[In these passes, I hope to help prepare myself and the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church, Logan, Ohio, where I serve as pastor, for worship on the upcoming Sunday. But because we use the lectionary that is basically the same one used by most Christians in North America--and elsewhere, I hope that everyone will find these looks at the Bible lessons helpful.]
The Bible Lessons:
1. The Church Year has entered the twelve-day season of Christmas. It begins with Christmas, what's called "The Nativity of Our Lord," itself and extends through January 6, Epiphany, the day when the Church remembers the arrival of the wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. (Because of the wise men, our custom of Christmas gift-giving began as Epiphany gift-giving. Later, the custom of some small gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas began.)
2. The order in which the Sunday Gospel lessons come at us this year is a bit bizarre. They're out of sync. We mentioned a few weeks ago, for example, that the Church Year begins about nine-tenths of the way through Matthew's telling of the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. In the following two weeks, we looked at the ministry of John the Baptist and last Sunday, even though it was still Advent, we considered Jesus' birth from the vantage point of Joseph, his earthly father.
Today's Gospel lesson looks at events just after the arrival of the wise men. Next Sunday, we'll go back to the wise men!
Part of this is a simple trick of the calendar. January 6 has always been reserved for the celebration of Epiphany. In former times, not that long ago, worshipers would gather on that Epiphany Day, no matter the day of the week on which it fell. Now, we take advantage of celebrating Epiphany whenever a Sunday presents itself for that. Often, over the years, I've used the lessons appointed for the day on the Sunday nearest to January 6. This year, January 6 will fall on a Sunday. Without marking Epiphany in this way, the season of Epiphany begins with no indication of what it's about.
All of that will start next week. I just wanted to alert you to the fact that, at least as it relates to the Gospel, we're going to continue jumping around the story of Jesus out of sequence.
3. Isaiah 63:7-9: One of the best things believers can do as they face tough times or periods of doubt is to remember God's past faithfulness, not only in Bible times or in the lives of others, but in our own lives. It's a way of reminding ourselves--and when appropriate, others--that there is no expiration date on God's promise to never leave us or forsake us. Isaiah 63:7-9 is really a psalm, a worship song, probably composed in a tough time, designed to encourage believers with reminders of God's faithfulness.
4. As I've mentioned several times during the Advent season when all of our Old Testament lessons were from Isaiah, this book may have been written by three different authors. If so, our lesson was written by the person that scholars call Trito-Isaiah (Third Isaiah). (It was thought acceptable in Biblical times for writers or teachers who were part of the school of thought or piety established by an esteemed teacher to write in the voice of that teacher.)
It's thought that our lesson was written after the Babylonian Conquest of God's people, which happened in about 587BC. This was a good time for God's people to remember God's faithfulness.
5. The term steadfast love actually translates a single Hebrew word, hesed. It has a very specific meaning, being a technical term describing God's covenant faithfulness. Through Abraham and later, through Moses, God made a covenant with the people of Israel. He would be their God and they would be His people.
Isaiah is reminding God's people that God has always been faithful in His covenant relationship with them and He wouldn't stop being faithful in the face of the cataclysmic events they then faced.
6. Psalm 148: This is part of a group of five psalms that come at the end of this worship book of the Old Testament. They're all classified as praise or hallelujah psalms. This is a call for everything from the inanimate objects of the universe to God's highest creatures, human beings, to join in praising God. This psalm was the inspiration for Herbert Brokering's hymn, Earth and All Stars.
[More tomorrow, I hope.]