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Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (here and here).

Hebrews 10:26-31

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

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Last week’s post discussed the contrast the author of Hebrews made between the sacrifices of the Old Testament and Christ’s living sacrifice on the Cross.

It is important to remember that after Jesus died on the Cross, the veil covering the Holy of Holies in the temple of Jerusalem was rent in two. We do not think too much about that. Yet, we should. As regular readers of my columns on Hebrews know, that rending of the veil meant that there was no longer any barrier to God. Jesus’s blood sacrifice at the Crucifixion removed that barrier permanently. We now go to the Father through Him.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has an especially interesting detail about the veil. It is well worth remembering (emphases mine below):

The veil in the tabernacle and temple signified the body of Christ; when he died, the veil of the temple was rent in sunder, and this was at the time of the evening sacrifice, and gave the people a surprising view into the holy of holies, which they never had before. Our way to heaven is by a crucified Saviour; his death is to us the way of life. To those who believe this he will be precious.

On to today’s reading, which carries a stark warning about the Christian life. If we know the truth of Christ, yet do not turn away from serious sin, Christ’s blood sacrifice becomes null and void for us (verse 26). If that happens, we can expect fearsome judgement upon ourselves (verse 27).

Matthew Henry says that these verses refer to apostasy, not minor sins:

From the description he gives of the sin of apostasy. It is sinning wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, sinning wilfully against that truth of which we have had convincing evidence. This text has been the occasion of great distress to some gracious souls; they have been ready to conclude that every wilful sin, after conviction and against knowledge, is the unpardonable sin: but this has been their infirmity and error. The sin here mentioned is a total and final apostasy, when men with a full and fixed will and resolution despise and reject Christ, the only Saviour,–despise and resist the Spirit, the only sanctifier,–and despise and renounce the gospel, the only way of salvation, and the words of eternal life; and all this after they have known, owned, and professed, the Christian religion, and continue to do so obstinately and maliciously. This is the great transgression: the apostle seems to refer to the law concerning presumptuous sinners, Numbers 15:30,31. They were to be cut off.

The anonymous author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, appealed to his Jewish audience — some of whom were recent converts, others resistant — by mentioning the law of Moses, the terms of which they all understood. If those under the Old Covenant disobeyed those laws and had two or three witnesses to corroborate such sin, they died ‘without mercy’ (verse 28). That was a temporal death by stoning.

The source text for that judgement, which concerns idolatry, is Deuteronomy 17:2-6:

2 “If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. 6 On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.

The author then asked his audience about the severity of punishment under the New Covenant (verse 29): would it not be far greater for denying Christ via apostasy?

Henry describes apostasy and the unimaginable punishment for it in the next life as follows:

(1.) They have trodden under foot the Son of God. To trample upon an ordinary person shows intolerable insolence; to treat a person of honour in that vile manner is insufferable; but to deal thus with the Son of God, who himself is God, must be the highest provocation–to trample upon his person, denying him to be the Messiah–to trample upon his authority, and undermine his kingdom–to trample upon his members as the offscouring of all things, and not fit to live in the world; what punishment can be too great for such men? (2.) They have counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing; that is, the blood of Christ, with which the covenant was purchased and sealed, and wherewith Christ himself was consecrated, or wherewith the apostate was sanctified, that is, baptized, visibly initiated into the new covenant by baptism, and admitted to the Lord’s supper. Observe, There is a kind of sanctification which persons may partake of and yet fall away: they may be distinguished by common gifts and graces, by an outward profession, by a form of godliness, a course of duties, and a set of privileges, and yet fall away finally. Men who have seemed before to have the blood of Christ in high esteem may come to account it an unholy thing, no better than the blood of a malefactor, though it was the world’s ransom, and every drop of it of infinite value.

The author of Hebrews reminds his audience that vengeance belongs to God, that God will judge and repay (verse 30). If we reject His Son and His Son’s ultimate sacrifice for us, then we can expect everlasting damnation and an unimaginably painful eternity.

