1st Reading – Zechariah 12: 10-11
This Old Testament book was probably written by two, maybe even three, different anonymous authors, with this portion being written after the Babylonian exile.
Through suffering, the people would come to know what it means to truly repent and thus the covenant with God restored. How does suffering help purify us? The early Christians, of course, saw Jesus in these words, as we do today. He is the pierced one that we must look upon and mourn. Then a fountain of grace will cleanse us of sin. And that is the central meaning of the passage. When we really grasp the love of God poured out in and through the ‘pierced one,’ we will experience an outpouring of the Spirit and a change of heart. With mourning and grief we will turn away from our self-centered sins and open to the love of God present in the crucified one. (Celebration, June 1998)
It is interesting that grace proceeds the mourning. How else are we to carry our burdens but through God’s grace? It is only through God’s grace that death and destruction do not have the final answer. In God there is hope. What better goodness to hear with all that is in the news lately?
2nd Reading – Galatians 3: 26-29
Baptism is the sacrament in which we are immersed in Christ — in the One who shows us the overflowing love of God and the dying and rising that this love entails. We are one-in-Christ only in this truth. Only when we immerse ourselves in God’s love and acceptance (justification) are we able to overcome and transcend such very real differences. (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
Paul says we are all children of God…co-heirs…not alone but one body in Christ. In fact, we are to “put on” Christ in our oneness. By linking us all back to Abraham, he is saying the Israelites are not the only chosen people of God. We are all chosen. How does it feel to know you are chosen by God?
Paul was not concerned with hierarchical leadership as much as he was with the house churches acting “as a body”. Leaders were to admonish, but so was everyone. Prophets were to build up, but so was everyone. Paul’s notion of church leadership included the concepts of reciprocity, collegiality, and collaborative ministry. The one in charge would carry out the wishes as servant of the “body” (Birmingham, Word & Worship, p. 403). How is this reflected in our church today?
The Gospel – Luke 9: 18-24
The next 10 chapters of Luke are about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. They are particular to Luke. The other evangelists do not give such an exhaustive rendering of the journey. Luke intended to show that Jesus’ journey mirrors the journey of every Christian (Birmingham, W&W, p. 404). It gives us the picture that the disciples really were On The Way. There is continual movement for them…constantly busy…yet they are focused on Christ and are fed in the midst of it. Do you relate to this?
From Celebration, June 1998:
Peter’s response that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ of God, was a good answer, but one that hung Judaism’s old messianic hopes on Jesus. This messiah had been long anticipated as a royal descendant of the Davidic dynasty with might and prowess sufficient enough to restore the nation to the prestige and power it had known under David. Jesus had to correct this notion. His mission would not be spent in military maneuvers forcing foes into submission. He had come as one who serves, as one proclaiming God’s kingdom, a kingdom of love. This love would entail self-sacrifice – self-giving — dying to oneself. Only this way of life would lead to transformation, but first it would also lead to suffering. Jesus does not ‘sugar-coat’ this message. We as disciples – who claim to recognize God’s anointing presence in and with Jesus — must follow him: daily picking up our crosses, enduring rejection and suffering and even death so that we might find new life, resurrection. This dying and rising is a daily event, a daily decision, a daily response to our faith in Jesus.
As William Barclay says, Jesus requires that life be spent, not hoarded. We cannot be concerned with what is the safe thing – the bare minimum – the me-first routine. We need to seek the right thing, the generous gift, the what-can-I-do-for-others endeavor. We need to be grace-driven, grace-filled rather than ambition-motivated and power-directed. How do you do this? How does being one body in Christ help us with this?
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.