December Commentaries

 

Christmas Day (25 December)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 52: 7-10

When kings went to war, they had messengers to carry news of the battle back to the home city. Some messengers were designated to carry good news, while others just bad news. So when the watchman on the towers of the city saw a messenger coming in the distance, he could tell by the messenger’s manner of running who it was and what kind of news he carried. If good news, the watchmen would shout for joy, causing the people to break out in singing. This is the situation described in today’s reading.

Because of their forsaking God by their idolatry, the people of Judah have been taken into captivity in Babylon. There they gradually realize the error of their ways and cry out to God for help. In today’s lesson, God not only promises to deliver them out of their physical captivity, but he will deliver all nations from their captivity to sin. Then God describes the reaction of the people to his salvation:

—even the feet of the messenger will appear beautiful
—the messenger will bring peace and the 
good news of happiness —the city watchmen will shout for joy when they see the messenger

approaching
—the people will break out into
singing
—the Lord will comfort and redeem his people.

But perhaps more important to us, the Lord’s salvation will be for all people! ————————————————————————————————

 

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

 

The author of Hebrews notes in this first verse that God spoke to his people in the past through various prophets. But he goes on to say that now God speaks to us by his Son. What are the characteristics of this Son? Well, he is

—the appointed heir of all things,
—the
creator of the world,
—the radiance of the
glory of God,
—the exact imprint of God’s
nature,
—the
upholder of the universe by the word of his power,

—the one who purified us of our sins,
—who sits at the right hand of God the Father,
—who is
superior to all the angels,
—who has been begotten by the Father,
—whom angels
worship,
—whose
throne will last forever,
—whose
scepter is uprightness,
—who was
anointed by God the Father with the oil of gladness, —who laid the foundation of the earth at its very beginning, —who created the heavens, and
—who is the
same and whose years will never end.

This, folks, is our God and our Redeemer! ————————————————————————————————

 

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 the 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! ——————————————————————————————

 

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 fulfilling 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, 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 a 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. 

 

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, marks 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? ——————————————————————————————

 

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! ——————————————————————————————

 

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 ——————————————————————————————

 

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”). ——————————————————————————————

 

 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. ————————————————————————————

 

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 a 
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 the full potential of their calling in Christ Jesus. In particular, he points out that each one of them has been given the grace of 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? 

 

 

First Sunday in Advent

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 2: 1-5

Isaiah was called by God to be a prophet to Judah, the Southern Kingdom, during the reigns of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, from around 740 to 695 B.C. During this time, the kings and people of Judah seemed to be vacillating between faithfulness to and trust in God, to searching after the things of this world to satisfy their supposed needs. In this regard, recall the reading from Malachi last week, where many of the Children of Israel no longer believed that God would prosper them, and therefore sought their blessing from the material world.

To get His people to return to Him, God through Isaiah gives this prophecy of what things will be like when the Messiah finally comes. That prophecy includes the following:

—People from the entire world would be turning to Jesus, here described as God’s highest mountain, and also as the house of the God of Jacob, so that they might learn His ways.

—God’s laws will allow nations to settle disputes between peoples so that instruments of war can be converted into instruments of peace.

And then God pleads with the Children of Israel—and with us!—to walk in His light.

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 13: (8-10) 11-14

In this last part of St. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, he lays out some of the expected behavioral aspects of a true Christian. Chapter 12 is particularly worthy of your reading at home. But here, in chapter 13, St. Paul makes some unexpected statements. These include the following:

—Since all government and authority is ordained by God, we should be submissive to that government or authority (with the exception, of course, when that government requires of us that which is contrary to God’s will [Acts 4:19]— which here is left unsaid). This includes the paying of taxes. Then he states that we satisfy the requirements of the Ten Commandments IF we love each other—understood by the Jews early on but then lost in subsequent generations as their rules replaced God’s commandments.

