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Epiphany Magi salesianity_blogspot_comEpiphany is on January 6, also known as Twelfth Night.

Before discussing the Old Testament reading for this day, I have a number of posts about Epiphany:

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 (2016)

Epiphany and king cake — a history

The three-year Lectionary Epistle reading is Ephesians 3:1-12. and the Gospel reading is Matthew 2:1-12.

The Old Testament reading is as follows:

Isaiah 60:1-6

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

60:2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.

60:3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

60:4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

60:5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Note the last verse!

Commentary for these verses comes from Matthew Henry.

Whilst we can read this as strictly a history of the Jews coming out of captivity, this is also a prophecy of God’s covenant with the Church (emphases mine):

The long continuance of the church, even unto the utmost ages of time, was there promised, and here the large extent of the church, even unto the utmost regions of the earth and both these tend to the honour of the Redeemer. It is here promised, I. That the church shall be enlightened and shone upon, Isaiah 60:1,2. II. That it shall be enlarged and great additions made to it, to join in the service of God, Isaiah 60:3-8. III. That the new converts shall be greatly serviceable to the church and to the interests of it, Isaiah 60:9-13. IV. That the church shall be in great honour and reputation among men, Isaiah 60:14-16. V. That it shall enjoy a profound peace and tranquility, Isaiah 60:17,18. VI. That, the members of it being all righteous, the glory and joy of it shall be everlasting, Isaiah 60:19-22.

The Jews had divinely-given light bestowed on them when they were no longer captive. The Lord’s blessings truly bestowed on them, it was time for them to arise, shine and reflect that light to others (verse 1).

God is Light. Jesus is Light. There is no better light:

As far as we have the knowledge of God in us, and the favour of God towards us, our light has come. When God appears to us, and we have the comfort of his favour, then the glory of the Lord rises upon us as the morning light when he appears for us, and we have the credit of his favour, when he shows us some token for good and proclaims his favour to us, then his glory is seen upon us, as it was upon Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire. When Christ arose as the sun of righteousness, and in him the day-spring from on high visited us, then the glory of the Lord was seen upon us, the glory as of the first-begotten of the Father.


What is the duty which the rising of this light calls for: “Arise, shine not only receive this light, and” (as the margin reads it) “be enlightened by it, but reflect this light arise and shine with rays borrowed from it.” The children of light ought to shine as lights in the world. If God’s glory be seen upon us to our honour, we ought not only with our lips, but in our lives, to return the praise of it to his honour, Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:15.

Even though darkness — extreme darkness — will cover the rest of the earth, God’s glory will rise and appear over His people, protecting them (verse 2):

What a foil there shall be to this light: Darkness shall cover the earth but, though it be gross darkness, darkness that might be felt, like that of Egypt, that shall overspread the people, yet the church, like Goshen, shall have light at the same time. When the case of the nations that have not the gospel shall be very melancholy, those dark corners of the earth being full of the habitations of cruelty to poor souls, the state of the church shall be very pleasant.

Nations and kings will be drawn to the light of God’s people (verse 3). Henry points out that this did not happen to the Jews, therefore, this prophecy was meant for the Church. As such, there is no one place that this will occur. Rather, people will be drawn to the light as Christians exhibit it:

There is no place now that is the centre of the church’s unity but the promise respects their flocking to Christ, and coming by faith, and hope, and holy love, into that society which is incorporated by the charter of his gospel, and of the unity of which he only is the centre–that family which is named from him, Ephesians 3:15. The gospel church is expressly called Zion and Jerusalem, and under that notion all believers are said to come to it (Hebrews 12:22. You have come unto Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem), which serves for a key to this prophecy, Ephesians 2:19.

We have been reading in Acts about the purity of the early Church, despite rogue members, sorcerers and persecution. Thanks to that purity — that light — the Church expanded enormously in Gentile lands. That is what Isaiah prophesied:

The purity and love of the primitive Christians, their heavenly-mindedness, contempt of the world, and patient sufferings, were the brightness of the church’s rising, which drew many into it. The beauty of holiness was the powerful attractive by which Christ had a willing people brought to him in the day of his power, Psalm 110:3 …

Lift up thy eyes round about, and see them coming, devout men out of every nation under heaven, Acts 2:5.

Many will flock to join Christ’s followers, wanting to be part of their light (verse 4). And so it happened in Acts. The powerful, accurate — and doctrinal — teaching of Peter, Paul, Barnabas and the local leaders of the various churches they established drew thousands of followers. The reference to nursing refers to the yearning to be taught and fed the Gospel, as a nurse takes care of her young charges:

There shall come some of both sexes. Sons and daughters shall come in the most dutiful manner, as thy sons and thy daughters, resolved to be of thy family, to submit to the laws of thy family and put themselves under the tuition of it. They shall come to be nursed at thy side, to have their education with thee from their cradle.” The church’s children must be nursed at her side, not sent out to be nursed among strangers there, where alone the unadulterated milk of the word is to be had, must the church’s new-born babes be nursed, that they may grow thereby, 1 Peter 2:1,2. Those that would enjoy the dignities and privileges of Christ’s family must submit to the discipline of it.

