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Lectionary Readings
(from the Revised Common Lectionary)

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Friday, December 24, 2021

Nativity of the Lord - Proper I Christmas Eve & Day—Christmas, Year C

Summary

The modern Christmas Eve service was once the midnight mass that began the three services (at midnight, dawn, and daytime) of the feast of Christmas. The preacher should pay special attention to the arc of these passages and may make use of the time of day to evoke the themes of the readings. The first reading: here at night as the world sleeps, the church witnesses light: the birth of a ruler who will bring an everlasting dominion of peace to the world which will end war and injustice forever. The second reading brings the moral dimension to the King’s salvation: setting aside sin for purity and replacing perennial human temptations with the desire for good works. The Gospel reading ends with the angel messenger bringing the “glory of the Lord” to shine around the shepherds. The theme of light casting out darkness should take center stage and provides the preacher with many real-world circumstances familiar to people: sin, oppression, fear, anxiousness. The Lord’s light breaks into all of these, casting them out as surely as light overwhelms darkness.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Nativity of the Lord - Proper II Christmas Eve & Day—Christmas, Year C

Summary

This Gospel of this second service in the Christmas trilogy, extended to verse 20, may focus on the shepherds’ response to the message: “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” This can be used as a teaser for the final Christmas Day service: where the John 1 reading will give full meaning to those who have followed the angels’ news to witness for themselves the glorious birth of the savior. At this early hour, however, the first reading may be an encouragement to those who have managed to pull themselves out of bed and show up at this sparsely attended service: the watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem who do not rest. These are often the poor, the lonely, and those without families to celebrate with. They may be honored here as the church’s stalwart sentinels, using the eyes of faith to look ahead with the shepherds to the true light of which the comforts and consolations of the holidays are but signs and shadows.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Nativity of the Lord - Proper III Christmas Eve & Day—Christmas, Year C

Summary

The Principle Service of Christmas day—which sadly has been completely replaced in modern American culture with private family gift-opening—brings definition to the blinding light of Jesus’ coming. So central is the John 1 text to the nativity that it will be repeated on the second Sunday after Christmas just to make sure nobody has missed hearing it. Here is the mystery of the nativity which Christians celebrate: not the birth of a great man but the very author of all creation, the original light that gave light to all things, entering secretly into his own creation to save it. Those who believe and turn toward him may be called the children of that light. But that Light entered his creation in a very specific way that is not to be missed: by taking flesh, indicating his mortality and the mission of death. Finally, the preacher must emphasize that in Christ the Father’s glory has been witnessed, seen by the ordinary eyes of men and women. Jesus is not a synecdoche for empty philosophical speculation on the meaning of life or inspiring and insightful motivational speeches about how to live a fulfilling, “meaningful” life. He is God from God, light from light eternal: the perfect image of the Father. This all-important fact will set the congregation up for the following feast of the Epiphany that will make manifest the character and will of God as revealed to us by the incarnate Lord.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Nativity of the Lord - Proper I Christmas Eve & Day—Christmas, Year C

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Nativity of the Lord - Proper II Christmas Eve & Day—Christmas, Year C

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Nativity of the Lord - Proper III Christmas Eve & Day—Christmas, Year C

Sunday, December 26, 2021

First Sunday after Christmas Day—Christmas, Year C

Summary

The very recently added feast of the Holy Family is intended to display Jesus’ family as a model for Christian families. But what we find in the scriptures are not warm paeans to the institution of the nuclear family, but rather stories of children separated from their parents. These episodes show how the human family has meaning and purpose only when it is offered up to serve God’s greater mission. Hannah’s gift of her firstborn Samuel to the Lord causes him “to grow in stature and favor both with the Lord and with men” and brings her more children. In the same way, modern parents—though beset by the pressures to mold their children into high performing “machines”—must not understand themselves as the sole custodians of their children’s upbringing. Instead, they ought to follow Hannah’s example through prayer, devoting their children to the Lord and trusting him with their children’s futures rather than their own capacities as capable parents. We see the same dynamic heightened in the gospel passage. Jesus’ answer to his parents’ understandable concern at his absence: “did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” indicates that God’s mission supersedes even the natural bonds of his earthly family. This is a good opportunity for the preacher to remind that all those who walk in faith reside in the house of the Father and compose God’s true family (cf. Mark 3:33-35; John 1:13) which brings celibates into the center of the Holy Family.

Another option: The Gospel story of Jesus in the Temple is an important Christological passage for the tradition of the church and a good opportunity for the preacher to address an often-burning question for believers: what did Jesus know as he grew up and what was he capable of as divine and human? First, Jesus’ parents find him in the temple three days after his disappearance foreshadows the resurrection, setting the episode in the context of Jesus’ mission. The passage discloses how though Jesus is conscious of his identity and mission he still had to progress in that mission by normal human means. Hence, we see him “listening and asking questions” of the rabbis. Though his identity as the Son of God seems to have made him a quick study, as we see in the teachers’ astonishment at his “answers and understanding,” he still learns as an ordinary human youth. The church’s consensus understanding of Jesus’ supernatural abilities was that they always served his mission and purpose on earth, and never allowed him to “shortcut” ordinary human travails--hence the Infancy Gospel of Thomas which shows Jesus making flippant use of his divine powers was rejected as a gnostic fabrication. This understanding is supported by Jesus’ refusal of the Devil’s temptation to relieve himself of his human constraints in the temptation in the wilderness and on the occasions where Jesus refuses or “could not” do any miraculous signs due to the lack of faith (Mk. 6:5; Matt. 13:58) and also in the Book of Hebrews’ affirmation that he was “tempted in every way as we are” (4:15). The issue was not the strength of Jesus’ power but that his power on earth had an orientation toward the accomplishment of his mission at the Resurrection--indeed the theologians thought of his earthly ministry “flowed backwards” as it were, from the Resurrection. Therefore, Jesus does no marvelous work that does not serve that mission.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Holy Name of Jesus (Mary, Mother of God)—Christmas, Year C

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Second Sunday after Christmas Day—Christmas, Year C

Summary

Though John 1 was read on Christmas Day, the reality of sparse church attendance in modern America means that this Sunday will likely be the first time it is heard by most of the congregation, so the themes of the Christmas Day commentary may be safely repeated. The option to extend the passage to verse 18 brings a new valence for the preacher to expound: Jesus is God made visible. Though no one has seen the God the Father, Jesus, the “only begotten God” has “expressed” the Father (v. 18) perfectly. This is how Jesus can assure Philip in 14:9, that he who has seen him has seen the Father and is not in need of fuller revelation.