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For January 16, 2022

 

ISAIAH 62:1-5

THE BACKGROUND

This section of the book of Isaiah was written after their return from exile.  God’s people had returned to find Jerusalem a pile of rubble, in many cases.  It was not all peaches and cream.  There was a lot of rebuilding and restructuring of society. It was hard, often discouraging work. God offered these words of encouragement and promise to his beloved people.

THE DETAIL

  • Isaiah states that he was so excited about Zion-Jerusalem’s future, that he had no choice but to spread the news.  Have you ever had some secret news?  Did it ever make you want to burst, because you could not tell anyone? This is how excited Isaiah was about the future of God’s people.  He couldn’t keep it in any longer.
  • The word “until” indicates that they are not totally where they need to be. We’re talking the “righteousness” of God’s beloved.  Remember that “righteousness” is a fancy word for acting or behaving in the “right” way; in a God-pleasing way.  This indicates that God’s beloved need to work on their actions and their attitudes. (Things haven’t changed much, have they?)
  • When they (and we) finally get it right, other people  will stand up and take notice.
  • When they (and we) finally get it right, God will give us a new name.  What does this mean?  Think about when you get a new pet or a new baby enters your household. You give it a special name.  Maybe it is a nickname that you give a favorite grandchild.  This tells everyone that there is a special connection between you.  This is what it means when God renames His people.  “Now that you’ve got it right, I’m giving you a special new name.”
  • What follows is a list of former and future nicknames, ending with Beulah, or “Married”.  This is a link to the next and final point.
  • Isaiah likens God’s delight in us to the delight between newlyweds.  This is not a new concept, but Isaiah works this imagery beautifully.  If you’ve ever been lucky enough to experience the feeling of an intensely loving experience with another, then you know the feeling.  God tells us that this is how thrilled he’ll be, when we start living our lives “righteously”. 

THE TAKEAWAY

God created us.  He knows us inside and out.  He knows what we are capable of becoming.  God has high expectations for us.  Yet, we continually fall short of His expectations.  Let us strive to measure up to what God wants us to be.  When we do, others will take notice.  When we do, God will be delighted.


 

 

1 CORINTHIANS 12:1-11

THE BACKGROUND

Two points will help us to understand this passage better.

The first is regarding one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that of speaking in tongues.  In Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit make her dramatic entrance in that closed room, the disciples all speak in tongues; they fluently speak in foreign languages in which they were never formally instructed.  In the early church, this gift of the Holy Spirit continued to be given to new Christians at their baptism.  Last week’s reading (Acts 8:14-17) was about such a baptismal event. It was proof that you had received the Holy Spirit.

The second point has to do with Paul’s letter as a whole. Much of it was written about specific issues that needed addressing in this church in the city of Corinth.  Four chapters begin with “Now concerning ____ …” (See the first verses of chapters 7, 8, 12, and 16.)  Apparently somebody from that church sent word to Paul of these problems, asking him for a little help and guidance.  In chapter 12, Paul addresses the problem they had regarding the gift of speaking in tongues.  Some were claiming spiritual authority over their Christian brothers and sisters. Let’s see what Paul says about the matter.

THE DETAIL

  • Verse one essentially says “Now let’s talk about spiritual gifts.”
  • He then talks about their former days, when they were pagans; they worshipped mute idols.  Now that they are Christians, they praise Jesus by proclaiming him “Lord”.  At that time, the term “Lord” was reserved for those in political office; the people who controlled your daily life.  The #1 Lord of the Land was Caesar, followed by his regional governors, and so forth.  It would have been treason to call a Jewish carpenter’s son (whom the Romans crucified) “The Lord”.   You definitely need the courage and commitment supplied by the Holy Spirit to make that statement!  Courage and boldness of faith are just two of the gifts received from the Holy Spirit. (vv. 2-3)
  • Next, he jumps into the heart of the issue.  There are all sorts of gifts.  All are given by the same Spirit, … same Lord, … same God who activates all of them in everyone.”  (vv. 4-6)
  • This is the key verse.  Everybody gets some sort of “slice”* of the Holy Spirit, for the common good.  (v. 7)
  • The following verses list some of the more notable gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is not a complete list, but a good assortment.  At the very end, as an almost “by the way” addition, Paul includes “tongues”.  His point was that the gift of tongues wasn’t as important as these.  (vv. 8-10)
  • This passage concludes with the point that the one and only Spirit grants all these gifts as the Spirit choses.  (v. 12)
  • Chapter 12 continues on, but it is not part of Sunday’s reading.  Paul likens a community of believers as a physical body.  All the body parts are needed to make the whole body work.  The body needs fingers, hands, eyes, ears, and even a tongue to do God’s work.  But in order to be a body, it also needs feet, armpits, and other smelly parts. All are necessary for the body to function.  It’s a powerful analogy, with which you may already familiar. I encourage you to read it. Then, in chapter 13, Paul tells us about the best gift of all.