Then, in today’s lesson, St. Paul admonishes these Christians to stop living like the people of the world, including involvement in drunkenness, sexual immorality, quarreling, and jealousy. Rather than satisfying the desires of our flesh, St Paul advises us to live our lives so that others may see Jesus in us.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 21: 1-11

As our lesson begins, we find St. Matthew describing how Jesus instructed his disciples to prepare for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. There were large crowds in Jerusalem at this time since Jews from the known world were gathering to celebrate the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The big news spreading through the crowd was that Jesus was a worker of miracles—healing and raising the dead and that he could feed thousands. Obviously, he must be the military and political messiah that they were all expecting since their idea of the Messiah was one who would lead them in subjugating the rest of the world and then giving them rest from all of their earthly labors.

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Alternate Gospel Lesson: Matthew 24: 36-44

It is now what we know as Holy Week. Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he has cast out the merchants and moneychangers in the temple courtyard, and he has engaged the Pharisees again, describing them for what they are: poisonous snakes! As Jesus and his disciples leave the temple and head for the Mount of Olives, the disciples note the beautiful stones and buildings, to which Jesus responds that none will be left, one upon another. Incredulous, the disciples ask when this will happen. Jesus addresses both the upcoming destruction of the temple itself as well as the signs of the end times.

 

Second Sunday in Advent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 11: 1-10

As we continue from last week the reading of Isaiah’s prophecy, we find him now introducing the Messiah as the “root of Jesse,” that is to say, King David’s father. He then describes what it will be like when Jesus reigns in men’s hearts. There will be

righteous judgment,
justice for the poor and meek, and —destruction of the wicked.

Then Isaiah gives us a picture of Heaven:
—even the
animals—predator and prey—will be at peace with each other, —all the inhabitants of the (new) earth will know God, and
—believers will finally get the
rest that only God can give.

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 15: 4-13

Again continuing from last week, this time from St. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, he expands on what the life of a true Christian should be. But here he indicates that the endurance and encouragement that we obtain from the reading of the Word of God will enable us to live in harmony with each other. But this hope of peace with each other, St. Paul states, extends also to the Gentiles, as he points out from numerous passages in the Old Testament that God intended from the very beginning that salvation should be for everyone, not just for the Jews. St. Paul then blesses his readers with the joy and peace that accrues from believing in God.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 3: 1-12

John the Baptist, son of the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, whose story is recorded in Luke 1, now appears on the scene with his message of preparing the way of the Lord. In fact, Jesus, in Matt. 11:14 identifies John as the “Elijah” who is to come to prepare the way for the Messiah, as prophesied by the prophet Malachi (Malachi 4:5). As we noted earlier, John must have been quite similar in appearance to Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). John also preaches a baptism of repentance, and his strong message draws a crowd of people from Judea and the surrounding countryside. But when the Pharisees and Sadducees come to be baptized, to show that they too are leaders in repentance, John calls them out, declaring that just because they are genetic descendants of Abraham does not mean that they are saved. In fact, just the contrary! John states clearly that, unless they live a life of repentance, they are doomed to Hell. Then he identifies the one for whom he is preparing the way: the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire (perhaps meaning trials and tribulations). 

 

Third Sunday in Advent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 35: 1-10

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 describing how Israel will change with the appearance of the Messiah. In particular, God is pointing out that trust in Him is the only way to everlasting joy. God then gives Isaiah a glimpse of the future, which he then conveys to Judah. In that glimpse, Isaiah sees, among other things, the following events that are sure to bring joy to the one who trusts God:

nature is rejoicing,
—the needy are taken care of,
evil-doers receive their just punishment,
—those with maladies are
healed,
—ruined lands become lush again,
wild animals are at peace with mankind, and
—the
redeemed enter Mt. Zion (the City of our God) triumphantly,

with everlasting gladness and joy.
It is a prophecy of Christ’s return! But is it his first coming, his second coming,

or both? ————————————————————————————————

 

Epistle Lesson: James 5: 7-11

During the first century, a number of Christians thought that Jesus’ second coming would be during their lifetime or shortly thereafter. But when poverty and persecution struck the New Testament church, scattering the believers throughout the then known world, some began to grumble about God not returning to preclude all of these trials and tribulations, and in addition, finding something to grumble about their fellow Christians. St. James cautions his readers to remain steadfast in the faith, because God the righteous judge is still at the door, whether it is to receive your soul through Christ’s second return or to receive your soul upon your death. He then encourages the believers to remain steadfast through all circumstances, even as the prophets in earlier days remained steadfast despite their persecution.

