February Commentaries                                        Series C

Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 1: 4-10 and 17-19
God called Jeremiah to be His prophet when Jeremiah was still a youth, and he served in this capacity for over 40 years. His ministry began during the reign of King Josiah, the Southern Kingdom’s most righteous king, who attempted to undo his grandfather’s and father’s introduction of every kind of idolatry, and to stimulate a revival. Unfortunately, the succeeding four kings were all evil, and they led the nation back into idolatry. This culminated in the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah’s ministry was to support King Josiah but to rebuke and warn the nation during the reigns of the last four kings.

Today’s reading is a recounting of God calling Jeremiah to his ministry. As he does so, God tells Jeremiah that he had consecrated Jeremiah to this ministry of prophet even before he was in the womb. But Jeremiah objects, saying that he is only a youth, with little or no speaking experience. God, however, states that he will be with him wherever he sends him, and will give him the words to speak at that time. Therefore Jeremiah should not be afraid, because he (God) will be there to deliver him.

Then God touches Jeremiah’s mouth and tells him that God’s words are now in his mouth, and that he (God) has set Jeremiah over nations and kingdoms to determine their destiny. God then tells Jeremiah to dress and get to work, because he has made Jeremiah as strong as a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall against the entire land of Judah and all its officials and peoples. And even though they will fight against him, they will not prevail because God is with Jeremiah.

Thinking back to the Epistle Lesson of last week, do you now appreciate that God has a role and has equipped every person in the congregation for a specific job?

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 12: 31b - 13: 1-13

Recalling St. Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians from last week’s Epistle Lesson on the role that each individual plays in a congregation, especially when it comes to the manifestation of spiritual gifts or to the role that one plays in the congregation, we now find St. Paul saying that, as important as all of these are, there is something that is more important, in fact is basic, to the vibrant life of a congregation: love! And it is not the kind of popular relationship that passes for love today. Rather, it is godly love, that is, sacrificial love for the benefit of someone else. It is love for love’s sake.

 

Then St. Paul states that manifestation of the spiritual gifts, or even martyrdom, is nothing if it is not done with that godly love. And although manifestation of spiritual gifts and martyrdom will eventually pass away, love will continue into eternity where there will be no need for the manifestation of spiritual gifts or for martyrdom. Instead, love will be characterized in this life by being patient, kind, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping for all things, and enduring all things; and rejoicing with the truth. On the other hand, love will not be characterized by being envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude; insisting on one’s own way; being irritable or resentful; or rejoicing at wrongdoing.

So St. Paul notes that faith, hope, and love will abide forever. But the most important of the three is love.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 4: 31-44

Having just escaped from the intents of his murderous townsfolk, as we learned from last week’s gospel reading, Jesus makes his way to Capernaum, where he again teaches in the synagogue. This time, however, the people receive his words favorably, because it was clear that Jesus knew what he was talking about. But as he is teaching, a man in the congregation with the spirit of a demon raises his voice, the demon speaking through the man and identifying Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, which demon knows that Jesus will eventually judge the demons. Jesus does not need a demon to be the source of that truth, so he casts the demon out of the man with a word, the demon throwing the man to the ground and wretching before leaving the man. The congregation immediately recognizes that, not only is the man healed, but that Jesus speaks not only knowledgeably but with power and authority.

Afterward Jesus retires to the home of Peter, whose mother-in-law was there with a high fever. So Jesus rebukes the fever, and the fever leaves the woman, enabling her to be a hostess to Jesus and his disciples. But word has spread about what Jesus has done so far this day, so that by evening, all those in the area who were sick or who were troubled by demons were brought to Jesus, and he healed all the sick, and silenced the demons before casting them out.

The next day Jesus went to a desolate place for communion with his Father, but people followed him with their needs. So Jesus, having compassion on the people, taught the good news of the kingdom of God to them, and then went doing the same in other towns in Galilee as well as Judah. 

 

Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 6: 1-13
Isaiah, as you will recall, was God’s voice of warning of judgment to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, around the time of the Northern Kingdom’s demise around 720 B.C. In the earlier part of his ministry, in the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah receives a vision from God. What do we know about King Uzziah? He was a righteous king, that is, for a time. But because God blessed his reign with increasing fame and power, King Uzziah became so prideful that God had to step in. And He did so by afflicting King Uzziah with leprosy, effectively ending his reign. Although the successor to the throne, King Uzziah’s son Jotham, was a relatively righteous king, he was soon replaced by his son, King Ahaz, who led the nation into the idolatry more characteristic of the reign of King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom.

It is during the reign of King Ahaz, then, that the Lord gives Isaiah this vision of the power and majesty of God. Isaiah actually sees the Lord sitting on His throne, His train filling the temple, with angels above the Lord proclaiming the holiness and glory of God. Then the voice that calls out to Isaiah is so powerful that it causes the temple to shake. Remembering God’s much earlier statement (Exod. 33:20) that whoever sees the face of God will die, Isaiah fears for the worst, because he realizes his sinfulness and in addition he is seeing the Lord. But an angel comes to Isaiah with a burning piece of coal with which he touches Isaiah’s lips, and tells him that his sin and guilt are taken away. Immediately Isaiah hears the voice of God again, asking, “Who will go for us?” Us? Who is “us?” The same God whose Spirit hovered over the waters at the time of creation, who proposed, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Without hesitation, one can say that this is the only God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom Isaiah answers, “I will go; send me!”

And what does God give Isaiah to say? He is to deliver God’s judgment upon the people. When the Word of God is spoken, spiritually they will no
longer understand, they will not perceive, their ears will become deaf, their eyes will become blind, and their hearts will no longer be able to be healed. Well, is that
fair of God? Didn’t God harden Pharaoh’s heart as well (Exod. 9:12)? So how can God blame the people of Judah? How could he blame Pharaoh? Because, after many overtures to the people of Judah, and to Pharaoh, they persistently made their decision to rebel against God. So finally God concludes that they have irrevocably made their choice, so he is letting them continue in that choice from now on. Undoubtedly feeling anguish over what is to happen to his people, Isaiah asks how long this judgment will last. And God responds with a prophecy of the Babylonian Captivity, at which time their cities and land will be laid waste, and only a remnant (the seed of believers) would remain to form a stump. And as a stump sends out new shoots, so this stump would send out new shoots, disciples of the Messiah. ————————————————————————————————

Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 14: 12b - 20
St. Paul is continuing his instructions to the church in Corinth on how to maintain order during their church services. Apparently, the spiritual gift of speaking praises to God in a foreign language was a gift that too many wanted to use during the service. In this case, there appeared to be two problems with that: first of all, there was no order to what was happening; too many people were trying to speak at the same time instead of humbly waiting for that right moment. Secondly, St. Paul makes it clear that if one is to manifest the spiritual gift of speaking in a foreign language during the service, there must be someone there through whom the Holy Spirit manifests the spiritual gift of interpreting those words spoken in different foreign languages. After all, St. Paul points out, the church service is there for the building up of the rest of the church; and if nobody understands what is being said, obviously nobody is being built up in Christ. So instead, St. Paul advises, people should aspire to manifest the gift of prophecy, of speaking for God in one’s native tongue, so that everybody can hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to the church.

