Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Look at This Sunday's Bible Lessons (January 4, 2009)

Each week, I try to present a few thoughts on the Bible lessons appointed for the following Sunday's worship at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, where I'm the pastor. Since we follow a lectionary associated with the Church Year, these comments might help others get ready for worship, too.

Second Sunday of Christmas
January 4, 2009

This Sunday's Bible Lessons:
Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 147:12-20
Ephesians 1:3-14
John 1:10-18

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, You have filled all the earth with the light of Your incarnate Word. By Your grace empower us to reflect Your light in all that we do, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

General Comments:
1. The Christmas Season continues on the Church calendar. The season ends January 6, Epiphany Day. Epiphany, falling the day after "the twelfth day of Christmas," commemorates the arrival of the magicians (magi, astrologers) bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant Christ.

2. The Bible lessons during the short Christmas Season emphasize God's past promises of reconciliation to ancient Israel, the fulfillment of those promises in the Messiah Jesus, the implications of God becoming human, and the promises of the complete realization of God's kingdom in Christ.

Jeremiah 31:7-14
1. Our lesson from Jeremiah comes from chapter 31, of this Old Testament book, a chapter important for Lutherans because Jeremiah 31:31-34, is always the Old Testament lesson for Reformation Sunday celebrations in October. It's a chapter in which Jeremiah spoke of the restoration of Israel following a sad cycle of treachery to God and consequent imprisonment by foreign conquerors.

2. Jeremiah descended from a prophet who had incurred the wrath of King Solomon long years before. Abiathar was banished to his ancestral home of Anothoth, a few miles from Jerusalem, but far from palace life.

Jeremiah began his ministry in 627BC and continued for more than forty years.

As explained by the editors of The New Oxford Annotated Bible (Revised Standard Version):
Jeremiah is much concerned with rewards and punishments, the recompense for good and evil, faithfulness and obedience [to God]...He criticized Judah [the Southern Kingdom, composed of a portion of the former Israel, which broke up shortly following the reign of Solomon] for its worship of gods other than the LORD, with all the attendant evils in cult and daily life. God's covenant people must return to him. The judgment must come, but the ominous future (later, the unhappy present) would be replaced by a new and more enduring relationship with God.
3. In the lesson for this Sunday, Jeremiah says that following his people's exile to conqueror Babylon, there would be a restoration. The exiled slaves will return to their promised land. Unlike the first exodus, there will be ready supplies of water along the way. Also unlike that first exodus, which saw God's people following a circuitous route, the returning exiles will come by "a straight path."

God's reason for providing an easy way home may be that, unlike the whiny group God led from Egypt, the descendants He will lead from exile understand their need of God and the futility and stupidity of relying on anyone or anything but God. God had lots of lessons to teach the ancient Hebrews; by the time God led the exiles back to Israel, they presumably, had learned the lessons of mature faith.

4. Jeremiah prophesies a time of restoration when the harvests will be plentiful. In v.14, he speaks of even the priests having plenty. Old Testament law said that the people were to give a portion of their produce to the priests, who, in turn, would be freed to focus full time on their priestly duties.

Psalm 147:12-20
1. Last Sunday's psalm, Psalm 148, was the middle of the five final songs of the Old Testament's worship book. Each begins and ends with, "Hallelujah!," a Hebrew word meaning, "Praise the Lord!"

This Sunday's psalm is another from that grouping. Like Jeremiah, it praises the God of all creation for His regard for His chosen people. Israel was unique among the nations, the people to Whom God revealed His gracious nature, preparing it to become, through His Son, a light to all the nations.

Ephesians 1:3-14
1. Those who claim, as many modern scholars do, that Ephesians wasn't written by the apostle Paul, have a major problem to resolve when it comes to these verses. The entire passage is one sentence, consistent with the undisputed writings of Paul.

2. The lesson from Jeremiah talked about the restoration of God's Old Testament people. This lesson assures us that in Christ, Jews and Gentiles who hope in Christ are heirs of God's pledge to set Christ's followers free of sin and death.

John 1:10-18
This is the latter part of the prologue to John's Gospel. John employs modes of thought and allusions to both Greek philosophy and the Old Testament. It affirms that the foundational, energizing Word of the universe--God Himself--entered the world.

He came, in fact, to His chosen people and most of them, along with the Romans, supposedly representing the most sophisticated of the Gentiles, didn't recognize Jesus for Who He was.

But, John says, some could see in Jesus the overabundant amplitude of God's grace and receive it through Him.

I love verse 17. Here's my Daniels caveman paraphrase:
Sure, Moses was the lawgiver. That's no small thing. The law God gives through Moses teaches us what human beings do if they want to be human. But grace and truth, the things that turn us from enemies to friends and children of God, the things that pour life into our otherwise dead and dormant frames, those truly big deals, come only from Jesus the Messiah.

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