Year C – Epiphany of the Lord – As With Gladness Men of Old

Summary–During a bout with illness, William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898) wrote this Epiphany hymn  on the 6th of January, 1859.  Alongside “As With Gladness Men of Old”, he wrote and published his other famous hymn, “What Child Is This” in Hymns Ancient and Modern.

Dix did not follow his father’s footsteps into the ministry.  Rather, he chose the business world to earn his living and chose poetry as his way of glorifying God.  And what a glory this hymn is.  In it, He mirrors the journey of the Magi with our own Christian pilgrimage through the repetitive technique, “as they, so must we”.  When writing this Hymn, William wanted to tell this story more accurately than other hymns had previously done so.  He omits the more traditional labeling of the Magi for the title, “men of old” since the Biblical account does not describe the visitors as being either Magi or wise men.  In the third stanza, Dix does not name the gifts of the Magi, instead focusing on their sacrifice in taking the trouble to bring the expensive gifts on a long journey. The fourth stanza is a more direct petition, asking Jesus to keep us faithful to the journey begun in the first three stanzas. The fifth stanza, which is omitted in some hymnals (but is included in italics at the end of the full text), describes heaven – the destination of our journey.

Tune–This hymn is always sung to the tune DIX. Conrad Kocher, a German composer and church musician, originally wrote a longer version of this tune for a German chorale, “Treuer Heiland, wir sind hier,” which was published in 1838. William H. Monk omitted one phrase and altered a few notes of Kocher’s tune to fit “As With Gladness” for the 1861 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, which he was music editor for. Even though Dix did not like the choice of this tune, it goes so well with the text that it now bears his name.

Singing Application–This hymn fits best during Epiphany, but can also be sung at Christmas.

“As With Gladness” could be paired with another contemplative Christmas hymn, such as “Once in Royal David’s City,” or another hymn about the story of the Magi, such as “We Three Kings of Orient are.”  It would do well as a prelude for a service on Epiphany Sunday.

1 As with gladness men of old
did the guiding star behold;
as with joy they hailed its light,
leading onward, beaming bright,
so, most gracious Lord, may we
evermore your splendor see.

2 As with joyful steps they sped
to that lowly manger bed,
there to bend the knee before
him whom heaven and earth adore,
so, may we with willing feet
ever seek the mercy seat.

3 As they offered gifts most rare
at that manger rude and bare,
so may we with holy joy,
pure and free from sin’s alloy,
all our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to you, our heavenly King.

4 Holy Jesus, every day
keep us in the narrow way;
and when earthly things are past,
bring our ransomed lives at last
where they need no star to guide,
where no clouds thy glory hide.

5 In the heavenly country bright,
need the no created light;
Thou its light, its joy, its crown,
Thou its sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing Alleluias to our King

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year 3 – Epiphany of the Lord – Ephesians 3:1-12

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.  This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

Summary – Paul makes plain to his audience that those who were not born as Jews physically, through Christ are now made part of one and the same body.  As spiritual “Jews,” believing Gentiles inherit the same promises as physical Jews because of the Gospel.  Paul had the responsibility and privilege of bringing this truth to light which was previously hidden.  Though it was “hidden,” there were many, many hints throughout the Old Testament, not the least of which is the face that the Davidic (and thus Messianic line) was passed through Tamar, probably a Canaanite woman, as well as Rahab (a Canaanite prostitute) and Ruth (a Moabite).  Inclusion of non-Jews was always God’s plan, but now, using Paul, this mystery was unveiled in its full glory!  This was to show God’s wisdom and instill confidence in His plans.  When the Gentile magi visited Christ, the Light of the World, the blessing of the Gospel to the whole world whether Jew or Gentile began to become clear.

Insight – Have you ever “house-sat”?  One of your friends goes on vacation and wants someone to watch their house for them while they’re away.  You’re given full run of the house, and it’s as if you live there.  Even though you are not actually the person the deed of the house was given to, you can use the house just as if you were the owner.  It is like that with the house of God.  God gave the “key” to His “house” or His “people” to the Jews, the sons of Abraham.  But when Christ came, He spread out the use of the key to both Jews AND Gentiles so that they could all freely come in and be a part of the House of God.  We are all now equal tenants, receiving of the same benefits and blessings!

Child Catechism – What kinds of people does God accepts?  All people, Jew or Gentile.

Discussion – List some other “hints” that Gentiles were to be included in the people of God.  Why does Paul say this truth was “hidden” before, if we see clear hints that God’s purpose was to include all peoples?

