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)

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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.

Year A – Advent 3 – Luke 1:46b-55

Luke 1:46b-55 (Canticle)

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 A – Advent 3 -Isaiah 35:1-10

Isaiah’s Messianic Vision – Restoration and a New Exodus (Isaiah 35:1-10)
Isaiah 35:1–10 1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 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.   3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 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.”   5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 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; 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.   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. 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. 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.

Overview – Believe in the Promises of Restoration (35:1-2). This passage recalls the exodus through the wilderness, but promises a restoration. It seems to forecast the coming of exiles out of captivity. The people in exile were caught, like us, in the tension between here and longing for home in true/final Zion. The imagery is that, “The wilderness and the desert will be glad,” because the desert will become like the everglades. Spring flowers and the cedars of Lebanon will line the way of a new Exodus highway to Zion. He promises us deliverance as well. God calls us to take courage in His Promises of Restoration (35:3-6). References like Lebanon and Arabah seem foreign, but the application is very relevant: if you believe God will restore His people, then “encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, ‘Take courage, fear not’” (vv3-4). The basis of our encouraging others, whether then or now is the same: God keeps His Word. He is faithful whether to an Exodus, a temporary rescue (in Daniel’s day), a simple answer to prayer or to the complete salvation in the work of Christ, culminating in Resurrection. Trusting God relieves those with “anxious hearts” (v4) and He is able to do beyond what we expect, “For waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the Arabah [wilderness]” (v6). He makes streams in our desert hearts. Therefore we should rejoice in the

Insight – God promises of restoration (35:7-10).  A “scorched land will become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water” extend the image of an oasis highway to bring His people back to Zion. In this new exodus “the redeemed will walk” and “the ransomed of the LORD will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion” (vv9-10). The ending promise is like that in Revelation, “sorrow and sighing will flee away” (v10). “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). He will wipe away our tears as well.

Discussion – What are things you long for that God has promised, but have not yet happened?

Prayer – Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect for Advent 3)

 

Year A – Advent 2 – Matthew 3:1-12

Matthew 3:1–12  1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 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.’” 4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 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? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 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. 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. 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. 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.”

Overview of Matthew’s Gospel – Matthew shows Jesus as a Priest, filled with teaching like that of faithful priests. Jesus is shown to be a greater Moses who provides a new Exodus in Himself. Thus, there are five “books”/sermons in Matthew which relate to the five books of Torah, ending with, “When Jesus had finished saying these things . . .” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; and 26:1). This first Gospel is a “priestly” foundation for the Church and thus is a recap of the history of Israel to fulfill the Law/Prophets (5:17) (outline below). Jesus is called out of Egypt, i.e., apostate Israel. Herod is like a new pharaoh. “Herod” signals that innocents die (ch. 2, 14, Ex. 1:16). The miracles and fulfillments of Matthew demonstrate that Israel is unfit to be the priestly nation, hence 12 miracles in chs. 8-9 “restore” Israel. Jesus is a new David (king) and prophet (Elijah) (12-14). Followers of Jesus are to be a true “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6) cleansing the nations. Yet, this new Torah does not end with the death of Moses (Dt. 34:10), but with the resurrection of One greater than Moses. Finally, Jesus is a greater Cyrus (the Lord’s anointed) and just like the last verse of the Hebrew Bible (2 Chr 36:23), there is a commission: Since this anointed One has all power and authority in heaven and on earth, He commands: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (28:20).

Insight – As the overview indicates, Matthew is very connected to promise and fulfillment in the Hebrew Scriptures. John the Baptist’s actions may seem bizarre until we understand the background. Throughout Matthew there is a frequent use of this kind of phrase: “so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled” (2:23). So also did John fulfill prophecy as the forerunner of Christ. Many people miss the fact that his baptism is like the previous baptisms of Israel. He was to go “in the spirit and power of Elijah” who divided the water of the Jordan (2Kgs. 2:8ff). John “prepared the way” for Jesus quite literally. John was “preaching a baptism of repentance” at the Jordan river (Mk. 1:4). Literally, John was in the wilderness beyond the borders of the Land where they “went out to him” (Mk. 1:5). He called the people to follow his “path” outside of Israel and to “turn” (repent) and cross the Jordan to enter the Land in renewal. John’s baptism for Israel was a sign of passing or crossing into renewed Israel to prepare for Messiah. Deuteronomy looks to a time when they “cross the Jordan” being led by Joshua (Dt. 4:21). The rest of the New Testament draws upon various threads of this crossing into Christ, through death and into resurrection life on the other side (Rom. 6:3-4, Col. 2:11-12). Therefore, John was baptizing a renewed Israel in preparation for Jesus.

Child Catechism – Why did John baptize? John baptized to call Israel to repent and get ready to believe in Jesus.

Discussion – Do you remember who John’s father was and what he did?  . . . If Zacharias was a priest in the temple in Jerusalem, then why did John lead people away from the temple to be washed?

Prayer – Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Year A – Advent 2 – Romans 15:4-13

Romans 15:4–13  – 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. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 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, 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”; 10 and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; 11 and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; 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.” 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.

Overview  – Chapter 15 is the Hallelujah Chorus to the book of Romans. Handel’s libretto is taken from the “seventh trumpet,” – “The kingdoms of this world [is] become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). Romans 15, like Rev. 15, brings Israel’s history to its climax. God through Jesus, has opened the way of mercy to the nations. This is a thick statement summing up whole sections of Romans (ch. 3-4, 9-11). We must strive reach out to those that not like ourselves in this congregation. Psalm 117, cited by Paul, made clear that the goal of the gospel includes all nations. As John Piper has written, “Let the nations be glad.” Shared worship with all nations and all kinds of people is central to Paul’s vision. Paul concludes with a litany of fulfillment texts. These are all precisely what he began with: the promises to the fathers are being fulfilled in the new covenant church. “Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and thus the Gentiles glorify God for his mercy” (15:8-9). The promise of God is for Jews and Gentiles, all humanity, to come into Christ as a New Man (Eph. 2:15), a new Adam or humanity. The ending of chapter 15 makes clear the “missionary purpose.” The message of unity in Christ over differences of status, ethnic identity and cultural differences, when accepted, becomes the foundational message for church planting. A church that sees the promises of God coming to bear can reach out and establish more churches in different contexts. Romans 1 reads right through to chapter 15.  1:15 Thus I am eager also to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome. . .  15:20 I desire to preach where Christ has not been named, 15:22  This is the reason I was often hindered coming to you. 15:23 But now there is nothing more to keep me in these regions, and I have for many years desired  to come to you…”

Insight – What would you find if you read the book of Romans backwards? You would see how Paul has been making the argument for the salvation of all nations in a new Body, the Church as the goal of his arguments about sin (chs. 1-2), justification in Christ (chs. 3-5), life in Christ (chs. 6-8), Israel’s role (chs. 9-11), and application to the Church (chs. 12-16). What was prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah and the Psalms, for example) is coming about through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Child’s Catechism – How will God get praise from all nations? He will be praised as all nations accept the gospel that Jesus is the Savior.

Prayer – O Lord our God, thank You that in Your wonderful redemptive plan, You have destined all nations and peoples to know deliverance through Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. Grant that we may continue in faithfulness to Him as we rejoice in the harvest that all nations will become worshipers of the true God. In Christ’s name, Amen.