February Commentaries

 

 

Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Micah 6: 1-8


Micah was a prophet for the Lord to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, during the time that Isaiah was also a prophet for the Lord to the Southern Kingdom. Micah began his ministry approximately at the time that Ahaz became king of Judah, King Ahaz was to the Southern Kingdom what King Ahab, some 130 years earlier, was to the Northern Kingdom, both leading their kingdoms into gross apostasy.

In the first part of today’s reading, we find God virtually bringing the Southern Kingdom into court. He basically asks the Southern Kingdom to explain to him why they are treating him the way they are in the light of all the good that He (God) has done for them in the past. God then makes a shortlist of the benefits that he has provided, including

—freeing them from slavery in Egypt,
—providing righteous mentors (Moses, Aaron, and Miriam) for them

during their 40 years of learning how to be people of God, —frustrating the intent of King Balak of Moab to hire Balaam, a witch, to curse the Children of Israel as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land after 40 years in the desert,

—causing Balaam to speak blessings instead of curses on the Children of Israel,

—renewing the covenant relationship with the Children of Israel at Gilgal despite their having broken that covenant relationship at Shittim where they committed adultery and idolatry with the Moab women and the Moabite Baals.

The Children of Israel respond to God’s question by asking what will please Him, proposing a number of options. God’s answer? None of the above!
God states that he has already told them what he requires:

—to do justice,
—to love kindness, and
—to walk
humbly with their God.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31

 

In today’s lesson, St. Paul continues to develop the thought that he left us with last Sunday: that the simplicity of the Gospel message can be taken as foolishness by some, but to others, it is the power and grace of God to save us from our own foolishness. He then provides examples of where God’s foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of man:

—we are saved through faith, not through man’s wisdom and understanding,

—God’s provides a crucified Christ for salvation, whereas Jews demand some kind of sign while Gentiles depend on their own knowledge,

—man looks to the professors of knowledge and wisdom to achieve utopia whereas God provides the preaching of a simple message,

—man lauds those who are strong, while God honors the weak,
—man looks up to the elite, rich and famous for pearls of wisdom while God honors the politically incorrect for their faith.

Why? So that man’s salvation is not dependent on anything a man can do but depends solely on what God gives to us by grace through faith. That faith in God gives us his wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption so that the only boasting that man can do is to boast about what God has done for us.

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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 are merciful, meaning those who are compassionate to others,

—those who are pure in heart, meaning those whose words and actions reflect God’s righteousness in their hearts,

—those who are peacemakers, meaning those who promote true world peace through the proclamation of God’s salvation through their words and actions,

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

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. 

 

Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 58: 3-9a

 

You may remember from our Reading from two weeks ago that Isaiah was God’s prophet to the Southern Kingdom around the time of the Northern Kingdom’s demise in 720 B.C. In today’s lesson, we find God delivering a message through Isaiah to the people of the Southern Kingdom in response to their complaint that God neither hears nor answers their prayers. And these were not just the prayers that everyone said “Amen” to during the church service. These were prayers that were accompanied by fasting and humbling of oneself. Surely God would hear and respond appropriately under these circumstances!

But God answered with the observation that these prayers were only to snooker God into enhancing their pleasures, while at the same time the people praying were using and abusing their co-workers. Then God says that, if they really wanted answers to their prayers and fasting, this is what he wanted to see:

—forsaking wickedness,
—relieving the burden of the oppressed, —feeding the poor,
—sheltering the homeless, and —clothing the poor.

God adds that, under these circumstances, the clouds of gloom will leave, healings will occur speedily, the Lord will be their protector, and God will quickly answer when they pray.

So this lesson prompts us to examine ourselves. First of all, do you have problems and needs? When you pray, is God responding to your prayers? If not, then the next step is to ask yourselves what your attitudes and actions are to those around you, especially those with needs of their own. If we want God to answer our prayers speedily, then we need to be attentive and responsive to the circumstances and needs of people around us. More importantly, we should not be responsible for causing grieve to those around us. ————————————————————————————————

 

Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 2: 1-12 (13-16)

 

Continuing from last Sunday the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, he states that when he arrived in Corinth, he did not try to impress the Corinthians with elegant speech or his learning and education. Rather, with a humble attitude, he focused on bringing the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection to them, letting the signs and wonders worked by the Holy Spirit impress the listeners with the power of God. He noted that the salvation that the gospel brings was not grasped through human wisdom, but through the wisdom of God that was secret and hidden but revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit of God that God himself offers to us, that we might understand not only the Father but also all that he freely gives to us.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5: 13-20

 

Jesus continues His Sermon on the Mount that we began last week. In today’s lesson, he stresses that our Christianity is not something that we keep to ourselves, but rather it is something that others can hear and see in us because of our manner of speech and behavior. Not so demonstrating our faith would be the equivalent of salt not having any saltiness, or a light turned on but entirely enclosed so that no light can escape.

Then Jesus addresses an attitude that is all too common today, that since Christ has died for our sins, we are free to do whatever we want. Jesus makes it plain that his dying for our sins does not relieve us of God’s most important commandments, which are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And contrary to the Pharisees’ belief, substituting our own self-righteous rules for God’s commandments will not gain us access to the kingdom of heaven. 

 

Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

 

Before we address this reading for today, let’s frame it in its proper context. The Children of Israel, led by Moses, have just completed lapping the Arabian Peninsula for the past 40 years. They are now standing on the Plains of Moab, east of the Jordan River just opposite the city of Jericho. Because Moses had disobeyed God publicly just recently, God would not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land. Instead, Moses would die just before the Children of Israel would enter the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. So Moses takes this opportunity to address the Children of Israel for the last time, his speech representing the book of Deuteronomy.

Similar to all Spirit-inspired literature, we find in today’s reading God addressing the Children of Israel through Moses. Here God offers the Children of Israel a choice: they may either obey Him, love Him, keep His commandments, and walk in His ways; or they may choose to disobey God, refuse to listen to him, and serve themselves and/or other gods (whatever is most important to them).

But then come the consequences of the choice:
Obedience brings life, children, and God’s blessings on the land in which they are living.

Disobedience brings early death, curses on the land (read

Deuteronomy 28:15-68), and loss of everything that one considers important and valuable.

God advises the Children of Israel to choose life. In effect, He offers us and this country the same choice. What will you choose? What DID you choose?

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 3: 1-9

 

Continuing to read from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we find him now chastising the Corinthians for being very immature Christians, or “infants in Christ.” Why? Because they were forming cliques in their fellowship, taking pride in who it was that brought them to Christ. In short, they were focussing not on Jesus the Savior, but on Paul and Apollos, the messengers of the gospel. People who get so prideful over something so trivial means that St Paul must still deal with them as if they were spiritual infants, needing spiritual milk, instead of spiritual adults able to ingest a spiritual steak.

This reading again affords us the opportunity to take stock of ourselves. Are we focused on our thoughts, words, and actions on demonstrating the gospel of Christ in our lives? Or do our thoughts, words and actions demonstrate how self-centered we still are?

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5: 21-37

 

In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us some insight into what God was thinking when he gave the Ten Commandments to the Children of Israel through Moses.

He first addresses what constitutes murder, including what we would consider benign behavior, including being angry at someone or insulting someone. Jesus makes it clear that when we have offended a brother in this way, we need to reconcile with him before we come to church with our offering and expect God to bless us.