Prayer – Father, in this Epiphany week we thank you that in your wisdom you gave to us the revelation of your Only Son, that through Him we would become recipients of your promised Spirit through faith.  Fill us with joy and thankfulness this day, that your Gospel would go forth into the world, drawing in even more Gentiles into your house.  In Your Name we ask it, Amen

Year C – The First Sunday After Christmas – Luke 2:41-52

Luke 2:41–52 NRSV –  Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Summary – The transition between the story of the birth of Jesus and his baptism, then ministry is this account of his participation in the festival of passover in Jerusalem. Jesus was only twelve but he stayed behind after the group of travelers with his parents left. Jesus was learning the Scriptures and engaging the leaders of Israel. The summary of his purpose is, “I must be in my Father’s house.” Jesus increased in wisdom and in years and “in divine and human favor.”

Insight – Do you ever wish you were older or living in another town? Do you long to leave the community that you are in? Like Jesus, we must learn to live in 1) Obedience in our Place – God condescended not only to take on flesh, but to be part of an ordinary (if not despised) hometown. In the first century references to Jesus, his last name was not “Christ” but “of Nazareth.” But even from heaven Jesus gives this local identification in appearing to St. Paul: “I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 22:8). We must also embrace our community. 2) We should live in Obedience in our Time –  He continued “to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom” (v 39 also v 52). This means that Jesus, like ordinary boys, progressed through the stages of maturity. What is implied is that He did so faithfully. Did He do miracles in place of chores? Did He “just know” everything or did he study?  The text says in the temple, He was “both listening to them, and asking them questions” (v. 46) which indicates that He matured without a supernatural crutch. We must also be faithful where we are. 3) We should learning Obedience in our Business – After anxiously looking (v 48), they found Jesus in the temple. This was an occasion (annually) to gain more wisdom from study and to begin the process of the “inspection” of the leadership of Israel (a theme throughout the Gospel). Perhaps a better translation of v49 is that Jesus was “engaged upon my Father’s business” (Weymouth) since there is no term for “house.” We must also be engaged in kingdom activity.

Catechism – How does Scripture describe the childhood of Jesus? Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Discussion – Are you discontent with any aspects of your life?

Prayer – Heavenly Father, we thank you for sending your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ to become a human and to live and grow as a person. He was tempted in all things, but did not yield to any sins. In this Christmastide, grant that we may learn contentment as we remember that Jesus lived as our example and Jesus died our death that we might live forevermore. In His name, Amen.

Year C – The Fourth Sunday of Advent – Luke 1:39–55

Luke 1:39–45 NRSV – “In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.””

Summary – In this passage Luke explains the Annunciation, the meeting of the mother of John the Baptist, Elizabeth, with Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The two cases of Elizabeth and Mary are woven together in Luke 1. The pregnancy of Elizabeth confirms her own pregnancy and enables Mary to better grasp what God is doing and how the divine purpose is going to be fulfilled. Mary extolls the Lord in the canticle we call “The Magnificat.” – “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. . .”

Insight – Have you ever read a book or watched a film with a surprise ending? Can you think of an example of a surprise twist in the plot of a story? Some might think, that a virgin-born Savior is such a twist, but I don’t think so. The Bible prepares us for the Annunciation of a virgin birth with a series of similar cases of women who are barren, then by the power of God, give birth to a son: Hagar/Gen. 16, Sarah/Gen. 18, Hannah/1 Sam. 1-2, the wife of Manoah/Jdg. 13, Isaiah/Isa. 7, and Zechariah/Lk. 1. Even more, the whole story of exalting the lowly is also anticipated throughout the Bible. Martin Luther said, “God is the kind of Lord who does nothing but exalt those of low degree and put down the mighty from their thrones, in short break what is whole and make whole what is broken.” The words of Mary inspire actions of helping and serving the whole person. The early church carried forward Jesus’ holistic mission of truth and deeds, not as Marxists, but as “messiahs.” They sacrificed themselves, did good deeds, shared wealth, established justice, and insisted that faith works.

Catechism – How does the Magnificat begin? “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”

Discussion – Why did Christ need to be born of a virgin?