Great things will happen as the Church expands and her people turn from worldly ways to abundant charity (verse 5):

Those that are brought into the church by the grace of God will be sure to bring all they are worth in with them, which with themselves they will devote to the honour and service of God and do good with in their places. (1.) The merchants shall write holiness to the Lord upon their merchandise and their hire, as Isaiah 23:18. “The abundance of the sea, either the wealth that is fetched out of the sea (the fish, the pearls) or that which is imported by sea, shall all be converted to thee and to thy use.” The wealth of the rich merchants shall be laid out in works of piety and charity. (2.) The mighty men of the nations shall employ their might in the service of the church: “The forces, or troops, of the Gentiles shall come unto thee, to guard thy coasts, strengthen thy interests, and, if occasion be, to fight thy battles.” The forces of the Gentiles had often been against the church, but now they shall be for it for as God, when he pleases, can, and, when we please him, will, make even our enemies to be at peace with us (Proverbs 16:7), so, when Christ overcomes the strong man armed, he divides his spoils, and makes that to serve his interests which had been used against them, Luke 11:22.

Verse 6 is in part a prophecy of the Magi, who travelled for many months to reach the Christ Child. As Gentiles, they knew nothing of God the Father, but they knew that a special birth had taken place and they followed the star to the right place. They paid homage to Him with gold, frankincense and myrrh.

As we know from the New Testament, countless Gentiles came to know God through learning of Jesus Christ. They gave offerings of goods and personal belongings to glorify the Lord by giving to His people in the Church.

Contrast that with today’s churches. Some are full. Most are not. Yes, people convert every day to Christianity, but more stay away. It is because many denominations have renounced purity or put it to one side, preferring to meet the world on earthly terms. Where a strong background in doctrine via the Bible is lacking, there is little hope. Let us pray that this situation begins to reverse itself.


December 31, 2018 is the First Sunday after Christmas. Readings for Year B of the three-year Lectionary are used.

The Gospel reading used in Year B is the one traditionally read on February 2 — Candlemas.

That said, this reading about Simeon and Anna witnessing the presentation of Jesus in the Temple describes what took place 40 days after Jesus’s birth, not eight days. Luke 2:22-40 recounts Mary and Jesus appearing with Joseph after Mary had undergone the customary ritual purification. They also presented a sacrifice.

Note the timeframe in Luke 2:

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Jesus Presented at the Temple

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

There is so much to study and consider in this passage that I broke it down into two parts several years ago.

Luke 2:22-32 discusses Simeon’s prophecy and the obedience of the Holy Family to Jewish law.

Luke 2:33-40 recounts Anna’s piety and explains the meaning of her father’s name Phanuel/Penuel/Peniel.

The other readings for Christmas 1, Year B, follow.

Where used, this is the first reading:

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.

62:2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.

62:3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

The Psalm is as follows:

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!

This is the Epistle:

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.

The aforementioned Gospel follows the Epistle.

The reading from Galatians is timely. The other day I wrote about an anti-Christmas guest editorial published in Australia and in the Washington Post in 2014. In short, WaPo tweeted the link to it again in 2017. The author, who lectures in Religious Studies at the University of Sidney, posits that there is no evidence Jesus lived among us. He says that Paul and other New Testament writers spoke of a ‘celestial Jesus’. The man’s former professor wrote a rebuttal for Australia’s ABC saying that Paul emphasised Jesus’s human qualities. He even cites Galatians 4:4.

Paul was not describing a celestial Jesus but One who came to earth as our Redeemer and Saviour.

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauDecember 17, 2017, was Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent.

Gaudete Sunday

Traditionally, the celebrant in Catholic Mass as well as Anglican and Lutheran Communion services wears a pink — rose — vestment, because this is a time of joy and hope in expectation of our Saviour’s birth.

Even in the absence of a rose vestment, the pink candle on the Advent wreath is lit on this particular day.

For these reasons, Gaudete Sunday is also known as Rose Sunday.

Gaudete means ‘rejoice’ in Latin. The name is taken from the original Introit:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione et obsecratione cum gratiarum actione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

This is the English translation (emphases mine):

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.

Many centuries ago, Lent began much earlier, after the feast of St Martin on November 11:

The season of Advent originated as a fast of forty days in preparation for Christmas, commencing on the day after the feast of St. Martin (11 November), whence it was often called St. Martin’s Lent“—a name by which it was known as early as the fifth century. In the ninth century, the duration of Advent was reduced to four weeks, and Advent preserved most of the characteristics of a penitential season which made it a kind of counterpart to Lent.

The Lenten counterpart is Laetare Sunday.

One can imagine that after several weeks of fasting, a break must have been welcome, which is what is done on these two Sundays during the two seasons of penitence.

The readings communicate spiritual joy and expectation.