Does this mean that God does not want believers to manifest such spiritual gifts during a church service? Absolutely not! That would be a quenching of the Spirit forbidden by God (1 Thess. 5:19). What he does want is an orderly conducting of the service that allows believers to minister to each other through the gifts of the Spirit. And that requires at least two things: first of all, that people in the congregation are spiritually mature enough properly to use the gifts of the Spirit. And secondly, there must be sufficient faith within the congregation to recognize, appreciate, and utilize these gifts of the Spirit. As St. Paul points out later in this same chapter (1 Corinthians 14:26-33), God provides these spiritual gifts for a purpose: to build up the church, with everyone being an intimate part of that building-up process. ———————————————————————————————— Gospel Lesson: Luke 5: 1-11

Continuing from last Sunday St. Luke’s recalling of the early ministry of Jesus, we find Jesus today by the Sea of Galilee (here referred to as the “lake of Gennesaret”). Because of the crowd, Jesus looks around and happens to find two fishing boats nearby, empty. After ascertaining whose one of them was, which turned out to be Simon Peter’s, Jesus has him put out from the shore a bit so that when he speaks, his voice will carry better to the crowd.

After he finishes his teaching, Jesus asks Peter to go out into the deep part of the lake and drop down the nets to catch some fish. Peter notes that they have been fishing all night and have not caught a thing. But then he takes Jesus’ advice, and sure enough, his crew catches so many fish that their nets start to break. So they signal their fishing partners to come out in their boat to help them, which they do. But now both boats are so full of fish that both of them start to sink. Peter, obviously concerned that he could lose life and boat, must have thought that God was punishing him. So he turns to Jesus to admit his sinfulness. Jesus’ response? Don’t be afraid; I am going to make you fishers of men. And so the three men, Peter, James, and John, the three partners, give up their careers as fishermen, and leave their boats to follow Jesus. 

 

Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 17: 5-8
As you may recall, Jeremiah was God’s messenger to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, during the forty-plus years prior to its being carried off into Babylonian Captivity. God’s messages through Jeremiah were calls to repentance from apostasy, warnings of punishment if not repentant, and promises of restoration to a repentant people.

In today’s reading, Jeremiah is instructed by God to explain to the people of Judah the consequences of their choice, either to not serve God or to serve God. As you will recall, God explained the consequences of such a choice through Moses to the Children of Israel as they wandered in the desert (see Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, both of which list the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience—both chapters of which are worthwhile readings), and later through Joshua shortly before he died (Joshua 23-24).

In this case, God sums things up this way:
If you choose to 
trust in yourself—your strength or your wiles, then you can be compared to a shrub in the desert that has parched ground and uninhabited salt land for a dwelling place.

If, on the other hand, you choose to trust in the Lord, then you can be compared to a tree planted by a never-ending stream of water, whose roots will extend under the stream bed, thus never having any fear of heat or drought, and whose leaves will remain green and which will not fail to produce good fruit.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15: 1-20
As St. Paul finishes his first letter to the church in Corinth, he emphasizes the basics of the gospel that they are to retain if they wish to be saved:
—Jesus
died for our sins in accordance to Old Testament prophecies.
—He was buried and raised from the dead, again in accordance to Old

Testament prophecies.
Witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection include Peter, then the remaining

apostles, then more than 500 believers, then James (Jesus’ brother), and then St. Paul himself.

 

 

St. Paul acknowledges that he does not deserve to be called an apostle, since it was he who was such a dedicated persecutor of the early church. But it was by God’s grace that he became an apostle, and by God’s grace that he was able to preach the gospel to so many Gentiles despite his many trials.

Then St. Paul addresses an apparent problem of faith within the Corinthian church: some were proclaiming the belief of the Sadducces, that there is no resurrection of the dead. If that is the case, St. Paul points out, then Jesus could not have been raised from the dead. And if he has not been raised from the dead, then not only is a Christian faith futile but then the apostles are misrepresenting God because they would be proclaiming a resurrection that did not happen. Furthermore, if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then that would indicate that God had not accepted Jesus’ death as complete punishment for our sins, so all we would have to look forward to after our death is eternal punishment.

But, affirms St. Paul, Christ has been raised from the dead, as the first to receive a glorious body designated for all believers.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 6: 17-26
Since our reading of last week, Jesus has healed a man of (apparent) leprosy, forgiven a paralyzed man of his sins—thus healing him, chosen Matthew as a disciple, asserting his authority to the Pharisees about what is or is not sinful on a day of worship, and healing a man with a paralyzed right hand in a synagogue on a day of worship (i.e., as far as God is concerned, compassion trumps rules). Then he went to a mountain, where he prayed all night before calling his disciples together and choosing from them twelve that he named as apostles.

As our reading for today begins, we find Jesus and his contingent coming down from the mountain and being greeted by a large crowd of people from as far away as Jerusalem and Judah, and also from the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon, not only wanting to hear him but also wanting to be cured of their sicknesses and freed from their demons. In fact, there was so much power of the Holy Spirit emanating from Jesus that all people had to do to be healed was touch Jesus.

But Jesus also wanted to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven, and he does so by identifying those who would be blessed by God:
—those
poor (in spirit), meaning those who recognize their need for God’s

spiritual intervention,
—those who hunger, meaning those seeking God, because God will fill them

with good things,
—those who 
weep over their sins, for they will joy in God’s forgiveness, —and those who are persecuted because of their faith in Jesus,

because they will receive such a great reward—like that of the prophets—in heaven that they will not only rejoice but will leap for joy.

On the other hand, Jesus identifies those who have only woes to look forward to in eternity:
—those who are 
rich (and focus on their riches), because that will be their

only reward,
—those who are 
full (of every blessing on earth without compassionate

sharing) because that will all be taken away in eternity,
—those who are having a 
great time now but ignoring the needy and their own faith,

because in eternity they will mourn and weep over their short-sightedness, and —those who are applauded and recognized by the world because that puts them in the same class as false prophets. 

 

 

Seventh Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 45: 3-15
We are all familiar with the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors that his father had given him because Joseph was the first-born of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. And we remember how Joseph had dreams that irritated his brothers no end because they suggested that they would be bowing down to him. So his ten half-brothers sold him into slavery, whereupon he ended up in Egypt, subsequently ending up in prison, and then becoming second in command in Egypt because God gave him the ability to interpret dreams. The last recorded dreams that he interpreted were those of Pharaoh, which revealed the coming of seven years of abundance followed by seven years of severe famine. Consequently, Pharaoh appoints Joseph as ruler over Egypt in order to obtain and store grain in the years of abundance in anticipation of the years of famine. This famine apparently affected most of the known world, because Jacob had to send the remaining brothers (with the exception of Benjamin) to Egypt to buy grain for themselves and for their flocks and herds. But Joseph’s interrogation of his ten half-brothers, without their recognizing him, results in a plan that forces the ten to bring Benjamin on the next trip—that is, if they expected to buy any more food.

