Year A – Christmas Day – John 1:1-14

christmas

John 1:1–14 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Overview –  The Gospel of St. John is both the simplest and most profound book in Holy Scripture. No scholarship is needed to receive it’s truth and yet no scholar has seen through it’s profound matrix of depth. With the most basic language (in the original Greek) it conveys the richest portrait of Christ that could be imagined. Like no other Text, John presents Jesus in profound glory, such as with the “I AM” statements (“I am the resurrection and the life”). And the structure is grand and powerful. The Gospel is framed with seven signs and then Sign-Maker is raised on the eighth day as the Maker of a new creation. These signs outline Water, Bread and Wine. Each of these manifest more fully The Word made flesh.

1. New Creator: Water into wine (2:1-11)
2. Redeemer/Healer: The official/nobleman’s son (4:46ff)
3.  True Sabbath: The paralyzed man at the pool (5:2-9)
4. Bread of Life: Multiplication of loaves (6:1-14)
5. Light of the World: The man born blind (9:1-7)
6. Resurrection & Life: The raising of Lazarus (11:1-44)
7. Living Water: The cross (19:1-37)
Eighth Day: New Adam/Gardener: The resurrection (20:1-29)

Insight – There is magnificent beauty in the simplicity of John’s prologue (vv 1:1-14). The summit of that beauty is in our text, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” It is deeply ironic that Creator Jesus was not recognized by His handiwork, even more so that even Israel (the special “son of God”) did not receive him. Yet the note of hope at the end of the sadness brings redemptive glory. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God. . .” This Word and Reason of God has become flesh. This the reason for our Christmas celebration.

Prayer – Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP Nativity III)

Year A – Christmas Day – Hebrews 1:1-4

Hebrews 1:1–4 -Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Overview – God is not silent. He speaks to His people. In the Garden He walked with Adam and Eve. After the Fall, God spoke through signs, wonders, stories, and prophets. From a burning bush to a man robed in camel’s hair, God continued to speak. From a donkey to educated men to a shepherd and a fruit-picker, we learn that God does not leave His people alone. Standing on the shoulders of these men, John the Baptist linked their words to Jesus. He prepared the way of the Lord by calling Israel to “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is near.” Jesus, he declared, was the mighty victor—one so mighty that John felt unworthy to even untie His shoes. Now the writer of Hebrews tells us that God still speaks. To that of the prophets God adds the voice of his Son. Jesus repeats and then fulfills their words—a messenger better by far. Let us rejoice in the Advent prophecies for they stand fulfilled. And as Jesus goes forth victoriously, let us heed the Father’s command, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him.”

Insight – These signs, wonders, and prophets speak the word of God, the gospel of the coming Christ. Each repeats the Proto-Evangelion, the message heard from the beginning that a victor would arise to crush the serpent. With Moses this repetition took the form of, “The LORD God of your fathers… will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt…unto a land flowing with milk and honey…and, you shall not go empty.” Isaiah declared that “unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end.”

 

Discussion  – Discuss with your family how the Living Word is made known through the written and spoken word. Discuss how sermons, studies, and readings strengthen our faith. Discuss Jesus’ authority as the Living Word of God and the surety of His word’s fulfillment.

Prayer – O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

 

From Pastor Todd Davis, Christ Church, Searcy, Arkansas

Year A – Christmas Day – Psalm 98

Psalm 98O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.  His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.  2 The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. 3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.  4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. 5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. 6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. 7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. 8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy 9 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity (NRSV).

Summary:  If your life had a soundtrack, what would some of the songs be?  In our home, our daughter is the one most likely to spontaneously break into a song.  That is the how this psalm comes across, as a bursting forth in praise, towards God and his mighty ways.  God’s justice, mercy, and truth are praised just within the first three verses; but then the psalmist evokes the images of nature and nations, which also display the Lord’s awesomeness. This Psalm also points us to God’s victory in bringing about His redemptive plan through Christ. Just as so many prophetic books speak of God coming to a renewed Zion and bringing about justice and mercy, so we find the fulfillment of these in the birth of Christ and His redemptive work and the ongoing work of His body, the Church. This Psalm forms the basis of Isaac Watts well known Him, “Joy to the World” in which Christ comes to “make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.” That is justice and mercy.