Gaudete Sunday readings — Year B

The Gaudete Sunday readings for Year B are available at the Vanderbilt University Lectionary library.

Not all of them are used in a single service but all have the theme of hope and joy.

We see the theme of expectation in the reading from Isaiah:

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

61:1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;

61:2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

61:3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.

61:4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

61:8 For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

61:9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.

61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Some Christians use that as a defence of social justice, but the greater message is that God made a covenant to send His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to Earth to humbly save mankind. Jesus released us from captivity to sin and freed us to be with Him for eternity.

The Psalm’s theme is joy after being released from captivity. I particularly love the expressive second half of the first verse:

Psalm 126

126:1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

126:2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

126:3 The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

126:4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

126:5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

126:6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

The Magnificat gives glory and thanks to God. These are the words of Mary at the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to tell her she would be the mother of Jesus:

Luke 1:46b-55

1:46b “My soul magnifies the Lord,

1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

St Paul’s message is one of rejoicing and praying unceasingly. As we turn from sin — an Advent theme — may God sanctify us entirely as we await the coming of our Saviour:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

5:16 Rejoice always,

5:17 pray without ceasing,

5:18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

5:19 Do not quench the Spirit.

5:20 Do not despise the words of prophets,

5:21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good;

5:22 abstain from every form of evil.

5:23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

5:24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

John’s Gospel tells us of John the Baptist, who prophesied, baptised and prepared the people for the coming of the Messiah. Note John’s theme of light, especially timely as we enter into the darkest days of the year, although he was referring to Jesus Christ as the light against worldly darkness:

John 1:6-8, 19-28

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.

1:19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

1:20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”

1:21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.”

1:22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

1:23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said.

1:24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.

1:25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”

1:26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know,

1:27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

1:28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

The traditional Octave of Christmas also began on December 17. Readings to follow tomorrow for December 17 and 18.


May everyone reading this enjoy a very happy Christmas!

The painting above dates from 1622.  It is called Adoration of the ShepherdsGerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst, a Dutch Golden Age painter, studied in Italy and took his influences from Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro, as you can see from the way the light plays on the Holy Family and the shepherds.

You can find out more in the following post:

Happy Christmas, one and all! (John 1:1-17)

For more on John 1, see:

Christmas Day — John 1:14 (with commentary from Matthew Poole)

Lutherans might appreciate these posts:

Martin Luther on the birth of Jesus

A Lutheran defence of Nativity scenes and crucifixes

These are also helpful:

Christmas prayer intentions

Jesus’s nature as depicted in Christmas carols

The_Donald‘s contributors have been discussing our Lord Jesus in some of their posts. This year, a few of them have rediscovered Christianity. In this post (sadly, language alert), someone cited Isaiah 53:1-6:

53 Who has believed what he has heard from us?[a]
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected[b] by men,
    a man of sorrows[c] and acquainted with[d] grief;[e]
and as one from whom men hide their faces[f]
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

In the midst of our celebrations, may we always remember and be ever grateful for the one sufficient sacrifice our Lord made for us.

Let us pray that more people will come to Christ this year. I was moved by what The_Donald’s posters had to say. Here are five separate comments, the last of which is the Roman Catholic Grace:

Cold Case Christianity. Powerful stuff from a life long atheist and veteran homicide detective. Powerful evidence of Christ. I used to be hardcore atheist and specifically anti-theist. I couldn’t deny the evidence presented. And ultimately – what if someone is wrong about believing in God (for real) – worst case scenario you become a better person. Worst case scenario for atheism is way worse. That was only a small step on an ongoing walk but it spoke to me.

It’s really sad that someone who only desired the best in people would make people angry. He led such a life of self-sacrifice, that I desire my character to be like His.

And if God be for us, who can stand against?

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Bless us, o Lord, and these thy gifts for which we are about to receive. And from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, amen.


Posts so far this week have focused on the O Antiphon readings for the Octave before Christmas which began December 17 and runs through December 23.

December 24 is the eighth day, and Christmas Eve Vigil readings are used in anticipation of Christmas Day.

If you have missed them, so far, this week’s posts have covered December 17, 18 and 19.

Each day has an O Antiphon connected with it: verses from the Old Testament that foretell the birth of the Christ Child. The O Antiphons date back centuries before the Reformation — to the reign of Charlemagne. That said, Protestants will also find these verses useful in contemplation of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The O Antiphons spell out SARCORE. These are an aide memoire, because, reversed, they spell out in Latin ero cras, which means

I shall be [with you] tomorrow.