As our reading begins, we find that Joseph has finally revealed himself to the ten and Benjamin that he is Joseph. The ten brothers are petrified because they realize that Joseph now has their lives in his hand. But Joseph reassures him, noting that he does not blame them for selling him into slavery. It was the plan of God so that Joseph would be in Egypt in order to interpret dreams for some of Pharaoh’s officials as well as Pharaoh himself, thus allowing God to make it possible to save a remnant of the world from starving despite the famine. Then he orders his brothers to bring Jacob and all that they have to Egypt so that they can dwell in the richest part of Egypt, where Joseph will take care of them because now he is the second-in-command in Egypt.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15: 21-26 and 30-42
St. Paul is continuing his discussion with the Corinthian church about the resurrection of the dead. He first notes that death came by a man, Adam, but by the same token, the resurrection of the dead came by another man, Jesus, referred to later (1 Corinthians 15:47) as the Second, or Last, Adam. The order, then, in which believers are raised to life again is Jesus, the first-fruits; then, when he comes again, all who belong to Christ (believers from both the Old and New Testament periods). After that the end will happen, during which Jesus will destroy every other rule, authority, and power as well as death, and then he will deliver the kingdom to God the Father.

 

But since this kind of end is coming, St. Paul chastises the Corinthians for continuing to sin, especially by assuming that if they are going to die without any hope of a resurrection, they might as well eat, drink, and be merry now! St. Paul is saying in so many words that they should not get drunk with the pleasures of life when others need the gospel preached to them.

Then St. Paul addresses another issue of contention within the Corinthian church: what kind of resurrection body will they have? St. Paul says that such speculation is foolish, since that kind of thinking does not recognize the fact that a seed has to die in the ground before it grows into a fruitful plant. Likewise, when we die, God will give us a far more glorious body. Furthermore, because human “seed” is different from animal, bird, fish, sun, moon, or star “seed,” so likewise each kind of body will be given a different one with its own special glory.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 6: 27-38

The reading for today continues the story of Jesus teaching a large crowd from all over the region. We remember from last week his recounting of the blessings accruing to those trusting in Jesus, and the woes accruing to those who are infatuated with themselves.

Today Jesus provides more specifics on how God expects us to interact with our fellow man. He starts out by saying that we must love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who abuse us, and bless those who curse us. Now, in this day and age, that just doesn’t seem right. Nevertheless, that is what God expects, because we are to be an example of godly behavior at all times, doing to or for others what we would want them to do to or for us.

But then Jesus defines the love about which he is talking. It is sacrificial love for the benefit of someone else. That is not the type of thinking that goes on in the world. But God is kind to the ungrateful and evil, so we as his children are to be merciful to others, expecting nothing in return.

Finally, Jesus tells us not to judge or condemn others (after all, we don’t know the whole story), because God will judge or condemn us using that same approach. On the other hand, we should forgive others, and give to those truly in need, because God will forgive us and give back to us using that same approach, but he will do it for us with abundance. 

 

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

 

Old Testament Lesson: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12

Moses, now realizing that his death is imminent, takes this opportunity to give one last sermon to the Children of Israel as they are encamped on the Plains of Moab, on the east side of the Jordan River, just across of Jericho. He reviews the events of the last 40 years, emphasizing God’s love and mercy and how he sustained them in every way possible; and also admonishing them to follow only the Lord. He ends his talk by advising them to choose life rather than death by being obedient to and worshipping only The Lord. As his last official acts, Moses appoints Joshua as the new leader of Israel and then blesses the Children of Israel.

According to God’s instructions, then, Moses climbs to the top of Mt. Nebo (at the age of 120), where God enables him to see for distances of over 100 miles so that he can see the entire Promised Land, the land promised to Abraham over 500 years earlier. There Moses dies, and God himself buries Moses near there. There then ensues a 30- day period of mourning for Moses by the Children of Israel. And what does God say about Moses? There has no prophet arisen in Israel since who

— knew God face to face,
—did the 
signs and wonders in Egypt, to Pharaoh, his servants, and the land of Egypt,
—performed miracles, wonders, and punishment (“terror” to those who
sinned) with 
power during those 40 years in the desert.

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 3: 1-6
The author of Hebrews has been establishing that Jesus is both God and human being in the previous chapters. He now makes a comparison of Moses with Jesus, noting the following:

—Both Moses and Jesus were faithful to God,

—Jesus is counted as worthy of more glory than Moses, just as a builder of a house is considered more worthy than the house

—Moses was faithful in God’s house as a servant, but Jesus is faithful in God’s house as a Son.

itself.

Then the author of Hebrews observes that we are God’s house if we hold fast to our faith.

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Series C

Gospel Lesson: Luke 9: 28-36

A lot has happened since the teaching by Jesus that served as our gospel lesson last week:
—The
deathly sick slave of a Roman army officer has been made well,
—Jesus brings a widow’s son back to 
life,

—Jesus reassures John the Baptist through the disciples that John sent, —Jesus identifes John the Baptist as the Elijah that is to come,
—A woman living a sinful life receives
 forgiveness from Jesus as she repents,

—Jesus tells a parable about a sower of seed,
—Jesus identifies as his family those who 
hear and obey his Word,

—Jesus cures a man with many demons,
—Jesus heals a woman with 
chronic bleeding,
—Jesus raises from the 
dead Jairus’ daughter,
—Jesus miraculously 
feeds 5000 men (plus women and children),
—and Jesus tells what is 
required to follow him (pick up our cross daily).

Approximately a week later, Jesus invites His inner circle (Peter, James, and John) to accompany Him in a hike up a mountain to pray. Jesus suddenly becomes brilliantly white, with Moses and Elijah discussing with Jesus his imminent departure from earth. Peter, of course, can always find something to say, no matter how meaningless it is, so he offers to build three tents, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, as if they are going to be on that mountain top for an extended period of time. That thought is erased when suddenly a cloud envelopes them, causing the disciples to become afraid, and a voice comes out of the cloud, saying that Jesus is His beloved Son, and that they should listen to Him. When the disciples come to their senses, only Jesus is left with them. The event undoubtedly had a profound impact on the three disciples, because they kept quiet about what they had just seen. 

 

St. Simeon’s Day, or, The Presentation of Our Lord

 

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 showed 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!

 

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

Feast Day

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 arise 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 sinning, he can help us when we are tempted.

 

Gospel Lesson: Luke 2:22-32

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 at 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 sing after each communion service. 

 

 

 

 

The 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

At the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul mentions 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 C

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 overtime. 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 was (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 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 43: 1-7

Isaiah was the 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.

Here, in today’s reading, God addresses Jacob, and he addresses Israel, pointing out that he has redeemed them, called them by name, is being with them wherever they go and is giving nations as a ransom for them because they are precious, honored, and loved in his sight. Then God says that he will bring their offspring from afar: from east, west, north, and south, even from the ends of the earth. He will bring to himself everyone who is called by his name whom he had created for his glory.

But who are the offspring of Jacob, or Israel? Obviously, they would also be the descendants of Abraham as well. And in Galatians 3:29, St. Paul makes it very clear that whoever belongs to Christ through faith is a descendant of Abraham. We must conclude, then, that in this reading, Isaiah is prophesying of God calling all people to him through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. And, as St. Peter stated in his Pentecostal Day sermon, everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus shall be saved! (Acts 2:21).

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 6: 1-11

St. Paul apparently noticed something in the Roman Christians’ behavior that prompted him to pose the question: if our sin is covered by God’s grace, then can we increase God’s grace by sinning more? Some people might call that concept a convenient falsehood. To help the Roman Christians understand this, St. Paul embarks on an explanation of what really happens when a person experiences water baptism into Christ Jesus.