Insight:   People can act in all kinds of strange ways when in front of a police officer, even when those people have done nothing wrong.  Other times, it can be a comfort to see law enforcement walking around a community or sporting event.  God’s justice has a similar effect.  We react to God’s justice in many strange ways. Of course we would like to see an appropriate level of fairness around the world; But at the same time we have silly views about the treatment of others and ourselves.  Moreover, it can be difficult to explain God’s just ways before our fellow men.  We may speak of God’s comforting love and mercy, but accordingly this Psalm reminds us that God is just and that his justice should be a comfort as well.

Child Catechism:  How does God judge the world?  God judges the world with righteousness and fairness.

Discussion:  What are some of God’s victories in your life?  What are some of the ways that God showed his steadfast love and mercy toward Israel in the Old Testament?

Just and Merciful Father,  we thank you for all of your provisions–seen and unseen,  put a joyful noise not only in our hearts but in our mouths,  proclaiming your steadfast love to all we encounter!   In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Contributed by:  M. West

Year A – Christmas Day – Isaiah 52:7-10

Isaiah 52:7–10  How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” 8 Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the LORD to Zion. 9 Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Overview – The Book of Isaiah – is a fascinating book. Sometimes called a “fifth Gospel,” it is quoted in the New Testament more often than any other book. Isaiah is at once “the prophet of a glorious future (e.g. 1:26–27; 2:2–4; 4:4–6; 9:1–7; 11:1–16)” as well as “the prophet of disaster and total loss (e.g. 5:24–30; 6:11–12; 7:17–25)” (Motyer). One of the interesting things about it is that it somewhat mirrors the whole of Scripture in the following way: there are 66 chapters, just as there are 66 books in the Bible. Further, Isaiah 1-39 addresses the situation of Israel, just as there are 39 Old Testament books. Isaiah 40-66 primarily addresses Messianic prophecies (in the post-exillic setting), just as there are 27 books of the New Testament which are addressed to proclamation of Jesus. Isaiah 52 pictures a renewed Jerusalem without its previous uncleanness due to idolatry. He speaks of redeeming the people, as in the days of the Exodus from Egypt. “For thus says the LORD: You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money. For thus says the Lord GOD: Long ago, my people went down into Egypt to reside there as aliens; the Assyrian, too, has oppressed them without cause” (52:3-4).  This announcement of their restoration (from Babylon) evokes the familiar words of our passage: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.'” This heralds the return of God – “for in plain sight they see the return of the LORD to Zion” (52:8). This announce signals the end of the  Babylonian exile and the full restoration of Israel.

Insight – The question on  the minds of those in the first century was whether the exile was indeed over. While the Jews were in the land and had rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple, many of the blessings predicted by the prophets did not seem to be a reality. There were the Herods, the oppression of Rome and impurities and sects within Jewish life, the Sadducees and Pharisees. The New Testament answers the longing for the exile to be over and for God to return to Zion in a surprising way. The Lord would be born in Zion. Yahweh, the God of Israel would come and take the the role of Israel as the Servant (from the chapter before, Is. 51) and redeem not only Israel, but the world. He did this through the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

What is the good news that Isaiah announced? That God would come to Israel in the form of Jesus Christ.

Discussion – How was Jerusalem renewed? What form did the purified Zion take?