But can you blame these poor Christians? After all, when we get impatient, don’t we get cranky and irritable, too? And it is now 2000 years later, the world is going nuts, and Christians everywhere are beginning to experience persecution, whether it is blatant as in other countries, or more subtle and sophisticated as it is here in America. And we are still waiting for Christ’s second coming. St. James’ advice then is still valid now: be as patient and as steadfast as Job. Everything is still going according to God’s plan. And we can rejoice in that! ————————————————————————————————

 

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 11: 2-15

John the Baptist is in prison, for being politically incorrect. He had the audacity to reprove King Herod of Galilee for marrying his brother Philip’s wife— an adulterous relationship. John probably knows that his life is short, since Herodias, King Herod’s new wife, hates John for pointing out her sin. Consequently, John needs to devise a way to get his disciples to see what he has known all along: that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. So he sends them to Jesus with a question whose answer will do just that.

But is there more to the story? Could it be that John is having second thoughts about Jesus, unexpected after what he had heard and witnessed (John 1:32-34)? After all, John has been devoted to God’s mission to pave the way for the Messiah. And after all that devotion, why should he now find himself in prison? Didn’t God say that He was our Rock and Fortress? Didn’t Jesus tell us to pray, “Deliver us from evil?” So why isn’t God helping and delivering him now in his period of trial, tribulation, and suffering?

Jesus does not address that issue, which brings back memories of the faith-testing of Abraham when he was asked to sacrifice his son, Issac, of Joseph being sold into slavery, and of Job suffering the loss of everything of value. But Jesus does answer John’s question by citing the miracles that he has performed, bringing back remembrance of the prophecies of the Messiah by Isaiah (58:6 and 61:1-2). Then Jesus continues by identifying John as the long-awaited Elijah-like figure (compare Matt. 3:4 with 2 Kings 1:8) that was to immediately precede the Christ, as prophesied by Malachi (4:5-6)

 

Fourth Sunday in Advent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 7: 10-17

King Ahaz of Judah, the subject of today’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—not only for King Ahaz that the two attacking nations will disappear, but also that this would be 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 a freedom that had not been experienced even during the days of Kings David and Solomon.

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 1: 1-7

St. Paul begins his letter to the Romans in this reading. The church in Rome was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, so St. Paul addresses the Jewish Christians first by reminding them that the promised Messiah would be a descendant of King David (from a human perspective), and the Son of God—as demonstrated by his resurrection from the dead. St. Paul then addresses the Gentile Christians, assuring them that God has appointed him to be an apostle to all nations, including those Gentiles in Rome. Then he addresses both the Jewish and Gentile Christians by saying that all of them are loved by God and called to be His children.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 1: 18-25

In this reading, St. Matthew records the circumstances that result in the fulfilling 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. 

 

 

Christmas Day

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 52: 7-10

When kings went to war, they had messengers to carry news of the battle back to the home city. Some messengers were designated to carry good news, while others just bad news. So when the watchman on the towers of the city saw a messenger coming in the distance, he could tell by the messenger’s manner of running who it was and what kind of news he carried. If good news, the watchmen would shout for joy, causing the people to break out in singing. This is the situation described in today’s reading.

Because of their forsaking God by their idolatry, the people of Judah have been taken into captivity in Babylon. There they gradually realize the error of their ways and cry out to God for help. In today’s lesson, God not only promises to deliver them out of their physical captivity, but he will deliver all nations from their captivity to sin. Then God describes the reaction of the people to his salvation:

—even the feet of the messenger will appear beautiful,
—the messenger will bring peace and the 
good news of happiness, —the city watchmen will shout for joy when they see the messenger

approaching,
—the people will break out into
singing, and —the Lord will comfort and redeem his people.

