fully aware that if she shows up pregnant, and Joseph is not the father, then it would be considered that she had committed adultery (remember that in God’s eyes she is already married to Joseph), which is punishable by stoning to death. So by agreeing to God’s announcement, she could be getting a death sentence. If you had been Mary, would you have readily agreed, or would you have asked for more time to think about it? 

 

 

November Commentaries

 

All Saints’ Day (1 November)

 

First Lesson: Revelation 7: (2-8) 9-17

 

St. John is on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, southwest of Ephesus— now present-day Turkey, exiled there for his witnessing to the truth of Jesus the Christ. One Sunday morning, Jesus appears to him in all his glory, with the instruction to write down letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor that Jesus is now going to dictate.

But the dictation is followed by a vision of the end times, which in reality is the New Testament period. But today’s reading focuses on what is happening in heaven. St. John has just seen the events that take place on earth after Jesus opens six seals of a scroll, five of those six seals revealing major disasters occurring on the earth in order to get people to repent and believe in Jesus. Then he hears an angel calling out to four angels ready to harm the earth and seas to not proceed until the Children of God have been sealed, or identified, with God’s seal. That number is identified as 144,000, which probably represents in numerology the complete number of God’s Children (12 times 12 x 1000 = 144,000 being completeness times completeness times completeness). But then St. John’s attention is turned to events in heaven. He sees a crowd from every tribe, nation, people, language, or ethnic group, that no one can number, standing before the throne of God and Jesus, all clothed in white robes, giving praise to God by saying that only God was able to save mankind from their sin. Even the angels and all other creatures in heaven also give praise to God.

When one of the heavenly elders asks John if he knows who the people in white robes are, St. John admits that he has no idea. So the elder tells him: they are the believers, members of the true Church throughout history, who have paid the price for their faith in gaining salvation only through the gift of Jesus’ substitutionary death. And part of God’s reward to them includes the following:

—God will shelter them with his presence,
—they shall
neither hunger nor thirst anymore,
—they shall
never lack protection, even from nature,
—God will lead them to
living water, and
—God himself will wipe away every
tear, every remembrance, of their suffering.

 

Epistle Lesson: 1 John 3: 1-3

 

As St. John writes to the Christians of the first century, he reassures them of the love that God the Father has already shown them: they are his children now! And so are we! The reason that we are now treated as foreigners by the rest of the world is because the rest of the world does not know the Father, therefore are not of his family.

But St. John also notes that while we are God’s children now, we do not know what kind of form we will have when Jesus appears. All we do know is that we will be like Jesus. Therefore, as God’s children, we keep ourselves pure as we look forward to that day when Jesus appears for us.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5: 1-12

 

Jesus has just called his first disciples, and he has started his ministry by traveling and teaching throughout Galilee. Word about him spreads fast, particularly his healing of all those who were sick. Consequently, people from all over Galilee, Judea, the Decapolis (on the eastern side of the Jordan River), and even Syria come to him, bringing their sick with them. As another crowd gathers around him, Jesus decides to teach them some basics of moral and ethical living. So, going up the side of a mountain so that what he says can be heard by the crowd below him, he first of all notes who are blessed by God:

—those who recognize that they are spiritually needy,

—those who are sorry for their spiritual state,
—those who are
gentle in heart, looking out for others,

—those who seek God with all their heart,

—those who are kind and forgiving,
—those who pursue a life of righteousness,
—those who bring God’s peace to their neighbors,
—those who are
used and abused by those who take advantage of their gentleness, and

—those who are deprived of life, liberty, reputation, wealth, and pursuit of happiness because they are Children of God. In fact, Jesus tells his listeners that if this is the case, rejoice, be glad, even leap for joy, because they will reap a great reward in heaven, just as persecuted prophets of old did. 

 

St. Andrew, Apostle (30 November)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Ezekiel 3: 16-21

 

Ezekiel was a prophet for God to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, during the Babylonian Captivity, the time period following approximately 600 B.C. He was called into this prophetic ministry by a special vision of heavenly creatures and wheels followed by a vision of God himself, who called him to speak to the Children of Israel during their captivity. There was a reason that they were in captivity: they had rebelled against God for centuries! God characterized them, in addition, as stubborn and hardheaded. It was these people that Ezekiel was to call to repentance.

In our reading for today, God lays out for Ezekiel his responsibilities. If Ezekiel refuses to call these people to repentance, then there will be two consequences: these people will be condemned, and Ezekiel will be held responsible. If, however, Ezekiel carries God’s message for repentance and the people refuse to listen, then they will be condemned but Ezekiel will not be held responsible.

Then God approaches the issue from a different perspective. If a righteous (i.e., a believing) man turns from righteous ways and turns to a life of sin and unbelief, and if Ezekiel does not warn him, that man will be condemned and Ezekiel will be held responsible. If, however, that person listens to Ezekiel’s warning and turns back to God, he will be saved and God will honor Ezekiel for his obedience.