As the author says (verse 20):

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Henry expands on that point:

From the description we have in the scripture of the nature of God’s vindictive justice, Hebrews 10:30. We know that he has said, Vengeance is mine. This is taken out of Psalms 94:1, Vengeance belongs unto me. The terrors of the Lord are known both by revelation and reason. Vindictive justice is a glorious, though terrible attribute of God; it belongs to him, and he will use and execute it upon the heads of such sinners as despise his grace; he will avenge himself, and his Son, and Spirit, and covenant, upon apostates. And how dreadful then will their case be! The other quotation is from Deuteronomy 32:36, The Lord will judge his people; he will search and try his visible church, and will discover and detect those who say they are Jews, and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan; and he will separate the precious from the vile, and will punish the sinners in Zion with the greatest severity. Now those who know him who hath said, Vengeance belongeth to me, I will recompense, must needs conclude, as the apostle does (Hebrews 10:31): It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Those who know the joy that results from the favour of God can thereby judge of the power and dread of his vindictive wrath. Observe here, What will be the eternal misery of impenitent sinners and apostates: they shall fall into the hands of the living God; their punishment shall come from God’s own hand. He takes them into the hand of his justice; he will deal with them himself; their greatest misery will be the immediate impressions of divine wrath on the soul. When he punishes them by creatures, the instrument abates something of the force of the blow; but, when he does it by his own hand, it is infinite misery. This they shall have at God’s hand, they shall lie down in sorrow; their destruction shall come from his glorious powerful presence; when they make their woeful bed in hell, they will find that God is there, and his presence will be their greatest terror and torment. And he is a living God; he lives for ever, and will punish for ever.

The author leaves that message with his audience. Next week’s post will explore the joy and confidence one can have in Christ through obedience in love.

Next time — Hebrews 10:32-39

What follows are the readings for the First Sunday after Epiphany — Baptism of the Lord — January 12, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Isaiah prophesies the Messiah’s coming in humility and gentleness but with all strength.

Isaiah 42:1-9

42:1 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

42:2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;

42:3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.

42:4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

42:5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it:

42:6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,

42:7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

42:8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols.

42:9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

Psalm

It is thought that David wrote this Psalm during a thunderstorm. While those around him quaked with fear, David reflected on God’s glory and majesty.

Psalm 29

29:1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.

29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.

29:4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

29:5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

29:6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

29:7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.

29:8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

29:9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

29:10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.

29:11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Epistle

Luke tells us what Peter preached to Cornelius — the first Gentile convert — and his household. Acts 10 is one of the most dramatic chapters of the Apostolic Era. Both Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and Peter have divine visions which served to bring them together.

Acts 10:34-43

10:34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality,

10:35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

10:36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all.

10:37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced:

10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

10:39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree;

10:40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear,

10:41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

10:42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.

10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Gospel

Matthew tells us of John the Baptist baptising Jesus. Note John’s humility when he says that Jesus should be baptising him.

Matthew 3:13-17

3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.

3:14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

3:15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

3:16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.

3:17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

So often I read from fringe Christian commentators that it is not necessary to be baptised. Yet, following our Lord’s example, every committed Christian should be baptised. It is one of the Sacraments, the second being Holy Communion.

I know of parents who did not have their children baptised. They lived to regret it, as their offspring never did commit to Christianity. Therefore, do not delay.

Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 10:1-3

Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All

10 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.

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Last week’s entry discussed the necessity of blood sacrifice for sin in God’s covenants, the ultimate and all-sufficient one being the Crucifixion.

The Old Covenant was ‘but a shadow of the good things to come’ with Christ’s perfect sacrifice, which brought with it the forgiveness of sins (verse 1). The Old Covenant could never bring redemption, as animal sacrifices had to be offered annually on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

John MacArthur encapsulates the Old Covenant as follows:

It was only, in effect, a man saying, “Okay, God, I believe you. Okay, God, I want to worship you, so I’ll obey you and I’ll offer a sacrifice.” And God was saying, “On the basis of your works, in response to your faith, I accept that.”

The author of Hebrews goes on to say that if animal sacrifices could have taken away a sense of guilt — ‘consciousness of sins’ — then they would have stopped being offered (verse 2).

Yet, he says, that was not the case, because sacrifices had to take place every year on that day (verse 3).

MacArthur says that guilt became a permanent mainstay of the Old Covenant, and, rightly so, for that time. He also thinks that ‘conscience of sin’ is a better phrasing than ‘consciousness of sin’ (emphases mine):

Instead of being able to look at the sacrifice and say, “Wow, I’m forgiven,” they kept looking at the sacrifice and said, “Oh, yeah, I’m not. I’m just as sick as I’ve always been. And I’ve got to go down there again with another lamb. And I’m not getting any better.”