First, that person is buried with Christ into His death (remember that Jesus’ death was the payment for all sin). Then, when Christ was raised from the dead, the baptized person is raised also into a new life. Picture this, then: if we have died with Christ, then as far as sin is concerned, we are dead to further sin. Instead, since we have been raised with Christ who lives for God, so we too have been raised with Christ to

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live for God. Instead of choosing to sin again, we have the power to choose righteousness. And this should not be a burden, as St. John tells us (1 John 5:3-5), because our faith overcomes the world. So we need to adjust our mindset: I choose to forgo sin in order to walk in the way of godliness.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 3: 15-22

It was the expectation of every devout Jew that the Messiah would appear in his lifetime. Imagine, then, what these people were thinking when John the Baptist appeared on the scene, announcing that he was preparing the way for the kingdom of heaven, and that people needed to repent of their sins and be baptized in water to indicate that they had repented. Surely, they thought, John the Baptist must be the Messiah. But when they addressed this question to John, he responded with the following observations:

—I only baptize with water.
—The
One who is coming, who is so superior to me that I am not worthy even to untie

his sandals to wash his feet (the job of the lowest servant), will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (probably meaning trials and tribulations to test one’s faith).

—In addition, He is the one who will separate the wheat from the chaff (meaning identifying those who believe in him from those who do not) and burning the chaff in eternal flames.

But John had been politically incorrect. He had reproved King Herod Antipas because Herod had divorced his wife in order to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias (Matthew 14: 1-12), in addition to a lot of other evil. So, to silence God’s messenger calling Herod to repent, Herod had John imprisoned.

But before John was imprisoned, Jesus had come to him to be baptized in water. And when John baptized Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven declared that Jesus was his beloved Son, with whom he was well pleased. 

 

 

First Sunday After Christmas

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 13: 1-3a and 11-15
The tenth and last plague has ravaged Egypt. The Children of Israel were spared from the death of every firstborn of man or animal by obeying God’s instructions for the celebration of the Passover. Now, after exactly 430 years, the Children of Israel leave Egypt, led by Moses. But God does not want the Children of Israel to forget his mercy shown toward them in this particular circumstance, and he does so in a unique way. And it deals with how the Children of Israel, from now on, deal with the firstborn of either man or animal. And it works this way.

Every firstborn male of an animal is claimed by the Lord. That meant that it was to be killed. The single exception was in the case of a donkey—a valuable beast of burden. Here the Lord gave the Children of Israel two options: they could either redeem the donkey by sacrificing a lamb in its place, or they could kill the donkey.

In the case of a firstborn man, he had to be redeemed by the sacrifice of a lamb, since the man was to be consecrated to the Lord by his life, not his death.

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Epistle Lesson: Colossians 3: 12-17
During his third missionary journey, St. Paul traveled from Corinth to Ephesus and established a church there. He apparently spent three years in Ephesus, teaching the new Christians as well as evangelizing. During this period, he made contact with people from Colossae, with the result that a church was established there as well. Subsequent to St. Paul leaving Ephesus in order to celebrate Pentecost in Jerusalem, he was arrested and was forced to appeal to Caesar in order to get a fair trial. He is now imprisoned in Rome and is spending his time writing letters to some of the churches that he founded, one of which is in Colossae. In this letter, St. Paul emphasizes that Christ has redeemed them from the consequences of their sin. But, he notes, if they have been redeemed, then their behavior should reflect that fact. What behavior would God expect his redeemed to show? St. Paul lists some of them:

Compassion, kindness, and humility.
Meekness, patience
, and bearing with one another.
Forgiving each other, and showing love to each other,.
Letting Christ’s
peace rule in their hearts, and being thankful.
Feasting on God’s Word so that they can teach and admonish one another. Singing songs, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness to God. Letting every word and deed be done in the way that Jesus would have.

This might be a good starting list for us as well. ————————————————————————————————

 

Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 22-40

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

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

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

of Nazareth, in Galilee, where Jesus, untouched by sin, grows up, becoming strong and filled with wisdom, because God’s favor was upon him.

 

 

The 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 mentions 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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Second Sunday After the Epiphany

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 62: 1-5

Isaiah was the 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.

—The Messiah will cause righteousness and salvation to appear to all nations because of the presence of his redeemed.
—God will give Jerusalem a
new name (see Revelation 21:1-3), and it will be a crown of glory for the Lord.

—God’s people will no longer be despised and rejected, but they will be God’s delight whom he will take as his bride.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11

St. Paul was instrumental in establishing the church in Corinth as he neared the end of his second missionary journey. In this first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul must deal with a lot of little (well, maybe not so little) problems that were fracturing the unity of the church there. Early on in this letter, St. Paul emphasized that he brought the Gospel to them with great humility, letting the signs and wonders worked by the Holy Spirit among them to convince them that God was in the message. In today’s reading, he addresses the nature of their church services. In particular, he focuses on the various manifestations of the Holy Spirit in power among them as they worship God together. First of all, though, he points out that, no matter which spiritual gift one is manifesting, it is still prompted by the same spirit. Besides these gifts, one can show one’s dedication to the Lord by serving others in various ways, or by engaging in various activities—all of which, of course, are gifted to each individual by God.

Then he explains what each spiritual gift is:
—Providing
wisdom at a crucial point that is so unique that it could only have been

provided by the whispering of the Holy Spirit.
—Providing
knowledge of something that obviously was not learned. —Manifesting faith for something that enables mountains to be moved, figuratively. —Healing the sick as Jesus had commanded his disciples to do (Luke 10:9). —Working a miracle under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

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—Bringing a message from God to the people (one really doesn’t have to be an ordained pastor or teacher to do this! Remember the disciples?)

—Being able to speak another language you haven’t learned to someone who needs to hear the Gospel in his language (recall the day of Pentecost).

—Being able to interpret languages that one hasn’t learned when the need is there.

These are the gifts provided by the Holy Spirit at crucial times in the life of the Church in order to advance the Gospel, and these are the gifts manifested by the disciples as they went from place to place, delivering the message of the Gospel with the power of the Holy Spirit. And these are the gifts that may be seen manifested in the mission fields today, as new Christians simply believe God. So why don’t we see these gifts being manifested today? We have to remind ourselves that even Jesus could not do healings and miracles at times, because the people didn’t believe (see Matthew 13:58)! Or, putting it in plain words, if you don’t believe that God manifests these gifts of the Spirit, God is going to honor your unbelief.

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Gospel Lesson: John 2: 1-11
Jesus has just begun his ministry. He has been baptized by John in the waters of the Jordan River and, as he made his way from there to Galilee, he has been calling disciples to follow him. Today’s reading finds Jesus in Cana of Galilee, where Jesus’ mother has been invited to a wedding. Jesus and his disciples were invited as well. It seems as if there were more guests there than the bridegroom had expected because all of a sudden they were out of wine, a major faux pas in a Jewish wedding. Mary, Jesus’ mother, must have learned along the way that Jesus had the Spirit of God, and faith, in him, so she quickly apprises him of the situation. Jesus politely reminds her that she does not control his ministry, the Father does. But Mary has faith in Jesus, and tells the servants to be prepared to do whatever he (a guest) tells them to do. And sure enough, Jesus soon instructs the servants to fill six 20-30 gallon (that’s somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons!) jars with water, and take some to the master of the feast for testing. And when this happens, the feast master calls the bridegroom to remark that in marriage feasts, the best wine is served first, and then, after the taste buds are dulled somewhat, the poorer wine is served. But in this case, the best wine was served after the lower quality wine had been consumed. The poor bridegroom must have been bewildered by the circumstance, but can you imagine the quality of wine God is going to have for his people in heaven for the marriage of Jesus with his Church?