Jesus then deals with adultery, noting that even entertaining the thought constitutes the sin. Then He seems to employ exaggeration to emphasize a point: if we really want to keep from sinning, we need to get rid of our old heart and receive a new heart from God by letting God’s Spirit direct our lives.

Jesus then addresses divorce, and how limited God intended it right from the beginning, ending with God’s perspective on swearing an oath.

And what is the bottom line for all of these observations? That we are to observe the spirit of the Law, not just the letter. And what is the spirit of the Law? To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and to love your neighbor as yourself. 

 

Seventh Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Leviticus 19: 1-2 and 9-18

 

You may recall from the Gospel readings of the last two Sundays that the focus was on God’s people obeying the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. When God framed the commandments in general in terms of “don’t do this,” or “don’t do that,” he was giving examples of what it means to NOT love your neighbor. Not loving your neighbor means not being holy as God is holy.

In today’s reading, God expands on some of the commandments, giving us more explicit examples. The first, on the significance of NOT scavenging every last grain from your fields, was illustrated to us in the story of Ruth, where we saw that she and her mother-in-law, Naomi, survived because of this instruction.

Next, God talks about stealing, dealing falsely, lying to one another, and robbing or oppressing one’s neighbor. Since our closest neighbor is usually someone in our family, God wants us to examine such dealings perhaps a lot more carefully than we have. For example, lying to one’s spouse would appear to be a serious violation of the wedding vow.

Next God deals with injustice and partiality in the legal system. Probably many of us have experienced that. But then he ends this discussion by identifying the real culprit behind all this evil: what is in our heart. And THAT is something we can take home to ponder about ourselves.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 3: 10-23

 

As St. Paul continues to teach the Corinthians, he asks them to consider how they are loving God and loving their neighbor by likening their thoughts, words, and deeds to the building materials used in a house. We can go for a durable house with the materials we choose, or we can go for a flimsy house. But which one are we building for ourselves in heaven? St. Paul notes that God will judge the quality of our workmanship, and our reward in heaven will be based on that quality. Yes, if you believe that Jesus died for your sins, that’s the ticket for getting into heaven. And you can indeed praise God for that! But the issue here is, what kind of steward were you with what God gave you here on earth, particularly as it relates to the keeping of those two greatest commandments?

St Paul then observes that we may be tempted to deceive ourselves, that we can pretend to be the most excellent example of godliness when in actual fact we are still living to please and serve ourselves. We need to remember that we belong to God, that we are HIS servants.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5: 38-48

 

Jesus takes this opportunity, in his Sermon on the Mount, to clarify what it really means to love your neighbor as yourself. Not resisting someone who is evil, loving our enemies, and praying for those who persecute us seem like particularly difficult guidelines for us to follow. But He then asks two rhetorical questions, which can be summarized as follows:

—What is the big deal if you love only those who love you?
Jesus then echoes our Old Testament lesson when he states, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 

 

 

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 24: 8-18

Today’s fascinating lesson begins with the conclusion of what constitutes a marriage ceremony, a marriage between God and the Children of Israel. Although the agreement includes the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant, recorded in Exodus 20:1-23:33, it can be summarized in the words of Ex. 19:5-6: Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, (then) you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

When Moses conveyed this proposal of God’s to the Children of Israel by the reading of the Book of the Covenant, their response was, “We’re in!” And so the sprinkling of the blood of a sacrifice mentioned here sealed the marriage agreement between God and the Children of Israel. And thereafter, God referred to himself as their husband, and to the Children of Israel as his wife (Hosea 2:2, 16). But now, God invites Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s two sons Nadab and Abihu, and 70 of the elders of the Children of Israel to come part-way up Mt. Sinai to enjoy presumably a wedding dinner with God himself. And they not only see God but also the pavement under his feet! This is an amazing event since God had made it clear that if anyone saw his face, they were dead (Ex. 33:20).

Our story then continues with God further inviting Moses to the top of the mountain, where God would give him the two tablets of stone on which were inscribed the marriage agreement. Note that to Moses, he was just in a cloud, the glory of the Lord, for 40 days and 40 nights. But to the people at the foot of the mountain, Moses was in a blazing fire during that time.

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Peter 1: 16-21

 

St. Peter here emphasizes to his readers that the power and glory belonging to the deity of Jesus is not something that the apostles made up, but is something that they witnessed personally when he, along with James and John, saw Jesus transfigured before their very eyes and then witnessed with their very ears when they heard the Father speak. He then warns them that they would do well to heed God’s Word since that came as a result of the Holy Spirit speaking to the writers of God’s Word.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 17: 1-9

 

Jesus has taken Peter, James, and John on a hike up a high mountain. And when they get to the top, the trio of apostles is astounded to see the glory of the Lord emanating from Jesus. In addition, they see Moses and Elijah (how did they know them?) talking with Jesus (remember, as Jesus once told the Pharisees, God is the God of the living, not of the dead—Luke 20:38). Also remember that Peter has this unique ability to be able to open his mouth and have words spill out, no matter how crazy they seem, which happens in this case. He suggests that they could build three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah as if they were planning to stay on the mountain top for some time. But God the Father interrupts, bringing Peter back to earth by telling him to listen to Jesus. And the first thing that Jesus says is to not tell anyone what they have seen until after he has risen from the dead. But why not tell everyone? Because Jesus wanted people to focus on him as their Messiah—their redeemer from the consequences of their sin, not as some kind of miracle worker or magician. 

 

Ash Wednesday (Wednesday after Transfiguration Sunday)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Joel 2: 12-19

 

Joel was one of God’s prophets to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, during the reign of King Joash. (You may recall that he was rescued from the murderous Queen Athaliah, an Israelite who planned to eliminate King David’s line. Joash was made king when he was age seven and remained righteous as long as the priest Jehoiada lived.) Joel is writing to the people of Judah who are suffering under a plague of locusts that is devastating the land. And after the locusts, Joel warns, will come the Day of the Lord with even greater judgment.

As this evening’s reading begins, God is advising the people of Judah to return to Him, not just going through the motions of repentance, but returning to God with fasting, weeping, and mourning, figuratively tearing their hearts rather than their clothes. God reminds the people that he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting over the punishment he had planned when the people do repent. So Joel tells the people of Judah to consecrate a fast, and assemble the entire congregation—from elders to nursing infants—to repent and cry out to God for mercy.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 5: 20b - 6:10

Toward the end of his second missionary trip to Asia Minor, Paul found himself in Corinth, where he initially discussed the Scriptures with the Jews in their synagogue. But because the Jews opposed him, he left the synagogue to share the Good News with the Gentiles, staying with a man named Titius Justus. His next-door neighbor was Crispus, the synagogue leader, who believed in the Lord, with his entire family. After the Lord gave St. Paul encouragement one night in a vision, St. Paul stayed in Corinth for over a year and a half before he left to make an initial visit to Ephesus before returning to Antioch.