Prayer – O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BPC Nativity I)

Year A – Advent 4 – Matthew 1:18-25

Matthew 1:18–25 – 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. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Summary – Joseph was a saint, not least because he accepted the word of this angel on the matter – in a dream, no less! Clearly Joseph was a man who accepted the word of God without demanding undue evidence. We don’t know much about Joseph, but he seemingly lived up to his name-sake, the Joseph of Genesis who saw visions, but endured difficult days before seeing the blessing of God. So in this case Joseph was willing to believe, in spite of the natural order. What we do know from this text about his character is that he was “a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.” This was the kind of guy that believed his fiance had been unfaithful, but was still willing to give her an easy way out. By law he could have had her killed! This speaks to Joseph’s character.

Insight – Perhaps the most important word that Joseph received in this dream is, “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” This clearly resonated with Joseph, who was apparently waiting for just such a Savior. Faithful Jews were waiting for their Messiah. Joseph was among them. All the world has been awaiting for Something or Someone to deal with sin. As it turned out, it was through this teen-aged pregnancy, this heart-broken fiance, this Nazarene. God accomplished His redemptive plan in an usual way. The story of God’s redemption surprises us all.

Discussion – Even if you have not talked to an angel in a dream, have you ever believed that God wanted you to do something special? What did you do?

Prayer – O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP St Joseph)

Year A – Advent 4 – Romans 1:1-7

Paul, a willing slave, of the Anointed King Jesus, called an apostle, distinguished in service for the Announcement of God, which he promised long before through His prophets in holy scriptures, concerning His Son, of the line of David in terms of biological ancestry, distinguished as Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, out of resurrection of the dead ones, Jesus the Anointed King, our Lord, in whom you are also called to belong to Jesus the Anointed King. To all that are in Rome, in the covenant love of God, called saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus, the Anointed King. (Romans 1:1-7, Gregg Strawbridge, trans.)

Background – The term “Christ” does not mean Jesus’ last name. Christ means the anointed One, but for what was this person to be anointed? King. Jesus is the anointed King. And of what is He king? He is the Lord over all. This is the key point in Romans. It seems that Paul wrote Romans from Corinth or nearby in about 57 A.D., as evident from the greetings of Gaius, who lived at Corinth (16:23; 1 Cor. 1:14), and of Erastus (16:23; 2 Tim. 4:20). Phoebe (16:1-2), who possibly carried the letter, was from an area near Corinth. Why does Paul address the themes he does? In the first century there was a great displacement of the Jews due to some seditious behavior (Acts 18:2). “[In Corinth Paul] found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them.” When Claudius died, Nero permitted refugee Jews back to Rome and it seems they were integrating into the Roman Christian congregations. Paul’s burden for his people is prominent in Romans and the very issues of integration of Jews and Gentiles are clear in Romans. Hence we find replete references to Jews throughout Romans (“Jews” – Rom. 1:16; 2:9f, 17, 28f; 3:1, 9, 29; 9:24; 10:12; “Israel” Rom. 9:6, 27, 31; 10:1, 19, 21; 11:2, 7, 25f; “My people/His people” Rom. 9:25f; 10:21; 11:1f; 15:10).

Let’s Start Where They Were – Imagine that you are a household slave, previously from a tribe conquered by one of the Roman legion. Imagine that you were once a “free,” but you were sold into slavery and are now a blacksmith to an aristocratic Roman family. You have always known that a great god exists above all gods and now other slaves in your household have told you of the Announcement that the true God is redeeming all peoples through a god-like man. You have begun to gather with those that  follow, “The Way” (Acts 9:2). If we listen to what they would have heard, Paul’s emphatic point to frame this letter is the “gospel.” But what is the gospel? Is it like “gospel preaching” or “gospel music” or “gospel fried chicken”? Is it a way to have a personal experience of peace and purpose? What did these first century believers hear. And perhaps more importantly, what did Paul think as he wrote the term. The word “gospel” has two connotations in Paul: one of the good news of the end of the exile (Is. 40-42), the other is quite Roman, as an announcement-celebration of the accession, or birth, of a king or emperor in Rome. Therefore, Paul means the “gospel” is God’s announcement fulfills prophecy of the royal enthronement of Israel’s anointed king, the Lord of the whole world. Jesus was the Davidic King in fulfillment of the Promised Seed (Ps. 110) and the resurrection made clear to the world that He is the Anointed King. “The root of Jesse shall rise to rule the nations; in him shall the nations hope” (Isa. 11.10, cited Rom. 15.12). In a word, the “gospel-announcement” is that Jesus is the LORD.