And so, you see, rather than the old covenant removing sin, it just stood as a constant reminder that sin was not removed. The sacrifice of animals is powerless to remove sin. To purify a man, to free a man from the conscience of guilt that binds his mind, they cannot do it. All they can do is go on reminding a man that he is uncured and that he’s a sinner at the mercy of God, and he’s not free to enter into God’s presence at all because he’s not holy. So far from erasing sin, they only underlined it.

Now, the conscience of sin, let me just say a word about this. The conscience of sin has to do with guilt. There’s a certain amount of guilt that comes with sin. It’s just a system built into you, just like pain is built into you. Where pain reacts to bodily injury, guilt reacts to the injury of your soul by disobedience to God, and it’s a warning system. And they never, in the Old Testament, ever were relieved from the tension of guilt.

Although Jewish people today talk with satisfaction about their guilt for that reason, so do Catholics. Guilt is a badge of honour for both groups.

I remember growing up as a Catholic and being told that after receiving Communion we were in a state of grace — until our next sin. Well, one could sin before one got in one’s car to return home from church, meaning that one’s state of grace had vanished in a trice and could not be restored until one received Communion again.

MacArthur even mentions that in his sermon in a brief comment on Mass:

Now, that, to me, is nothing more than a constant reminder that they’re not forgiven. That’s a throwback to the old economy. We only need Jesus Christ to be crucified once. We don’t have to re-crucify Him all the time because then we’re doing exactly what the Old Testament said … “You can only be forgiven a week at a time,” and that’s wrong. That’s wrong.

Having spent half my life now as a Protestant, I could not agree more.

MacArthur says:

“My little children, your sins are forgiven forever for His name’s sake.” That’s in the new covenant. The Son of God paid the debt in full. He removed sin and He removed judgment and with it, He removed the fear of judgment. I don’t live in mortal fear of seeing God, I live in great anticipation because my sins are covered.

The next part of Hebrews 10 — from verses 4 to 25, all in the Lectionary — explains that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross replaced the old system and inaugurated the New Covenant, whereby our sins are forgiven. There is no longer any need to pursue the old rituals.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

now, under the gospel, the atonement is perfect, and not to be repeated; and the sinner, once pardoned, is ever pardoned as to his state, and only needs to renew his repentance and faith, that he may have a comfortable sense of a continued pardon.

That sentence is a good lead-in to next weekend’s post.

In closing, guilt accomplishes nothing for the Christian unless it brings about repentance — turning away from sin. Repentance is a life-long process, but as long as one is trying, praying for the grace to do so and gradually doing away with sin, then it’s all to the good. We will all die as sinners, but as long as we die in faith with less sin on our souls, we will have fought the good fight.

Next time — Hebrews 10:26-31

Epiphany Magi salesianity_blogspot_comOne has to marvel at the long journey of the Magi — popularly known as the Wise Men, or the Three Kings — who made an arduous journey to see the Christ Child.

They did not know God, but yet, the three were drawn to His Son. Each brought a particular, precious and personal gift for Him, pertinent to His life on Earth.

This was the first significant opening of the Kingdom of Heaven to the Gentiles, as Isaiah prophesied centuries before.

The first reading, which is from Isaiah, is in the post below, along with commentary:

Epiphany — Old Testament reading — Isaiah 60:1-6

The Epistle reading from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians also discusses the opening of the Church, Christ’s Bride, to the Gentiles. It is in the next post, along with commentary:

Epiphany — Epistle — Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew’s Gospel gives us the story of the Magi’s visit to the Holy Family. They had visited Herod first, but were warned in a dream not to make a return visit to him after seeing Jesus and His earthly parents. That story, along with commentary, is in the following post:

Epiphany — Gospel — Matthew 2:1-12

So, now, the Christmas season has come to an end. However, the following posts discuss more aspects of the Epiphany, including a sweet treat for a day of joy:

A Lutheran pastor reflects on the Epiphany

More Lutheran reflections on the Epiphany

Remembering the Epiphany in chalk

The Epiphany and the Bible

Why the Epiphany is so important — a Lutheran perspective

A Lutheran perspective on the Magi

Jesuit astronomer discusses the Star of Bethlehem (2016)

What to remember about Epiphany

Epiphany and king cake — a history

Even though we in the Northern Hemisphere are in the doldrums of winter, may we remember that our heritage with God through Christ is one to be celebrated in our hearts every day. May we be ever grateful for that everlasting gift.

