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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.

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.

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.

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.

Last Christmas, our vicar gave an excellent sermon on the Nativity story, looking at the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John.

John 1:14, which you can read more about here, was the Gospel reading. John’s theme of light — Light — pervades his entire Gospel from the initial verses:

4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In terms of our personal Christian testimonies, our vicar wisely pointed out that the amount of light does not matter, because any amount of light shows up in the darkness. That reminded me of this Christmas graphic:

Note the darkness, yet how the light penetrates it.

Also note that Jesus was born at night — in the darkness — rather than during the day.

From Matthew 1:18-25, discussed here, our vicar pointed out how difficult it was socially for Mary to bear this Child, when Joseph was not the father. The verses from Matthew say that Joseph wanted to divorce her quietly. Then, an angel of the Lord appeared:

20But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).

How humbling it was for Jesus to descend to Earth, our vicar said, not only to be among sinful mankind but also to be in such humble circumstances, from His birth to His humiliating death — for our sakes. ‘God with us’, indeed.

He also pointed out that Herod was disturbed to hear some months later from the Magi that a King had been born. Our vicar explained that Herod would have expected to hear a royal infant being referred to as a ‘prince’, but never a ‘king’. Naturally, he wanted to see the infant King. Fortunately, his wish was not granted.

Finally, our vicar noted the shepherds, who were watching their flocks, being drawn to the manger. He rightly asked us if we would be that obedient in our Christian witness, to leave what we were doing — no matter how important — to witness for Jesus.

He has a point, one well worth considering, not only today but all year round.

May I wish all my readers a very Happy Christmas! May you have a blessed, peaceful day.

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauReadings follow for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 22. 2019.

The third purple candle on the Advent wreath is lit at this time.

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This reading from Isaiah is a bit involved. King Ahaz engaged in idolatry, and God passed judgement on him through Syria and Israel, which joined forces in an attempt to attack Jerusalem. The Lord sent Isaiah to tell Ahaz not to worry, as both forces would crumble, which they did two years later (verse 16). Isaiah, speaking the Lord’s words, tells Ahaz that Immanuel — Jesus — will come from the tribe of Judah and the house of David. Whilst that did not happen for another 500 years, it was a sign that God would forgive and forget.

Matthew Henry says that two different children are referred to in the last two verses. Verse 15 refers to Immanuel. Verse 16 refers to Isaiah’s son Shear-jashub, whom the Lord instructed the prophet to take with him to his meeting with Ahaz. Shear-jashub means ‘the remnant shall return’.

Henry also says that Ahaz displays false piety in verse 12. He knows his idolatry was wrong but is too stubborn to humble himself before God.

It’s worth reading Henry’s commentary as well as Isaiah 7 in full.

Isaiah 7:10-16

7:10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying,

7:11 Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.

7:12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.

7:13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?

7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

7:15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.

7:16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Psalm

Matthew Henry’s commentary states that this Psalm refers to the Messiah, particularly verses 17 and 18.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

80:1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth

80:2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!

80:3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

80:4 O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?

80:5 You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.

80:6 You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.

80:7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

80:17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.

80:18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.

80:19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Epistle

This is Paul’s exquisite greeting to the Christians in Rome.

Romans 1:1-7

1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,

1:2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,

1:3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh

1:4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

1:5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name,

1:6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

1:7 To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel

Joseph was embarrassed and ashamed that Mary was with child, until an angel of the Lord explained to him in a dream that she would bring the Messiah — Jesus — into the world.

Matthew 1:18-25

1:18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

1:19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

1:20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

1:21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

1:22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

1:23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

1:24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,

1:25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but verse 25 should clear up any disagreements on Mary’s virginity and her marital relations with Joseph. To say that Mary was perpetually a virgin is scripturally inaccurate.

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauWhat follows are the readings for the Third Sunday of Advent — Gaudete Sunday — December 15, 2019.

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

The alternate reading is designated with a blue heading.

This particular Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday because of the traditional Introit, which calls on God’s people to rejoice. Gaudete is Latin for ‘rejoice’. This is when the pink candle on the Advent wreath is lit; traditionally, the priest wore rose coloured vestments on this day.

This is the first line of the original Latin Introit:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.

This is the English translation:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.

Many centuries ago, Advent began on St Martin’s Day, November 11. It was a time of fasting and penitence until Christmas. Gaudete Sunday represented a brief reprieve of a lengthy Advent of self-denial.

Read more about this day below:

Gaudete Sunday: readings for the Third Sunday of Advent — Year B

The readings reflect the joy in anticipation of our Lord among us.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Whilst Isaiah prophesies of God’s deliverance of His people upon whom He passed a terrible judgement, he also foretells the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Heaven. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that there is more of Christ and the Church in this chapter ‘than one would have expected’ to see in the Old Testament.

Isaiah 35:1-10

35:1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus

35:2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.