The Bible verses behind SARCORE — ero cras — are as follows:

  1. “O Sapientia, quae ex ore altissimi…” (O Wisdom from on high…)
  2. “O Adonai et dux domus Israel…” (O Lord and leader of the house of Israel…)
  3. “O Radix Jesse qui stas in signum populorum…” (O Root of Jesse who stood as a standard of the people…)
  4. “O Clavis David et sceptrum domus…” (O Key of David and scepter of our home…)
  5. “O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae…” (O Dayspring, splendor of eternal light…)
  6. “O Rex gentium et desideratus…” (O longed-for King of the nations…)
  7. “O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster…” (O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver…)

The verse that best describes our Saviour as the Key of David is Isaiah 22:22, an exposition of which can be found in the following post:

The O Antiphon for December 20

On December 21, we consider Lord Jesus as the Dayspring, splendor of eternal light, as described in Isaiah 9:2, discussed below in:

The O Antiphon for December 21

In the northern hemisphere, December 21 — Winter Solstice — is the shortest day of the year. By now, those of us living in this part of the world long for light — and lots of it.

There is one supreme Light, Sun — and Son — whom we should seek, Jesus Christ.

December 21 is also the feast of St Thomas.

I extend my prayers and best wishes to all of us who were born on this special day; may you have a day free of combination gifts (birthday-Christmas)!


Yesterday’s post contained O Antiphons for December 17 and 18, the first two days of the Octave before Christmas.

Each day from the 17th through the 23rd has an O Antiphon connected with it: verses from the Old Testament that foretell the birth of the Christ Child. The O Antiphons date back centuries before the Reformation — to the reign of Charlemagne. That said, Protestants will also find these verses useful in contemplation of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The O Antiphons spell out SARCORE. These are an aide memoire, because, reversed, they spell out in Latin ero cras, which means

I shall be [with you] tomorrow.

The Bible verses behind SARCORE — ero cras — are as follows:

  1. “O Sapientia, quae ex ore altissimi…” (O Wisdom from on high…)
  2. “O Adonai et dux domus Israel…” (O Lord and leader of the house of Israel…)
  3. “O Radix Jesse qui stas in signum populorum…” (O Root of Jesse who stood as a standard of the people…)
  4. “O Clavis David et sceptrum domus…” (O Key of David and scepter of our home…)
  5. “O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae…” (O Dayspring, splendor of eternal light…)
  6. “O Rex gentium et desideratus…” (O longed-for King of the nations…)
  7. “O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster…” (O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver…)

On Day 3, the faithful contemplate the Root of Jesse. Jesse was David’s father. Isaiah 11 gives us the prophecy, discussed in the following posts of mine:

The O Antiphon for December 19

December 19: a second O Antiphon for this day

This is why Matthew made a point of recording Jesus’s genealogy at the beginning of his Gospel. He wanted the Jews to know that He came into the world as a descendent of Abraham, our father in faith, through King David and other famous people in the Old Testament — saints and sinners — establishing Him as the Messiah, as Scripture prophesied:

Matthew 1:1-17 – Jesus’s genealogy


On another subject, a charitable one, some US military personnel cannot afford the cost of plane fare to return home for the holidays.

Americans can help make Christmas a time of reunion with their families by donating to the charity Let’s Bring ‘Em Home, which has been in existence since 2001:

One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten Eleven Twelve Thirteen Fourteen FIFTEEN years ago I asked some of you folks for help with an idea I had. My idea was to gather up a few dollars and buy some plane tickets to allow some deserving young soldiers the opportunity to spend Christmas with their families …

As always, we exist exclusively on donations, and as our administrative fees were all the way down to 3.66% last year, LBEH is a charity that you can be sure as much of your donation is going directly to our military’s benefit as possible! The folks who run LBEH — including myself — are volunteers! So remember… Lots of donations = lots of airplane tickets = Lots of happy soldiers! And as always, your donations are TAX DEDUCTIBLE!

This short video, made by a serviceman who contributes to The_Donald, records his own surprise homecoming for the holidays. It’s a moving little film. Have a tissue handy!

So, if you can, please help give other men and women serving the United States the chance to come home for Christmas.


Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe 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.

Matthew 12:15-21

God’s Chosen Servant

15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
    my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
    nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20 a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21     and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”


Last week’s reading ended with Matthew 12:14:

But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

As Jesus is omniscient, He knew their intentions and He left (verse 15). The time of His destruction had not yet come. He had more teaching and healing to accomplish.

Although the Pharisees wanted our Lord destroyed, note how the ordinary Jews followed Him. In His mercy, He healed everyone who had need of it. He ordered them not to make Him known (verse 16).


Matthew Henry offers these reasons (emphases mine):

1… in suffering times, though we must boldly go on in the way of duty, yet we must contrive the circumstances of it so as not to exasperate, more than is necessary, those who seek occasion against us[:] Be ye wise as serpents, Matthew 10:16. 2. It may be looked upon as an act of righteous judgment upon the Pharisees, who were unworthy to hear of any more of his miracles, having made so light of those they had seen. By shutting their eyes against the light, they had forfeited the benefit of it. 3. As an act of humility and self-denial. Though Christ’s intention in his miracles was to prove himself the Messiah, and so to bring men to believe on him, in order to which it was requisite that they should be known, yet sometimes he charged the people to conceal them, to set us an example of humility, and to teach us not to proclaim our own goodness or usefulness, or to desire to have it proclaimed. Christ would have his disciples to be the reverse of those who did all their works to be seen of men.