In any case, this was the first miracle that Jesus publicly performed as he began his ministry, a miracle that brought glory to God. 

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Third Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6 and 8-10

The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah recount the history of the Jews trying to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its temple after their return from the Babylonian Captivity. Ezra the scribe has already led a group of Jews to Jerusalem to start the rebuild, but now, some years later, word reaches Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes I, that the walls and the gates are still in complete disarray. When Nehemiah expresses his sadness about the situation to the King, the King appoints him governor of Judah and allows him to go to Jerusalem. There he leads the Jews in rebuilding the walls and installing the gates in just 52 days, despite furious opposition from some sources. He is also required to deal with the problem of the rich Jews taking advantage of the poor Jews.

Now, as our reading begins, the people gather in front of one of the gates as Ezra the scribe reads to the people from the Book of the Law of Moses. And he does not just read it, but explains it so that the people understand what is being read. The people lift up their hands and bow their heads in worship of the Lord, at the same time weeping because they are make aware of their sins and the need to repent. Nehemiah and Ezra reassure the people of God’s forgiveness as they tell the people that they should not mourn or weep, because this day has become holy to the Lord. Instead, they are to celebrate with feasting, because they now understand God’s Word and realize that the Lord is their strength!

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a

As we learned last week, St. Paul is trying to restore order to the worship services of the Corinthians. As we heard last week, he noted that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to individuals as the Holy Spirit decides. And although there are a multitude of such gifts, each of these gifts is manifested for the common good.

In today’s reading, St. Paul proceeds to define more completely how a worship service involves the various members of the congregation working together, much in the way that the various parts of a human body work together to complete whatever task the body is given to do. Thus, just because one is not a doer of miracles does not mean that he is not a part of the congregation, much as an ear cannot be considered not to be a part of the body just because it cannot speak. In other words, just as a human body is made up of many parts that work together to form a unified body, so each member of a congregation contributes to the working of the congregation so that it

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makes one body in Christ. Contrariwise, some part of the body cannot claim that another part is not needed just because that part does not have some glorious or prominent role.

Finally, St. Paul provides a list of some of the roles that people might play within the body of Christ: apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, those who heal the sick, those who help in administration of whatever kind, and those who speak in other languages, for example. The point is, not everyone is blessed with all of the gifts or roles; in fact, someone may be blessed with only one gift or one role, but that does not make him or her any less a part of the body of Christ.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 4: 16-30

Jesus has been baptized by John in the river Jordan, immediately following which he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, there to be tempted by the devil with every kind of temptation, three of which are recorded for us. Having rejected the devil’s every temptation, Jesus has returned to Galilee to teach in the synagogues in power (i.e., healing people). As our reading begins today, we find Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth, the city were he grew up. And when given a scroll of the book of Isaiah from which to read, he turns to the part that describes the ministry of the Messiah. Having read that section, Jesus then proclaims to the congregation that that prophecy has now been fulfilled! And although the congregation remarked on his nice words, they still rejected Jesus. Why? A couple of reasons. One, how could a hometown boy, raised up with them, turn out better and smarter than any of them? Second, why isn’t Jesus doing the miracles upon them that he has been doing elsewhere? Jesus responds by telling them that because they reject him—in other words, have no faith in him—he can do no miracles in their midst. Then Jesus observes that it always has been this way, citing the examples of the widow of Zarephath whom God provided for during the famine pronounced by Elijah (1 Kings 17: 8-16), and the healing of the Syrian army commander, Naaman, of leprosy (2 Kings 5: 1-14), although the lepers in Israel were not healed. Why? Because they believed God and acted in faith, while the Children of Israel at the same time refused to believe God.

Jesus’ observation is met with rage and hate by his unbelieving townsfolk, who drive him to the edge of the town to throw him off the cliff. But God ensures that Jesus will not be killed before his time, allowing Jesus to pass through the midst of the crowd unscathed. 

 

Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 1: 4-10 and 17-19
God called Jeremiah to be His prophet when Jeremiah was still a youth, and he served in this capacity for over 40 years. His ministry began during the reign of King Josiah, the Southern Kingdom’s most righteous king, who attempted to undo his grandfather’s and father’s introduction of every kind of idolatry and to stimulate a revival. Unfortunately, the succeeding four kings were all evil, and they led the nation back into idolatry. This culminated in the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah’s ministry was to support King Josiah but to rebuke and warn the nation during the reigns of the last four kings.

Today’s reading is a recounting of God calling Jeremiah to his ministry. As he does so, God tells Jeremiah that he had consecrated Jeremiah to this ministry of prophet even before he was in the womb. But Jeremiah objects, saying that he is only a youth, with little or no speaking experience. God, however, states that he will be with him wherever he sends him and will give him the words to speak at that time. Therefore Jeremiah should not be afraid, because he (God) will be there to deliver him.

Then God touches Jeremiah’s mouth and tells him that God’s words are now in his mouth and that he (God) has set Jeremiah over nations and kingdoms to determine their destiny. God then tells Jeremiah to dress and get to work, because he has made Jeremiah as strong as a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall against the entire land of Judah and all its officials and peoples. And even though they will fight against him, they will not prevail because God is with Jeremiah.

Thinking back to the Epistle Lesson of last week, do you now appreciate that God has a role and has equipped every person in the congregation for a specific job?

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 12: 31b - 13: 1-13

Recalling St. Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians from last week’s Epistle Lesson on the role that each individual plays in a congregation, especially when it comes to the manifestation of spiritual gifts or to the role that one plays in the congregation, we now find St. Paul saying that as important as all of these are, there is something that is more important, in fact is basic, to the vibrant life of a congregation: love! And it is not the kind of popular relationship that passes for love today. Rather, it is godly love, that is, sacrificial love for the benefit of someone else. It is love for love’s sake.

 

 

Then St. Paul states that manifestation of the spiritual gifts, or even martyrdom, is nothing if it is not done with that godly love. And although manifestation of spiritual gifts and martyrdom will eventually pass away, love will continue into eternity where there will be no need for the manifestation of spiritual gifts or for martyrdom. Instead, love will be characterized in this life by being patient, kind, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping for all things, and enduring all things; and rejoicing with the truth. On the other hand, love will not be characterized by being envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude; insisting on one’s own way; being irritable or resentful; or rejoicing at wrongdoing.