Note: Being a shepherd or spokesperson for God is an awesome responsibility! On the other hand, when God is calling us back to repentance, it is because he loves us and does not want us to perish (2 Peter 3:9). How we respond to God’s call can carry serious consequences!

 

 

Epistle Lesson: Romans 10: 8b-18

 

The book of Romans may be regarded as St. Paul’s treatise on Christianity to the believers living in Rome. In the reading for today, St. Paul emphasizes that when someone hears God’s call for repentance and faith and honors that call by repenting and believing in Jesus as his or her personal savior from his/her sin, then God honors that choice with eternal life. And it doesn’t make any difference who you are in terms of race, ethnicity, nationality, or whatever, whoever turns to Jesus will be saved! But here’s the kicker: for people to hear God’s call, there have to be messengers to announce his call. Of course, everyone then thinks of pastors or missionaries, and yes, we need to support them. But God expects all of his children to share that good news, even if it is just by an example of righteous living in the midst of an ungodly world.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 1: 35-42a

 

John the Baptist has been carrying out his ministry by the Jordan River and recently baptized Jesus himself, observing as he did so the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven and staying on Jesus. This was the sign by which God had told John the Baptist he would be able to identify the Messiah. As our reading for today begins, we find John the Baptist with two of his disciples, apparently involved in his ministry. Just then, they see Jesus walking toward them, and John exclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God! Immediately these two disciples leave John the Baptist and follow Jesus. Jesus invites them to stay with him for the day. But Andrew, one of the two disciples, hurries off to find his brother, Simon (later to be known as Peter), and excitedly tells him that they have found the Messiah.

What has just happened? Andrew realizes that he is now privy to extremely valuable news, so he hurries off to share that good news with his brother. So what has Andrew become? A witness! He has shared what he has seen and learned. And that is how easy it is to be a witness. 

 

 

Sunday on November 6 - 12 (Proper 27)

 

All the lessons for today deal with God coming in judgment. In the case of the first lesson, it is God coming to the apostate nation of the Northern Kingdom, otherwise known as Israel. In the case of the epistle and gospel lessons, it is God coming in judgment on Judgment Day.

 

Old Testament Lesson: Amos 5: 18-24

 

Amos was a herdsman who was called to the prophetic ministry by God as the existence of the Northern Kingdom was coming to an end, which occurred around 720 B.C. as the Assyrian nation to the north descended on the Northern Kingdom, captured their citizens, and dispersed them throughout the Assyrian kingdom. Why? God tells us in today’s reading. God was expecting righteousness and justice from people who claimed that they were God’s chosen people, but instead, God found only unrighteousness, injustice, and darkness. God compares his dilemma by saying it is like a man running away from a lion and encountering a bear, or like someone who enters his own house only to be bitten by a venomous snake. God was hoping for good but got evil instead.

As a consequence, God states that all of the “pious” things that the people are doing, such as observing the church festivals that God prescribed, or the giving of the peoples’ gifts and offerings, or the music offered in praise and worship of God will not only be not accepted by God but will be despised by Him because all of this was not preceded by righteousness and justice.

Do you think that this could apply to us?

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18

 

St. Paul is writing to his Christian converts in Thessalonica because they were apparently concerned that somehow those who had already died in Christ would somehow miss out on the resurrection on the last day. He restores hope to them by describing what will happen on that glorious day. First of all, Jesus Himself will descend from Heaven. Then, at His command, the archangel will

cry out for the trumpet of God to sound. When it does, the dead in Christ will rise from the earth to meet the Lord Jesus in the air. Then those believers on earth who are still alive will rise up to complete the assembly of all believers with Jesus in the air, thereafter to be with Jesus forever.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 25: 1-13

 

Jesus has retreated to the Mount of Olives with his disciples in order to get some rest. The disciples take this opportunity to ask Jesus when the Last Day will come. Jesus responds by providing some hints, then issues a warning: be prepared spiritually! As an example, Jesus relates the story of a wedding, where the attendants are waiting for the bridegroom to arrive at the banquet venue.

The wait extends into the night-time hours, and the attendants have to light their electric lanterns to mark the way. Unfortunately, the wait continues, and the batteries run out of juice. Fortunately, some of the attendants had planned ahead and brought spare batteries, but the others had not. When the electric lanterns of the latter go out, they quickly go to an all-night department store to get batteries, but when they arrive back at the venue, lo and behold the bridegroom had already arrived and had taken the other attendants with him into the banquet hall. And the doors were shut and locked! Those who had not planned ahead are shut out permanently! Why? Although they claimed to be devoted to the bridegroom, they had forgotten to do the works of righteousness that demonstrated such a relationship.

Be prepared! 