The church in Corinth had many growing pains, requiring St. Paul to write two letters to the Corinthians. In today’s reading, St. Paul urges his readers to be reconciled to God because God had caused them to be placed on Jesus their sins so that Jesus’ righteousness might be placed on them. Then St. Paul pleads with

his readers/listeners not to ignore the message being delivered to them, because right now, God was reaching out to them in order to save them now. St. Paul is so serious about their salvation that he lists all the things that he endures in order for that message of salvation to come to them.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21

 

Jesus is in the midst of his Sermon on the Mount. As we begin the reading for this evening, Jesus is addressing Christian hypocrisy, that is to say, doing “righteous” things in a way that everybody can see that you are doing them, thus earning others’ praises, honor, and recognition. Instead, Jesus says, if you want God to give you credit for doing “righteous” things, then all of these things must be done without others seeing or knowing that you are doing them.

Then Jesus addresses who or what your god really is. If you are trying to get lots of money so that you can enjoy material wealth and financial security, or if you are looking to get power and control, then those are your gods. Instead, Jesus recommends that you lay up your treasures in heaven. How does one do that? By devoting your life to loving and serving one another. 

 

St. Matthias, Apostle (24 February )

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 66: 1-2

 

In Old Testament times, Jerusalem was known as “The City of Our God.” Well, that was true for a while, but slowly, with ups and downs, the kings of Judah led the people of Judah into apostasy. God sent Isaiah to the Southern Kingdom, hoping that they would repent of their rebellion against God. But the people of Jerusalem and Judah refused to hear Isaiah, pointing to the temple and saying that God is in their midst; they have him boxed in. And besides, he wouldn't let anything bad to his temple, the place where he dwelled.

But in today’s reading, God makes very clear that he is not boxed in by a temple. He points out that heaven is his throne, and all of the earth is merely his footstool. Then he asks the people of Judah a question: who can build a place for him that would contain him, implying that they have no materials to use that God himself hasn’t already made. Then God lays out the bottom line: if someone wants God’s attention, they can demonstrate certain attitudes toward God: humility, contriteness, and trembling upon hearing God’s word.

 

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Second Lesson: Acts 1: 15-26

 

Just before our reading begins today, we find the apostles returning to Jerusalem from Mt. Olivet, from which they had just witnessed the ascension of Jesus into Heaven. They return to an upper room where they continually engage in prayer with a number of the women disciples as well as Jesus’ mother and brothers. As the reading for today begins, it is a few days later that they gather with all of the disciples, 120 in total, during which Peter is inspired to replace Judas—the apostle who betrayed Jesus and then when feeling guilty about it, went out and hanged himself, which probably means impaling himself on a sword.

In any case, Peter lays out the criteria for selecting a replacement for Judas. And of the two possible candidates presented, one was chosen by lot—the method used throughout the Old Testament period. That one was Matthias. The New Testament period now uses a very different method, with criteria listed in 1 Timothy 3 as well as Titus 1.

 

 

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 11: 25-30

 

Jesus has just finished dealing with the discouraged, imprisoned John the Baptist when he turns and faces the cities in which his ministry had been concentrated so far, the cities of Galilee. Feeling frustration himself, Jesus warns that at the Judgment, they would fare worse than the cities of Tyre and Sidon (centers of Baal and Asherah worship) or even Sodom, because, had these cities seen the miracles, wonders, and signs that God had wrought through Jesus, they would have repented. In contrast, the inhabitants of Galilee saw but still refused to repent.

But then, in today’s reading, Jesus praises God for his hiding the significance of Jesus and his ministry from the wise and understanding (i.e., the Jews who considered themselves to be God’s exclusive people) and instead of revealing his salvation to children (i.e., those of humble heart and simple faith). Jesus then extends that wonderful invitation to all who are heavily burdened in their souls by their sin, because He will relieve them of their burden by forgiving their sins and giving them rest. 

 

St. Simeon’s Day, or, The Purification of Mary and The Presentation of Our Lord (2 February )

 

Old Testament Lesson: 1 Samuel 1: 21-28

 

The background for our reading for today begins with the story of Elkanah [ el -ka-nah], of the tribe of Ephraim (a son of Joseph), at about 140 years before Solomon becomes king. Elkanah was married to two wives. The one, Peninnah [pa-nee-nah] was very fertile and provided Elkanah with many sons and daughters. But God had caused the other wife, Hannah [Ha-nah] to be infertile. As a consequence, Hannah suffered endlessly from the ridicule and shame showered upon her by Peninnah. This happened particularly when Elkanah took his family to the tabernacle at Shiloh to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving—where the sacrifice was allowed to be eaten by Elkanah and his family—because Peninnah and her children were given the bulk of the sacrifice to eat, whereas Hannah received only a small portion.

At one of these instances, Hannah went to the tabernacle to pray and promised God that if He gave her a son, she would give him back to God to serve God for as long as he lived. Eli the priest saw her praying, and after an exchange of words, Eli asked God to grant her request. Sure enough, after they returned home, Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son, whom she named Samuel (God hears).

As our reading begins today, Hannah tells Elkanah that she will not be going along on the trips to Shiloh until she has weaned Samuel (which was anywhere from 3-5 years in those days). Finally, when Samuel is weaned, Hannah goes to Shiloh to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and to turn Samuel over to Eli to serve God for the rest of his life. Eli must have been quite surprised to learn that Samuel was a result of the prayers of Hannah and himself!

 

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 2: 14-18


In this section of Hebrews, the author is describing why Jesus had to take on flesh and blood like other human beings: by his death as a sinless human, he would destroy the power over death held by Satan up to that time. This would result in humans being freed from the slavery to sin that resulted in the fear of dying (i.e., Jesus’ death satisfied God’s requirement for the punishment of sin by Jesus dying in our place). Upon his death, Jesus, as a faithful high priest, offered his blood in the heavenly tabernacle (Hebrews 9:11-15), thus securing forgiveness of sins to those who accept Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf. Two interesting consequences arising out of this: (1) Because Jesus was a human just like us, he can understand our problems and be merciful to us; and (2) since Jesus also experienced temptations during his sufferings—but without sin, he can help us when we are tempted.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 22-32 (33-40)

 

From the time of the first Passover, God had announced to the Jews that every firstborn son (Exodus 13:13-16; Numbers 3:11-13; Numbers 8:17-18) would be his and that they would have to buy back their firstborn son from Him by the offering of the appropriate sacrifice. This coincided with the sacrifice to cleanse the woman after giving birth to a son, which happened 40 days after giving birth. The requirements for the sacrifice were a one-year-old lamb and a pigeon or mourning dove. An exception was made for the poor, who were allowed to offer two mourning doves or two pigeons (Leviticus 12:1-8).

In a fascinating series of events, just as Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus are entering the temple courtyard to satisfy God’s requirements, the Holy Spirit moves a devout man by the name of Simeon, whom God had told that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, into the temple courtyard at the exact same time. When Simeon realizes by the Holy Spirit that he is looking at the promised Messiah, he breaks into praise to God, noting in particular that the Messiah is to be the salvation of all peoples and of all nations. This song of praise is now known to us as the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon, which we often sing after each communion service

Simeon then remarks that Jesus’ presence will cause a separation to occur in the Children of Israel: those that reject him will be condemned by God, and those who believe in him will be saved. Then Simeon turns to Mary and notes that a (figurative) sword will pierce her heart, undoubtedly referring to the crucifixion of her firstborn that she will witness.