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear on Tuesday.

Readings follow for the Second Sunday after Christmas Day, January 5, 2020.

These are the same for all three years of the Lectionary used in public worship.

Headings for alternate readings below are in blue.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Jeremiah foretells the arrival of the Messiah.

Jeremiah 31:7-14

31:7 For thus says the LORD: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel.”

31:8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.

31:9 With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.

31:10 Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”

31:11 For the LORD has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.

31:12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.

31:13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

31:14 I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the LORD.

Alternate first reading (Catholic)

Sirach is one of the Books of Wisdom and part of the Apocrypha. Written by a Jewish scribe, Jesus son of Sirach or Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira, it is included in Catholic and most Orthodox Bibles. This reading describes the Messiah.

Sirach 24:1-12

24:1 Wisdom praises herself, and tells of her glory in the midst of her people.

24:2 In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth, and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory:

24:3 “I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist.

24:4 I dwelt in the highest heavens, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.

24:5 Alone I compassed the vault of heaven and traversed the depths of the abyss.

24:6 Over waves of the sea, over all the earth, and over every people and nation I have held sway.”

24:7 Among all these I sought a resting place; in whose territory should I abide?

24:8 “Then the Creator of all things gave me a command, and my Creator chose the place for my tent. He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.’

24:9 Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me, and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.

24:10 In the holy tent I ministered before him, and so I was established in Zion.

24:11 Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place, and in Jerusalem was my domain.

24:12 I took root in an honored people, in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.

Psalm

This Psalm praises God’s majesty, mercy and omnipotence.

Psalm 147:12-20

147:12 Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!

147:13 For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you.

147:14 He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.

147:15 He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.

147:16 He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.

147:17 He hurls down hail like crumbs– who can stand before his cold?

147:18 He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.

147:19 He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.

147:20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the LORD!

Alternate to Psalm (Catholic)

The Wisdom of Solomon, or Book of Wisdom, is included in the Catholic Bible. It was written in 1 BC and is a treatise on wisdom, including Solomon’s search for it. Here we have a reminder of wisdom’s place in faith from the earliest days of God’s people.

Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21

10:15 A holy people and blameless race wisdom delivered from a nation of oppressors,

10:16 She entered the soul of a servant of the Lord, and withstood dread kings with wonders and signs.

10:17 She gave to holy people the reward of their labors; she guided them along a marvelous way, and became a shelter to them by day, and a starry flame through the night.

10:18 She brought them over the Red Sea, and led them through deep waters;

10:19 but she drowned their enemies, and cast them up from the depth of the sea.

10:20 Therefore the righteous plundered the ungodly; they sang hymns, O Lord, to your holy name, and praised with one accord your defending hand;

20:21 for wisdom opened the mouths of those who were mute, and made the tongues of infants speak clearly.

Epistle

This is Paul’s greeting to the Ephesians, in which Paul discourses on God’s gift to us of Jesus Christ and our inheritance to come through Him.

Ephesians 1:3-14

1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

1:4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

1:5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,

1:6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

1:8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight

1:9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,

1:10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,

1:12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;

1:14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Gospel

This is one of the Christmas Day Gospel readings. The apostle John captures the essence of the Light that is our Lord and the preparation of His way by John the Baptist.

John 1:(1-9), 10-18

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

1:2 He was in the beginning with God.

1:3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being

1:4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

1:7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

1:8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

1:10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

1:11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

1:12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

1:13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

1:14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

1:15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”)

1:16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

1:17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

1:18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

I hope that these readings help to keep the spirit of Christmas alive for us in the year ahead.

What follows are the readings for New Year’s Day where the feast day of the Holy Name of Jesus is not commemorated.

These are the same for all three years of the Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Solomon shares his wisdom with us in Ecclesiastes, saying that there is a time and a place for everything. Many of us will recognise these verses, which have also been used in song, the famous Turn! Turn! Turn! Verse 13 is better expressed in older translations of the Bible:

13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.