Discussion – Why would a “gospel/goodnews” that Jesus is the King over all have been a problem in first century Rome? Why is a problem today?

Prayer – Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP Reign of Christ)

Year A – Advent 4 – Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Psalms 80:1–7, 17–19 1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth 2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!   3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.   4 O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? 5 You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. 6 You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.   7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.   17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. 18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.   19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Overview – Between about 734 and 722 BC the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel were taken into captivity by Assyria. It seems this Psalm laments this and calls repeatedly for “restoration.” Though Israel (northern kingdom) and Judah (southern kingdom) had been divided shortly after the days of Solomon’s death, in 2Chr. 30:1, King Hezekiah had reached out for survivors to unite, in the face of Assyria’s threat: “Now Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to the LORD God of Israel.” Sadly the response was mocking:  “So the couriers passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them” (2Chr. 30:10). The rest of the story is that the northern kingdoms were drowned in the Gentile sea. This Psalm was written by the musicians of Asaph at the temple in Jerusalem (Judah), yet it calls for the Lord to “Stir up your might, and come to save us!” (a united Israel) (v2). Given the peril of those days, the faithful were calling for God intervene in restoration. Striking in this Psalm is v 17, “But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.” In the context of the original hearers this would have been understood as God’s firstborn, “Israel.” Let Yahweh strengthen all of Abraham’s children (north and south).

Insight  – Though God’s firstborn was “Israel,” Israel was to give birth, in the fullness of time to the Final, One True Israelite, the hope of Israel, born of  “Woman” and born under Law in order to redeem us all from the curse of the Law (Gal. 4). God would restore the family of Abraham, but in a way that no one could imagine. It is as though the cry for deliverance and restoration that first rang out in this Psalm from Judah, echoed throughout those hundreds of years until it was answered in the whimper of a newborn in Bethlehem. A Child that was to be laid in a manger, a feeding trough. Jesus was the True and ultimate Shepherd of Israel because He gave Himself for His people.

Child’s Catechism – Why is the final Shepherd of Israel Jesus? Because Jesus gave Himself for His people.

Discussion – If you were to write this Psalm today, what would you be asking God to do in this “restoration”?

Prayer – O Shepherd of Israel, we give You praise because of your mysterious and marvelous plan of redemption. You made promises and You kept them. You have always shepherded Your people. Grant that we may be faithful sheep who love and serve You in the victorious kingdom of Christ our Lord, especially in this time of Advent, as we anticipate the celebration of the birth of our Savior, Jesus the Lamb of God. Amen.

Year A – Advent 4 – Isaiah 7:10-16

Isaiah 7:10–16 (NET trans.) – The LORD again spoke to Ahaz: 7:11 “Ask for a confirming sign from the LORD your God. You can even ask for something miraculous.” 7:12 But Ahaz responded, “I don’t want to ask; I don’t want to put the LORD to a test.” 7:13 So Isaiah replied, “Pay attention, family of David. Do you consider it too insignificant to try the patience of men? Is that why you are also trying the patience of my God? 7:14 For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel. 7:15 He will eat sour milk and honey, which will help him know how to reject evil and choose what is right. 7:16 Here is why this will be so: Before the child knows how to reject evil and choose what is right, the land whose two kings you fear will be desolate.

