1st Reading – Samuel 3: 3b — 10, 19
Samuel was the last of the judges and the first of the prophets –A time of transition . . .This is a ‘classic’ story about discerning God’s call in our lives. What steps do you see in this story about discernment? Have you ever experienced God calling? How have you experienced any “twists and turns’ in this calling?
Some people who have experienced the twists and turns of God’s calls:
Moses Jeremiah Mary Paul Francis of Assisi St. Teresa of Calcutta Thomas Merton Martin Luther King all of us ?!
“Our lives have been shaped not just by one but by many calls from God, and God speaks not just with one voice but with many.” (Celebration, 2000)
From Mary Birmingham:
The Books of Samuel recall a time of transition. From the time of Joshua, Israel had been governed by a loose tribal confederacy. These books tell of the move to one central government that reached its pinnacle in the reigns of David and Solomon. The major figure during this time of political change was Samuel, a late-eleventh-century B.C. voice of the times. The books span the time from Samuel’s birth and childhood through the reign of David and his sons. David is remembered as Israel’s ‘golden age.’ Prior to David’s reign, Israel was suspicious of kings. These books reflect these suspicions. Many preferred the tribal system over the monarchy. The Books of Samuel reflect these tensions. The first king, Saul (who Samuel anointed), was a great disappointment. David came and was able to unify the tribes and to establish the city of Jerusalem as the capital: it was on the border between the north and the south and, thus, acceptable to both. The high point of these books is Yahweh’s promise to David that his reign would last forever. Israel would remember this promise as a sign of God’s protection during future difficult times. (Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 451-451)
Are you familiar with the Lord? How does God reveal Godself to you? And where? Notice God comes to Samuel right where he is-in bed! Of course, we don’t find out what God says to Samuel in this reading, but God reveals that he is going to punish Eli because his sons blasphemed (1 Samuel 3:11-14). It may have been left out of the lectionary because the point being made is God calls us to action, and does so where we are.
2nd Reading – I Corinthians 6: 13c-15a, 17-20:
Paul is speaking about what was common in Greek thinking at the time, that the body is separated from the soul. Because of the separation, if one sinned, that was the body’s fault and not the soul. So sin away! Paul is telling them (and us!) that our souls are enfleshed. We are body AND soul for the Lord. How does this affect our lives today? How do you use your whole self for God’s work?
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Jan. 2000: Paul is trying to help us realize that we are people of Incarnation. Our God took on human flesh, and we encounter God not only – maybe not even primarily – in the hour of prayer, but in the many other hours of encounter with one another. Where we gather, Jesus is. If God is revealed to us in flesh and blood, then what happens to us in the flesh is not insignificant. Our sexuality, our stewardship of our health, our respect and care for life – especially for those who are weak, ill or voiceless – all of this has great importance.
From Ronald Rolheiser’s blog entry, “In Praise of Skin”: In becoming flesh, God legitimizes skin, praises skin, enters it, honors it, caresses it, and kisses it. Among all the religions of the world, we stand out because, for us, salvation is never a question of stepping outside of skin, but of having skin itself glorified. That is why Jesus never preached simple immortality of the soul, but insisted on the resurrection of the body.
The Gospel – John 1:35 – 42
We go right from Epiphany on Sunday, to the Baptism of the Lord on Monday, to Jesus in ministry now. Jesus grew up and into his calling in a week!
What’s in a name? Jesus is called the Lamb of God, Rabbi and Messiah in this pericope. Simon gets the new name of Cephas, or Peter. Think about the different names you are called, maybe nicknames, terms of endearment, maybe not-so-kind names in traffic! Names are how we are known to people. Names make us unique. Names can sometimes hurt. Sometimes we have pet names for people. When your name is remembered by an old friend, it makes you feel good (and not if it is forgotten). Jesus always knows your name (like Cheers!). You are unique, called and special in Jesus’ eyes always.