But perhaps more important to us, the Lord’s salvation will be for all people! ————————————————————————————————

 

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

The author of Hebrews notes in this first verse that God spoke to his people in the past through various prophets. But he goes on to say that now God speaks to us by his Son. What are the characteristics of this Son? Well, he is

—the appointed heir of all things, —the creator of the world,

—the radiance of the glory of God,
—the exact imprint of God’s
nature,
—the
upholder of the universe by the word of his power,
—the one who
purified us of our sins,
—who sits at the right hand of God the Father,
—who is
superior to all the angels,
—who has been
begotten by the Father,
—whom angels
worship,
—whose
throne will last forever,
—whose
scepter is uprightness,
—who was
anointed by God the Father with the oil of gladness, —who laid the foundation of the earth at its very beginning, —who created the heavens, and
—who is the
same and whose years will never end.

This, folks, is our God and our Redeemer! ————————————————————————————————

 

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

In this reading, St. John proceeds to describe some more of the characteristics of Jesus, the Savior. They are

—that he existed even at the time of the beginning, —he is the very Word of God,
all things that exist were made by him,
—in him are
light and life,

he was the one of whom John the Baptist gave witness,
—he was neither
recognized nor received by those whom he had made,

—he gives the right to become children of God to those who believe in him,

—he took on human flesh and lived among us, and

—he brings to us both grace and truth. 

 

First Sunday After Christmas

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 63: 7-14

The prophet 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.

In today’s reading, Isaiah is prompted by God to reflect on God’s continual love, so he praises God for his goodness and his compassion. He then peers into the future and sees how God becomes mankind’s savior, being afflicted in our place for our sins. Isaiah then looks into the past on how the Children of Israel (and us?) respond to God’s kindness toward us: it is a history of rebelling against God and grieving his Holy Spirit. God is forced to try to bring rebellious people back through affliction. But God always remembers his children, in this case remembering the Children of Israel as they were led by Moses to the Promised Land and fighting their enemies for them.

—————————————————————————————————————

Epistle Lesson: Galatians 4: 4-7

St. Paul founded the church in Galatia during the early part of his second missionary journey. Not much is said about this in Acts 16 since the Holy Spirit appeared to be directing him to Macedonia. As a consequence, the church became infiltrated with false teachers, mainly the Judaizing Christians, those who insisted that these Christians still had to follow all of the Old Testament rules and regulations.

In today’s lesson, we find St. Paul’s insisting that God did everything to accomplish our salvation. We only need to believe God (that is to say, have faith in God and what he has done for us). There is no righteous deed (ie., keeping the Law) that will enable or enhance our own salvation. Then 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, 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.

—————————————————————————————————————

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 2: 13-23

Politics! It’s everywhere: in our government, in our business, in our academic institutions, even in our churches. But who would have thought that politics would determine where Jesus lived during his lifetime? You see, King Herod was very paranoid. He was so fearful that he would be displaced as king by someone, that he killed anyone who he thought might be an adversary. He even killed his own relatives. So when he hears from the wise men that they are looking for the king of the Jews, he is determined to nip this apparent competitor in the bud immediately. So he sends out his soldiers to kill all infants in Bethlehem that fall within the time period mentioned by the wise men.

Fortunately, God is already privy to his plan and sends an angel to warn Joseph in a dream of the immediate danger to Jesus. Joseph responds with the alacrity of one who believes God and flees to Egypt with Mary and Jesus that very night. A few years later, after King Herod’s death, an angel again appears to Joseph to let him know that it is now safe to return to the land of Israel. But since King Herod’s son is now the king in Judea, Joseph wisely leaves Judea (after being warned in a dream) and heads north, to the district of Galilee, setting up residence in Nazareth—all predicted by God centuries earlier! (Isaiah 9:1-4) 

 

Second Sunday After Christmas

 

Old Testament Lesson: 1 Kings 3: 4-15

Solomon has just been made a king upon the orders of King David, who is on his death bed, because Solomon’s stepbrother, Adonijah, had organized a campaign to steal the kingship from him. After dealing with matters left over from King David’s reign, King Solomon heads to Gibeon (where the tabernacle was located—(1 Chron. 21:29)— to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to the Lord. While there, the Lord appears to King Solomon in a dream, offering to give King Solomon whatever he asked. In other words, it was a blank check. Under the circumstances, for what would you have asked? Perhaps surprisingly, before King Solomon answers, he explains to God that from a child he has observed closely the faith and uprightness of his father as he went about his duties. Because King Solomon notes, he is still young and inexperienced, he would like understanding and discernment so that he can judge God’s people according to God’s will.

