Posts Tagged 'Bethlehem'

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. 23, 2012: 4 Advent, Year C

The Reading            Micah 5:2-5a

The eighth-century BC prophet Micah foretold the destruction of Jerusalem for its sins and the sins of its rulers. Like the later prophet Zephaniah in last week’s reading, here Micah offers comfort to the ordinary people and the downtrodden: from little Bethlehem will come a ruler who will gather God’s flock and “be the one of peace.” In Micah’s time this was the righteous king Hezekiah; we now read this as a prophecy of the Messiah.

The Response            Canticle 15, Luke 1:46-55: the Magnificat

The Epistle            Hebrews 10:5-10

On this final Sunday before Christmas, when we might expect more of Paul’s great good joy in the Thessalonians and Philippians, we and the Hebrews instead get a dose of theology: what God wants of us is not ritual sacrifices but right living. The point here is at the core of Christmas: it is Jesus coming to do the will of God that sanctifies us—and it gives us a model to follow.

The Gospel            Luke 1:39-45

 

Further thoughts

Two millennia on, we tend to figure we have a pretty good idea what to expect from this Advent thing: make the cider, wrap the presents, deal with the crowds and the office parties, light the candles, practice the carols… We know the drill, year by year.

Or do we? The year C readings for Advent, summed up in the readings for the fourth Sunday, however, remind us just how unexpected the whole thing is. The King of glory is about to be born—born? God?? This God made man chooses for his birthplace not a center of power like Rome nor an important religious place like Jerusalem but the has-been backwater town of Bethlehem, and not a palace scented with lavender water but a stable that smells of the sweat (and more) of working animals and working people as well. His mother, who by now is hugely and obviously pregnant, is no princess or empress: she is a teenage unwed mother, in a society that frowns mightily on that sort of thing. This God is bound for glory—what God wouldn’t be?—but by way of the most horrible, squalid, shameful death ever. The point of it all is to give hope to those who haven’t had hope.

What’s more, the God about to be born has already made out a Christmas list. Let’s see what’s on it: Piles of gold? No. Yokes of oxen split and burned as a sacrifice? Not even. Clouds of incense to make even the strongest of choirs sneeze? Nice, but optional. No: this God’s Christmas list consists of… me, and you, and the best of our love to be God’s hands and feet and hope-builders.

What kind of God asks for that? Well, I think it takes our whole lives to work out the answer.


Enter your email address to subscribe to St Alban's Lections and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2 other followers