God meant for us to enjoy the fruits of our labour. There is no shame in honest work.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

3:2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

3:3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

3:4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

3:5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

3:6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

3:7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

3:8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

3:9 What gain have the workers from their toil?

3:10 I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with.

3:11 He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

3:12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live;

3:13 moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

Psalm

This is the same Psalm designated for the Holy Name of Jesus, proclaiming God’s excellence and majesty over all His creation.

Psalm 8

8:1 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

8:2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

8:3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;

8:4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

8:5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

8:6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,

8:7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

8:8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

8:9 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Epistle

This reading from Revelation, describing the New Jerusalem to come, ties in perfectly with the more sombre Gospel reading. Matthew Henry says that these verses refer to the future Church in heaven.

Revelation 21:1-6a

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

21:2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;

21:4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

21:5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

21:6a Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

Gospel

Jesus describes the fearsome judgement that will take place at His Second Coming. He spoke these words after having related the Parables of the Ten Virgins and the Talents. May we be ready, having loved Him and our neighbour on this mortal coil.

Matthew 25:31-46

25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.

25:32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,

25:33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

25:36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

25:38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?

25:39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

25:40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

25:42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

25:44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

25:45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

These readings give us much to think about concerning our present — and our future.

Circumcision of Christ stained glassJanuary 1 was traditionally a Holy Day of Obligation in the Church, whereby Christians were expected to attend Mass.

Until the 20th century, this day was known ecclesiastically as the Feast of the Circumcision. These days, it is known as the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Jewish boys are named on the day of their circumcision, which follows eight days after their births. Mary and Joseph observed Jewish law, and, so, Jesus, too, was circumcised and named at the appropriate time.

The stained glass window at the left is probably the only depiction of our Lord’s circumcision. It dates from 15th century Germany and now hangs in The Cloisters, a famous art museum in Manhattan.

This ceremony marked the first time Jesus shed His blood, foretelling the Crucifixion.

You can read more about this feast day and the window in my posts below:

January 1 – Feast of the Circumcision of Christ (2010)

New Year’s Day: the Circumcision — and Naming — of Christ Jesus

New Year’s greetings — and the Feast of the Circumcision (2017, details on circumcision stained glass window)

In the Catholic Church, this feast day has been renamed as the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. The Holy Day of Obligation status may be waived locally.

What follows are the readings for the feast day of the Holy Name of Jesus, which are the same for all three years in the Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

The Lord instructed Moses on how Aaron and his descendants — the priests — were to bless the people. The verses below will look very familiar, as clergy continue to use this formula today. Matthew Henry’s commentary is worthwhile reading. He says that the name Jehovah (‘Lord’) was pronounced three different ways, which scholars believe meant a signification of the Holy Trinity. Henry explains that the blessings meant a) protection by the Lord, b) pardon of sin and c) peace with Him and the world.

Numbers 6:22-27

6:22 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

6:23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,

6:24 The LORD bless you and keep you;

6:25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;

6:26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

6:27 So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

Psalm

David’s Psalm proclaims the excellence and majesty of God’s name over all others.

Psalm 8

8:1 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

8:2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

8:3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;

8:4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

8:5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

8:6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,

8:7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

8:8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

8:9 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Epistle

There are two choices for the Epistle.

Option one

Paul wrote this letter to convince the Galatians that they should stop following the Judaizers. The New Covenant replaces the Old.

Galatians 4:4-7

4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

4:5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

4:6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Option two

Paul describes the way to imitate Christ: humility, service and obedience.

Philippians 2:5-11

2:5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,

2:7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,

2:8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.

2:9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,

2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

2:11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel

This is largely the same reading from Christmas Day, apart from the addition of verse 21.

Luke 2:15-21

2:15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

2:16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

2:17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;

2:18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

2:19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

2:21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Many of us are back at work and Christmas seems but a happy memory. I hope these readings go some way to rekindle the great joy we felt a week ago when celebrating our Lord’s earthly birth with family and friends.

There is also another set of readings for New Year’s Day which will follow tomorrow.

Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 9:16-23

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

—————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed the rituals of the Levite priests, which God had ordained, as well as a passage from Hebrews 9 that appears in the Lectionary, ending with this verse (emphases mine below):

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.[h]

One can only receive an inheritance if there is a will (testament), the person promising said inheritance dies (verse 17) and the death is established (verse 16).