Prayer – Our Father in heaven we give you thanks and praise for sending your son to us through Mary. We rejoice with the mother of our Lord and our souls magnify you, our Savior. Grant that in this season of Advent we remember joyfully your coming in the Incarnation, so that we may be ever prepared for your final coming to judge the living and the dead. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Year C – Fourth Sunday of Advent – Heb 10:5-10

Consequently, when Christ[a] came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law),then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:5-10 ESV)

Summary—In our text today, the author of the Hebrews quotes from the words of David in Psalm 40 to explain why there is a Christmas. and why Christ came into this world.  “I have come to do your will, O God.”  When Jesus came into the world he changed everything.  Old Testament sacrifices were fulfilled in Christ.  The Old Covenant sacrificial system was replaced with a better sacrifice once for all.  The author explains this by saying, “He sets aside the first to establish the second.”  By offering Himself as sacrifice, Christ marked the end of the sacrifices of the Old Testament and ushered in the accomplishing something that no one else in the whole world to do.  He came to show the way to salvation through His perfect sacrifice.

Insight—When you look under the Christmas tree, what do you see?  Why were they put there?  To some, these presents are nothing more than presents, wrapped with sheets of paper and secured with sticky tape.  They are just material objects, purchased as an offering for the enjoyment of their families.  We get so wrapped up (pun intended) in getting the perfect gift that we lose sight of why they are put their in the first place.  During the time of Christ, Jews lost track of why they offered their presents to God.  Day after day, they brought animals to the alter as sacrifices so that they would make God happy and receive his favor and reward.  They thought the sacrifice alone would earn God’s salvation. They were wrong.  Although God told Israel to offer sacrifices, he took no pleasure in these offerings.  Listen to the words of I Samuel 15:22, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice the the Lord?  To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”  God is not satisfied only with sacrifices.  They are just substitutes.  They are shadows pointing to the reality of something better.  If you put presents under the tree to earn favor with loved ones, than you are missing the point of the gifts.  We aren’t earning anything that way.  Christians give gifts because we have already received the best gift of all.  Only Christians can give presents in the right way.  We know, by faith that God gave Christ to His people once and for all to make us holy.  That means he gave us Christ out of love.  Those gifts under the tree represent that perfect gift.  So give with a cheerful heart, with the right attitude of giving, with the love that Christ already showed us in His present to us.

Child Catechism—Q: Why did Christ come into the World? A: To do God’s will.

Discussion—What is the difference between giving and grabbing presents during Christmas?  Why can Christians alone give presents in the right way?

Prayer—Father God in heaven, we rejoice in your present to us this Christmas season.  We humbly thank you for sending your Son as a sacrifice offered for our salvation.  You have made us a people who can rejoice in your gifts.  Help us to reflect that joy to others in our giving by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Use our gifts and joyful obedience to bring the nations into glad service of our Lord Jesus.  We ask this in name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year C – Third Sunday of Advent – Luke 3:7–18

Luke 3:7–18 NRSV –  John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin 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. 9 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.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.”

Summary – John the Baptist challenges the crowds and especially the leadership of Israel to “bear fruits worthy of repentance.” They are not to rely on their ancestry for God’s approval, rather they are to show themselves to be God’s people by faithful living. John also teaches that he is not the Messiah, but the Messiah is coming. John baptizes with water be He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Insight – Do you know anyone whose ancestors are famous? Are you especially proud of your parents or grandparents? Israel had a strong pride in their unique relationship to Abraham. They proudly wore their badge of membership in the covenant, but this connection can be abused and this abuse is what John addressed. 1) Being in a covenant family is not enough (vv 3-9). We may enter into a covenant relationship by birth (graciously), but we must “bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (3:8). There should be no presumption in nor rejection of the covenant. 2) Acting in our best interest is not enough (vv 10-14). We must act like a renewed people in generosity (v 11). This requires ceasing from corruptions, like theft and lying (v 12-14).  We must  be “content” rather than use our positions in self-serving ways.  3) Receiving sign is not enough (15-18). Israel (including the leadership) should have heard John’s voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way. They should have received the sign of John’s baptism (Lk. 7:30). But accepting the preparation is insufficient if it does not lead to the One (Christ) (Acts 19:5). John would “baptize you with water; but One is coming who” “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (v 16). In the same way our participation in Church “actions,” from baptism to worship to communion are insufficient if they are not realized in faith in Christ by the power of the Spirit.

Catechism – How does Jesus baptize? With the Holy Spirit and fire.

Discussion – The Jews at that time said, “We have Abraham as our ancestor.” Are there similar appeals used by Christians today?