So St. Paul notes that faith, hope, and love will abide forever. But the most important of the three is love.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 4: 31-44

Having just escaped from the intents of his murderous townsfolk, as we learned from last week’s gospel reading, Jesus makes his way to Capernaum, where he again teaches in the synagogue. This time, however, the people receive his words favorably, because it was clear that Jesus knew what he was talking about. But as he is teaching, a man in the congregation with the spirit of a demon raises his voice, the demon speaking through the man and identifying Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, which demon knows that Jesus will eventually judge the demons. Jesus does not need a demon to be the source of that truth, so he casts the demon out of the man with a word, the demon throwing the man to the ground and wretching before leaving the man. The congregation immediately recognizes that not only is the man healed, but that Jesus speaks not only knowledgeable but with power and authority.

Afterward, Jesus retires to the home of Peter, whose mother-in-law was there with a high fever. So Jesus rebukes the fever, and the fever leaves the woman, enabling her to be a hostess to Jesus and his disciples. But word has spread about what Jesus has done so far this day so that by evening, all those in the area who were sick or who were troubled by demons were brought to Jesus, and he healed all the sick and silenced the demons before casting them out.

The next day Jesus went to a desolate place for communion with his Father, but people followed him with their needs. So Jesus, having compassion on the people, taught the good news of the kingdom of God to them, and then went doing the same in other towns in Galilee as well as Judah. 

Commentaries for January

Commentaries for December

First Sunday in Advent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 33: 14-16                Series C

As you may recall, Jeremiah conveyed God’s messages to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, during the forty-plus years prior to its being carried off into Babylonian Captivity. These messages were calls to repentance, warnings of punishment for continued apostasy, and restoration to a repentant people. It is this last with which today’s message deals. In particular, the Lord here promises to fulfill the promise that he had made to the houses of Israel and Judah. What promises were those? They occurred during the reign of King David over both the house of Israel and the house of Judah. This was right after King David, with the help of King Hiram off Tyre, had finished building King David’s palace. King David then lamented out loud that, while he lived in a house of cedar, God still lived in their midst in a tent (the tabernacle). So he commented to the prophet Nathan that he was going to build a house for God. But that night, God revealed to Nathan that David was not going to build a house for God, but God was going to build an everlasting house for David, referring of course to the eternal kingdom of the Promised Messiah (see 1 Samuel 7).

The remainder of today’s Old Testament reading becomes a prophetic description of that promised king and his kingdom: he will be a descendant of David, righteous in all his ways, executing justice and righteousness, saving his people and allowing them to dwell securely. This prophecy obviously reaches its full realization in that everlasting kingdom, but the coming of that Messiah, to be known as “the Lord is our righteousness,” will give us peace today!

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13
As you may recall, St. Paul established the church in Thessalonica during his second missionary journey to Asia Minor, after they were driven out of Philippi after casting a demon out of a fortune teller who had been plaguing their ministry. Now he is writing his first letter to them, expressing his love for them and his desire to come to them again. And, based on Timothy’s report to St. Paul on the Thessalonians’ faith, St. Paul expresses joy and thanksgiving to God for their faith. Then he prays that God would cause love for one another to increase and abound, and that they would establish themselves in righteousness and holiness in preparation for the coming of the Lord Jesus for all his saints.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 19: 28-40
It has been a tumultuous few weeks before the Passover. Yes, that Passover, the night in which Jesus would be betrayed. Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, resulting in the people turning away from the scribes and Pharisees and turning to Jesus. But why were they turning to Jesus? Because he was healing their sick, raising the dead, casting out demons, and feeding the thousands. In other words, providing them with all of their earthly needs. And why were they turning away from the Pharisees? Because the Pharisees were working hand-in-glove with the Roman authorities; after all, their jobs depended on it. But the people were chafing under the rule of the Romans, and they still entertained the notion that, since they were God’s chosen people, they should be ruling the Romans, and for that matter, the world, thus restoring to them their everlasting kingdom.

And so, when Jesus comes to Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, which the disciples had procured in the exact manner that Jesus said they would be able to, the people erupt in triumph as they anticipate the arrival of the person they assume will be their military leader and political king through whom God would restore their earthly kingdom. Fearful for their jobs and jealous of Jesus, the Pharisees demand that Jesus stop the welcoming committee from praising him as King. But even though the crowd was welcoming Jesus for the wrong reason, Jesus points out to the Pharisees that even the stones would shout for joy if the people did not, because the stones knew why Jesus was really coming to Jerusalem: to save the world from its own sin. ————————————————————————————————

 

Alternate Gospel Lesson: Luke 21: 25-36

It is early in the week. Yes, that week, Holy Week. Jesus is in Jerusalem with his disciples. He has had his usual encounters with the Pharisees, who question his authority; and the Sadducees, who think that they can successfully challenge him about a resurrection of the dead and a life in the world to come. When the disciples comment to Jesus about the beauty of the temple that King Herod had built, Jesus responds that it is going to be leveled. Astonished, the disciples quickly ask when this is going to happen, and what will be the signs of the end times. Jesus again responds by noting that at the end of time, the very heavens will be in turmoil as the sun, moon, and stars are shaken. But before that, the earth will be experiencing one calamity after another as nations are in turmoil, and people are in fear and panic with not only what is happening but what is anticipated will happen. After that, everyone will see Jesus coming in power and glory, so that at that time, his people will be able to lift up their heads again with anticipated joy.

Then Jesus directs his disciples to use common sense: when they see leaves starting to appear on trees, they know that summer is near. Likewise, when all of these calamities are taking place, Jesus’ disciples will know that his coming is near. But then Jesus issues a warning: his disciples are not to let the cares of this world or material desires burden them, because if they focus on themselves, they will fall into a trap. Jesus will come, but they will be unprepared for his coming. Besides, they need to remain in prayer in order to have the (spiritual) strength to deal with the calamities of those times.

 

Second Sunday in Advent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Malachi 3: 1-7b

Malachi was God’s messenger to the Jews during the inter-testament period, after they had returned from Babylonian Captivity. As with all of God’s prophets, he issued a call for the people to repent, with a promise of restoration to those who repented. Although the people at this time were not as involved in idolatry as they were in times past, there was instead a little compromise here, a little compromise there with their relationship to God and to their fellow man. One might even think that they could be the Old Testament equivalent of the New Testament Laodicean church: they were at best lukewarm, letting their covenant relationship with God go by the way, which consisted of loving the Lord their God with all of their heart, soul, strength, and mind; and their neighbor as themselves.

God warns the people called by his name that he is going to send a messenger to prepare the way for God himself. God states that the Messiah that the Jews seek and delight in will come to his temple, but not to honor these people but to judge and purify them with the fire of righteousness, so that they will again offer acceptable offerings to God. The big question, of course, is who will be able to stand in that day of judgment with an unrepentant heart? God will stand in judgment of the adulterers, those who slander others, those who cheat workers out of their wages, and those who oppress the widow, the orphan, or the stranger, thereby indicating that they do not respect God.

God’s last observation to the Jews: since the days of the Exodus, they have not kept God’s rules, statues, and Laws. If they therefore expect God to bless them, they will need to repent! ————————————————————————————————

 

 Epistle Lesson: Philippians 1: 2-11

St. Paul established the church in Philippi during his second missionary Journey, after God revealed to him in a dream that he needed to go to Macedonia. While ministering there, he was forced to deal with a girl who told fortunes for her masters, reportedly earning them much, by casting out the demon of fortunetelling in her. Her masters made such a fuss in the city because of their potential loss of money that St. Paul had to flee.