 

Sunday on November 13 - 19 (Proper 28)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Zephaniah 1: 7-16

 

Zephaniah, an apparent descendant of the generally righteous King Hezekiah of Judah, was called into the prophetic ministry by God after a series of kings who brought the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, into apostasy. The reign of King Josiah, the last righteous king of the Southern Kingdom, had just recently begun, with King Josiah trying to restore the worship of the true God. In today’s reading, we find God—through Zephaniah—warning the people of the Southern Kingdom of judgment (the Babylonian Captivity) soon to come. And when that judgment comes, it will be a day felt by everyone, from the king’s family and his officials,

—to bankers and traders,

—to robbers and those who defraud others of money and goods,

—to those who ignore the needs of the poor, widowed, orphaned, and elderly, and instead use the wealth that they have accumulated at others’ expense to build mansions and purchase property for pleasure, and

—to doers of violence and violators of vows and promises.
It will be a day of bitterness, distress, anguish, devastation, darkness, and gloom.

No one will escape God’s judgment.
Zephaniah’s words still strike the heart
today. In the above list of characters, do you fit in somewhere?

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11

 

Continuing his letter to the Thessalonians that we first looked at last week, St. Paul issues a warning that Judgment Day, whether it be at the time of our death or on the Last Day, will come when we least expect it. Consequently, it behooves us to be prepared for its arrival, not participating in the deeds of darkness that permeate this present age but rather continuing in the acts of faith and love that demonstrate that our relationship is with God the Father, and with Jesus Christ, His Son, and our Lord.

 

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 25: 14-30

 

As we continue the theme for today’s lesson, that of Judgment Day, we find Jesus continuing his warning to be prepared. Following up on his story of the ten bridesmaids, Jesus now relates the story of three servants who are entrusted by their master with various amounts of wealth and property to manage. When the master calls his servants later to give an account of their stewardship, we find two that made use of their master’s property that resulted in adding to his wealth. They were consequently commended and invited into a joyful relationship with their master. The third servant, however, made no attempt to add to the wealth that had been entrusted to him and was appropriately punished.

What is Jesus describing here? God has entrusted each of us with the capabilities and abilities that he expects us to use to further his kingdom. Contrary to the world that rewards us when we enhance our own wealth and the wealth of the world, God rewards a God-centered rather than a self-centered approach to our behavior. Rather than “how have we expanded our own wealth and pleasure?” it is “how have we expanded God’s kingdom? We cannot but help remember the words of Zephaniah that we read in today’s Old Testament Lesson.

Bottom Line: our attitude! Are we serving ourselves, or are we serving God? Eternity depends on the answer! 

 

 

Sunday on November 20 - 26 / Last Sunday in the Church Year (Proper 29)

 

The central theme of today’s readings centers around judgment again, this time distinguishing between the rewards of those who served the Lord Jesus faithfully in word and deed and those who served themselves and used and abused others.

 

Old Testament Lesson: Ezekiel 34: 11-16 and 20-24

 

Ezekiel, a member of the priestly class, was one of God’s prophets to the citizens of Judah, beginning during the reign of King Zedekiah—the last king of the Southern Kingdom—and ending during the early part of the Babylonian Captivity, Ezekiel himself being one of the captives. His general messages are of God’s judgment on an apostate nation as well as God’s promise of restoration to a repentant people.

In today’s reading, God reassures those who have been faithful to him that he will seek them out wherever they may be and will personally take care of them for eternity (referred to here as the mountain heights of Israel).

But then God addresses those who have served themselves instead of him and others, identifying especially those who used their wealth and position to use and abuse others for their own advantage. God warns that he will rescue his people, those who sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others and God and will take care of them. It is left unsaid here what will happen to those who served themselves.

But we are again reminded of the words of Zephaniah from last week’s Old Testament Lesson as well as last week’s Gospel Lesson: whom do we serve?

Ourselves, or God and others?

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15: 20-28


As with the Thessalonians, to whom St. Paul wrote, and as we recall the epistle lessons from the last two Sundays, so to the Christians in Corinth were concerned about what was going to happen on the Last Day. In this case, a different approach was needed. First of all, St. Paul establishes that since Christ has already died and then been resurrected from the dead, he is the first to have a new body. He then compares Adam and Christ:

—Adam, the first Adam, brought death to man by his sin.

—Jesus, the second Adam, brought life to man by his sinless life.