God is so pleased by King Solomon’s answer that he not only grants King Solomon’s request but in addition gives him what he could have but didn’t ask for: riches and honor beyond that of any contemporary. Then God announces a conditional blessing: If King Solomon serves God all the days of his life, then God will also grant him a longer life.

When King Solomon returns to Jerusalem, he stands before the Ark of the Covenant, which David had placed in a tent there some years earlier, again offering sacrifices of peace to the Lord, a kind of sacrifice which allowed him to invite all his servants to a feast featuring the meat of the sacrifice, in celebration. ————————————————————————————————

 

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 cost 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?!

—————————————————————————————————————

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 are now on their own while trying to find Jesus. And four days later they 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.  

 

 

November Commentaries

 

All Saints’ Day

 

First Lesson: Revelation 7: 9-17

Recall from the book of Jesus’ Revelation to St. John, that St. John is on the island of Patmos, exiled because of his witness. But on one Sunday morning, he sees a vision of the risen Christ, followed by visions in heaven of events that had occurred and will occur on earth and in the universe during the very last days. The first series of events that he sees is recorded in the chapter preceding today’s reading, in Revelation, chapter 6. Here we see Jesus opening seven seals on a scroll. Each opening of the first four seals results in a specific type of calamity on earth. The opening of the 6th seal is followed by devastation throughout the created universe, indicating the end of time. John’s eyes are then drawn from the universe to heaven, where he sees the saints from all time, as well as the angels, gathered around God’s throne, praising him for who he is and what he has done on behalf of his creation. One of God’s elders then tells John that these saints are the ones who have remained faithful to God despite enduring tribulation on earth, as a consequence of which, God will personally take care of them in Heaven.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 John 3: 1-3

In St John’s first letter to the Christian community in general, he clarifies who Christians are and what this will mean for us when we get to Heaven. In particular, in this passage, St. John states that believers are now already God’s children, and when we get to Heaven, our bodies will be like Jesus’. As a consequence, we should keep ourselves pure now, just as Jesus is pure.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5: 1-12

Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount with a listing of godly characteristics that we call the Beatitudes. These characteristics are

—poor in spirit, meaning those who recognize that they need God’s spiritual intervention

—those who mourn, meaning those who lament their own sins, needing God’s forgiveness

—those who are meek, meaning those who do not aggressively demand their satisfaction but instead depend on God’s favor

—those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, meaning those who recognize that they need God’s rather than man’s righteousness

—those who others —those who reflect —those who peace

The words of Jesus’ on this beatitude in Luke 6:22-23 are truly noteworthy: Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

are merciful, meaning those who are compassionate toward

are pure in heart, meaning those whose words and actions God’s righteousness in their hearts
are peacemakers, meaning those who promote
true world through the proclamation of God’s salvation through their and actions

are persecuted, meaning those who have been used and abused simply because they love and serve Jesus.

words —those who 

 

 

Sunday on November 6 - 12 (Proper 27)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 3: 1-15

Moses, as you will recall, was the baby put into a basket onto the Nile River, to be discovered and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses was subsequently given the education and (military) training of a person of such stature, but he never forgot that he was one of the Children of Israel. And when he saw an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew, Moses intervened, causing the death of the taskmaster. Consequently, Moses had to flee for his life, ending up in Midian, now part of Saudi Arabia. There this super-educated man became a sheepherder for his father-in-law, Jethro, whose daughter he married there.
One day, while in the western part of Midian, by Mt. Horeb, he saw a bush
burning without being consumed. Naturally, his scientific education kicked into gear, and he headed over to the bush to investigate. But Moses quickly discovered that what he thought was a burning bush was actually God in disguise, who told Moses that he had heard the cries of affliction of the Hebrews in Egypt and was, therefore, going to take vengeance on the Egyptians for their oppressing the Hebrews while at the same time delivering the Hebrews, all through the leadership of Moses.