Matthew says this was to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy (verse 17):

The scope of it is to show how mild and quiet, and yet how successful, our Lord Jesus should be in his undertaking …

He refers to Isaiah 42:1-3:

1 Behold 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.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.

I say ‘refers’, because he reinterprets a few of the verses.

Remember that Matthew is writing for a Jewish audience, to convince them that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

John MacArthur explains:

Matthew wants us to know that it is not only the Messiah, but the very Messiah prophesied by Isaiah. So he says, “All this in order that it might be fulfilled what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet.” Isaiah said He would be like this, and the key is in verses 19-20. “He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory.”

That’s the heart of what Isaiah wants to say as the defense of Christ in prophetic literature, but he also adds the beginning of verse 18 and the end of verse 21, so we take it all. It’s one of the most strikingly beautiful descriptions of Jesus Christ in Scripture, taken from Isaiah 42:1-4.

God was speaking to Isaiah, referring to His Son — His chosen servant with whom He is well pleased (verse 18). This is a recurring phraseology in the Gospels:

What did He say at the Son’s baptism? “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” What about at the Transfiguration? “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” What did He do when Jesus died and rose again but exalt Him, place Him at His right hand, and put all authority under Him, and gave to Him to send the Holy Spirit, which is the ultimate act of His commendation. He was commended by the Father. Doesn’t that show you how far off the religious leaders were? The one whom God was commending, they were condemning; the one whom God made alive, they killed.

“Behold My servant, whom I have chosen.” ‘I have chosen’ is a marvelous phrase; it’s a word that is only here in the Greek New Testament and appears nowhere else. It indicates great firmness of choice. For example, it is used in secular Greek to speak of adopting a child, really taking them in in a firm commitment. He has chosen the Son. In Hebrews 1, it talks about how He chose the Son to fulfill this role. In Isaiah 49:1, it says the same thing in the wonderful verse about how the Father has chosen the Son. So much was this a part of the Messianic identity that the Messiah became known as ‘the Chosen One’ in the Jewish mind, so when Isaiah says, “My servant, whom I have chosen,” he is designating a title for the Messiah that the Jews in Jesus’ time would know. They would know that as Matthew is quoting this, he is quoting a Messianic passage; they know that he is saying that Jesus is the Messiah, the Chosen One.

The Spirit was upon Him from the beginning. For mankind, God the Father demonstrated this after Jesus’s baptism, when:

the Spirit of God descended like a dove. But I don’t believe that is when it started; I believe that Jesus Christ was indwelt by the power of the Spirit of God from the time He was conceived. It says of John the Baptist in Luke 1 that he was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb. If that was true of a human being, believe me, it must have been true of the God-Man. It also says in Matthew 1:20 that He was conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew uses ‘Gentiles’ instead of Isaiah’s ‘nations’. Our Lord came for them — the Chosen — first, then for the Gentiles.

Verse 19 speaks of Jesus’s gentle, quiet manner. Indeed, the preceding verses tell us that He left quietly and told people not to speak of Him when talking of their healing. ‘Cry aloud’, MacArthur says, refers not to an agonising cry as at the Crucifixion but an animalistic noise like a bark or shriek. Furthermore, Jesus was not a rabble-rouser, calling for revolution, despite what some misguided theologians purport today.

Verse 20 speaks of His gentleness. Unlike mankind, He would not break a limp reed nor put out a fading light. MacArthur interprets the verse as meaning the hurt, the injured, the spiritually weak:

This is a picture of the hurting people, the ones everyone else steps on, discards, throws away, the bruised reeds that don’t play the tune anymore, the smoking flax that can’t give any light to illuminate the situation. This is the weak, powerless, helpless, ones destroyed by sin and suffering, those bowed down with care, the unworthy, the ones without spiritual resources, the whole world of trampled, despised, ignored, suffering, hurting people. These are the kind of people that human conquerors have no time for, those that the Pharisees walked all over, the broken people. But those are the ones the Lord goes to; He doesn’t break those kind of bruised reeds or put out what’s left of the smoldering flax.

In fact:

He strengthens them. He picks up the reed and plays a melody through it that has never been heard. He will fan the flame that is smoldering on that wick so that it brightens and lights the room. He will pick up the sick and tax collectors and prostitutes and sorrowing and fearful and doubters and hungry and sinners, and meet their needs. That’s the kind of Savior He is, and He is the antithesis of the religious leaders around Him. That is the indication of Isaiah, that He is indeed God with us, Emmanuel, because that is the heart of God.

Ultimately, He will bring justice:

He will win the victory and consummate the victory …

One writer put it this way, “Down in the depths of the human heart, crushed by the tempter, feelings lie buried that grace can restore. Touched by a loving hand, wakened by kindness, cords that are broken will vibrate once more.” Jesus came along and put a new song, fanned the fading flame, reached out to those who suffered. Christ has come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance, not to heal those who are well, but those who are sick and face it. How different He is from other religious leaders; He ought to be – He is God.