But Simeon has barely left when an elderly woman, Anna, a prophetess, approaches them and declares that Jesus is the one who will redeem Israel. Thus both Simeon and Anna confirm to Mary the words of the angel Gabriel, that Jesus will save his people from their sins (“Jesus” means “he saves”). 

 

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 24: 8-18

 

Today’s fascinating lesson begins with the conclusion of what constitutes a marriage ceremony, a marriage between God and the Children of Israel. Although the agreement includes the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant, recorded in Exodus 20:1-23:33, it can be summarized in the words of Ex. 19:5-6: Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, (then) you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

When Moses conveyed this proposal of God’s to the Children of Israel by the reading of the Book of the Covenant, their response was, “We’re in!” And so the sprinkling of the blood of a sacrifice mentioned here sealed the marriage agreement between God and the Children of Israel. And thereafter, God referred to himself as their husband, and to the Children of Israel as his wife (Hosea 2:2, 16). But now, God invites Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s two sons Nadab and Abihu, and 70 of the elders of the Children of Israel to come part-way up Mt. Sinai to enjoy presumably a wedding dinner with God himself. And they not only see God but also the pavement under his feet! This is an amazing event since God had made it clear that if anyone saw his face, they were dead (Ex. 33:20).

Our story then continues with God further inviting Moses to the top of the mountain, where God would give him the two tablets of stone on which were inscribed the marriage agreement. Note that to Moses, he was just in a cloud, the glory of the Lord, for 40 days and 40 nights. But to the people at the foot of the mountain, Moses was in a blazing fire during that time.

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Peter 1: 16-21

 

St. Peter here emphasizes to his readers that the power and glory belonging to the deity of Jesus is not something that the apostles made up, but is something that they witnessed personally when he, along with James and John, saw Jesus transfigured before their very eyes and then witnessed with their very ears when they heard the Father speak. He then warns them that they would do well to heed God’s Word since that came as a result of the Holy Spirit speaking to the writers of God’s Word.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 17: 1-9

 

Jesus has taken Peter, James, and John on a hike up a high mountain. And when they get to the top, the trio of apostles is astounded to see the glory of the Lord emanating from Jesus. In addition, they see Moses and Elijah (how did they know them?) talking with Jesus (remember, as Jesus once told the Pharisees, God is the God of the living, not of the dead—Luke 20:38). Also remember that Peter has this unique ability to be able to open his mouth and have words spill out, no matter how crazy they seem, which happens in this case. He suggests that they could build three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah as if they were planning to stay on the mountain top for some time. But God the Father interrupts, bringing Peter back to earth by telling him to listen to Jesus. And the first thing that Jesus says is to not tell anyone what they have seen until after he has risen from the dead. But why not tell everyone? Because Jesus wanted people to focus on him as their Messiah—their redeemer from the consequences of their sin, not as some kind of miracle worker or magician. 

 

First Sunday in Lent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 3: 1-21

The temptation of Adam and Eve is a story well-known to almost everyone. Because it is so familiar, it is easy to skim over some details that can help us live a life pleasing to God. So let’s look at Satan’s approach to the temptation:

—he, first of all, raises doubt about what God said;
—then he implies that God
doesn’t really know what he is doing,

in this case, saying that what God said is untrue;
—next, he says that God is deliberately
withholding good things from them;

—finally, he appeals to their pride by encouraging them to pursue an ambition to be equal to God.

So when someone confronts you with this approach, you know from where, or from whom, they are coming!

 

The transformation wreaked by sin is immediate: what was once a body upon which to lavish true love and affection is now a body for which to lust. And the previous walks with God in love and companionship are now walked from God because of fear. And when God confronts Adam, we see the first case of narcissism—blaming others for what you have done wrong: Adam not only blames Eve for the situation, he also blames God, because God had given him Eve. Eve, in turn, blames the serpent. Of course, the buck stops at the serpent.

God pronounces judgment first on the serpent, and as part of that judgment, God announces the coming of a Messiah—to buy back humankind from Satan, to whom Adam and Eve had sold themselves as slaves (see Rom. 6:16); this Messiah would crush the authority of Satan but in the process suffer himself. Next, judgment on Eve would consist of pain during childbirth and being subject to her husband. Or, putting it bluntly, refusing to be subject to one’s husband is rebellion against God. Finally, judgment on Adam is preceded by a reprimand for Adam listening to his wife rather than listening to God, since Adam had not been deceived by Satan’s arguments (see 1 Tim. 2:14). The reprimand is followed by the judgment: work will now be a pain rather than a pleasure.

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 5: 12-19

 

St. Paul here explains not only the consequences of that first sin but also the consequences of our redemption through Christ Jesus. First of all, remember that “death” means separation from God. That was the kind of death that God was talking about when he told Adam and Eve what the consequence of their disobedience would be. When they sold themselves into sin to Satan, they became separated from God. Remember that children born of slaves are by birth slaves, so children born to Adam and Eve and their descendants would also be slaves to sin—hence the concept of “original sin.”

By the same token, children born of free people are also free. Because Jesus was obedient throughout his life, including obedience to God by taking the punishment for our sins, He would be declared righteous, and therefore free. His righteousness can now be exchanged for our unrighteousness. So people who become children of God by grace through faith in Christ Jesus are judged to be righteous and therefore are free. Again, these people are declared righteous because of the obedience of Jesus.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 4: 1-11

 

Today’s lesson is the record of another well-known temptation, that of Jesus, the Second Adam (1 Corinth. 15:45-50). In this case, Satan is exerting his wiles against the Son of God. And like the temptation of Adam and Eve, Satan makes use of the same ploys. The bottom line is that Satan appeals to serving self and one’s pride and glory, whereas Jesus counters with the admonition to serve God and to give glory to Him only. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January Commentaries

Series A Epiphany

 

Epiphany of Our Lord

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 60: 1-6

 

Although many of Isaiah’s messages from God to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, were admonitions to repent, today’s message is one foretelling the lavishing of God’s love and grace not only on the people of Judah but also upon all nations. To a world enshrouded in darkness, God will appear before it in His glory. As God is being revealed, kings and nations—even from afar, will come to Him in faith, bringing the praises of God in addition to their offerings of gold and frankincense.

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 3: 1-12

 

In the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul mentioned the mystery that God had revealed to us through Jesus Christ. In today’s lesson, St. Paul expands on the nature of that mystery. Recall that the common-held belief of the Jews of that time was that they were God’s chosen people and the only people that God had ever planned to save. Now St. Paul states that God had to give him a revelation in order for him to appreciate the mystery of Jesus the Messiah: that God intended right from the beginning to save all peoples, the Gentiles being fellow heirs and members of the same body and partakers of the same promise in Jesus the Messiah that had been held by the Jews to be theirs exclusively. Even though God had made clear in his promise to Abraham that he would be the (faith) father of all nations, this message being repeated by prophet after prophet, the reality of this statement was never appreciated until the gospel (good news) of Christ Jesus was revealed. It was to the proclamation of this mystery that St. Paul was called in order to reveal it to the Gentiles.

And through this combined (Jew and Gentile) body of believers, the wisdom of God to save all of humankind would be made known to the entire universe.