Prayer – Father we praise you that in your wisdom and grace you have not limited salvation to one nation but through Christ you have provided salvation to all nations and by your Spirit you give living faith which produces repentance and good works in those who trust in Jesus. Grant that we may live out our faith in Christ as your renewed people. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Year C – Third Sunday of Advent – Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)

Summary—It is important for us to remember that the whole history of the early Church, and indeed all the New Testament epistles, can only be understood in the light of the Spirit of God pouring forth upon that infant Church in Jerusalem.  Hold Pentacost firmly in your mind as you read this exhortation by Paul.  Only by the power of the Spirit was the early church able to joyfully respond to their lowly situation.  Only by the same Spirit are we able today to follow Paul’s command in this week’s text.  He commands us to live a life filled with joy in all situations.  The Christian life is a celebration where rejoicing is not only experienced, it is commanded.   In our text today, Paul corrects wrong-headed views of the Christian walk.  Rather than worry, stress or bicker between fellow believers, Paul tells the church to rejoice for the Lord is at hand.  Because of this, we can have peace with the Triune God of the universe.  Paul’s reason for writing this letter was to teach the Philippian Church how to rejoice in every circumstance that they faced.

Insight—Is your life filled with joy?  Are you continually rejoicing in all things, even that less-than-perfect geometry grade that you received last week?  What about that time you lost your favorite ear ring, did you feeling full of joy at that point?  Paul tells us in this section of his letter to the Philippians that we are to rejoice even when your brother won’t get out of the bathroom.  We are commanded to rejoice even when you lose your homework, or your job.  We are told to continally thank God for every situation that we face, even the bad ones.   And yet, we find this command hard to do.  Why?  It may be because we don’t understand the reason for our joy.  

Do you take for granted how bad off you would have been if Jesus had not come down from heaven and been born of a woman?  Do you not see that without Christ, you would be an enemy of God, and without hope?  But Christ did come down.  He was born of a woman and did live a sinless life.  He was nailed to a cross for you and for me.  You have been freed from sin and wrath of God, from eternal damnation and from the sting of death through the blood of Christ.   With this in mind, take heed to Paul’s command, REJOICE!  Rejoice in the Lord for he alone can give you peace.  He alone is worthy of our joy.  You may lose everything in this world, but not your soul or your eternal destiny, nor the glory that awaits you in Christ’s second coming.  These things are above your circumstances.  Rejoice in the lord always, in life, in death, in sins or failure, whatever may be happening to you, whatever your circumstances, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice.”    

Child Catechism—Q: Why must we rejoice? A: Because Christ saved us from our sins.

Discussion—When you begin to worry about this life, what are some ways to reflect on what Jesus has saved you from?

Prayer—Father God in Heaven, you are worthy of our praise.  Let all your creation praise you, let all the earth shout forth praises worthy of your honor and glory. We rejoice in the salvation brought to us by your son.  We fall down in wonder, with unspeakable happiness that you came to save us.  We pray that you would kindle Godly joy in us through every season of our lives.  We ask this in name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year C – 3rd Sunday of Advent – Luke 1:46b-55

Luke 1:46b-55

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

Summary – This well-known passage is known as “The Magnificat,” taken from the first phrase of its Latin translation, “Magnificat anima mea Dominum.”  It is Mary’s song of praise following her visit to Elizabeth soon after she found out she was pregnant with Jesus.  The character of this song echoes Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2, which begins, “My heart exults the Lord.”  Prayers of this sort throughout Scripture often come with certain characteristics, beyond thanksgiving and praise.  First, a recognition of God’s Sovereignty in the events of life (cf. Luke 1:51-52 and 1 Sam 2:6); and second, a enumeration of the “first becoming last, and the last first” (cf. Luke1:52 and 1 Sam 2:4).  Mary, in praising the Lord for His favor to her, recognizes God as the author and executor of her salvation, believes in His goodwill towards those who fear God with humility, and trusts in God’s covenantal promise to father Abraham.

Insight – One of the fruits of the Spirit is “patience.”  Patience is not in that list because it’s a natural human tendency, but rather because it’s tough!  It is not easy for us to be patient.  We want God to bless us now, and we tend to get frustrated if it seems like it takes a long time.  In fact, sometimes we may think God forgot about us!  But we learn from St. Mary that the Lord exalts “those of humble estate.”  Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed teaches that the seed in the good soil is like those who receive the gospel and “bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).  St. Paul agrees, saying that those who “by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Rom 2:7).  Mary was not from a wealthy family.  She had no earthly prestige that made her a good candidate to be the Mother of God.  Rather it was her faith in God’s promises that made her the “favored one” (Luke 1:28).  She discerned that after generations of those who fear Him, God shows mercy.  God’s blessing and salvation does not come to us because of anything good in ourselves–not wisdom, power, or nobility–but because of His love and His faithfulness to His promises, He graciously blesses those who walk in patient faithfulness.  Let us not lose hope, though it may seem like God is taking His time making His “kingdom come” on earth as in heaven.  But this Advent season, let us recall that God kept His promises in the past by sending Christ, and He will in no-wise forget to keep His promises present and future.