Therefore, we have hope because of — and thanks to — Him (verse 21).

Despite our suffering in this life, He will wipe away our tears and heal our broken hearts. He will save us and bring us to everlasting life. What a beautiful promise!

Next time: Matthew 12:22-32




The Gospel reading for the first Sunday after Christmas is John 1:1-18.

What follows is the first reading for this Sunday (Lectionary Year A).

The verses are Isaiah 61:10-11 through to Isaiah 62:3:

10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
   my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
   he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
   and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
   to sprout up before all the nations.

Isaiah 62

Zion’s Coming Salvation

 1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
   and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
 until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
   and her salvation as a burning torch.
2 The nations shall see your righteousness,
   and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
   that the mouth of the LORD will give.
3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,
   and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

The imagery here is rich with that of Christ the bridegroom and His coming Church, the bride. All nations will come to know Christ, His Church and her people.

Readers who have been following this blog during Advent will have read my O Antiphon series, taken from the earlier chapters of Isaiah.

The Anglican Diocese of Montreal describes the Book of Isaiah as one of an historical struggle which included a conflict of faith yet hope for deliverance in exile (emphases mine):

This book can be divided into two (and possibly three) parts. Chapters 1 to 39 were written before the exile, from about 740 BC to about 700 BC. These were difficult times for the southern kingdom, Judah: a disastrous war was fought with Syria; the Assyrians conquered Israel, the northern kingdom, in 723 BC, and threatened Judah … Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the Exile. Some scholars consider that Chapters 56 to 66 form a third part of the book, written after the return to the Promised Land. These chapters speak of hope and despair; they berate the people for their sin, for worshipping other gods. Like Second Isaiah, this part speaks of the hope that God will soon restore Jerusalem to its former glory and make a new home for all peoples.

Our Lord would not be born in the flesh for several hundred years afterward, yet, as John Calvin points out, ‘righteousness’ and ‘salvation’ (verse 10) were intertwined then as well as now:

… the one cannot be separated from the other. “Garments” and “mantles” are well-known metaphors. It is as if he had said, that righteousness and salvation had been bestowed upon them. Since the Lord bestows these benefits, it follows that from him alone we should seek and expect them.

Of this, men are not to doubt (verse 11):

By a beautiful comparison the Prophet confirms the former promises; for he reminds the Jews of the ordinary power of God, which shines brightly in the creatures themselves. The earth every year puts forth her bud, the gardens grow green after the sowing time, and, in short, herbs and plants, which appear to be dead during the winter, revive in the spring and resume their vigor. Now these are proofs and very clear illustrations of the divine power and kindness toward us; and since it is so, ought men to doubt of it? Will not he who gave this power and strength to the earth display it still more in delivering his people?

In Isaiah 62:1, the prophet vows to preach on to the people, reminding them of God’s faithful promises to them:

He too might have been dismayed by the unbelief of that people, and might have lost courage when he saw that matters were every day growing worse, and when he foresaw that terrible vengeance. But, notwithstanding so great difficulties, he will still persist in his duty, that all may know that neither the massacre of the people nor their unbelief can prevent God from executing his promises at the proper time.

In verse 2, the prophet foretells that the Lord will give His people a new name. Calvin does not see this in terms of Christianity but as a united and powerful Jewish people of the day. After their time in exile, the Lord will be able to bring them together so that, by the time Christ is born on earth, they will be one people:

Although a vast multitude of persons were led into captivity, yet, having been scattered among the Babylonians, they were driven about like the members of a body broken in pieces, and scarcely retained the name of a people; which had also been foretold to them. After having been brought back from captivity, they began again to be united in one body, and thus regained the “name” of which they had been deprived. Yet “new” denotes what is uncommon; as if the Prophet had said that the glory of the people shall be extraordinary and such as was never before heard of. We know that this took place in the progress of time; for that small band of people, while they dwelt by sufferance in their native country, could not by any extraordinary distinction arrive at so great renown; but at length, when the doctrine of the Gospel had been preached, the Jewish name became known and renowned

Others expound the passage in a more ingenious manner, namely, that instead of Israelites they shall be called Christians. But I think that the former meaning is more agreeable to the context and to the Prophet’s ordinary language; and we ought carefully to observe those forms of expression which are peculiar to the prophets, that we may become familiar with their style. In a word, the people shall be restored, though it appears to be exterminated, and shall obtain, not from men but from God, a new name.

Yet, what we can draw from Isaiah is that God’s promises to the Jewish people of his time apply to us today as well. God will not forsake us. Calvin explains the view in Isaiah’s time and in ours:

he intended to fix the hearts of believers on the kingdom of Christ, which it was the more necessary to adorn and magnify by these illustrious titles, because hitherto it was not only obscure but at a great distance. It was needful to provide against a twofold danger, that the Jews, when they saw that they were still at a very great distance from their former honor, might not, on the one hand, despise the grace of God, or, on the other hand, rest satisfied with the mere beginnings, and thus, by disregarding Christ, devote their whole attention to earthly advantages. The Prophet therefore reminds them, that the return to their native country was but the forerunner of that exalted rank which was to be expected at the manifestation of Christ ...

