Posts Tagged 'Nazareth'

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 July 8, 2012: Proper 9, Year B

The Reading            2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Today we resume the story of David. The shepherd boy whom Samuel anointed has fought and schemed his way to the kingship of Judah, in the south. Now the northern tribes of Israel come to David’s capital at Hebron and ask him to become their king, for God is with him. On the strength of this David conquers a city of the Jebusites, on neutral ground between Judah and Israel, and makes it his capital—Jerusalem, the city of David.

The Response            Psalm 123

The Epistle            2 Corinthians 12:2-10

The church of Corinth was wracked by division, some of it centered on Paul himself: people said he was not physically perfect enough or spiritual enough to be God’s champion. In today’s reading Paul counters both claims: he mentions his own exceptional revelation—he himself is the “person in Christ”—only to dismiss it, and he points to the derided disability as precisely the means by which the Lord keeps him grounded and aware that the power is not his or ours but Christ’s.

The Gospel            Mark 6:1-13

 

Further thoughts

The Revised Common Lectionary, which we in the Episcopal Church follow, gives today’s reading as 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10. Here are the omitted verses:

The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back”—thinking, “David cannot come in here.” Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of David. David had said on that day, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.”

Since David is the ruler chosen by God, and the one through whom Israel achieves its own greatness, this is a powerful rejection. Combine it with the list of physical impairments that disqualified a man from being a priest, and one can see the ground from which Paul’s detractors in Corinth were arguing. It’s easy to infer that God really only loves the perfect and really only works through the one who looks the part.

What if David meant something different, however? What if the point is that David is turning the taunt of the apparently whole Jebusites back on them? They were so sure of themselves that they failed to see a major flaw in their defenses: the humble water shaft, which could be either the water supply or the sewer. It lay in their power to remedy—but they did not.

So much depends on what we notice and how. Jesus did mighty works—everywhere but in his own home neighborhood, among those who “knew him when…” They saw him as just the carpenter, just the kid of Mary. They figured they knew what they could expect from him—not much—and that is exactly what they got.

Let’s not be too hasty to judge the skeptics of Corinth and of Nazareth, however. Corinth was a busy port town, which means it doubtless saw more than its share of con artists and schemers. Committing too deeply to the Next Big Thing without asking the hard questions could be bad for one’s money—and one’s health. For its part, Nazareth was a hardscrabble town in a land that was well and truly under Roman domination. The people had surely learned the hard way that getting one’s hopes up would just lead to disappointment.

The mix of pride, fear, defensiveness, and defeatism that kept Jesus’ neighbors blind to him is familiar to today. It is desperately hard to overcome all that baggage in someone else; it is even harder to overcome it in me. In both cases, as Paul’s career shows, it takes persistence, generosity, grace, and a willingness to look silly.

It also helps to pay attention to mundane things like the sewers and the water supply.


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