Finding the Lessons

I try to post well in advance of the upcoming Sunday.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Advent 4A December 18, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Our lives are marked, since baptism, by the Holy Spirit, the sanctifier, who directs us continually to our neighbor, to the other to live in harmony, everyone attentive to the needs of others (as we have witnessed in the three previous pericopes from the epistles)."

Commentary, Romans 1:1-7, Dirk G. Lange, Preaching This Week,, 2010.

"...our task as preachers is in part to help people identify the ways God is calling them to newness of life in service to Jesus Christ, and at the same time to see the ways God has never been absent from their lives."

Commentary, Romans 1:1-7, Susan Eastman, Preaching This Week,, 2007.

"Anyway, it seems to me that the translation "God is with us" doesn't completely capture the sense of the Hebrew. The words suggest that "God is in common with us people" -- or "God is one of us." In this sense, John captures the sense with "The Word became flesh and lived among us" (1:14a)."

Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen, at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


God of mystery whom no eye can see, you yourself have given us a sign we can behold: the virgin is
with child and bears a son whose name is Emmanuel, for god is with us. Plant within our hearts your living Word of promise, that, into a world grown weary of empty dreams and broken promises, we may bring forth the living presence of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 1:18-25
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The stage is set and Matthew is our guide: "Now the birth of the Messiah took place in this way." The Genesis of the Messiah took place in this way...

Daniel J. Harrington, a Roman Catholic priest and scholar, in his text on Matthew's Gospel points out a few important pieces of information that help to make sense of the Birth narrative.

1. Jews of Jesus' time understood marriage as a civil contract. Joseph and Mary and their families have rights.
2. Betrothal had legal consequences and was arranged through elders in families, and the two parties were in their early teens.
3. In Matthew's Gospel the two are living separately, Mary with her parents. Joseph visits from time to time.
4. Reviewing Deut 22:23-27, we understand that at first glance Mary has broken the betrothal and should be put to death. We don't know how often this was carried out.
5. Divorce proceedings were typically easy and included a written document.
6. An angel who is a messenger comes to visit Joseph.
7. Such a visit most often was described in ancient times through dreams. In continuity with other great leaders of Israel the angel gives a message with the identity of the child and the name. We see this with Ishmael, Isaac, Solomon and Josiah.
8. There are many questions about lineage and birth. Is the idea of Jesus' virginal conception a response to a charge of illegitimacy or is what leads to the charge? Regardless, early Christians believe in the virginal conception of Jesus and it remains one of the oldest and most ancient traditions about Jesus and his birth. (Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 36ff)

All of these things are important because the point is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the ancient tradition of Israel. Matthew, as an author, will use this theme throughout his text: 1.23, 2.5, 15, 17, 23; 3:3; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 26:56; 27:9. (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 38) Just as in last week's comment from Jesus that John the Baptist belongs to a prophetic age, here in today's reading we see that Jesus himself is the culmination of and the new beginning for Israel.

It is out of this theme of fulfillment that Joseph becomes for us a major character of the Advent season. Joseph is almost the "everyman" of the Gospel. I imagine him not unlike many of the new members of the Matthean community or new members today. Like Joseph they had some sense of the past. Like many others, Joseph is a good guy. He is wrestling with some pretty weighty stuff. He is struggling to understand and discern how to take the next steps in life. He has a religious experience. He becomes aware that God is with us - specifically with him. God is Emmanuel. Joseph awoke, and his awakening was in more ways than one. He decides to take different a course and to follow the Word of God that came to him.

Some might want to go into a discussion about the creed and belief in the virgin birth. I love that conversation. But I think a more interesting conversation and train of thought is how Joseph represents the life of one entering into community with other Christians and Jesus. I find it revealing to sit and ponder the idea that in this reception of the message that God is with him and the reception of the incarnation, Joseph goes from being a man who, within his rights divorces a woman, to the earthly father of Jesus and a key actor in his lineage and birth. What a precarious moment this is! What an amazing view of how one person's action determines the future.

As N. T. Wright explains - its complicated:

"If the first two chapters of Matthew and the first two of Luke had never existed, I do not suppose that my own Christian faith, or that of the church to which I belong, would have been very different. But since they do, and since for quite other reasons I have come to believe that the God of Israel, the world's creator, was personally and fully revealed in and as Jesus of Nazareth, I hold open my historical judgment and say: If that's what God deemed appropriate, who am I to object?"  "God's Way of Acting," N.T. Wright. 

I am sitting in my study at home as I write this and looking at one of the many manger scenes dotting our shelves and tables. It is Joseph who is there - not someone else.  He like us chooses to say, "yes."

As our Gospel began "Now the genesis of the Messiah took place in this way..." we can see how the genesis of the incarnation takes place in the life of Joseph. We might look at our own lives and see how the genesis of God was rooted in our lives or is taking a place in our lives. How is the arrival of God in our lives remaking our own story and our own narrative? How is the incarnation of God the fulfillment of our life lived up until this moment?

God is with us; this is the foundation of the Good News of Salvation. God is in common, in communion, with his people.  The incarnation is the fulfillment of our past and the promise of our future. It changes our perspective on the world and changes what we do with our lives. The incarnation changes our relationship with others and causes us to act differently, perhaps even going against what is justly our right. The incarnation is a powerful revelation and in this season of expectation Joseph stands before us as one transformed by its message, meaning and invitation and in that moment of action Joseph reshapes the narrative of Good News. Yes, Joseph is everyman and he is a symbol of our potential and possibility. He is a symbol of faithful action deeply rooted in the message, the Word of God, which proclaims: God is with us, together we are reborn, together the world is changed and the continuing narrative spun and re spun.

Some Thoughts on Romans 1:1-7

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

The passage appointed for Sunday is a typical introduction to a letter which is common in most writing of this time. Paul of course has added to the greeting revealing both who he is, who he believes God is and what he is to be doing.

In the first verses Paul is clear that he is a servant to God.  His work is the work of serving and doing the work which God gives him. He is an apostle. He is chosen and the Holy Spirit is upon him and he is to give it to others.  He is in particular given such gifts not by his service (he did not earn them) but rather by and for the purpose of sharing God's Good News of Salvation.

Paul then offers a bit of preaching.  Scholars believe this is possibly early church confessional stuff. God has been at work bringing about this moment of Good News for a long time.  Jesus himself and Jesus' mission was foretold and revealed in the holy scriptures - here of course he is speaking about the Torah most likely and some of the traditional texts (there is not yet an Old Testament collection as we know it.)  Jesus is from the line of David and a royal king, and he is God in flesh, God's very Son.  This is proven by the revelation of the Holy Spirit. It is proven by the resurrection from the dead.  This God in Christ Jesus is Lord of Lords.  (Romans, Fitzmyer, 228)

Paul then returns to the format with a continued greeting.  He offers grace to fulfill our work which is the sharing of God's Good News through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We respond to God's Grace with our own obedience to the work.  We do it all as a response to God's sacrifice for us and so we in turn sacrifice for the Gospel.  We belong to Jesus Christ, our lives and our ministry is Christ's. We are with grace to share this with others.  This is Paul's work and like Paul this is the work of the people in the Roman Church.
"To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
Paul is clear about who he is. He is clear about who God is. He is clear about what his work is and he is clear about what that work is for the church.  We are Christ's and we are to be at work for Christ. 

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