But Moses objects, basically saying that he is not qualified. God responds that he will be with him. Then Moses tries to weasel out by saying that the Hebrews will want to know the name of the God who is sending him (Moses) to lead them to freedom. So God tells Moses that his name is “I am who I am,” the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Thessalonians 2: 1-8 and 13-17

As St. Paul continues his letter to the Thessalonians that we started to read last week, he now turns his attention to the reason for writing the letter: to address the belief that Jesus’ second coming had already occurred. He tells them not to panic and reassures them that Jesus will not return until after some things happen. They include the appearance of the man of lawlessness, believed to be the anti-Christ, who can be identified by the following events:

—he will oppose every other god or object of worship, declaring himself superior, and

—he will seat himself in God’s temple, declaring himself to be God.

Then St. Paul notes that the mystery of lawlessness, that is to say, the philosophies and religions meant to deceive the people, is already present, but the man of lawlessness will be revealed only after the one who is restraining him is taken out of the way. But who is restraining him? The restrainer is believed to be the archangel Michael (see Daniel 10:13 and 20-21; Daniel 12;1; and Revelation 12:7), who is considered to be the defender of the saints. Once the man of lawlessness is revealed, Jesus will dispatch him with the breath of his mouth. St. Paul then reassures the Thessalonians that God has chosen them to be saved, sanctifying them through the Holy Spirit and belief in the truth. Then he encourages them to stand firm in the faith that he had taught them. ————————————————————————————————

 

Gospel Lesson: Luke 20: 27-40

One has to appreciate the frustration that Jesus must have felt as he continued his ministry of the Messiah, with the Pharisees opposing him at every turn, questioning his assertion that he was indeed the Messiah. If that wasn’t enough, we find today the Sadducees coming at him. These are the ones who do not believe that there is either a resurrection or an afterlife. So they try to ridicule the idea of an afterlife by using the rule that God gave to the Children of Israel through Moses (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), that if a married brother dies, the surviving brother was obliged to marry the widow in order to continue the family line of the deceased. In this case, the Sadducees propose that one woman successively becomes the wife of seven brothers, all of whom die without providing a child. So the question is, whose wife is the woman in heaven? One can almost imagine the Sadducees chuckling to themselves, thinking that they have got Jesus trapped now.

Jesus’ response makes it clear that the Sadducees are trying to make a case out of gross ignorance. First of all, there is no marriage in heaven; instead, those who become sons of God through the resurrection to life eternal will be like the angels. Secondly, Jesus refers to the episode of Moses and the burning bush, noting that God (still) is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, meaning that he is not a god of the dead but of the living. 

 

 

Sunday on November 13 - 19 (Proper 28)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Malachi 4: 1-6

Malachi was a prophet of God whose ministry occurred approximately 100 years after the return of the Israelites from Babylonian/Persian captivity. These were difficult times for God’s people. For example, they were small in number and plagued by poverty, drought, and pestilence. In addition, they were surrounded by enemies of various types while they attempted to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple—which had all been destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 586 B.C. To make matters worse, we find—from a reading of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah—that the Israelites themselves were their own enemy: The priesthood was corrupt, Israelites were marrying idolaters, tithes were not being paid, and the rich were taking advantage of the poor. Not surprisingly, the miraculous displays of God’s provision were not apparent as in previous times. In other words, when someone in a family or a number of people in a group are in rebellion against God, the whole family or group suffers and misses out on God’s blessings. In this case, it was truly a time of trial and tribulation when God’s people were required to endure by faith.

God used Malachi, therefore, to encourage his people to remain faithful during this time of tribulation, until God acted to destroy his enemies and restore joy to his people. Then God slips in a prophecy of the coming Messiah: he states that the coming of the Messiah will be preceded by the arrival of the prophet “Elijah,” a man known for laying down God’s law, and for being recognized by his hairiness and his wearing a leather belt around his waist. The message of this “Elijah?” To repent and turn back to God, and for families to turn back to each other.

But could this also be a call for repentance by individuals in the church before Christ’s second coming?