Overview – The Setting of Immanuel – The historical context is important for understanding this well known passage. Jerusalem is under the threat of the Northern Kingdom of Israel allied with Syria because Judah under the Davidic King, Ahaz, refused to band with them to fight Assyria. “Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel marched up to Jerusalem to do battle” (7:1). So Israel was about to besiege Jerusalem in order to overthrow him and his Davidic dynasty. Fear rather than faith was the result, “They and their people were emotionally shaken” (7:2). Just at this time, Isaiah goes to reassure Ahaz as he was out checking on the water reserves for the city of Jerusalem (probably worrying about holding out against such a siege) (7:3). Isaiah is to say, “Make sure you stay calm! Don’t be afraid! Don’t be intimidated” (7:4). The Word of hope that God gives to Ahaz, “It will not take place; it will not happen” (7:7). But faithfulness is called for on the part of Ahaz in his third year of reigning. Therefore, “If your faith does not remain firm, then you will not remain secure” (7:9). Or a more literal sense is, “be firm and then you will be confirmed [as king].” The Lord offered to give a confirmation (even miraculous sign) to him, but Ahaz rejected the Lord with pious words (7:12). Ahaz rejected trusting the Lord, while at the same time it is clear that he was maneuvering to ally Judah with Assyria (trusting men rather than God, 2Kgs 16:7).

Insight – The Sign of Immanuel – This is the setting for the well known words of the next Immanuel prophecy. Given this, it is clear that the prophecy (7:10-16) is both a promise of deliverance and a threat of judgment to Judah. The Lord says I will give you (plural, meaning the “House of David”) a sign anyway. “Immanuel” will come and the Davidic covenant will be fulfilled. The promise is fulfilled temporarily in that the line of David continued in Hezekiah (Mt. 1:9). The prophecy is both a promise of salvation in that this is finally Jesus Christ (who saves His people from their sins), but it is also a promise of judgment for those whose faith “does not remain firm” (i.e., Ahaz himself). Therefore, the rest of the chapter indicates that Assyria will be God’s instrument of judgment on both Israel and Syria, but this will also threaten Judah (Jerusalem). Judah is temporarily sustained but historically also went into exile (in Babylon) and Jerusalem was besieged (586 B.C.). The final Sign was that Jesus was born of Mary at a time when hope was lost and now one could find a son of David. The near fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecy may have been that a virgin gave birth to a son of David (Hezekiah) and there was temporary deliverance.

Prayer – Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect for Advent 4, BCP)

Year A – Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-11

Matthew 11:2–11  When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 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? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 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 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.

Overview – This important passage tells us about John’s doubts and Jesus’ word of assurance to John, as well as the astounding word that, “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.” It may be helpful to remember that in the era just before Jesus came, the Jews wanted to know if the exile was over. On the one hand, they were back “in the Land” from Babylon (at least many were). They had walls, a city, and a temple. On the other hand, they were still oppressed by foreign powers (the Herods and Rome). Had God returned to Zion in fulfillment of the prophets (e.g., Is. 40:1-10)? Now enter John.  John was preaching a “baptism” of the renewal of Israel. Theologian Colin Brown wrote, “John was organizing a symbolic exodus from Jerusalem and Judea as a preliminary to recrossing the Jordan as a penitent, consecrated Israel in order to reclaim the land in a quasi-reenactment of the return from the Babylonian exile . . .”  In addition to the “crossing,” John may have sprinkled water on people as they passed, as a ritual of cleansing. This is suggested by the words of Jesus about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” (Matt. 11:7). This could be merely metaphorical, but throughout the Bible such branches are used to apply rites of cleansing (Lev. 14). “A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there…” (Num. 19:18). “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Psalms 51:7). It is unlikely that John physically immersed all the people in Jerusalem, all of Judea, and the district around the Jordan” (Matt. 3:5-6). John’s baptism focusing on crossing the Jordan makes more sense of the theme of Israel’s renewal and the end of exile, just as God was returning to Zion in the incarnate Jesus of Nazareth.

