Archive for the 'Titus' Category

For Dec. 25, 2013: Christmas Day (Christmas II)

The Reading            Isaiah 62:6-12

What astonishing news Isaiah gives us: Jerusalem restored to more than it ever was, and the fruit of their labors going to the people who have sweated for them, rather than to the oppressor. “You who remind the Lord” might be angels in heaven—but might not they also be us?

The Response            Psalm 97

Psalm 97 is one of a series of “enthronement psalms” that celebrate the Lord. It depicts the Lord as a God of mystery and power, to be feared and exalted, but also as a God before whom the righteous can rejoice.

The Epistle            Titus 3:4-7

In the first reading, Isaiah foretells the salvation of Jerusalem in terms of liberation from oppressors and abundance for those who have labored. As Titus tells it, however, God our Savior has done much more than that—not because we have done anything to earn it, but simply through God’s mercy.

The Gospel            Luke 2:1-20

The nativity narrative of Luke tells the story of how Jesus of Nazareth came to be born in Bethlehem and his birth announced. The story is so familiar that it is hard not to take mangers and shepherds and angels for granted—but it is miraculous, and it begins to prepare the way for the greater miracle of Easter.

 

Ponderables

Psalm 97 describes a God of awe, making the mountains melt like wax and keeping track of all righteousness and unrighteousness. This is the very same God, according to Isaiah, whose preference is to promote equity by actively soliciting feedback from God’s people, and, according to Luke, the God whose way to save us from ourselves—which, as God and the writer to Titus know, we need—is to be born as one of the least of us.

Isn’t that staggeringly amazing?

For Dec. 24, 2013: Christmas Eve (Christmas I)

The Reading            Isaiah 9:2-7

What astonishing news Isaiah announces: to people who have been in deepest darkness and sorrow, oppressed and the victims of war, there now come light and joy, liberation, and peace! The new king is most probably Hezekiah of Judah, righteous son of unrighteous Ahaz, but we hear these words as a prophecy of Jesus.

The Response            Psalm 96

Psalms 90 to 106 are called the “enthronement psalms”: they celebrate God’s glory. Like the others, Psalm 96 was written in the sixth century before Christ during the difficult days of the exile in Babylon. It praises the God of Israel as the one true God, maker of heaven and earth, before whom the very trees shout for gladness.

The Epistle            Titus 2:11-14

The letter to Titus sounds short and blunt after the soaring poetry of Isaiah 9:2-7 and Psalm 96, but it packs a great deal of theological content into a very small compass. Here it reminds us of the coming of Jesus at the end of the world, and of how we should be living while we wait.

The Gospel            Luke 2:1-20

The gospel of Luke tells the story of how Jesus of Nazareth came to be born in Bethlehem and his birth announced. The story is so familiar that it is hard not to take mangers and shepherds and angels for granted—but it is miraculous, and it begins to prepare the way for the greater miracle of Easter.

 

Ponderables

The Revised Common Lectionary presents three sets of readings for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Each of the readings in the first set, taken literally, contains nonsense. Isaiah announces that the throne of David is about to be secure forever and that endless peace is about to begin—though, for most of the almost 2600 years since then, Israel itself has had no Davidic king and war seems to be what makes the world go ’round. Psalm 96 suggests that there are other gods and offers the spacier-than-Disney spectacle of plants and trees shouting for joy. As for Luke, real virgins just don’t go around having babies, real men don’t agree to raise the kids their fiancées have just conceived by someone else, and real shepherds stinking of lanolin and sheep poo don’t get serenaded by an army of angels or invited to admire a perfect stranger’s new baby. And the otherwise sober-looking passage from the letter to Titus makes the quite extraordinary claim that what makes God’s people good with God isn’t what we do: it is quite simply grace, because God feels like it.

What makes all of these things true is Jesus. The dreams-come-true king that Isaiah foretold to troubled Israelites is the God of the psalm whose righteousness makes “heaven and nature sing” is the virgin-born baby with the shepherd admirers is the man dying on the cross for our redemption. As the angels sing, so may we:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

For Dec. 24 & 25, 2011: Christmas, Year B

The Reading            Isaiah 9:2-7

In the time of the first prophecies of Isaiah, Ahaz the king must decide whether to try to save the kingdom from one powerful and ambitious neighbor by allying with another. Isaiah the prophet directs Ahaz to put his trust in God with this stirring hymn. The child whom Isaiah predicts is most probably Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, who will indeed rule righteously in God’s sight—but of course we read it as predicting the birth of Jesus. Alleluia!

 

The Epistle            Titus 2:11-14

After Isaiah’s soaring poetry and the Psalm, the passage from the letter of Titus seems short and blunt. The point is that we await the great light, the release from bondage, the judging in equity, and the eternal joy—and, while we wait for Jesus’ return, we ourselves have plenty to do to bring these things to pass.

 

Further thoughts

Isaiah points us forward out of darkness, devastation, and carnage to the light of justice, righteousness, and peace by way of a wielder of authority and might whose wisdom will get the job done. This ringing prophecy is said of a child, to be sure, but clearly a king’s child: someone of whom it is appropriate to expect great things.

It is a challenge to square this vision with the much humbler birth that we celebrate in Bethlehem—and that, it seems, is precisely the point. This child born to us is no conqueror coming in might to fix the world by breaking it to his will. Generations of rulers before him and after have attempted that feat, and some have even had good intentions—but all have failed. This world and the people in it cannot be fixed by force, not even by force of will.

We humans find this astonishing: how much tidier if one could simply command human beings into righteousness, peaceability, and a host of other virtues. It’s evident, however, that God’s view of this is different.

I think there are several reasons for this. One of them is that none of us mortals is so much less broken than the others that we are competent to enforce our will on others totally or permanently. Even a small child must be allowed some scope to make choices and take chances, if she is to grow into our baptismal mandate to will and to persevere, and the wise parent must learn when and how to yield that authority.  Another reason is that force never lifted up a fainting heart, nor did punishment alone ever make a generous heart.

For the Babe in Bethlehem does not come to fix the world from the outside in, but rather to make the world new from the inside out through love, one heart at a time.


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