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Thessalonians 3: (1-5) 6-13

In this second letter of St. Paul to the believers in Thessalonica, he first of all requests their prayers for the success of the gospel outreach in the face of wicked and evil men. Then he encourages them to continue in the love of God and to remain steadfast in the faith. Why? Because there was a growing problem in Thessalonica of people choosing not to work, but rather depending upon the charity of others to keep them supplied with what they wanted. Instead of working, these people were living a life of idleness and causing disruption in the community with their busybody-ness. St. Paul’s perspective is simple: if anyone is choosing not to work, he should not be eating at others’ expense. Then he states emphatically that God wants each of us to work quietly and to earn our own living, not being a burden to anyone.

But then St. Paul addresses those who are working: These people should not grow weary of doing good, of being charitable. Perhaps a message of encouragement that we all need to hear in these times.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 21: 5-28 (29-36)

In today’s lesson, Jesus remarks that the glorious temple built by Herod the Great will be leveled just as Solomon’s temple was destroyed. When the disciples ask when this will take place, Jesus responds with a three-part prophecy. The first part speaks of earthquakes, famines, wars, and pestilences, signs in the heavens, and severe persecution of the saints.

The second part speaks of Jerusalem being surrounded by an army, with Jerusalem being trampled underfoot by unbelievers.

But the third part speaks of calamities involving the entire universe, with the whole world plagued by fear and trepidation. Jesus says that at this time he will be returning in power and glory, and despite our trials and tribulations at this time, we should look up with joy to our coming Savior.

Jesus then observes that, just as one can predict the coming of summer when the trees begin to bud and produce leaves, so Jesus’ coming will be near when these things are happening. But then he warns that we all need to watch ourselves, especially when we become too concerned over the pleasures of life, because the day of Jesus’ return will be sudden and unexpected, and we may find ourselves serving ourselves instead of God. 

 

 

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

 

Old Testament Lesson: Malachi 3: 13-18

Have you ever looked around you and wondered why the unbelievers always seem to be extremely prosperous and are always getting away with wickedness?

Or have you ever wished that you could be that prosperous and enjoying life as these folks do?

Have you wondered why God doesn’t seem to bless you as in

3 John 2: “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul “?

or the statement in the hymn
Praise to the Lord, who will prosper your work and defend you, Surely His goodness and mercy shall daily attend you.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do
As with His love, He befriends you.”?

Have you ever wondered whether it really is worthwhile to serve God? That was the malady that appeared to be afflicting a large proportion of the Children of Israel back in the time of Malachi. Unfortunately, a lot of these people were acting on these thoughts. God, through Malachi, calls these actions for what they are: unbelief!

Then God goes on to say that He will honor those who continue to have faith in Him and in His provision, no matter what the circumstances, adding that the faithful will be His treasured possession. And He states that He will make a distinction between those who continue to trust and serve Him, and those who do not. ————————————————————————————————

 

Epistle Lesson: Colossians 1: 13-20

Just in case you overlooked a few of the glorious things that God has already done for you, courtesy of Jesus’ death and resurrection, St. Paul takes this opportunity to remind the Colossians: Jesus has redeemed us, gaining the

167

3-Year Lectionary/Series C November 20-26 (Proper 29)

forgiveness of our sins. Consequently, the Father has transferred us out of Satan’s Kingdom to Jesus’ Kingdom. Then he goes on to characterize this Jesus who made all your blessings possible:

—He is the firstborn of all creation.
—He created
all things, in heaven and on earth, whether visible or

invisible.
—He created
all the authorities.
—He holds
all of creation on its present course.
—He is the
head of the Church—the body of all believers.
—He is the
first to be raised from the dead with a glorious body. —He is the human being in whom all the fullness of God continues to

dwell.
—He is the one who
reconciled sinful mankind to God, making peace

between God and man by His blood. ———————————————————————————————

Gospel Lesson: Luke 23: 27-43
St. Luke contrasts two groups of people at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion:

Group one was those who wept for Him because of His impending death, but to whom Jesus warned that they should weep for themselves because of coming disasters and calamities (perhaps referring to the destruction of Jerusalem about 40 years later), because if people are doing this—a crucifixion—to a sinless person, what will be done to those who are sinful?

Group two was those who mocked Him for saying that He really was the Christ.