Insight – We all experience doubt. Perhaps one of the reasons for John’s doubt, despite the work he had done and the works of Jesus which evidence Him as Messiah, is that John’s story was not working out according to plan. John the Baptist was to go “in the spirit and power of Elijah” who divided the water of the Jordan (2Kgs. 2:8ff). John clearly “prepared the way” for Jesus. However, let us recall that Elijah completed his difficult prophetic ministry, but then was taken off to heaven! 2 Kings 2:11: “As they [Elisha] continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.” This is “swing low sweet chariot” situation for Elijah. But what of John? John was imprisoned by the Ahab and Jezebel of his day and ultimately was murdered by them (Matt. 14:3ff). How may we understand this? Jesus said that John was more than a prophet, John prepared Israel to receive Jesus. John’s life and death are emblem of the One for whom he prepared the way. Jesus was not only the Anointed King, but, as even John taught, the Lamb of God. So this Messiah of Israel would also be murdered as part of God’s plan of redemption for His people.

Child Catechism – Who was John the Baptist and what did he do? John the Baptist “prepared the way” for Jesus by calling Israel to repent by leading them through Jordan river in baptism.

Discussion – What does Jesus mean by saying that “the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he [John]”?

Prayer (BCP Collect for the Baptist) – Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by the preaching of repentance: lead us to repent according to his preaching and, after his example, constantly to speak the truth, boldly to rebuke vice, and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Year A – Advent 3 – James 5:7-10

James 5:7–10  – 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. 8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Summary – James calls the faithful to be patient in enduring suffering until the Judge comes. This judge is “standing at the doors.” When will judgment be? This strong text condemns the wicked, greedy, and unjust rich. It refers to the “coming” (parousia) of the Lord and the judgment. There are two excellent reasons to think this is not the Last Judgment, but is judgment “coming” of Jesus on apostate Jerusalem in 70 AD: a) “Near” [eggiken] or “at hand” (5:8), when referring temporal events, means the event is near in time. For example: John referring to the imminence of Jesus’ kingdom (Mt 3:2, see also, 21:1, and 26:46) and Luke 21:20 -“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.” Jesus taught clearly that Jerusalem will be judged in the “days of vengeance” before “this generation passes away” (Lk 21, Matt. 24:15). b) James refers specifically to those who “have condemned” and “murdered the Just [One] [ton dikaion]” (James 5:6). Other NT texts refer to Jesus with the very same words (Acts 7:52, 22:14, 1 Pt 3:18, 1 Jn 2:1). The Just One “does not resist you.” This is a rather clear echo of Jesus’ trial in which He was condemned (katadikazo) (Mk 14:60-64). Why will judgment be? James highlights three areas relating to this judgment. a) Corrupt living prepares one for judgment (1-3). The “rich” in Jerusalem tended to be those who robbed the poor, were traitors to Israel (tax-collectors), or the selfish who did not share with the needy. Like impurities burned away, so will the wicked. b) Fraudulent living prepares one for judgment (4-6). Injustices in labor demonstrate wickedness. So unjust payment for labor is one clear example. Murdering “the Just One” (ton dikaion) is the culmination of wickedness.
b) On the other hand, righteous living also prepares one (in the best sense) for judgment (7-9). Sowing righteousness brings the fruit of glory and vindication over enemies.

Insight – Believers must not grumble toward other brethren, but love one another. How do you treat other brethren? Even though the basic setting/fulfillment here is in the past, just as they did, we must let the realities of mercy and judgment must drive us toward love for one another. We all face a judgment before the Lord, which may take place at a time when we do not expect it. Jesus may not come soon, but you may go soon to Him.

Questions For Little Saints
1) What judgment event does James address? The judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD which demonstrated that Christ now reigns from heaven.
2) Is there any other judgment? Yes. There is a Last Judgment when each of us will give account for our lives.
3) What sins does James condemn (5:1-9)? James condemns greediness, unfairness (injustice), grumbling, and murder, especially the murder of the Just One, Jesus.
4) What must believers do to prepare for judgment? Love Jesus and be kind to others, especially believers, knowing that we have been shown mercy.

Discussion – How can we show our faithfulness to Christ in patience and endurance during this Advent season?

Prayer – (BCP on the Reign of Christ) Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.