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Series A Epiphany

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 2: 1-12

 

St. Matthew records for our benefit the revealing of the Messiah to the Gentiles. It starts with a reminder that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judah during the reign of Herod the Great. You remember him: the king who was so paranoid that someone would replace him that he murdered anyone about whom he had any suspicion, including his own wife, some of his sons and a number of other relatives. So when “wise men”—which could mean astrologers, but could also mean (in our language) professors or researchers— from the east (which could mean Babylon or Persia, or any country east of there) came, claiming they saw the star of the new king of the Jews rise (were they remembering the prophecy that God put in Balaam’s mouth: A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.—Num. 24:17), King Herod’s paranoia went into overdrive. First of all, he ascertains where the Messiah is to be born. Amazingly, the Jewish leaders know exactly where, quoting Micah 5:2. Then Herod schemes to have the wise men find that new king and reveal that to him so that he can worship him individually (wink, wink).

Lo and behold, the star that had led them west now leads the wise men south to Bethlehem and to the exact home where Jesus is (remember, approximately two years have elapsed since Jesus was born, and apparently Joseph set up shop in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth).

Notice too that these wise men regard Jesus as more than an ordinary king since they bow down to worship him, offering costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, something that is done only to the deity. Thus, by employing a new star, God revealed His Messiah to the Gentiles. And God continued His intervention by directing the wise men not to return to Herod but to return home by a different route. 

 

The Baptism of Our Lord

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 42: 1-9

 

Isaiah was the prophet 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. Here is today’s lesson, God through Isaiah provides a description of that coming Messiah. Interestingly, in these first two verses, God delivers a prophecy about Jesus’ baptism: that the Holy Spirit will descend upon him. Thereafter follows a description of the nature of that Messiah: gentle, compassionate, righteous, bringer of justice, persevering.

But midway through the reading, God stops to give a description about himself: creator of the heavens and the earth, the giver of life to people. Then he lists what his purpose is in sending the Messiah: to call Jesus—to the righteousness needed to redeem mankind, to give him as a new covenant for the people, to be a light for all nations, to heal the sick and disabled, to have compassion on prisoners. Then God concludes that he is now bringing new things, a new covenant, to life through that Messiah.

This prophecy, as we know, was indeed fulfilled with the arrival of Jesus. In fact, Jesus said just that when he returned to Nazareth on the Sabbath Day and, when he was given the scroll of Isaiah to read from, he turned to this passage, read it, and said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. Luke 4:21.

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Series A   Baptism of our Lord

Epistle Lesson: Romans 6: 1-11

 

Continuing the discussion of baptism that was introduced last week, St. Paul now explores the significance of water baptism as far as our behavior is concerned. His first issue is, since God’s grace covers our sin, we must not assume that we as Christians can increase God’s grace by continuing to live in sin. How so?

St. Paul draws a picture for us: in baptism, we have been bound with Jesus into his death and consequently into his burial. But we are also bound with him into a resurrection from the dead so that we now can walk in a God-pleasing life. To make it even more clear, St. Paul pictures our old nature as being crucified with Christ. If our old nature has died, then we should not let our sinful natures rise again to control our passions. Rather, we should choose to live to the full of our new life in Christ.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 3: 13-17

 

St. Matthew records for us the fascinating event in which Jesus insists that he needs to be baptized by his forerunner, John the Baptist. John protests, rightly arguing that he needs to be baptized by Jesus, not vice versa. But through this baptism of repentance, Jesus identifies not only with us but also as the one who will bear the sins of the whole world.

What follows Jesus’ baptism is truly unique: the Trinity of the God-head is manifested to mankind as the Holy Spirit—seen as a dove descending upon Jesus, filling him with the power for his ministry, while God the Father announces to the crowd His pleasure with His Son. 

 

Third Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 9: 1-4

 

Recall that Isaiah was God’s representative to the Northern Kingdom as it fizzled to its end around 720 BC. At that time, Assyria, a large kingdom to the north of the Northern Kingdom, attacked the Northern Kingdom and dispersed all its citizens into the Assyrian Kingdom. With Naphtali and Zebulun, subsequently being included in the region of Galilee, being among the northern-most territories of the Northern Kingdom, it would not be unusual for them to bear the initial brunt of an army attacking from the north.

In today’s lesson, God through Isaiah is prophesying about the coming Messiah by looking back at the time of this dispersion from the standpoint of the Messiah has already come. Consequently, the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali are no longer gloomy but rejoicing. Why? Because Galilee, the home of Jesus, is the first territory to experience the light of God’s grace in Christ Jesus which removed their burden and ended their beatings with a rod.

What burden? The burden of sin.
What rod? The rod of God’s discipline wielded by their enemies.

But what is this comparison to “the day of Midian?” Do you remember that huge army that God had Gideon defeat with just his 300 men? That was the army of Midian. And what is meant here is that, just as the defeat of the army of Midian seemed to be an impossibility, so also does the defeat of sin and the replacement of God’s discipline with his grace seem like an impossibility to the peoples of Zebulun and Naphtali. But with God, nothing is impossible! ————————————————————————————————

 

Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 1: 10-18

St. Paul, in this first letter of his to the Corinthians, is forced to address an issue of division within the body of Christ in Corinth. What is this division all about? Cliques were being formed based on who was baptized by whom. St. Paul is simply aghast because the Corinthians have focused on trivialities rather than on the essence of Christianity: Christ died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins. The simplicity of the Gospel message can be taken as foolishness by some, but to others, it is the power and grace of God to save us from our own foolishness. 

 

Series A 3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 4: 12-25

 

Today’s lesson recounts the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, where he leaves the area where he had been baptized by John to go into Galilee, the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. Part of the reason he started here is that Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, had arrested John the Baptist. Why? Because Herod Antipas had married his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias. And John the Baptist targeted both Herod and Herodias for defying God’s law (Lev. 18:16), which stated that someone should not marry his brother’s wife (obviously, while the brother is still living), an adulterous relationship. So Herodias wanted to get rid of that voice accusing her.

In any case, this results in Jesus beginning his ministry in Galilee, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah which we had read earlier. Jesus’ message? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Those who repented would thus be able to rejoice, as stated in Isaiah’s prophecy as well. As he went, Jesus started to call disciples to follow him. He also demonstrated why the people of Zebulun and Naphtali had even more reason to rejoice: He showed that the kingdom of Heaven was indeed at hand by

—healing the sick,
—casting out demons, and —curing epileptics and paralytics.

As a consequence, people from not only all over the original Promised Land but also from Syria, came to him to hear him and to be healed. 

 

Second Sunday After Christmas

 

Old Testament Lesson: 1 Kings 3: 4-15

 

Solomon has just been made 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?!

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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 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.  

 

Second Sunday After The Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 49: 1-7

 

In today’s lesson, God speaks a prophecy through Isaiah, his prophet to the Southern Kingdom around the time of the Northern Kingdom’s dispersion into the rest of the world. In this case, the voice is not that of the Father, but of the pre-incarnate Jesus, who calls out to all of the people of the world. He notes that God the Father called him to his ministry and named him while he was still in the womb, gave him a sharp sword for a mouth (a similar description of Jesus is found throughout the book of Revelation (e.g. Revelation 1:16), and in Hebrews 4:12, and which means that his Word will be victorious), and appointed him to accomplish what the Children of Israel failed to do—carry God’s message of salvation to the rest of the world. But then the Messiah laments that his work to bring the nation of Israel back to God has resulted in a rejection by these people; nevertheless, he notes that despite this, God will reward him.