But Jesus had the last word, as he said to the second thief on the cross, who believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the one who would save all believers from their sin:

“Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

We too would do well if we remembered the words of Jesus to the Church in Smyrna:

“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Rev. 2:10b 

 

First Sunday in Advent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 2: 1-5

Isaiah was called by God to be a prophet to Judah, the Southern Kingdom, during the reigns of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, from around 740 to 695 B.C. During this time, the kings and people of Judah seemed to be vacillating between faithfulness to and trust in God, to searching after the things of this world to satisfy their supposed needs. In this regard, recall the reading from Malachi last week, where many of the Children of Israel no longer believed that God would prosper them, and therefore sought their blessing from the material world.

To get His people to return to Him, God through Isaiah gives this prophecy of what things will be like when the Messiah finally comes. That prophecy includes the following:

—People from the entire world would be turning to Jesus, here described as God’s highest mountain, and also as the house of the God of Jacob, so that they might learn His ways.

—God’s laws will allow nations to settle disputes between peoples so that instruments of war can be converted into instruments of peace.

And then God pleads with the Children of Israel—and with us!—to walk in His light.

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 13: (8-10) 11-14

In this last part of St. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, he lays out some of the expected behavioral aspects of a true Christian. Chapter 12 is particularly worthy of your reading at home. But here, in chapter 13, St. Paul makes some unexpected statements. These include the following:

—Since all government and authority is ordained by God, we should be submissive to that government or authority (with the exception, of course, when that government requires of us that which is contrary to God’s will [Acts 4:19]— which here is left unsaid). This includes the paying of taxes. Then he states that we satisfy the requirements of the Ten Commandments IF we love each other—understood by the Jews early on but then lost in subsequent generations as their rules replaced God’s commandments.

Then, in today’s lesson, St. Paul admonishes these Christians to stop living like the people of the world, including involvement in drunkenness, sexual immorality, quarreling, and jealousy. Rather than satisfying the desires of our flesh, St Paul advises us to live our lives so that others may see Jesus in us.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 21: 1-11

As our lesson begins, we find St. Matthew describing how Jesus instructed his disciples to prepare for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. There were large crowds in Jerusalem at this time since Jews from the known world were gathering to celebrate the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The big news spreading through the crowd was that Jesus was a worker of miracles—healing and raising the dead and that he could feed thousands. Obviously, he must be the military and political messiah that they were all expecting since their idea of the Messiah was one who would lead them in subjugating the rest of the world and then giving them rest from all of their earthly labors.

————————————————————————————————

 

Alternate Gospel Lesson: Matthew 24: 36-44

It is now what we know as Holy Week. Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he has cast out the merchants and moneychangers in the temple courtyard, and he has engaged the Pharisees again, describing them for what they are: poisonous snakes! As Jesus and his disciples leave the temple and head for the Mount of Olives, the disciples note the beautiful stones and buildings, to which Jesus responds that none will be left, one upon another. Incredulous, the disciples ask when this will happen. Jesus addresses both the upcoming destruction of the temple itself as well as the signs of the end times.

 

As he finishes this discussion, he makes a curious statement: only the Father knows the exact day that the end of time will come. But what about Jesus? Isn’t he God too? But this conundrum can perhaps be explained by the fact that the incarnate Jesus was speaking, not the begotten Son of the Father.

Still, this statement is a warning to the disciples, as well as to all believers, to be on guard, not to be caught napping while they are pursuing earthly pleasures. After all, think about the general population at the time of Noah: they were eating, drinking, marrying and re-marrying, and in general having a good time, all the while ignoring the warning posed by Noah’s building of the ark. Thus, when the flood came, they literally missed the boat! As Jesus points out, people may be going about their everyday tasks when suddenly it is all over: it is too late to make that critical choice to accept Jesus’ offer of free salvation. Or, as Jesus continues, it is like a thief coming in the middle of the night, when those in the household have no idea that he is coming.

Bottom line: Believers must be ready, remaining pure and keeping the faith right up to that very second that Jesus comes when no one expects him! 

 

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. ————————————————————————————

 

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.

 

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Give thanks to the Lord; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever, And his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100:4b-5 ESV