The title, Lamb of God, has many overtones and shades of meaning. It obviously was an important title for Jesus in John’s community. It contains a rather compact wealth of Christological information. Ray Brown and William Barclay point out the various meanings and images connected with this phrase.
- Passover Lamb: By whose blood the Israelite slaves were saved from death (Exodus 12). This was also celebrated by the sacrifice of a lamb every morning and evening in the Temple in Jerusalem.
- Suffering Servant Lamb: In whose suffering others would find healing and strength (Isaiah 53:7).
- Triumphant Lamb: Whose mission it was to overcome evil and reign over all peoples of the earth (Revelation 7:17, plus it is used 29 times throughout the book).
As Barclay says, this title sums up “the love, the sacrifice, the suffering, and the triumph of Christ.” (Celebration, 2000, and The Gospel of John, Vol. 1, by William Barclay, p. 80-82)
More thoughts from Barclay:
It is John the Baptist that calls Jesus the Lamb of God. Once again we see him pointing beyond himself. He must have known very well that to speak to his disciples about Jesus like that was to invite them to leave him and transfer his loyalty to this new and greater teacher; and yet he did it. There was no jealousy in John. He had come to attach men and women not to himself but to Christ. There is no harder task than to take the second place when once the first place was enjoyed. But as soon as Jesus emerged on the scene John never had any other thought than to send people to him.
Notice that Jesus TURNED to the disciples. It is God who takes the first step. And what does he ask? “What are you looking for?” What are YOU looking for? What’s your aim and goal? What are you trying to get out of life? Whether you are a young person or retired, this is a question for all of us.
Andrew seems to be the man of introductions, because that is all he ever does in Scripture. He does so here, in John 6:8-9 when he brings the by with the loaves and fishes to Jesus and in John 12:22 when he brings enquiring Greeks to Jesus. Like John the Baptist, it must have brought Andrew joy to bring people to Jesus. And he is often named as Peter’s brother, as if he was second fiddle to Peter. He seems to be a humble, loyal servant of God.
From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year B, p. 457:
The readings for this Sunday remind us that “all of salvation history can be summarized as the process in which God is in constant search of human beings. God is the initiator. But the invitation must be accepted in faith and in freedom. It is an invitation to respond. We are told what that response involves: action. Today’s gospel is pregnant with action words – see, stay, hear, believe, come, watch. These verbs evoke the acts, which lead from one’s initial discovery of the Lord to the resolute commitment to follow him in order to be near him . . .
1st Reading – Isaiah 9: 1-6
One can certainly see how the early Christians (who were all Jewish) ‘saw Jesus’ in this passage . . . What line do you most treasure from this poetic passage? What name for the Messiah speaks to you?
Of course, when Isaiah first wrote this passage he was not thinking of Jesus – or of a ‘far-future messiah.’ He was trying to encourage King Ahaz (the weak and unwise king at the time) to be strong and to rely on God’s wisdom and power. He was promising the birth of a son who unlike Ahaz would be faithful, prudent, and far-sighted – and in this way would be Immanuel, God-is-with-us. It seems that Isaiah’s hope never did become reality; this yearning, though, gave rise to the yearning for a true Messiah – one born to bring God’s presence to the people. (Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year C, 77-78)
2nd Reading – Titus 2: 11-14
This letter was written not to a community but to an individual in regards to their pastoral duties. Paul, himself, probably did not write this letter. Most likely a disciple of Paul wrote it hoping to be giving the advice that he felt Paul would have given. In this passage he is simply reminding all that Christ’s coming in time and history [in birth and on a cross] is about our lives right now – and in the ultimate future hope of a second coming in fullness and light. Our task we are told is not to retreat from the world but to be “eager to do what is good” – to let our very lives reflect the goodness of our Lord. (http://liturgy.slu.edu./ChristmasC122509; Birmingham, W and W Wrbk. for Yr C, 77-78)
The Gospel – Luke 2: 1-14
The Infancy Narratives pose difficult problems for those who try to use them to reconstruct some actual history for there are agreements and also discrepancies. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth”, http://liturgy.slu.edu.) It is more about the truth of God’s entrance into human history through the person of Jesus – born as one of the poor and insignificant, tracing his life to two inconsequential towns (Nazareth and Bethlehem). His power is not about ‘government overthrow’ but about conversion and openness to God’s love. In Jesus, God comes for the outcast, for the despised, and ‘unclean’ – the shepherds. Angels bring messages: God is acting and offering salvation to everyone. The phrase “people of good will” is not meant to be an exclusion – it is meant to refer to all people who because of this birth, are objects of divine favor — all is permeated with God’s life and love and holiness. Luke’s purpose is Christological and ecclesial: Jesus links God’s glory with the humble – those open and listening for the surprising way in which God will break into life – the small and vulnerable and those needing human care and concern. (Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook Year C, 79-80)
From John Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings” http://liturgy.slu.edu./ChristmasC122509:
The Christmas story urges us to ask: “What does it mean to be fully human?” Since God chose to become human, the whole meaning of Christmas rests on the answer. Is it about all the ‘Martha-like-work’ that the season brings? Is it the ‘family tradition’ of dinners and presents and decorations to which we cling?