But then the Messiah notes that God honors and strengthens him by saying that his mission to restore the Children of Israel was too small of a mission. Rather, his mission is to be a Savior to all the peoples of the world. And despite the Messiah being despised by his own people, even kings and princes from the rest of the world will acknowledge him as Lord and Savior because he has been chosen by God the Father to be the Savior of every man. ————————————————————————————————

 

Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 1: 1-9

 

In this first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul confirms what Isaiah recorded in the prophecy just read as our Old Testament Lesson, by praising and thanking God for calling the Corinthians (obviously as well as all Gentile peoples) to fellowship with Jesus through God’s undeserved grace to us. As a consequence, God has blessed the Corinthians with knowledge of the true God, as well as spiritual gifts, and will be their stay throughout all of their lives. St. Paul concludes this reading by assuring the Corinthians (and us!) that God is faithful to all who have accepted Jesus as their Lord.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 1: 29-42a

 

Immediately prior to today’s reading, we read that the Jews sent priests and Levites to John the Baptist to determine from him who he was. John’s response was

—I am not the Christ,
—I am
not the prophet Elijah,
—but I
am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” quoting the prophet Isaiah.

As today’s reading starts, we find Jesus walking toward John the Baptist, and John says of Him that he is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. It is then recorded that

—Jesus’ ministry follows John’s, but Jesus has seniority over John by virtue of the fact that He existed before John did, and

—The Holy Spirit descended and remained on Jesus after John had baptized Him.

But then John explains that he had never met Jesus, but that God told him that he would be able to identify the Messiah by the following characteristics:

—The Holy Spirit would descend and remain on him at his baptism. —Jesus would be the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

The following day, Jesus again walks by where John is preaching and baptizing, and John identifies to his disciples that Jesus is the Messiah. The upshot of that comment results in two of John’s disciples following Jesus, one of whom is Andrew. Andrew, in turn, finds his brother, Simon (later known as Peter), tells him that he has found the Messiah, and brings Simon to Jesus. Witnessing in action! 

 

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 Highest. 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! 

 

Epiphany of Our Lord (6 January)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 60: 1-6

 

Although many of Isaiah’s messages from God to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, were admonitions to repent, today’s message is one foretelling the lavishing of God’s love and grace not only on the people of Judah but also upon all nations. To a world enshrouded in darkness, God will appear before it in His glory. As God is being revealed, kings and nations—even from afar, will come to Him in faith, bringing the praises of God in addition to their offerings of gold and frankincense.

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 3: 1-12

 

At the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul mentioned the mystery that God had revealed to us through Jesus Christ. In today’s lesson, St. Paul expands on the nature of that mystery. Recall that the common-held belief of the Jews of that time was that they were God’s chosen people and the only people that God had ever planned to save. Now St. Paul states that God had to give him a revelation in order for him to appreciate the mystery of Jesus the Messiah: that God intended right from the beginning to save all peoples, the Gentiles being fellow heirs and members of the same body and partakers of the same promise in Jesus the Messiah that had been held by the Jews to be theirs exclusively. Even though God had made clear in his promise to Abraham that he would be the (faith) father of all nations, this message being repeated by prophet after prophet, the reality of this statement was never appreciated until the gospel (good news) of Christ Jesus was revealed. It was to the proclamation of this mystery that St. Paul was called in order to reveal it to the Gentiles. And through this combined (Jew and Gentile) body of believers, the wisdom of God to save all of humankind would be made known to the entire universe.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 2: 1-12

 

St. Matthew records for our benefit the revealing of the Messiah to the Gentiles. It starts with a reminder that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judah during the reign of Herod the Great. You remember him: the king who was so paranoid that someone would replace him that he murdered anyone about whom he had any suspicion, including his own wife, some of his sons and a number of other relatives. So when “wise men”—which could mean astrologers, but could also mean (in our language) professors or researchers—from the east (which could mean Babylon or Persia, or any country east of there) came, claiming they saw the star of the new king of the Jews rise (were they remembering the prophecy that God put in Balaam’s mouth: A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.—Num. 24:17), King Herod’s paranoia went into overdrive. First of all, he ascertains where the Messiah is to be born. Amazingly, the Jewish leaders know exactly where, quoting Micah 5:2. Then Herod schemes to have the wise men find that new king and reveal that to him so that he can worship him individually (wink, wink).

Lo and behold, the star that had led them west now leads the wise men south to Bethlehem and to the exact home where Jesus is (remember, approximately two years have elapsed since Jesus was born, and apparently Joseph set up shop in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth).

Notice too that these wise men regarded Jesus as more than an ordinary king since they bowed down to worship him, offering costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, something that is done only to the deity. Thus, by employing a new star, God revealed His Messiah to the Gentiles. And God continued His intervention by directing the wise men not to return to Herod but to return home by a different route. 

 

The Confession of St. Peter (18 January)

 

First Lesson: Acts 4: 8-13

 

Peter and John—while going into the temple courtyard to pray, healed a lame man in the name of Jesus. This allowed Peter to preach a sermon to the gathering crowd. In the middle of his sermon, Peter is confronted by the priests, the captain of the temple (i.e., the Levite in charge of the temple guards), and the Sadducees. What is important about the Sadducees is that they do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Now, about what do you suppose Peter is preaching? Yep, you guessed it. Jesus, who was crucified, who died, and who is now resurrected from the dead. So the Jewish officials put a stop to this by arresting Peter and John and keeping them in prison overnight. But the hearts of Peter’s hearers had already been spoken to by the Holy Spirit, to the extent that another 2,000 men were added to the 3,000 men who believed on the Day of Pentecost. The next day, Peter and John are hauled before the rulers, elders, and scribes, along with the high-priestly line, who are demanding to know by what power and by whose name Peter and John had healed the lame man.

As our reading for today begins, we find Peter jumping at this lead-in, pointing out that the man was healed by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the same fellow that they were responsible for crucifying just a few months earlier. Then he declares that God had made them builders for His Church, but they instead rejected the very stone that God had intended-and now the was-the chief cornerstone of this building. Finally, Peter lays it on the line: there is no other name given on earth whereby people may be saved from their sins and thereby be able to enjoy eternal life with God Himself, except Jesus, the Christ!

The rulers and elders are astonished at the boldness and speaking ability of Peter and John, since they were obviously common, uneducated men. But then they recognized that they had been with Jesus. Would that we would recognize that all we need to be a witness for Jesus is to let the Holy Spirit speak through us. We just have to be willing to be a witness!

 

Epistle Lesson: 2 Peter 1: 1-15

 

Peter begins his second letter addressed to all Christians of all time, reminding us that the faith that every Christian has is based on the righteousness given to us by Jesus. And it is God’s power in us that allows us to attain the life and godliness that is expected of us. Peter then draws our attention to the characteristics of behavior, or qualities, that will supplement our faith: virtue, knowledge of God’s Word, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and godly love. When we focus on developing these characteristics, we will become effective and fruitful in our knowledge of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Peter then notes that if we are not working on developing these characteristics, we are spiritually blind and have forgotten what Christ has done for us. So we need to practice these qualities continually. And, Peter remarks, as long as he is in this body, he is going to remind the readers/listeners continually to practice these qualities. And what is the purpose of developing these qualities? To be an effective witness!