Years have now passed, and St. Paul is in prison. But that gives him time to think about all the folks he brought to Christ during his three missionary journeys. So he is full of thanks and joy to God as he recalls not only their response to the gospel but also their financial commitment in supporting his missionary work. In addition, he expresses profound gratitude for their remembering him while he is imprisoned. So he prays that their love for God and one another would abound more and more so that they may be found pure and blameless when Christ comes again. ————————————————————————————————

 

Gospel Lesson: Luke 3: 1-14 (15-20)

As our gospel reading for the day begins, we find Dr. Luke establishing chronologically the cast of characters: Since Tiberius Caesar became emperor in 14 A.D. , this puts the date at close to 29 A.D. We are all familiar with Pontius Pilate. The brothers Herod Antipas and Herod Philip, both tetrarchs (a notch below king), are sons of Herod the Great, the baby killer, but also the builder of the temple in which Jesus worshipped. Other than Lysanias being tetrarch of Syria, we know nothing about him. Finally, introduced are the priests Annas and Caiaphas, whom we will meet again around Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

It is at this time, then, that John the Baptist, son of Zechariah the priest, begins his ministry in the region of the Jordan River, calling people to repentance and baptizing them for the forgiveness of sins when they did. Dr. Luke then Identifies John the Baptist as the one of whom the prophet isaiah (Isaiah 40:3-5) spoke when he declared that he would be a voice in the wilderness crying out to people to prepare for the coming of the Lord by repenting. And when Isaiah indicated that the Lord’s paths would be straight, the valleys filled, the mountains and hills made low, and the rough places smoothed out, he would be saying that the Lord’s coming was an absolute sure thing: nothing would hinder his coming. So be prepared! And they were to prepare by not only repenting, but also by showing by what they said and did that they had repented.

Many of the Jews refused to admit to needing repentance, saying that since they were genetic descendants of Abraham, they had no need of repentance. But John counters by noting that God can raise children of Abraham from stones, so genetics means nothing. He then likens the coming judgment of God to a man chopping down and throwing into a fire non-productive fruit trees, indicating what fate the Jews could expect.

But to the Jews who did repent and wanted clarification of what God expected of them, John gave examples of sharing with those in need, tax collectors not overcharging, and soldiers not extorting money by intimidation. John’s teaching and preaching was so different from that of the Pharisees that people wondered whether John himself might be that expected Messiah. John emphatically denies that possibility, indicating that he is totally unworthy to be even the lowest ranking servant who unties sandals to wash the feet of visitors to a home. Instead, he tells his audience that the One that they are waiting for, the Messiah, who comes in judgment and with a purifying fire, will be characterized by one unique feature: he will baptize people with the Holy Spirit and fire, indicating the power to witness that Jesus’ disciples would receive (recall Acts 1:8 as well as the day of Pentecost) as well as the purging of sin from his disciples that would also occur through trials and tribulations to those committed to denying self and serving the Lord.

The result of John’s preaching: he irritated a lot of Pharisees, and he angered Herod Antipas by reproving him for his new wife Heroidias, who was his brother’s wife, to such an extent that Herod silenced God’s messenger by imprisoning John. 

 

Third Sunday in Advent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Zephaniah 3: 14-20
Zephaniah, an apparent descendant of the generally righteous King Hezekiah of Judah, was called into the prophetic ministry by God after a series of kings who brought the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, into apostasy. The reign of King Josiah, the last righteous king of the Southern Kingdom, had just recently begun, with King Josiah trying to restore worship of the true God. In today’s reading, we find God—through Zephaniah—announcing good tidings of great joy to the people of Israel and Judah (here referred to as Jerusalem): restoration through the arrival of the King of Israel, the Lord their God, who will shower his love upon them, take away the judgments levied against them, remove fear from among them, gather them together, and restore their dignity. In addition, he will heal the sick, disabled, and distressed; restore their fortunes, and make praise and recognition a characteristic of the people.

Obviously, that King is Jesus, the righteous Son of God. But who is “Israel?” And what kingdom will Jesus reign over? As St. Paul makes clear in Romans 2-4, and Galatians 3 and 6:16, Israel is not Jewish people by genetics, but Jewish people by faith—the faith of Abraham. So Zephaniah is speaking of the joy that will come to all people because Jesus will save, indeed save everyone who believes, from the eternal consequences of their sin. Consequently, there is no more fear of judgment or the fear of evil, no more oppression, because Jesus will reign over an everlasting, heavenly kingdom. Good news indeed!

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Epistle Lesson: Philippians 4: 4-7

As we recall from last week, St. Paul is in prison, writing to the church in Philippi which he had established during his second missionary journey. And you will also recall that St. Paul expressed his love for that church and was full of joy and gratitude for their demonstration of their Christian faith. In turn, in today’s reading, St. Paul encourages these Philippians to rejoice continually in the Lord Jesus, and without any anxiety to make known their needs to God through prayer and supplication, but with thanksgiving. In these circumstances, God will be able to provide a peace that exceeds anything that they can imagine, thus reassuring their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. And that is what St. Paul is encouraging us to do today, and every day.

As we think about it, doesn’t this sound like a fulfillment of Zephaniah’s prophecy that we heard just a few minutes ago?

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 7: 18-28 (29-35)
Since Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus has been tempted by the devil, his home town of Nazareth has rejected his spiritual leadership, and he has cast out demons, healed the sick, forgiven sins, gathered disciples, and appointed his twelve apostles. If that were not enough, he has healed the sick of the Gentiles, raised the dead, and given sight to the blind. But also in that time period, Herod Antipas has put John the Baptist into prison for accusing Herod of an adulterous relationship with Herodias, his wife, who was Herod’s brother’s wife previously.

As our reading for today begins, we find John’s disciples reporting to him all what Jesus is doing. So John sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask him whether he really is the expected Messiah. Now, don’t you find that curious? Wasn’t it John who announced Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, upon whom the Holy Spirit descended upon and stayed at his baptism, clearly indicating to John that this was how John would be assured by God himself that this would be the Messiah (John 1:29-34)? Maybe what is really happening is that John realizes that his death is near, so by sending his disciples to Jesus to get this critical question answered, they can become Jesus’ disciples. When John’s disciples pose this question to Jesus, he doesn’t answer it right away. Instead, he heals more sick, casts out more demons, and gives sight to more blind, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah (35:5-6).

After John’s disciples leave to report to John, Jesus turns to the crowd and asks a series of rhetorical questions concerning who John is. Then Jesus answers his questions: not only is John a prophet, he is the prophet who was prophesied to be the forerunner of Jesus (Malachi 3:1). So John is the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. But the New Testament covenant relationship that God is now establishing with believers is so much superior to the Old Testament covenant that the least in this new covenant relationship is greater than John. You have to think about that, folks, because if we believers are greater in God’s kingdom than the likes of the men and women of faith mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11, God’s expectations of us must be pretty high!

But then Jesus addresses the people of his generation, and asks what they are like. He answers the question: they are like children! Because they criticized John for his austere diet, but at the same time they were criticizing Jesus for not eating an austere diet. In other words, no matter what the righteous do, they will always be criticized by the unrighteous, who will always be offended no matter what the righteous say or do.