But what about those who have no family – or are sick and alone? Jesus’ life, too, had fun and laughter along with the suffering and poverty. Maybe full humanity has to do with loving and being love. Isn’t love the aching desire that lies under all the rest? Don’t we all long for a love that will at last be carried out? A love we can trust? And a love that we might be bold enough to love in return? To be fully human means allowing enough room inside ourselves to let God and others in. It means letting go of all those things we think will save our lives (possessions, honors, importance, bigness), so that we can relate to God and to others. In the busy-ness and noise of this season, we need to find time to listen for the stillness. We may be only inches away from the emptying-out that will let God be born inside of us. Let it be!
Ronald Rolheiser in The Holy Longing:
Thoughts on Jesus and Incarnation: The Word was made flesh and dwells among us. (John 1: 14) The incarnation is still going on and it is just as real and as radically physical as when Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh, walked the dirt roads of Palestine (p.76).
God takes on flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink become a sacrament. God’s many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, tempered and turned down, so that our human eyes can see him. God, in his many-faced face, has become as accessible, and visible, as the nearest water tap” (p. 78). We are the Body of Christ. This is not an exaggeration, or a metaphor . . . The word did not just become flesh and dwell among us – it became flesh and continues to dwell among us (p. 79-80). This is the core of Christian spirituality . . . God’s presence in the world today depends very much upon us. We have to keep God present in the world in the same way as Jesus did . . . The word that he spoke is not heard in our contemporary world unless it is proclaimed by the community . . .As God once acted through Christ, so he now acts through those who are conformed to the image of his Son (p.80). The God who has become incarnate in human flesh is found, first and foremost, not in meditation and monasteries, albeit God is found there, but in our homes (p.100).
Luke’s Birth Story – Notes from William Barclay
The Roman Census — In the Roman Empire, periodic censuses were taken with the double object of assessing taxation and discovering those eligible for compulsory military service. The Jews were exempt from military service so any census would have been only for taxation. In Egypt they have discovered much evidence of these censuses – and that they were taken every 14 years. If that pattern held true, then Jesus’ birth might have been in about 7 or 8 B.C. Quirinius was not governor of Syria until 6 A.D. but he did hold an official post there from 10 -7 B.C. It was also the custom in Egypt to have every man go back to his home origin; it may also have been the case in Israel.
Bethlehem — Nazareth was 80 miles from Bethlehem. (Its name means the ‘place of bread’.) The accommodations for travelers were most primitive. ‘Inns’ were merely a series of stalls opening off a common courtyard. Travelers brought their own food. Since there was little room according to Luke, Mary and Joseph would have stayed in the common courtyard – or perhaps found shelter in a cave, also common around this town. The fact that there was no room for Jesus was symbolic of what would happen to him: rejection would be his fate: the only place where there was room for him was on the cross. He still seeks to enter the crowdedness of our hearts . . .
