For Dec. 29, 2013: 1 Christmas, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Isaiah 61 was composed as God’s people returned from exile to find Jerusalem in ruins; life is hard. Even so, says the prophet, there is great good news: it is time to rejoice as one does at one’s wedding, for God’s vindication and salvation are on their way—and already here.

The Response            Psalm 147:13-21

The selection from Psalm 147 is a song of praise. It calls the people to worship and praise the Lord for making the front doors secure, protecting the weak, giving peace, providing rich harvests, controlling the natural order and the seasons, and announcing his word. Hallelujah!

The Epistle            Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

In the epistle, Paul writes to the church of Galatia—a part of Asia Minor populated by ethnic Celts—to explain the difference between life under the law and life in faith. Under the law we were like dependents with no legal standing. Then Jesus came to name us as immediate kin—and so to adopt us into God’s forever family.

The Gospel            John 1:1-18

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Luke gave us the close-up view of the birth of Christ. On the first Sunday of Christmas season, John’s gospel begins with a wider perspective: Jesus the Light of the World comes into the world to give us power to become children of God, if we will take it.

Ponderables

A lectionary is a sequence of readings from the Bible for weekly or daily use. The Revised Common Lectionary or RCL is a three-year cycle of scripture readings for use at Sunday church services; Year A, which began on the first Sunday of Advent at the beginning of December, follows the gospel of Matthew, Year B the gospel of Mark, and Year C the gospel of Luke, with the gospel of John read on festival days and on Sundays in Pentecost Year B after the gospel of Mark is finished.

The RCL is “revised” in that the original version, based on and inspired by the three-year Roman Catholic lectionary that was published in 1969, was altered in 1996 from the version issued in 1983 by the North American Consultation for Common Texts. It is “common” in that it is in use at least to some extent in many Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Unitarian Universalist, UCC, and other churches. One advantage of the RCL is that having all these churches on the same page, so to speak, makes ecumenical services much easier.

The Episcopal Church began transitioning from the lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer to the Revised Common Lectionary in 2007. We retain the BCP usage on some specific Sundays, however. One of those is the first Sunday after Christmas; where the RCL has a distinct set of readings for each liturgical year, Episcopal usage specifies the same set for all three years. The readings bear repeating: it is good to follow Isaiah’s exultant outstretched arm pointing to the Light on the horizon, to repeat with the children of Israel a short litany of the Lord’s mercies, to hear with the Galatian aliens the great good news of our adoption, and to wonder with John at the great mystery of the Word of God made flesh of our flesh. Amen, hallelujah!

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