First Sunday after the Epiphany: the Baptism of Jesus

Genesis 1.1-5:  An odd reading from the Creation story, not in its content, but in its brevity.  However, as this is the season of Epiphany, a season captured in the image of a light leading “wise” characters to the birth site of the “new” king, perhaps a short version of the Creation story focused solely on the distinction of light and darkness, day and night is all that is needed.

Psalm 29

Acts 19.1-7: Paul, in this brief reading, is drawing a distinction between the Johannine baptism of “repentence” {repent (metanoia—a turning of the heart from the wrong direction to the right direction) is essential to exploring how it is we move our journeys from brokenness to connectedness with God.  While Paul in Romans affirms salvation is by grace through faith in God (see letter “c” below), repenting or metanoia-turning is a process of us reorienting ourselves to God’s purpose for our lives.  Repenting allows us to realize and experience the unrelenting grace and love of God as we choose to seek God.}  and baptism in the name of Jesus, that is, a baptism into the transformative power of the Holy Spirit manifested by God through Jesus.  Paul is moving baptism from a personal action of metanoia to an ontologically transformative change in our nature by God.  Baptism becomes not only a mark of repentence, but also our new birth by faith in Jesus.

Mark 1.4-11: This is the story of Jesus’ baptism by John.  It is an affirmation of the distinction Paul is making in today’s reading from Acts.  The Gospel of Mark, the Readers’ Digest version of the Gospel, contains only the essential elements of the story of John the Baptist and ends with the declaration by a voice from the heavens acknowledging the person just baptized by John, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

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Advent 4, 2017

2 Samuel 7.1-11, 16: God and King David are negotiating in this 7th chapter.  David, wants to build a “house” (temple) for God.  Instead, God tells David, “have I complained about my holiness being moved about in a tent and tabernacle?”  Have I ever reproached anyone for this?  NO!”  God tells David (through Nathan the prophet) that God will make of David a great dynasty to serve God’s people.  David does not need to worry about building God a house.  Later, God assures David, one of his descendants will build a proper “house” for God.

For the people of God, this story is fulfilled when Solomon begins to build the great Temple in Jerusalem for God.  This temple is based, in part, on David’s original plans.  For the Christian tradition, this story is messianic and points toward the descendent of David, Jesus, as the ultimate “temple” of God’s presence to the people.

Canticle 3, Magnificat the Song of Mary, a different setting of this great song of Advent (see Advent 2 for comments).

Romans 16.25-27: These are the concluding verses of Paul’s epistle to the Romans.  In form, it is a blessing.  The suggestion of this blessing is that Paul’s writings are an interpretation of the ancient revelations of the Jewish community in the writings, prophecies, and poetry of Judaism.  The key and authentication of Paul’s interpretation is the person of Jesus.  Moreover, the proper response to this proclamation is faith.

Luke 1.26-38: The Annunciation passage—The visitation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary who informs her of all that is about to happen to her and to her kinswoman Elizabeth.  Mary is puzzled by all this and wonders how it can be.  Gabriel tells her that God, thru the Holy Spirit, will make all this happen for “nothing will be impossible” for God.  In a passage that is one of the all-time great declarations of faith, Mary says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  It is the simplicity of this passage in Luke that gives it its power!

Advent 3, Gaudete Sunday

Sunday Advent 3, 12/17/2018 Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5.16-24; Canticle 15, the Magnificat; John 1.6-8, 19-28

Isaiah: this is a proclamation of a Jubilee—a 50-year cycle of restoration, renewal, and redemption in the economic reality– for the ancient people of God.  This Jubilee is in the context of the faithful exiles allowed to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem and their ancestral lands.  It will be a complete restoration, renewal, and redemption for the people of God.  This is the passage read by the young Jesus in the Temple in Luke 4.16-21

1 Thessalonians: This passage is from the ending of Paul’s first letter to Thessalonica.  It is an instruction to embrace the Christian life and faith in all circumstances.  In spite of trying circumstances and difficult times, which was certainly the case for the early Christian Church in Thessalonica, Paul admonishes the people that this is God’s will and they should embrace it.  Still, as the 19-22 verses charge, we are to “test everything,” holding fast to what is good and letting go of what separates us from God (evil).

John:  This is the story of John the Baptist as told in the Gospel of John (not John the Baptist).  It is made clear that John-tB is a prophet coming before the Messiah of God.  While John tB is not the “light,” he “bears witness to the light.” Speaking for himself in the 23 verse, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” (from Isaiah 40.3).  Preparing as a principle theme of Advent is not without ample precedence.

The Magnificat, Luke 1.46-55:  This is actually not the Gospel reading appointed for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (John 1.6-8, 19-28, an extension of the story of John the Baptist from last week’s reading).  Instead, we will be using the Magnificat—the Song of Mary—which is the canticle historically associated with this third Sunday of Advent also known as Gaudete (“rejoice”) Sunday.  The Song of Mary is sung by Mary as she is visiting Elizabeth (her “kinswoman”), who is pregnant with John.  Her visit with Elizabeth is preceded by a visit from the angel Gabriel, who explains to Mary the miraculous things that will happen to her and to Elizabeth.  Mary, humble before the messenger of God, declares to Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  When Mary calls out to Elizabeth, her (Elizabeth’s) baby “leaped in her womb.”  Elizabeth cries out that her baby has responded to Mary’s voice and declares, “Why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Mary is amazed by all this and proclaims both her amazement at all that is unfolding as well as a declaration of her faith.  From the early days of the Christian Church, this Song of Mary, the Magnificat, has been recognized as one of the great expressions of humility, trust, and faith.   It also contains some warnings concerning faithlessness.  During this 3rd week of Advent, we should listen to the words of Mary and seek to follow her in faith.

Advent 2

Isaiah 40.1-11, Psalm 85.1-2, 8-18; 2 Peter 3.8-15a; Mark 1.1-8

Writing on Mark:  This passage from the Gospel of Mark quotes from the prophets of the Old Testament, both Isaiah (40.3) and Malachi (3.1), affirming the proclamation of a messenger who will announce the coming Messiah to God’s people.  In Mark, the earliest Gospel, this is the opening declaration of the messianic expectation that guides and informs the Christian understanding of our relationship with God and provides the credentials for John the Baptizer who is this messenger.   John affirms his role is as one who prepares the way.  Essential to this preparation is repentance for sins.  For John, repentance (metanoia) is “turning your heart” from brokenness (sin—amartano, “missing the mark”) back toward God and God’s intent of human righteousness.  In order to begin this process, John affirms the need for human confession; I must acknowledge “missing the mark” in order to repent and turn/return to God’s path for me.  For John, this is symbolized in the act of baptism with water, long a symbol of transformation and cleansing.  However, John suggests this is just a beginning.  God’s Messiah will bring an even more powerful act of metanoia to bear on our human brokenness.  This, John says, will manifest itself in a baptism by the Holy Spirit of God.  Thus, we have a foreshadowing of the coming Messiah contained in these opening verses.  What is left to discover in Mark from this opening is what this Messiah’s role will be and how our lives will be changed.