Swaddling clothes –were the common way to ‘dress’ an infant. They consisted of a square of cloth with a long, bandage-like strip coming off from the corner. The infant would be wrapped in the square and then the long strip was wound round and round about him.
Manger—(R. Brown’s An Adult Christ at Christmas, p. 20) not a sign of poverty but probably meant to evoke God’s complaint against Israel in Isaiah 1:3. “The ox knows its owner and the donkey knows the manger of its lord; but Israel has not known me, and my people have not understood me.” But this has been repealed, because the shepherds find the baby in the manger and praise God.
Shepherds –were despised by orthodox good people of the day. Shepherds were quite unable to keep the details of the ceremonial law; they simply could not observe all the hand-washings and regulations. Their flocks made constant demands on them. They were rough, uncouth, and unclean characters. But these shepherds also served God. Their sheep were the lambs to be one day offered as sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem just 7 miles away. Luke is certainly comparing their lambs with Jesus, the Lamb of God. The shepherds, the unclean and rough, were invited by angels (God’s messengers) to come.
The 1st Reading – Baruch 5: 1-9
This short, prophetic book was claimed to be from the hand of the famous secretary of Jeremiah, but theologians think it was more likely written later (between third and first century BC) as a work of encouragement to those Jews being forced to adopt Greek ways (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, 502-503).
A mitre, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is a headdress worn by archbishops, bishops and abbots. It is also a joint between 2 pieces of wood to form a corner. A cornerstone, in particular, is a stone at the base that binds 2 walls. The cornerstone must be strong and secure for the integrity of the building. God is in your corner! Do you wear God like a mitre, to advance secure in God’s glory?
The Greek word for justice more closely means doing what is right. If we try to do what is right, we will display God’s glory and splendor. What does that mean to you? Think deeply about that question. Doing what we feel is right within us is what is right with God. This is what brings joy and mercy into the world. What wonderful thoughts to have this Advent!
The 2nd Reading — The Letter to the Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11
Paul had established this church in about 50AD (the first Christian church on European soil). It was one of Paul’s favorite churches. Paul was in prison (probably in Rome) when Epaphroditus, an old friend from Philippi, arrived bearing more gifts from this church. Unfortunately, Epaphroditus became very sick. Later, he recovered and Paul was anxious for him to return home so that those who are worried about him will be relieved. Paul sent this letter with him. Despite the hardship and imprisonment, Paul’s letter is full of thanksgiving and joy, a very personal letter filled with strong emotions. (Serendipity, p. 375)
This is a love letter. Paul’s love for the people of Philippi is bursting in his words, and he wants that love he has for them to have an effect. Love is powerful! It moves people. It changes us. It makes us want goodness. And since God is love, of course it makes sense that love transcends and transforms all that is. When has someone’s love transformed you? When has it opened your eyes to something? How does love make a difference?
The Gospel – Luke 3: 1-6
Have you ever celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation privately? Most people admit that they are nervous on arrival but relieved afterwards…like a weight has been lifted. There is a freedom in knowing that God comes to us where we are. God takes us “AS IS”. Sometimes you may see items on sale “AS IS” and that usually means they are damaged goods or less than adequate. God makes us ready for to be full price again! And God’s love is the same no matter what condition we are in. We are beloved, which is what John the Baptist proclaimed LOUDLY!
From Living Liturgy, 2004: Salvation – the fullness of life that our God wishes to offer us – is revealed – or shows forth – in our repentance. To repent means to change one’s mind – one’s life. Our work of repentance is about turning ourselves toward God who wishes to embrace us in mercy, forgiveness, and love. Sometimes, mountains of work, or paths of indecision, or valleys of doubt and fear keep us from the Lord’s embrace – the Way of the Lord. It is a reading that seems more like a civil engineer’s road plans. But it is only this God who can give sure direction to our lives. Let God re-engineer our lives. This Advent may we take the time to rest in the security of God’s nearness. (p.6). Then our ‘tense hearts’ can be eased opened to receive Jesus, the true Good News.