John MacArthur elaborates further on the use of the word ‘testament’, which appears in older translations:

Now, the word “testament” here is … diathēkē. The common Greek word for a covenant was sunthēkē, which means an agreement between equals. Diathēkē means somebody makes the rules up here and you either take it or leave it. And that’s the word that’s always used with God’s covenants because He always calls all the shots and men either take it or leave it. You don’t bargain with God and say, “If you’ll adjust your covenant a little bit your way, I’ll adjust a little my way.” God’s truth is absolute.

And the best way to illustrate the use of the word diathēkē is the fact that it’s used to speak of a will. A will is not a bargain between two people; a will is something made out by one person, and the other person either takes it or leaves it. And so he is saying here, God has promised an inheritance and that inheritance depends upon the death of the one who made it in order for it to be received. That’s a simple truth. And that’s really all he’s saying. A will cannot operate until the one who made it dies; therefore, Jesus had to die. He had to die to release the legacy of God to men.

The kingdom of heaven is bequeathed to all believers. Such is God’s will and testament. And Jesus’ death released it to our possession. And some of it is ours now, and it will be ours in its fullness when we go to be with Him.

The author goes on to describe the blood used in the sacrifices under the law of the Old Covenant. Even before there was a tabernacle, God commanded Moses to sprinkle blood on the people as a temporary purification (verses 19, 20). He also sprinkled blood on the tent as well as on the vessels used for worship (verse 21).

MacArthur traces the use of blood in God’s covenants from the beginning, with Abraham:

You’ll remember that in Genesis, that’s what happened. When God gave Abraham the covenant, God knocked him out with a divine anesthetic after he had slaughtered those animals, cut them in half, and laid the bloody pieces on two sides, and taken a turtledove and killed it on one side and another – I think it was a pigeon, and put it on the other side, and then God passed between the bloody pieces. In other words, even the Abrahamic covenant was sealed by blood. So this is what happened in the Mosaic case, and that’s what the author of Hebrews is saying

Now, you see, here, the whole thing is ratified by blood. That was God’s standard. This is what He required. Now go back to Hebrews 9, and you understand what it means in verse 19. “For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, water, scarlet wool, hyssop, and sprinkled the book, and all the people.” This was Moses’ act of ratifying the covenant.

Ultimately, every sacrifice required blood, because without it there was no forgiveness of sins under either the Old or the New Covenant (verse 22).

MacArthur says that we must not get upset or sentimental about the blood shed, particularly by our Lord on the Cross, because it is the death — especially His death — that matters:

this was God, by sign and symbol, always showing the wages of sin is what? Death. Constantly. And there’s no sense in getting teary-eyed and mystical about blood. And we sing hymns, “There’s power in the blood,” et cetera, and we don’t want to get preoccupied with blood. The only importance the blood of Jesus has is that it showed He died. There is no saving in that blood itself.

We cannot say that the very blood of Jesus, His physical blood, is what atones for sin. It is His death that atones for sin. His bloodshed was an act of death. And so we do not want to become preoccupied with fantasizing about some mystical blood that’s floating around somewhere, it is by His sacrificial offering of Himself. It is by His death that we are redeemed. Bloodshed is only the picture of His death.

This is why God required blood sacrifices:

And so always, in the ratification of a covenant, blood was shed, because in every covenant that God made with man, He knew there would be violation. Right? Sin. And that sin could only be taken care of by death. Therefore, initially, God showed the importance of a sacrificial system by making that the initial ratification of a covenant. So when Jesus died and shed His blood, this is no big thing. This is nothing for Israel to get all bent out of shape about. This ought to be good proof that God was instituting a new covenant, which had to be ratified by blood.

Therefore, the sacrifices under Mosaic law were but copies of the heavenly sacrifice to come through Christ Jesus (verse 23).

MacArthur says:

Jesus is superior to any goat, bull, ram, or sheep, infinitely. If it was necessary that the copy had to have sacrifices, how much more necessary that the reality had to have a sacrifice? Not only just a sacrifice, but better sacrifice. All the blood of the old covenant was nothing but a picture of the shed blood of Jesus. And the death of Jesus Christ is that which satisfies God.