And isn’t that just like it is today? 

 

Fourth Sunday in Advent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Micah 5: 2-5a
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 that King Ahab, some 130 years earlier, was to the Northern Kingdom, both leading their kingdoms into apostasy. Micah’s ministry followed that of God’s other prophets, announcing judgment on the evil, but restoration to those who repented. In particular, the early parts of the book of Micah find him warning of judgment upon the nation, particularly upon those who oppressed their fellow men, and upon the ruler and prophets who were abusing their offices.

But as our reading for today begins, we find Micah instead announcing tidings of great joy: from the tiny village of Bethlehem of Ephrathah (or Judah) the one who would become the King of Israel, the Lord himself—indicated by the description of his being from ancient days. But up until that time, God will allow the Israelites to be ruled by others. When that king is born, he will gather all of his brothers (meaning Jews and Gentiles) to him and will shepherd them in one flock (see John 10:16). And this one flock will rest securely and in peace under that shepherd’s watch.

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 10: 5-10

In chapters 8 and 9 of Hebrews, the author has explained how Christ offered his blood on the altar in heaven to redeem the souls of all mankind, provided that the individual accepts Christ’s sacrifice. As we begin chapter 10, the author indicates that all of the sacrifices required by The Law did not actually take away sins. In fact, these sacrifices and offerings were not even desired by God, but were instead merely a picture of the sacrifice that had to be made by Jesus. Consequently, a body for that sacrifice was prepared for Jesus, and Jesus came into the world specifically to do God the Father’s will, as written in the Book, or Bible (here called a scroll) long before (see Ephesians chapter one). When Jesus made that sacrifice of himself, he in effect did away with the first covenant, as represented by the Law, and replaced it with a second covenant, as represented by faith, in which an individual is declared sinless when he or she accepts Christ’s sacrifice, which needed to be made only once, since that one sacrifice covered all sins of all time.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: 39-45 (46-56)
In the first part of Luke, chapter one, we have the recounting of the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to the priest Zechariah to announce the coming pregnancy of Zechariah’s apparently barren wife, Elizabeth, who would bear the forerunner of the Christ, John the Baptist. Then we have the recounting of the angel Gabriel, six months later, appearing to Mary to announce that she will be the bearer of the Messiah, which assignment she humbly and obediently accepts. As our reading begins today, we find Mary setting out into the mountains to share this good news with her relative Elizabeth. What is truly amazing is that, as soon as Mary enters the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist, as a six-month old fetus, recognizes the presence of Jesus in the now pregnant Mary, and leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth. Immediately Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, enabling her to recognize that Mary is pregnant with the Messiah, the Son of God. Elizabeth then praises Mary for believing what the angel told her, and notes that Mary will be blessed for participating in the fulfillment of a prophecy made at the time of Adam and Eve.

Mary responds to these words with a song of praise which we know as the Magnificat, in which she praises and rejoices in God who chose her, a humble girl. She then continues to praise God by recognizing his holiness, his mercy, his strength, his justice in humbling the proud but exalting the humble, his providing for the poor and hungry but denying the rich, and his faithfulness in remembering the promise of a messiah that he had made to the fathers, including Abraham and his offspring. 

 

 

Christmas Day

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 52: 7-10

In the Old Testament period, when kings went to war, they would have designated messengers to send home, some designated to bear good news while others to bear bad news, of how the battle was going. Watchmen on the walls would continually search the surroundings, looking for the messengers. Even at a great distance, they could identify the messenger—and the nature of the message—by how the messenger ran. 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 also to 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
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 writer of the book of Hebrews (who is unknown) starts his letter by establishing that Jesus is God Himself. He then starts to characterize Jesus, as follows:
—God previously spoke to His people through prophets, but now, in these

last days (the New Testament period), He has revealed

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

—This Son is the the radiance of God’s glory and the exact revelation of His nature.
—This Son still upholds the
universe by the word of his power.
—This Son, after making
purification for our sins, sat down at the Father’s right hand.

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

 

Later in this chapter, the writer notes that God the Son’s throne is eternal, His scepter is uprightness, and He loves righteousness and hates wickedness. In addition, He laid the foundation of the earth (do you recall God’s questions of Job in this regard, in Job 38:4-7), and He made the heavens. Finally, he notes that the Son does not change, and His years will last forever.

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

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

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

—This Word is God.
—This Word made
anything and everything that was ever made (created). —In this Word is life, and this life is the light of men.
—Darkness cannot overcome this light.
—This Light came into the world that He created, yet neither the people

He created nor the people He had chosen recognized or received

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

spiritual birth, being of God.
This Word took on
human flesh and lived among humans, His glory

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

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

 

First Sunday After Christmas

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 13: 1-3a and 11-15
The tenth and last plague has ravaged Egypt. The Children of Israel were spared from the death of every firstborn of man or animal by obeying God’s instructions for the celebration of the Passover. Now, after exactly 430 years, the Children of Israel leave Egypt, led by Moses. But God does not want the Children of Israel to forget his mercy shown toward them in this particular circumstance, and he does so in an unique way. And it deals with how the Children of Israel, from now on, deal with the firstborn of either man or animal. And it works this way.

Every firstborn male of an animal is claimed by the Lord. That meant that it was to be killed. The single exception was in the case of a donkey—a valuable beast of burden. Here the Lord gave the Children of Israel two options: they could either redeem the donkey by sacrificing a lamb in its place, or they could kill the donkey.

In the case of a firstborn man, he had to be redeemed by the sacrifice of a lamb, since the man was to be consecrated to the Lord by his life, not his death.

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Epistle Lesson: Colossians 3: 12-17
During his third missionary journey, St. Paul traveled from Corinth to Ephesus and established a church there. He apparently spent three years in Ephesus, teaching the new Christians as well as evangelizing. During this period, he made contact with people from Colossae, with the result that a church was established there as well. Subsequent to St. Paul leaving Ephesus in order to celebrate Pentecost in Jerusalem, he was arrested and was forced to appeal to Caesar in order to get a fair trial. He is now imprisoned in Rome and is spending his time writing letters to some of the churches that he founded, one of which is in Colossae. In this letter, St. Paul emphasizes that Christ has redeemed them from the consequences of their sin. But, he notes, if they have been redeemed, then their behavior should reflect that fact. What behavior would God expect his redeemed to show? St. Paul lists some of them:

Compassion, kindness, and humility.
Meekness, patience
, and bearing with one another.
Forgiving each other, and showing love to each other,.
Letting Christ’s
peace rule in their hearts, and being thankful.
Feasting on God’s Word so that they can teach and admonish one another. Singing songs, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness to God. Letting every word and deed be done in the way that Jesus would have.

This might be a good starting list for us as well. ————————————————————————————————

 

 

Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 22-40

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

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

Moments later, the prophetess Anna, married for only seven years and a widow for another 84, who worshipped, fasted, and prayed in the temple day and night, appears to the family and gives thanks to God, saying that Jesus is the redeemer for whom the Children of Israel have been waiting.
Subsequently, the family returns to their original home town of
Nazareth, in Galilee, where Jesus, untouched by sin, grows up, becoming strong and filled with wisdom, because God’s favor was upon him.

 

 

The 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 mentions 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 overtime. 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 was (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 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.

 

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