Today in the Spirit: Christmas 2A

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1 John 2:6 says: Whoever claims to live in [God] must walk as Jesus did (NIV). The whole point of having church seasons with a set lectionary and common prayers is that year after year, we should “walk as Jesus did” through his entire life from pre-existence to his return in glory. So the church has reasoned from very early on. That “walking” is our spiritual discipline, our common prayer, together as Anglicans. In organizing our life this way, one thing we see from the Scriptures as they are presented to us in the lectionary is that we are no mere observers of his life but participants in it. With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year, the 2019 BCP directs us in the following week to go to the Collect and readings for the Second Sunday of Christmas (or those of The Circumcision and Holy Name of Jesus Christ on 1 January). On Christmas 2, Year A, we are assigned for a Gospel reading the account of the young adolescent Jesus staying behind in the temple after the Passover feast (Luke 2:41-52). With the boy Jesus as our model, we contemplate what it means to, as the Collect says, “share the divine life of [Jesus]” whose Spirit-inspired instinct is to remain in the house of his heavenly Father. The appointed psalm gives language to that desire as we cry out: Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere (Psalm 84:10). Both the assigned OT (Jeremiah 31:7-14) and NT (Ephesians 1:3-14) readings pronounce the joy of receiving adoption by God the Father through the ministry of the one true Son of God coming to dwell in the world.

The Collect

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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He Who Scattered Israel Will Gather Him (Jeremiah 31:7-14)

“Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
    and declare it in the coastlands far away;
say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him,
    and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’
For the Lord has ransomed Jacob
    and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
    and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
    and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall be like a watered garden,
    and they shall languish no more.
Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
    and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy;
    I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow” (10-12).

This OT reading (together with the psalm and NT reading) is assigned in all three years of the lectionary cycle for Christmas 2. With its emphasis on the restoration of God’s people to Israel after exile, it may fit more directly with the Year B Gospel reading about the forced migration of the holy family to Egypt and their return. Nevertheless, on any occasion these verses are a classic statement of the Good News of God’s redeeming his people from the bondage of sin. Devotionally, we may find ourselves troubled by the statement He who scattered Israel will gather him. I may be happy to believe God has rescued me from spiritual exile, but am I also to understand that he sent me into exile too? Isn’t that my own doing through sin? To be clear we find earlier in Jeremiah and elsewhere in the OT that YHWH has stated he will scatter Israel into exile (see for example 25:8-12). The cause of the exile is indeed the sin of the people, but the exile with all its hardship is an act of divine mercy designed to stop the bleeding. In fact, we find scattering and separation has always been a favored strategy of God as a corrective to sin and as a means of returning his chosen people to the course to liberation: Cain to Nod (Genesis 4:10-16); Jacob and his family to Egypt (Genesis 37-50); David to Gath (1 Samuel 21:10ff); Paul to Arabia (Galatians 1:17); and many more. We experience exile from God sometimes through distance but often through adversity in order to slow us down, disrupt our plans and cause us to turn back to him. Today, Holy Spirit, contemplating your intentional scattering of Israel in this text, grant that I might have a broader understanding of your grace working in my life and gratitude for the refreshment that comes after exile.

Sing for Joy to God-Alive (Psalm 84)

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
    to the living God (1-2).

Or, Always dreamed of a room in your house, where I could sing for joy to God-alive! (MSG). This psalm is assigned every year for Christmas 2. On one hand we find an intense sense of longing in the psalm that rubs against the grain of other prayers and readings in the Christmas season declaring arrival and fulfillment. On the other hand there is a joy counterpoised with the pilgrim’s yearning that fits right in the season. The pilgrim may be far away from the temple, the place of the presence of the One God; and yet, even as he walks from a distance with his body, internally in heart and flesh, he sings for joy to God-alive. It is in fact this wanderer’s situation that most resembles our own today: We are certain through the word and our experiences that the Lord exists, that he is present, and that he reigns over all; and yet we know we are not at home and we long to be there. As our understanding grows, and we get older (I picture this pilgrim as older), we detach ourselves from the lesser pleasures of this life and yearn for the presence of God in his fullness. Even for Joseph and Mary the fanfare around the manger was short-lived; and, though they would have the child with them for years, they wandered and suffered and dreamed of something more. Today, at Christmas, the Spirit of God being our helper, we press on like this psalmist with joy even as we look forward to more later. 

The Mystery of His Will (Ephesians 1:3-14)

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (7-10).

Here is another long sentence by Paul (see my comments on last week’s Epistle reading) designed to help the church grasp a larger, cosmic understanding of God’s design in sending Jesus Christ into the world. By my count there are twelve references to Christ in this passage either by name or by use of pronouns (in him or through him); and yet, with the exception of one reference to blood (v. 7), there is nothing to indicate that Paul’s Christ is even human. The uninitiated in Ephesus or in any church today might well have asked in response to this passage: Who could he be, an angel or a wind from heaven? But here’s the thing: right after we hear these words on Sunday, we will hear another reading about a boy also named Jesus being separated from his parents in Jerusalem, causing them to return to the city and find him. Don’t look now but the church’s lectionary has hooked you into an experience of marveling over a great mystery. The lyrics of Chris Thomlin’s modern Christmas song come to mind: “Love incarnate, love divine/Star and angels gave the sign/Bow to babe on bended knee/The Savior of humanity/Unto us a Child is born/He shall reign forevermore.” Today, Holy Spirit, as Christmas comes to a close, I will carry my joyous perplexity of contemplating the Son of God coming into the world into the rest of the year.    

Treasure Up All These Things, Part 2 (Luke 2:41-52)

And when his parents saw [Jesus], they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature[c] and in favor with God and man (48-52).

This is the second time Luke writes that Mary treasured up all these things in her heart (see my comments last week on the first instance in Luke 2:19). As parents of small children, about all we can really do in response to things that happen to them or to things they do impulsively is observe. As the kids grow up, we may assert ourselves more, as Mary herself does with Jesus (see Mark 3:21, John 2:1-4). But until then we watch and learn and try to understand who these little people are that God has given us to steward for a time. Mary has known from the beginning who the child Jesus really is; but she will not fail to be astounded by his full identity revealed over time. In this final Gospel reading for the Christmas season, and the last narrative in the Gospels we have on the childhood of Jesus, we watch and ponder with Mary all these things that happen to the Son of God beyond anyone’s control (the birth, the presentation at the temple, the Magi, and now this). With her we treasure them–cherish them and store them away like a stash of fine gold. This will serve greatly in those moments when we struggle to understand Jesus Christ in his adulthood, both in the Scriptures and more importantly in his relationship with us as we walk with him. Today, in the Spirit, as we begin to shift our attention to the full grown Jesus in Epiphany, we are thankful for the church’s Christmas season affording us the opportunity, with Mary, to treasure the childhood of the Son of God in our hearts.

Today in the Spirit

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Published on

December 26, 2022

Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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