 

Gospel Lesson: Mark 8: 27-35 (36 - 9:1)

 

Today’s reading finds Jesus having a chit-chat with his disciples, in particular, wondering who people thought Jesus was. For example, King Herod Antipas thought that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead (Mark 6:14).
Other folks thought Jesus was Elijah returned to earth (Malachi 4:5), or some other prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15). But when Jesus asked His disciples whom they thought Jesus was, Peter was quick to identify Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Again, Jesus forbids them to reveal that, knowing that the people, in general, anticipated that the Messiah would lead the Jews into primacy over all other nations, rather than be the redeemer from sin. But when Jesus explained to them that this involved his suffering and death, but after three days be raised from the dead, Peter objected—since he too had not fully appreciated that Jesus was a spiritual, not an earthly, savior. Jesus’ rebuke of Peter slows him down for the time being.

As a consequence, Jesus called the crowd to Him to explain that to receive the blessings of God, they would have to give up their expectations of self - aggrandizement and success in order to serve God. The choice was clear: either choose earthly reward and pleasure and lose one’s life eternally or give up the rewards of this world and serve God in humility in order to get the reward of God is eternal life. Jesus concludes by noting that the coming of God’s Kingdom in power would be within the lifetime of some standing there!

God still offers us the same choice. How willing are you to give up your personal desires in order to serve the living God? 

 

St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor (24 January)

 

First Lesson: Acts 16: 1-5

 

St. Paul has just started his second missionary journey to Asia minor and has arrived in Lystra, in the province of Galatia, where he and Barnabas had established a church during their first missionary journey. Apparently Timothy became a disciple at that time. Heritage-wise, Timothy’s mother was a Jew while his father was a Greek. The other believers in Lystra, as well as the neighboring town of Derbe, spoke well of Timothy as a believer, so St. Paul decided to take Timothy with him on this missionary journey. But there was a potential problem: St. Paul habitually began in any town with his witnessing in the local synagogue. But he would not be able to take Timothy with him into the synagogue because Timothy was still uncircumcised. Prudence dictated that Timothy be circumcised to circumvent this problem.

As a follow-up, this training under St. Paul provided Timothy with the skills, knowledge, and wisdom to become a pastor of a city church later.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Timothy 6: 11-16

 

It is now that sometime later, after the time of our first lesson. St. Paul had visited Ephesus briefly during the end of his second missionary journey, and then for approximately three years during his third missionary journey. He apparently left Timothy behind to help shepherd this rather large church body that was beset with teachers teaching false doctrine and believers, in general, occupying their time with myths and genealogies. St. Paul pens this first letter to Timothy to encourage him to hold fast to the faith, emphasizing proper behavior during a worship service, and setting up guidelines for the selection of pastors and deacons.

Then St. Paul turns his attention to the young Timothy, warning him to avoid all of these distractions. Instead, he is to focus on a godly life full of faith, love, endurance, and gentleness, and to continue his strong history of effective witnessing and defending the faith, keeping as his example Jesus before Pilate. And he is to keep the commandment (which commandment? Probably the one that tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind; and our neighbor as ourselves) until the appearing of our Lord Jesus himself—whether at his death or at the time of Jesus’ return.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 24: 42-47

 

Jesus’ disciples had asked him to talk to them about the end times. As he does so, he issues a warning to them that they are to stay alert. What does that mean? It means that our behavior should be like the kind that St. Paul had described for Timothy in our epistle lesson; leading a godly life full of faith, love, endurance, and gentleness, and continuing to witness and defend the faith.

Why? Because we do not know when Jesus is going to return. How embarrassing it would be if, when Jesus returns, he finds us enjoying our favorite sin, manipulating or mistreating our brothers or sisters in Christ, or focussing on our wants and pleasures. Instead, Jesus tells his disciples to be found in the midst of their respective Christian duties, whatever those 

 

 

Conversion of St. Paul (25 January)

First Lesson: Acts 9: 1-22


Following the martyrdom of Stephen and the beginning of the persecution of Christians by the Jews, Saul, the young man with whom the coats of those stoning Stephen to death were left, enthusiastically becomes involved in the movement to arrest and imprison Christians. Today’s reading finds Saul preparing to go to Damascus to find, arrest, and bring to Jerusalem for punishment all those who belong to “the Way,” the name ascribed to those who believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and now practiced a religion that moved beyond obedience to the Law. Recognize that Saul thoroughly believes that he is being strictly obedient to the Laws of Moses——wiping out those who turn from following the strict Jewish laws.

However, on the way, Saul encounters Jesus in a miraculous manner, and Saul immediately recognizes that the person speaking to him is the Lord; and the Lord, in turn, informs Saul that the name of the Lord is Jesus. This conversion of Saul is so complete and real that, a few days later, Saul is on the streets of Damascus, proving to the Jews from Scripture that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Galatians 1: 11-24


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. Apparently they also questioned St. Paul’s credentials, so St. Paul takes this opportunity to recount the history by which he became an apostle of Jesus to the Gentiles. This includes being called into this ministry by Jesus himself when Paul (then named Saul) was on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians there. St.Paul subsequently traveled to the Arabian desert, possibly to Mt. Sinai itself, to be personally educated in the faith, again apparently by Jesus himself. It was only three years later, after St. Paul had ministered in Damascus, that he went to Jerusalem to meet Peter and James (Jesus’ brother). Thus St. Paul becomes an apostle to the non-Jews (or Gentiles) in a miraculous way, and God demonstrates in a miraculous way that salvation is for the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

 

Feasts & Festivals Conversion of St. Paul

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 19: 27-30

 

Jesus had just addressed a question from a man regarding what good deeds one must do to inherit eternal life. In response to Jesus’ questioning, the man insists that he has obeyed all of the commandments, from his youth up. Jesus chooses not to address this obvious falsehood but instead tells him that, if he wants to be perfect, he needs to sell everything that he has, give the money to the poor, and then come and follow him. Unfortunately, the man had great riches, and left Jesus, saddened. Jesus’ remark to his disciples then was that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, obviously referring to what god many of the rich worship. The disciples are astounded since they had assumed that the more one had, and the more one gave to the church, the more God was pleased with you, and the more brownie points one earned with God, respectively. Jesus sets them straight by noting (that people cannot save themselves; only God can save people.

As our reading for today begins, we find Peter responding to Jesus’ remark, wanting to know what they (the disciples) will get out of their having given up everything to follow him. Jesus reassures them that when he comes again in judgment, his followers will sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. And whatever a follower gave up in this life in order to follow Jesus will receive a hundred times more in addition to eternal life. Then Jesus makes an important observation: many of those who are first (in terms of riches, power, control) in this life will be last (when it comes to eternal life and rewards in heaven), and many who are last in this life will be first in eternal life.

Bottom Line: In this life, it is not what you have (in terms of wealth and power) that is important to God, it is what you did with what you were given. It’s all about faithful stewardship.

It is also important for us not to wonder about what we forfeited for being a Christian, and calculating what we, therefore, are going to get in heaven. That is not discipleship, that is greed, and a poor attempt to bargain with God. Besides, that is not our concern as a disciple; our only concern is to fulfill God’s plan for us in this life and letting God handle the rewards. 