He calls the Church God’s crown, because God wishes that his glory should shine in us; and in this it is proper that we should behold and admire the inconceivable goodness of God, since, notwithstanding that we are by nature filthy and corrupted, and more abominable than the mire of the streets, yet he adorns us in such a manner that he wishes us to be “the diadem of his kingdom.” Let us therefore be aroused by this goodness of God to the desire of leading a holy life, that his image may more and more be formed anew in us.

God sent his only Son to redeem Israel so many centuries later.

Similarly, His guarantee of salvation applies to the Church — and to us — today through the same Jesus Christ — whose earthly birth we celebrate at Christmas — who went on to sacrifice Himself on the Cross for the sins of the whole world.

When God says He will deliver, He fulfils in more gracious ways than can be imagined.


Last year, I featured excerpts from a sermon on Epiphany by an LCMS pastor, the Revd Charles Henrickson of St Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Bonne Terre, Missouri.

This year’s thoughts on Epiphany come from a 2011 sermon from the pastor of Salem Lutheran Church in Gretna, Louisiana.  He blogs as Father Hollywood.

As Christians who observe Christmastide know, Epiphany is also known as Twelfth Night and marks the end of this joyous season.

The reason we give gifts to each other at Christmas is in remembering the Magi’s — the Three Wise Men’s — example to the infant Jesus.

For his 2011 sermon, Father Hollywood used the Lectionary text of Isaiah 60:1-6:

1Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.

 2For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.

 3And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

 4Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side.

 5Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee.

 6The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD.

Below are a few excerpts from Father Hollywood’s sermon; if you have a few minutes, please stop by his blog to read it in full. Emphases below are mine:

Darkness can be a good thing. Nobody wants to eat a nice meal in what appears to be a surgeon’s operating room. And a lot of people are unable to sleep with the light on. But typically, darkness symbolizes ignorance, crime, sneakiness, and evil.

And similarly, light symbolizes knowledge, propriety, openness, and righteousness.

Isaiah takes up this theme of darkness and light when he prophesies: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

He tells the people to “shine” with the reflected light that shines on them. It is the light of the “glory of the Lord.” It emanates from God and dispels the gloom of the sinful and fallen world. And Isaiah continues: “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.”

This darkness of our present age hangs like a pall, covering the face of the earth like a cloth draping a body in the morgue. This is the darkness of sin, of evil, of death; the darkness that causes men to stumble and despair. It is the darkness that can be overcome by one thing, and one thing alone: “but the Lord will arise upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

… The darkness of the captivity of Israel will not only come to an end, but Israel shall shine like a beacon, illuminating the darkness of the Gentiles who do not know God.

The prophet speaks of camels and travelers, and of gold and frankincense being presented as gifts. And these travelers from afar are also bringing “good news, the praises of the Lord.”

Isaiah’s prophecy is called to mind every time we set up a nativity set, and the camel stands in the presence of Jesus as the wise men – usually depicted as three men – open their treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh – kingly gifts for a baby King who is also a Prophet and Priest.

For the good news of the coming of Jesus to dispel the darkness of our sin-draped and death-covered world is too radiant to be kept hidden under a veil, or contained in a manger, or hoarded by the children of Israel. No indeed! The brightness of the Lord’s coming is manifested not only in the shining of the angels in the heavens, but by the heavens themselves, as a mysterious star heralds and guides the travelers through the darkness by heavenly light to the very Light of the World, the Lord of the heavens and the earth!

The Lord Himself guides these Gentile travelers, navigating them around the dark and wicked plans of the brooding Herod, drawing them to the baby Jesus in the flesh, so that they might “worship” him. For this is no ordinary prophet, priest, or king. He is truly “the” Prophet who is the living and active prophetic voice of God; He is “the” Priest who sacrifices Himself as the all-availing oblation to atone for the sins of the whole world; and He is “the” King of the universe, the fleshly manifestation of the God who has created all things, and who governs all things – not by raw power, but by love and mercy

For that which was “hidden for ages,” namely God’s plan to “bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery” is done so in Christ. He, and He alone, is the Light that dispels the darkness of sin and death. And this Light is not spread by candles or laser beams – but rather as St. Paul says, by the grace of preaching.

For the God who “created all things” is now, in Christ’s manger and at Christ’s cross, the one who “might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” And this manifestation of the Light of Christ is delivered “through the church.”

That means us, dear friends! …

It is pretty amazing that these three kings made an extensive journey over many months to present costly gifts to this unknown infant, resting with His earthly parents in the lowliest of conditions.