Thus, when Jesus comes on the Last Day, all those who served him will be made alive for eternity. Having conquered and destroyed every opposing rule, authority, power, and death, Jesus will then deliver the kingdom to God the Father in accordance with the instructions given to Jesus by the Father. Thus Jesus will have demonstrated that he, the Son, is also subject to his Father.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 25: 31-46

 

As we look at this last reading on judgment for this church year, we find Jesus describing the proceedings that will take place on that last day. It’s Judgment Day. God has opened His court, the record books are opened, and the deeds of all people who lived on earth are reviewed. The defendants are then divided into two categories: the sheep (those who demonstrated their faith in the accomplished work of Jesus’ death and resurrection by deeds of compassion for their fellow man), and the goats (those who demonstrated their disdain for the requirements of God and for compassion on their fellow man by serving self). Note that the goat is a symbol of those who worship Satan (and self). Thus judgment takes place on the basis of demonstrated compassion: that done in gratitude for the compassion shown them by God as he gave up his only son for them, and the lack of compassion by those who served themselves (and consequently, Satan).

On the basis of the records, the sheep enter into the eternal joy of companionship with God Himself, while the goats enter into eternal punishment that was originally reserved for Satan and the angels who followed him.

As has been said many times before, eternity is a choice. And it is a choice made by each one of us by the compassion (or lack thereof) that we demonstrate in our relationship with our fellow man, beginning with the members of our own family. 

 

First Sunday in Advent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 64: 1-9

 

Recall that Isaiah was called to be God’s spokesman to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, starting around 740 B.C., just 20 years before the demise of the Northern Kingdom. This was also the same time that King Ahaz ruled in the Southern Kingdom. Remember that King Ahaz was to the Southern Kingdom what King Ahab was to the Northern Kingdom: he introduced every kind of idolatry and evil and led his nation into apostasy.

In today’s reading, we find Isaiah lamenting that God is not revealing his power and might as he did in days of old, a kind of “remember the good ole’ days.” He recalls when the mountains quaked when he appeared on Mt. Sinai, when he appeared to Moses in the burning bush, when even the people of Jericho trembled at the presence of the Children of Israel assembled across the Jordan River because they had heard of all the mighty acts that God had done for them from the deliverance of them from Egyptian slavery to the defeating of the kings of the Amorites, Moab, and Midian in the previous year. And Isaiah remembers when God blessed joyfully those who followed Him in righteousness.

But then Isaiah remembers why God is angry with Judah: they had turned away from God, and the deeds that the people of Judah considered righteousness God considered merely filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). The people of Judah no longer called upon their God of Salvation, but instead on gods of wood and stone. As a consequence, God had withdrawn his presence from them. Isaiah, therefore, calls upon God to no longer remember their sins, but look with favor on his chosen people, since as a potter has control of what he makes with the clay, the Children of Israel should be remembered as the work of His hands.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9

 

St. Paul begins his first letter to his Christian converts in Corinth with words of thanks to God for the grace that He poured out on the Corinthians as they responded positively to the testimony about Jesus. He then urges them to be faithful to the calling to be God’s Children as they wait for the return of Jesus, a belief held by many that Jesus would return in that century.

But whether Jesus returns on that Last Day or upon our death, the admonition to stay faithful in every way to our calling to be Children of God both in what we say and what we do still remains valid.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 11: 1-10

 

Jesus, who knows all things, sends his disciples into a village nearby to find a specific colt. Not only that, but he tells the disciples what to say when someone questions what they are doing. Sure enough, it all happens just as Jesus said it would. But the disciples are probably unprepared for what follows: Jesus riding into Jerusalem somewhat in the fashion of a general returning from battle in triumph, riding on his horse. But the response of the people is the same: Jesus seems to be acknowledged as the son of David, that mighty military general of old, whose coming would restore Israel to its preeminence among all the nations. But were the people prepared to receive Jesus for the real reason: to be the final sacrifice that would truly take away their sins?

What about you? Does your celebration of the coming of Jesus at Christmas recognize that shadow of the cross in the background that represents the real reason for his coming?

 

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Alternate Gospel Lesson: Mark 13: 24-37

 

It is Holy Week. Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he has cleansed the temple of the moneychangers and merchants who set up there for Passover, he has been challenged by the religious leaders as to what authority Jesus had to do what he did, and he has observed people making their contributions to the temple and singled out the poor widow who gave all that she had. As Jesus and his disciples leave the temple area, the disciples remark about its beautiful stones, to which Jesus replies that they will all be torn down. When the disciples ask when these things will be, Jesus launches into a discussion of when the temple will be destroyed and also when the end times will be. It is at this latter point that our reading for today begins, as it addresses when the second coming of Jesus will occur.

First of all, the ultimate sign will be marked calamities in the universe, including the sun, moon, and stars. Jesus assures the disciples that the current “generation,” meaning the New Testament period, will not end until this happens, commenting that heaven and earth will pass away but his words will not. Then Jesus makes an interesting comment: only the Father knows the exact day and hour that this will take place. The angels do not know, and the Son (in his humanity) does not know. For that reason, Jesus admonishes the disciples and us to stay awake, that is to say, always be ready for Jesus’ sudden coming, since we do not want to be found doing something we should not be doing, or not doing what we should be doing when Jesus suddenly appears.

Are you really ready?