Luke takes great care to situate the ministry of John the Baptist and thus Jesus in
the midst of human history. He mentions both secular leaders (Tiberius, Pilate, Herod etc.) and religious authorities (Annas and Caiphas). It is sort of like a “chronological drumroll.” He also chooses to include all of Isaiah’s directives (Isaiah 40:3-5) leading to the universal cry of “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (God’s universal and pastoral care for all peoples is a major theme of Luke’s gospel and his Acts of the Apostles.) When we dare to try to put someone or some group outside of God’s saving concern, we should remember this theme. This Good News of Jesus Christ is intended to disrupt and disturb us until it enlarges our hearts, enlightens our minds, and unclenches our fists to welcome the truth of God’s love for all human flesh. (Celebration, Dec.10, 2000)
God breaks into human history through the birth of Jesus. By the incarnation of the Word, God enters human life, history, the world. But the Incarnation also makes it possible for us to enter the very life of God. Through the Incarnation, God became part of our eating and drinking, our sickness, our joy, our delight, our passion, our dying, our death. But all this is for the purpose of drawing us out of ourselves, away from our own self-preoccupation, self-absorbtion, self-fixation, so as to participate in the divine life (Altogether Gift, Michael Downey, p. 79).
Paul continues to preach unity among the Philippians. There must have been something troubling this community for him to worry. Raymond Brown (Introduction to the New Testament, p. 487-488) points to 3 different troubles:
- Later on in Chapter 4, we will see that there is internal dissension among 2 female members of the community, Euodia and Syntyche. We don’t know the nitty gritty, but it sounds like a difference of opinion and perhaps a wanting to be right. Paul wants everyone to keep their eye on the bigger picture…following Christ and spreading the Gospel! Can you think of times when you had a difference of opinion and it prevented you from being your own authentic self, or got in the way of the bigger picture?
- At the end of chapter 1, Paul mentions opponents. Philippi is a diverse community with people praying to all kinds of gods. Why do these Christians think they know better? There is no way to prove who is the “right god”. Worrying about this only weakens them. Paul sees there is strength in numbers. He wants them to hold on to each other in the face of adversity. When have you worried about various tensions in your life, perhaps giving too much attention to things that weren’t good for you? Did it help to go to people you care about to stay on track?
- Another threat were Jewish Christians who insisted on circumcision. For Paul, hanging on to this Jewish law for the New Way was not the answer. He is the voice for the Gentiles. Don’t we all get stuck in doing things the way they have always been done? It is especially hard when it is something so personal and heartfelt. Our example is Jesus.
In 2:6-11, we see one of the earliest indications of an understanding of the Incarnation of Christ. Jesus is in the “form of God”, “in human likeness” and “God greatly exalted him”. Theologians debate whether Paul was truly speaking of preexistence, that Christ existed (in the form of God) before he became the man of Jesus on earth. This would not be resolved until the councils of Nicea (325AD) and Chalcedon (451AD). This passage is often called the “Christ Hymn” because of how poetic it is. It was probably used as a creed or response in early worship, or maybe it was sung. Maybe Paul wrote this piece himself or maybe he was quoting something the Philippians would have been familiar with (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p. 349-351.
Reflect on some of the other phrases in the hymn…did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. For the words to be closer to the original Greek, it would be translated as, “Jesus did not think it robbery to be equal with God, something to be snatched at.” Jesus didn’t have to snatch his equality with God because it was his right, his being. He didn’t hold it tightly either, keeping it for himself. He offered it freely to ALL(Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 36). This gift of beautiful life is a constant letting go. We can’t hold on too tightly. We are meant to give ourselves away, like Jesus did. Not to be doormats, or be used by others…it is conscious choice. We find the gift of who we are within ourselves and be that fully, opening ourselves with that intentionality. We find that the gift comes back to us in abundance! We “pour out as a libation”, but it only makes more room for God to fill us.