And it’s even more amazing that Christians today have that continuing promise of His light, love and salvation that Isaiah prophesied to Israel’s people so long ago.

So, whilst we take our tree and decorations down for another year and carefully place the nativity set back in its box, let us say a prayer of humble thanks for God’s greatest gift to us, that of His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

In closing, if you find people writing K+M+B on their doors today, here’s why.


Before we go about our day — for some this may include shopping or family visits and for others a return to work — let us give thanks to Almighty God that the prophecy described in Isaiah 9 has been fulfilled.

Isaiah 9:6-7

6For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

7Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.


Today is also Boxing Day, still celebrated as a public holiday in UK and parts of the British Commonwealth.

To find out more about this day and to glimpse another painting of the Nativity, see my post dated December 26, 2009.


A word about the artwork

The painting above is called Concert of Angels and Nativity, which Matthias Grünewald (Mathis Gothardt) created around 1515.

Wikipedia states:

The details of his life are unusually unclear for a painter of his significance at this date, despite the fact that his commissions show that he had reasonable recognition in his own lifetime. His real name remains uncertain, but was definitely not Grünewald; this was a mistake by the seventeenth-century writer, Joachim von Sandrart, who confused him with another artist. He is documented as “Master Mathis” or “Mathis the Painter” (Mathis der Maler), and as using as surname both Gothart and Neithardt — this last may have been his surname, or more likely that of his wife. He was probably born in Würzburg in the 1470s. It is possible he was a pupil of Hans Holbein the Elder. From about 1500, he seems to have lived at Seligenstadt, when not working elsewhere.

His first dated painting is probably in Munich, dated 1503 on a much later note which apparently records an older inscription. From about 1510 to 1525 he served in the Rhineland as court painter, architect—or at least supervisor of building works—and hydraulic engineer to two successive Prince-Archbishops of Mainz, Uriel von Gemmingen and Albert of Brandenburg (whose face he used for a St Erasmus in Munich). He left this post possibly because of sympathies either with the German Peasants’ War, in which Seligenstadt was particularly caught up, or Lutheranism (he had some Lutheran pamphlets and papers at his death). Grünewald died in Halle, probably in 1528, or perhaps 1531.

The Concert of Angels and Nativity forms part of the Isenheim Altarpiece, displayed in the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar (Alsace), France — a lovely part of the world, as I spent a week there travelling whilst at university.  The altarpiece was painted for the Monastery of St Anthony in Isenheim. The monks there took care of people with skin diseases, some of which are depicted in some of the religious scenes.

Grünewald’s work was confused with Albrecht Dürer’s:

The Protestant theologian Philipp Melanchthon is one of the few contemporary writers to refer to Grünewald, who is rather puzzlingly described as “moderate” in style, when compared with Dürer and Cranach; what paintings this judgement is based on is uncertain. By the end of the century, when the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II embarked on his quest to secure as many Dürer paintings as possible, the Isenheim Altarpiece was already generally believed to be a Dürer

He is one of a small number of artists to be commemorated by the Church with a feast day:

Grünewald is honored together with Albrecht Dürer and Lucas Cranach the Elder with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on August 5.

He is commemorated as an artist and saint by the Lutheran Church on April 6, along with Dürer and Cranach.

With regard to this particular painting, Crystal at Perspective was able to find information on it at The Web Gallery of Art. I couldn’t find the same information, so am grateful that she reproduced their explanation:

The musician angels are crowded into the Gothic chapel which fills the left half of the painting. In fact only three of them have instruments in their hands, and only one of them stands out, a blond-haired angel dressed in pale violet robe kneeling and playing the viola da gamba. His exalted expression and his beautiful instrument, however, fill the entire picture with music. The peculiar position of his hand, the way he holds the bow at the wrong end, is certainly not in accordance with contemporary practice; it is merely a compositional solution employed by the master. Behind him we can see one of his mates playing the viola da braccio, and on the left, behind the column, another bird-like, feather-covered angel who also plays the viola da gamba. Grünewald no longer makes the distinction between the nine orders of angels, but refers to their former hierarchy by depicting them as different.

A long-haired female figure, wearing a crown and surrounded by a halo, appears in the doorway of the chapel. She is perhaps a female saint or, according to more recent interpretations, Mary herself before giving birth. The crystal jug on the steps symbolizes her, and the tub and towel refer to the bath to be given the newborn.

Mary, lovingly embracing her child, occupies the right half of the painting. She is flooded with heavenly light originating from God the Father, in which angels flutter around. In the rear on the right we can see the two angels bearing the news to the shepherds. The garden in which Mary sits is a walled-in “hortus conclusus” (enclosed garden) with closed gates. The plants – the rose and the Tree of the Knowledge, the fig tree – also symbolizes Mary.

This altarpiece inspired Paul Hindemith, one of the most significant German composers of the 20th century, to create his opera and symphony entitled “Mathis the Painter”.

Enjoy the remainder of the 12 days of Christmas and give glory to God for sending His Son to be our Lord and Saviour!


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