35:3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.

35:4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”

35:5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

35:6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;

35:7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

35:8 A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.

35:9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

35:10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Psalm

This Psalm excels in its praise of God our Father. Consider everything highlighted.

Psalm 146:5-10

146:5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,

146:6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;

146:7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;

146:8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

146:9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

146:10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

Alternate reading – Psalm substitute

The Magnificat — Mary’s prayer (said during her visit to her cousin Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother) — can be read in place of the Psalm.

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.”

Epistle

As did the other Apostles, James encouraged the early Christians to be patient, even during persecution. Patience is one of the most difficult of Christian virtues to practise. Yet, we must persevere in it.

James 5:7-10

5:7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.

5:8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

5:9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!

5:10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Gospel

During his imprisonment, John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was the Messiah. Matthew Henry explains the various reasons why John did this. It could have been as an encouraging confirmation for himself or it could have been to remove any doubt among his followers that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, humble though He was. Jesus then spoke to the crowd about John.

Matthew 11:2-11

11:2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples

11:3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

11:4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:

11:5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

11:6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

11:7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?

11:8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.

11:9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

11:10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’

11:11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

I hope that some clergy will discuss this rather complex Gospel reading in its context of the day. The Jews expected a temporal Messiah, a king greater than David. If some of John’s disciples believed that, then it was only right that he would want to dispel that error. Similarly, Jesus also confirmed that John the Baptist was preparing the way among the people for His own ministry and commended him for his work in His name.

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauReadings follow for the Second Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2019.

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Isaiah prophesies the coming of the Messiah, who would come from the family line of Jesse, David’s father. Jesse was a herdsman of modest means. Samuel sought David among Jesse’s eight sons to succeed Saul. Long before Jesus was born on earth, David’s family line had become obscure, hence the phrasing of verse 1. Note that the Messiah would be the Lord of Gentiles as well as the Jews. Many will recognise other famous verses in this passage.

Isaiah 11:1-10

11:1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

11:2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

11:3 His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;

11:4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

11:5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

11:6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

11:7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

11:8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

11:9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

11:10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Psalm

David wrote this Psalm not long before he died. He wrote it for his heir and successor Solomon, yet, when writing it, he understood that he was also prophesying the Messiah. Matthew Henry said that prophecy gave David comfort as he knew not all would be well with subsequent generations of his family.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

72:1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.

72:2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

72:3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.

72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

72:5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

72:6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

72:7 In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

72:18 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.

72:19 Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.

Epistle

Note Paul’s emphasis on Christ’s welcome to the Gentiles and his mention of Jesse, His earthly ancestor. Verse 9 cites Psalm 18:49. Verse 10 comes from Deuteronomy 32:43 and verse 11 from Psalm 117:1.

Romans 15:4-13

15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

15:5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus,

15:6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

15:7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

15:8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,

15:9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”;

15:10 and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;

15:11 and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”;

15:12 and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Gospel

This is Matthew’s account of John the Baptist’s ministry in preparing Jew and Gentile for Jesus’s ministry. John the Baptist gave us the model for Advent, a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus. Repentance was one of his principal exhortations, along with baptism. Last week’s Gospel reading was about John’s father Zacharias prophesying his son’s vocation. John the Baptist took lifelong Nazirite vows, which meant that he lived primitively in order to devote himself to God more fully.

Matthew 3:1-12

3:1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,

3:2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

3:3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'”

3:4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

3:5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan,

3:6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

3:7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

3:8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

3:9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

3:10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

3:12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

I wonder how many clergy will preach on that tomorrow.

Hell deniers will say ‘unquenchable fire’ is a figurative use of words.

John the Baptist was a powerful preacher and his teachings spread widely around the civilised world at that time. He had many followers, even after his death. The Book of Acts records apostolic encounters with people who had not heard of Jesus but adhered to John’s teachings.

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauReadings follow for the First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2019.

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Isaiah prophesies the Messiah and the Church. Matthew Henry’s commentary on these verses is illuminating. Note the mention of Judah in the first verse; Jesus’s earthly parents came from that tribe. Verses 2 and 3 alludes to Gentiles — ‘all the nations’, ‘many peoples’ — being brought into the faith. ‘House of Jacob’ in verse 5 refers to Israel both in a physical and a spiritual sense. Matthew Henry says that verse 4 refers to a) the historically peaceful time into which Jesus entered our world and b) to the peaceful period that will come again one day.

Isaiah 2:1-5

2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

2:2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

2:3 Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

2:5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

Psalm

It was during David’s reign that Jerusalem became the holy city. God’s people met in Jerusalem for three great religious feasts, and David intended this Psalm to be sung during those times.

Psalm 122

122:1 I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”

122:2 Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

122:3 Jerusalem built as a city that is bound firmly together.

122:4 To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.

122:5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David.

122:6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.