Child Catechism – Who said, “My soul magnifies the Lord”?  Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Discussion – What about Mary’s experience causes generations to cause her “blessed”?  Why did God choose to bless her?  What did Mary see as her role in the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant?

Prayer – Holy Father, may your name increase in this world.  We rejoice at your salvation so graciously given to us through your Son’s historic coming to earth.  You have looked on a humble and hungry people, and sent Bread from Heaven to fill them with good things.  As you have remembered your promises to Abraham, now remember your promises to us, your children.  May your kingdom come on earth as in heaven.  In the name of your Son, Amen.

Year C—Second Sunday of Advent—Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying

We anchor our faith in Emmanuel—God’s having dwelt with us, bodily, in history; but, it was not always so: for long ages, the faithful anchored their faith in the Promise that Emmanuel would dwell with them.  They could not look back through history, but forward through promise.  In history thus far, there have been more years of BC anticipation than AD celebration—thousands more.  And for those thousands of years, the world was, as it were, dark.  The Light would come—so they hoped and longed and, perhaps sometimes, struggled to believe—but He hadn’t come yet.  What would that have been?  We cannot fully know.  But we do have an annual opportunity to liturgically recall that perspective—Advent.  And a Christian cannot recall others’ hope of the First Advent without recalling his own of the Second; that is why this season which anticipates Christmas has traditionally emphasized the Second Coming; that is why we plan to sing Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying this Sunday.

It was written near Dortmund, Germany, during the plague of 1597-1598, by one of the area’s Lutheran pastors: Philip Nicolai.  He conducted up to thirty funerals a day, during that plague, ultimately losing 1300 community members to it. He wrote this hymn to foster and reflect in himself and his people a stubborn hope in the Second Advent, the event which would mark the destruction of their most visible enemy: death.

The watchmen on the heights are crying” for Jerusalem to awake, not to danger, but to joy! “Midnight hears the welcome voices and at the thrilling cry rejoices”—why?  “The Bridegroom comes!”  So, wise virgins, “Your lamps with gladness take” (Matt. 25:1-13). Zion’s heart “with joy is springing” and She hears her “watchmen singing.”  Why?  Because “her light is come.” What light?  Of course, “Thou Blessed One.” There are at least two levels on which we may sing to and about “Jerusalem” and “Zion,” in this context: on one level, we expect that by the time of the Second Advent, geo-political Jerusalem really will be ready to rejoice in it (Rom. 11:15 ff.); and, on another level, we are Jerusalem (Eph. 2:12-13).  So, with “all the heavens” and “saints and angels” and “the choir immortal,” we take up “harp and cymbals” around “Thy radiant throne” and “Eternally sing hymns of praise and joy to Thee!”

Scott Cline

Year C – Second Sunday of Advent – Luke 3:1–6

Luke 3:1–6 NKJV – “1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; 6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ””

Summary – The theme playing in the symphony of Advent 2 readings  is the Preparation of John the Baptizer for Christ’s ministry, which still call to mind the theme of the final (escatological) purification. For example – Mal. 3:2: “But who can endure the day of his coming.” Phil. 1:6-11: “[He] who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ . . .the harvest of righteousness” Luke 3:6: “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” All of this is due to God’s covenant faithfulness (“messenger of the covenant,” “the oath that he swore” Luke 1:73). Therefore, because of God’s covenant faithfulness, He prepares His people for His salvation in Christ.

The Lord Prepared the World Historically – It happened in history, “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea.” Tiberius was Roman emperor from 14-37  (A.D., anno Domini) which makes this about 28 A.D.

The Lord Prepared Israel Prophetically – Isaiah and many prophets had promised both the judgment of Israel (in the flesh) and the salvation of remnant Israel. Israel was to cling to the promises that the place would be “leveled” and “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

The Lord Prepared His People Spiritually – The Word came to John in the wilderness (outside of the temple). For those who were spiritually prepared, he preached “a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

Insight – Have you ever awaited the arrival of someone special to you, perhaps a family member or old family friend? Sometimes doing this we prepare what we will say, how we will respond, questions to ask . . . In the time of John the Baptist, the people needed to recognize the corruption of their temple and place their hope in Messiah through repentance. We must also Prepare. Repentance is often picture as a complete change, a 180 degree turn. But in our lives as believers it is more like a midcourse correction of a ship or a space ship. You will not land on the moon without little shifts. What “repentances” would change in your course to know Christ’s full salvation to keep your life from being flattened?