God was so satisfied with what Jesus did that He highly exalted Him and gave Him a name above every name. At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, things in the earth and under the earth. God exalted Him and lifted Him up to the highest place He could lift Him to, His own right hand, because of what He had done, He was so satisfied. God is satisfied with Jesus.

MacArthur explains, citing a verse from Matthew that appears in consecration prayers in Communion services in older denominations:

… do you remember the startling words of Jesus in Matthew 26:28, when He, at the table with the disciples that last night before His death, picked up the cup and said, “This is my blood of the” – what? – “new covenant, which is shed for you.” And there, He was just doing a takeoff on Exodus chapter 24. He was to be the ratifier of the new covenant, and it would come through His blood. The shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, His atoning death, is the confirming sign of the new covenant.

This next point is so important. It’s about why Jesus had to die, which puzzled me for years, especially as a child, so, please, if you have young ones, do remember this answer. Every child wants to know why Jesus had to die on the Cross. Couldn’t God have let Him live forever and ever among us? No, He could not:

And so the blood was a token of both covenants, and the point of the writer is so well made. Why did Jesus have to die? Number one, He had a will to give and He had to die to free His will. Number two, always, always, always, forgiveness is based on blood. A covenant is ratified by blood. And Jesus brought a new covenant with forgiveness; therefore, He had to die

You can’t enter into God’s presence by being good. You can’t enter into God’s presence by being a fine citizen. You can’t enter into God’s presence by going through religious m[otion]s. You can’t enter into God’s presence by reading the Bible, by going to church, by being a member, by thinking sweet thoughts about God. The only way you’ll ever enter into God’s presence and into participation in the new covenant is by the death of Jesus Christ and your faith and belief in His shed blood on the cross in your behalf. That’s the only way. That’s the only access.

God set the rules. “The soul that sins, it shall die.” And then God, in grace, moved right back in and provided a death substitute. Jesus’ death is the only thing that satisfies God, you see. Because He requires death. And all over the Old Testament, He splattered blood in order that they might be constantly made aware of the fact that bloodshed was the only expiation for sin. Forgiveness is a costly, costly thing.

This next point is also important to remember. We sometimes take Jesus’s death and God’s forgiveness for granted:

I often think to myself how lightly I take the forgiveness of God. Come to the end of a day and I stick my head on my pillow and I say, “God, I did this today.” And I usually try to recite the things I did that I know He knows about, and I’m sure He knows about all of them, so I don’t try to hide them anymore. And I recite the things I did that I didn’t think were pleasing to Him, and I say, “Thanks for forgiving me,” and I’m asleep in a couple of minutes. And then, you know, I begin to think sometimes as I study the Word of God, you know, for the cost that it took to purchase my forgiveness, how glibly and how cheaply do I consider it. The infinite cost that God went to to forgive my sins. And I’m so ready to sin, in the back of my mind, knowing that it’s forgiven. What sick abuse that is of the sweet grace of a loving God.

That’s why Paul, in Romans chapter 6, faces the question, “Shall we sin that grace may abound?” And he throws his hands up in the air and says, “God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer in it?” Would we stomp all over God’s grace? Consider the cost of your forgiveness, dear one. God is such a bound God, bound to His own character, He cannot break the moral laws of His nature. He cannot violate the moral laws of His universe, and He built into His universe the fact that sin demands death and finally, He’s the one that had to pay the price. And He paid it.

Forgiveness isn’t just God looking down and saying, “Oh, it’s all right. I like you a lot, and I’ll just let it go.” It’s the costliest thing in the universe. Without bloodshed, there is no forgiveness of sins. If you are forgiven, it is because somebody died.

I know that this is not the cheeriest subject matter just after Christmas, however, perhaps this point from MacArthur will help:

the death of Jesus Christ purchased forgiveness. He recognized that God was the one that had to be satisfied, and He offered His blood, and thus revealed God’s love and mercy and forgiveness for all who believe.

The final verses of Hebrews 9 are read on one of the Sundays after Pentecost in Year B. The last verse is particularly beautiful:

24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

On that day, we will know the joy that the saints from the Old Testament experienced. Their entry to heaven from Hades (Sheol) was made possible only by Jesus’s death on the Cross, as MacArthur explains:

We believe that Jesus, when He died, went down into Sheol, gathered the Old Testament saints, their spirits, and ushered them into the presence of God, so that they had to be waiting until perfect sacrifice was made on the one final day of atonement and then were ushered into the presence of God. The Old Testament saints, then, who were called, could not inherit their promises until sins were done away. That’s what it says at the end of verse 15. They were under the first testament, but it was only by His death that they were able to inherit their promises. The first covenant couldn’t bring them to God’s presence.