122:7 Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”

122:8 For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”

122:9 For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.

Epistle

Paul exhorted the Romans not to waste valuable time. They were to perfect themselves as Christians by turning away from sin and embracing holiness.

Romans 13:11-14

13:11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;

13:12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;

13:13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.

13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Gospel

Jesus spoke of His second coming in judgement. He calls upon us to be ready at all times.

Matthew 24:36-44

24:36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

24:37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,

24:39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

24:43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.

24:44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Someone said to me last week that he remembered Advent being a gloomy time.

Yes, it is a gloomy time, as we are called to prepare ourselves spiritually for Christ’s ministry among mankind.

We should think of it as it happened historically, with John the Baptist preparing Jew and Gentile for his cousin Jesus’s ministry. John called upon everyone he met to repent (turn away from sin), give to others in charity and be baptised. Even our Lord Jesus was baptised by John, although He had no need to repent.

As children attending Catholic school many years ago, my classmates and I were told by our teachers to use Advent as a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. We attempted to do away with bad habits or do something a bit extra for others (rather than ourselves). It is not a bad idea at all.

When I became a Protestant, I discovered that this was not a tradition in their churches. Yet, it seems worthwhile to follow John the Baptist’s teaching as his father Zacharias prophesied it. Zacharias’s prophecy was in one of last week’s readings for Reign of Christ Sunday (Luke 1). Zacharias spoke first of Jesus (in Mary’s womb at the time), then his newborn son John, as follows:

1:68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

1:69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,

1:70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

1:71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us

1:76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

1:77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.

1:78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,

1:79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

At the very least, it is useful to contemplate the themes of the Sunday readings for the next few weeks of this new Church year. It will make Christmas Day a much more profound experience.

Below are readings for daytime services on Holy Saturday, applicable to all three years of the Lectionary.

Emphases below are mine.

Before getting to the readings, Holy Saturday sees the end of Lent in the evening and is very much food related, especially in anticipation of Easter. These posts discuss various Easter traditions:

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Easter food explored — part 1 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

Easter food explored — part 2 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

Holy Saturday: preparing for an Easter feast (2017)

For those wondering why we have chocolate bunnies and eggs for Easter, the next post explains these ancient symbols of life. Centuries-old churches even have hares carved on them:

Easter, the egg and the hare (one of the fullest accounts about Easter symbolism)

Mary Magdalene and the legend of the egg (Christian — not pagan!)

This post has more about Holy Saturday in general:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Now on to the readings.

First reading

There are two choices for the first reading.

Option One

This passage from Job concerns intimations of mortality and what happens after death.

Job 14:1-14

14:1 “A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble,

14:2 comes up like a flower and withers, flees like a shadow and does not last.

14:3 Do you fix your eyes on such a one? Do you bring me into judgment with you?

14:4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one can.

14:5 Since their days are determined, and the number of their months is known to you, and you have appointed the bounds that they cannot pass,

14:6 look away from them, and desist, that they may enjoy, like laborers, their days.

14:7 “For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease.

14:8 Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground,

14:9 yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant.

14:10 But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they?

14:11 As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up,

14:12 so mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep.

14:13 Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!

14:14 If mortals die, will they live again? All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come.

Option Two

This passage from Lamentations is more hopeful than the one from Job.

Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24

3:1 I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath;

3:2 he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light;

3:3 against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long.

3:4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones;

3:5 he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation;

3:6 he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago.

3:7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me;

3:8 though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer;

3:9 he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked.

3:19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!

3:20 My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.

3:21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

3:22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;

3:23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

3:24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Psalm

Here David proclaims his confident faith in God.

Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16

31:1 In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.

31:2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.

31:3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,

31:4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.

31:15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.

31:16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

Epistle

Peter exhorts his flock to discard the world and embrace a life of righteousness, following our Lord’s example.

1 Peter 4:1-8

4:1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin),

4:2 so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God.

4:3 You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry.

4:4 They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme.

4:5 But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead.

4:6 For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.

4:7 The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.

4:8 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.

Gospel

There are also two choices of Gospel reading.

Option One

This passage from Matthew explains that the Jews encouraged the Romans to seal up Jesus’s tomb, lest the disciples steal His body. This notion that His body was stolen is still a popular one among unbelievers today.

Matthew 27:57-66

27:57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus.

27:58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.

27:59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth

27:60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away.

27:61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

27:62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate

27:63 and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’

27:64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.”

27:65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.”

27:66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

Option Two

These verses were read on Good Friday.

John 19:38-42

19:38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body.

19:39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.

19:40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.

19:41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.

19:42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

The mood of all of these readings is sombre, reflecting what Jesus’s friends and disciples must have felt, not understanding that He would rise from the dead.

Easter Vigil readings — heard in the evening — are jubilant, recalling God’s faithfulness to His people throughout biblical history.

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