 

St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor (26 January)

 

First Lesson: Acts 20: 28-35

 

In today’s reading, we find St. Paul on his way to Jerusalem with charitable donations from the saints in Asia Minor for the persecuted saints in Jerusalem, thus ending his third missionary journey. Since he wants to get to Jerusalem in time for Pentecost, he decides to avoid spending time in Ephesus by calling just the elders to meet with him outside of Ephesus. There he reminds them that he preached repentance toward God and faith in Jesus to both Jews and Greeks for 3 years, and warns the elders to be responsible for their flocks because trials and tribulations await them, including some of the elders themselves splitting off from the church, taking some sheep with them, with inviting but twisted doctrines. He, therefore, warns them to be alert and to defend their flocks.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Titus 1: 1-9

It is not clear when St. Paul visited the island of Crete; some believe that it was after his imprisonment in Rome. Whatever the case, St. Paul begins his letter to Titus, a Greek disciple who had accompanied St. Paul on some of his journeys (Galatians 2:3), by first of all noting that God’s commission to him was to lead people to a faith in Jesus and to a knowledge of the truth that leads to a godly life. And this was the case in Crete because he advises Titus (Titus 3:9-11) to avoid false teachings that involve genealogies and Moses’ Teachings (i.e., the Law)—probably referring to the Judaizing Christians. Instead, Titus is to correct the false teachings and to provide guidelines to the believers for godly living. To accomplish this, St. Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint spiritual leaders in each of the cities of Crete. How does one select a spiritual leader?

St. Paul first lays out criteria for elders or pastors:

- above reproach,

- husband of one wife, and
- have believing children who are not known for wild lifestyles or

rebelliousness.

Then he lays out criteria for an overseer or bishop:

- above reproach.

- not arrogant, or quick-tempered, or a drunkard, or violent, or a lover of money.

- hospitable.
- lover of what is
good,
- self-controlled, upright, holy, disciplined,

- faithful to the Word of God,
- able to
teach,
- able to encourage people to be
faithful, and able to correct those who oppose true teaching.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 10: 1-9

In chapter 9 of St. Luke’s Gospel, we read that Jesus sent out his 12 apostles to cast out demons, heal diseases, and proclaim the kingdom of God. In our lesson for today, Jesus sends out 72 others with the same instructions—in preparation for Jesus who is to follow. He notes that there is a huge number of those needing to be saved, but few people involved in that ministry. Therefore they need to pray to God that he provide laborers for this harvest of souls.

He then provides instructions on how to they are to conduct themselves: they are

—to carry no money bag, backpack, or spare sandals,
—to be
focussed— greeting/ chatting with no one on the road, —to announce peace to any house they enter, but if the

occupant does not genuinely return the peace, to leave,
—to stay in just one house rather than moving from place to place in any

one town that welcomes them,
—to eat and drink whatever is
provided, and
—to
announce that “the Kingdom of God has come near to you” to

every town that they enter.

In other words, they are to be dependent entirely on God on their journey and mission, whether it is a place of ministry, or room and board. Their only concern is getting the job done. Fascinating thought! 

 

St. Simeon’s Day, or, The Purification of Mary and The Presentation of Our Lord (2 February )

 

Old Testament Lesson: 1 Samuel 1: 21-28

 

The background for our reading for today begins with the story of Elkanah [ el -ka-nah], of the tribe of Ephraim (a son of Joseph), at about 140 years before Solomon becomes king. Elkanah was married to two wives. The one, Peninnah [pa-nee-nah] was very fertile and provided Elkanah with many sons and daughters. But God had caused the other wife, Hannah [Ha-nah] to be infertile. As a consequence, Hannah suffered endlessly from the ridicule and shame showered upon her by Peninnah. This happened particularly when Elkanah took his family to the tabernacle at Shiloh to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving—where the sacrifice was allowed to be eaten by Elkanah and his family—because Peninnah and her children were given the bulk of the sacrifice to eat, whereas Hannah received only a small portion.

At one of these instances, Hannah went to the tabernacle to pray and promised God that if He gave her a son, she would give him back to God to serve God for as long as he lived. Eli the priest saw her praying, and after an exchange of words, Eli asked God to grant her request. Sure enough, after they returned home, Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son, whom she named Samuel (God hears).

As our reading begins today, Hannah tells Elkanah that she will not be going along on the trips to Shiloh until she has weaned Samuel (which was anywhere from 3-5 years in those days). Finally, when Samuel is weaned, Hannah goes to Shiloh to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and to turn Samuel over to Eli to serve God for the rest of his life. Eli must have been quite surprised to learn that Samuel was a result of the prayers of Hannah and himself!

 

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 Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 2: 14-18


In this section of Hebrews, the author is describing why Jesus had to take on flesh and blood like other human beings: by his death as a sinless human, he would destroy the power over death held by Satan up to that time. This would result in humans being freed from the slavery to sin that resulted in the fear of dying (i.e., Jesus’ death satisfied God’s requirement for the punishment of sin by Jesus dying in our place). Upon his death, Jesus, as a faithful high priest, offered his blood in the heavenly tabernacle (Hebrews 9:11-15), thus securing forgiveness of sins to those who accept Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf. Two interesting consequences arising out of this: (1) Because Jesus was a human just like us, he can understand our problems and be merciful to us; and (2) since Jesus also experienced temptations during his sufferings—but without sin, he can help us when we are tempted.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 22-32 (33-40)

 

From the time of the first Passover, God had announced to the Jews that every firstborn son (Exodus 13:13-16; Numbers 3:11-13; Numbers 8:17-18) would be his and that they would have to buy back their firstborn son from Him by the offering of the appropriate sacrifice. This coincided with the sacrifice to cleanse the woman after giving birth to a son, which happened 40 days after giving birth. The requirements for the sacrifice were a one-year-old lamb and a pigeon or mourning dove. An exception was made for the poor, who were allowed to offer two mourning doves or two pigeons (Leviticus 12:1-8).

In a fascinating series of events, just as Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus are entering the temple courtyard to satisfy God’s requirements, the Holy Spirit moves a devout man by the name of Simeon, whom God had told that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, into the temple courtyard at the exact same time. When Simeon realizes by the Holy Spirit that he is looking at the promised Messiah, he breaks into praise to God, noting in particular that the Messiah is to be the salvation of all peoples and of all nations. This song of praise is now known to us as the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon, which we often sing after each communion service.

Simeon then remarks that Jesus’ presence will cause a separation to occur in the Children of Israel: those that reject him will be condemned by God, and those who believe in him will be saved. Then Simeon turns to Mary and notes that a (figurative) sword will pierce her heart, undoubtedly referring to the crucifixion of her firstborn that she will witness.

But Simeon has barely left when an elderly woman, Anna, a prophetess, approaches them and declares that Jesus is the one who will redeem Israel. Thus both Simeon and Anna confirm to Mary the words of the angel Gabriel, that Jesus will save his people from their sins (“Jesus” means “he saves”). 

 

 

 

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.

————————————————————————————————————

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.

————————————————————————————————

 

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.

———————————————————————————————————————

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.

 

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.

—————————————————————————————————————

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.

—————————————————————————————————————

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?!

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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 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.