Now … it says at the end of verse 15, “the eternal inheritance.” What is that? Well, it certainly has to be salvation. It has to be all that salvation is, and it came to them in the fullest sense, total access to God. Perfection, in the sense it’s used in Hebrews, came when Jesus died.

they could not have full access until that final sacrifice was made, which truly satisfied God. In the past, God overlooked sin until Jesus could bear it away.

The author continues to discuss sacrifices, the imperfect and the perfect, in Hebrews 10.

Next time — Hebrews 10:1-3

Readings follow for the First Sunday after Christmas Day, December 29, 2019.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used for public worship.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

God’s love and mercy are everlasting.

Isaiah 63:7-9

63:7 I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD, the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, because of all that the LORD has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

63:8 For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely”; and he became their savior

63:9 in all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Psalm

This Psalm calls every being to praise the Lord.

Psalm 148

148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!

148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

This passage from Hebrews explains why Jesus has human form as well as divine.

Hebrews 2:10-18

2:10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

2:11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,

2:12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

2:13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”

2:14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,

2:15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.

2:16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham.

2:17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.

2:18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Gospel

This reading describes the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt to escape the clutches of Herod, then to return, settling in Nazareth. This fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. ‘They’ in verse 13 refers to the Magi:

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Matthew 2:13-23

2:13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

2:14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,

2:15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

2:16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.

2:17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

2:18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

2:19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,

2:20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”

2:21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.

2:22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee.

2:23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

The Christmas story never fails to amaze me. The prophecies pointed to the improbable — the Messiah coming from a new branch of diminished royal lineage and growing up in much-derided Nazareth (John 1:43-46) — yet, all were fulfilled.

Interestingly, in Hebrew, Nazareth and netzer (branch) are spelled the same way. Fascinating!

Nothing is impossible with God.

Hello, everyone!

Christmas is nearly here, and I have a few items to share of both a secular and a religious nature.

O Antiphon for Christmas Eve

First, the final O Antiphon, the one for Christmas Eve, is Matthew 1:18-23, detailed in the following two posts:

Christmas Eve — Matthew 1:18-25 (with commentary from Albert Barnes)

The Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel (hermeneutics)

The Christmas 1968 Bible reading from space

On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 orbited the moon. Listen to the astronauts on board read from Genesis:

The Christmas message from Outer Space

‘Twas the Night before Christmas’ — a delightful reading

Children might need a distraction while grown-ups are preparing for Christmas.

What better than listening to a reading of ‘Twas the Night before Christmas’?

Britain’s Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has done a cracking job of reading the story in his remarkable baritone:

Those who listened to it loved it. This is just one of the many compliments on his voice:

Christmas traditions — religious or not?

The trend over recent years, possibly a reactionary one, is that certain Christmas traditions that have evolved since the 19th century are either too secular or too pagan.

That said, some of these traditions can be said to have religious overtones.

The history of the candy cane is an intriguing one and one that could be used in Sunday School for its symbolism about Jesus:

Candy canes: useful for a Nativity lesson in Sunday School

There is a religious reason why we give each other gifts at this time of year. We recall John the Baptist’s ministry in preparing the way for our Lord:

John the Baptist, charity and Advent

He advocated giving as one way of preparing. Luke’s Gospel records John the Baptist’s words about charity (Luke 3:10-11):

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

This is how seasonal giving developed over time:

Christmas gifts — a history

As far as greenery is concerned, St Boniface transformed the fir tree into a Christian symbol in Germany during the early 8th century:

The Christmas tree — a history

Christmas cards were highly secular and of a facetious nature. They did not become religious until much later:

Bizarre Christmas cards from the 19th century

Louis Prang, a Prussian who emigrated to the United States, made Christmas cards popular there, beginning in 1873. Hallmark did not come along until 1910:

Louis Prang — father of the American Christmas card

I hope these give everyone a few spiritual talking points along with some fun during the countdown to Christmas!

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