Why must we work out our salvation with “fear and trembling”? Barclay describes these words as coming from a sense of our own creatureliness and powerlessness to deal with life triumphantly. It is meant to drive us to SEEK God, not hide from God. The underlying feeling is a knowing that God is there to help us, that we want to please God. Salvation is a free gift from God, but we must have eyes to see it and hands to work toward it. It is God that works in us the desire to be saved. Any gift has to be received (p. 41-42).
Reading I: Isaiah 62:1-5
Your God rejoices in you! You are God’s Delight, God’s Espoused! How does this speak to you? When were you so full of joy you could not be quiet?
The conferral of a new name designated God’s almighty power over creation. When one was given a new name, that person was made a new creation, (Birmingham, W&W, p. 88). Isn’t it endearing when someone calls you by a nickname? It draws you close to each other. God calls you by name, for you belong to God. Relish in it.
Reading II: Acts 13:16-17, 22-25
In this reading, Paul is connecting the messianic promise in the Hebrew scriptures to its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Paul wants to be sure his audience is listening to this message. Jesus came to save them – and us! Know that this Christmas. Jesus comes to us as a small child, unlike any image of Messiah anyone could have possibly imagined. But Jesus comes to us now, in our hearts. We must listen for it.
Gospel: Matthew 1:1-25
Matthew begins with this genealogical lineage, almost like a commercial before the main event. It was so important to the people at that time to see a link between Abraham, the Father of their faith, and Jesus. The important link is Joseph, since he is Jesus’ legal father and heir to the house of David. The genealogy shows that God used ordinary, unknown men and women to be part of the greatest story over told. Not just unknown – some were downright scoundrels! David himself was no saint, and others were horrible kings. But everyone has a place in history. We all may have a sordid family tree – Jesus understands that! (Remember that when you are at your family gatherings this Christmas!) Jesus stands as a beacon of light in the midst of relational darkness, (Birmingham, W&W, p. 90).
From Celebration Dec. 2004:
On keeping Christmas all year long: believe and live as if love is the strongest thing in the world – stronger than hate, stronger than fear, stronger than death. “God-with-us” – God’s power and love is forever involved with all that is human.
From The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew Vol I, Barclay:
Jesus is the answer to the dreams of men [and women]. It is true that so often we don’t see it that way. We see the answer in power, wealth, material plenty and the realization of anticipated ambitions. But if ever our dreams of peace and loveliness, and greatness and satisfaction, are to be realized, they can find their realization only in Jesus Christ.
The relationships in this passage are bewildering…first Joseph is betrothed to Mary, then he wants to divorce her, and suddenly she is his wife. These are the steps to a normal Jewish marriage procedure in those days:
- Engagement: This was usually done when the couple were only children, through the parents or a matchmaker.
- Betrothal: This was the sealing of the engagement. The girl could withdraw up to this point. Once entered, it was binding and lasted a year. The couple would be called man and wife even though they didn’t quite have the rights yet. Only divorce could end a betrothal. This is the stage Mary and Joseph were in.
- Marriage: Full marital consent.
Jesus is the Greek form of the Jewish name Joshua, meaning Jehovah is salvation. Jesus was born by the action of the Holy Spirit, a Virgin Birth. What does this mean for us? According to the Jewish idea, the Holy Spirit was the person who brought God’s truth to humanity. It was the Holy Spirit who taught the prophets what to say and what to do. This is how Mary and Joseph would have understood it. Jesus would be the one person who could tell us what God is like, and what God means us to be. In Jesus we see the love, the compassion, the mercy, the seeking heart, the purity of God as nowhere else in all this world.
From Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing:
God takes on flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink become a sacrament. God’s many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, tempered and turned down, so that our human eyes can see him. God, in his many-faced face, has become as accessible, and visible, as the nearest water tap. That is they why of the incarnation.
God is still here, in the flesh, just as real and just as physical, as God was in Jesus. The word did not just become flesh and dwell among us – it became flesh and continues to dwell among us.