THE TAKEAWAY

As I said last week, most churches believe that the gift of tongues was given out by the Holy Spirit less and less over the centuries. Some churches, called charismatic or Pentecostal, believe this gift is still given.  But in this passage, Paul makes it clear that it is only one of many precious gifts given to Christians through their baptism. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Which spiritual gifts has the Holy Spirit given to you?  Are you using these gift “for the common good”, or are you “hiding them under a bushel basket”?
 

JOHN 2:1-11

THE BACKGROUND

In John’s gospel story, this familiar story appears right after the story of his baptism. 

THE DETAIL

  • This event takes place three days after Jesus’ baptism.  Jesus, his mom, and his disciples are invited to a wedding. You know the story.  (vv. 1-2)
  • I love this dialogue so much, I have to paraphrase verses 3-5:

MARY:  They have no wine, Jesus, do something about it.

JESUS:  Aw come on, Mom!  I just got baptized.  Can’t you cut me a little slack?

MARY (to the staff): Listen to Jesus.  He’s got this.

  • You know the rest of the story.  Water into wine, and it’s really, really good wine.  (vv. 6-10)
  • Verse 11 is packed with several “goodies”:
    • This was the first of Jesus “signs”.
    • This sign revealed his glory.
    • His disciples believed in him.  (Can you imagine the sorts of things they said to each other after this happened?)

THE TAKEAWAY

We like to call them Jesus miracles, but John calls them signs.  Road signs keep you pointed in the right direction.  You may let your mind wander, not read the signs, and get lost.  But the disciples read the sign, and responded appropriately.  The purpose of this story is to provide its readers with the first of many “road signs” to guide them to realizing the true identity of Jesus.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Are you on the right road?

 

For January 9, 2022

NOTE:  Sometimes in today’s study I quote from a new translation called The Message.  I sometimes refer to that for a fresh look or for a little clarity.  These words are shown in parentheses, as are some of my “side comments”. 

 

ISAIAH 43:1-7

THE BACKGROUND

This passage was written during Judah’s exile in Babylon.  They are defeated and broken-hearted.  Many questioned the power of Yahweh.  They wondered if the Babylonian gods might be stronger, since Yahweh’s people were defeated by them.  “Was our god weaker than theirs?”

THE DETAIL

  • The Lord tells his people not to fear.  He reminds them that He created them and formed them.  These are reminders of Genesis 1 and 2.  He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt.  He has named them, so they are His very own.  (v. 1)
  • The Lord now speaks of the journey back home.  This is the message of hope.  The Lord has not abandoned them.  He will ransom His people, just like an owner ransoms a servant from the bonds of slavery. (vv. 2-3)
  • Why does He do this?  He does it out of love for His own.  (v. 4)
  • He repeats—do not fear!  I’m gathering everybody up, and you’re going home.  (vv.5-7)

THE TAKEAWAY

The Lord loves us, and calls us by name.  We are his. He has redeemed us from our slavery to sin through the free gift of His son, who died on the cross for us.  He does not promise that our lives will be without hardship.  After all, His own son was crucified by his enemies.  But He does promise that He loves us, will be by our side throughout our journey, and finally bring us home.
 

ACTS 8:14-17

THE BACKGROUND

The people who chose the readings for the lectionary have chosen a story about baptism.  This sort of matches the gospel lesson for today, which is about the baptism of Jesus.  But this is an odd little story.  For me, it raises more questions than answers.  Maybe together we can figure it out.  (With the help of the Holy Spirit, of course.)

THE DETAIL

  • Apparently some people in Samaria had accepted “the Word of God” or “God’s Message”. Word gets back to Jerusalem, which was the center of the Christian church in the early days.  They send Peter and John to check it out.  Remember that Samaritans were universally hated by the Jews.  The early church consisted mainly of Jews who had believed in Jesus as their Messiah and savior.  Peter and John and all the apostles would have fallen into this category.  They were headed into a region they despised. (v. 14)
  • They must have gotten over it, because once they got there, they prayed for the presence of the Holy Spirit.  (v. 15)
  • Here’s the odd thing.  These people has been baptized, but only “in the name of the Lord (or Master) Jesus”. The reason they prayed for the Holy Spirit was because it was evident to Peter and John that the Holy Spirit had not yet descended upon these Christians.  We’ll chew on this bone in the takeaway.  (v. 16)
  • No matter. Once Peter and John prayed and laid their hands upon the Samaritans, they received the Holy Spirit.   (v. 17)

THE TAKEAWAY

In the early years, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit was very obvious—you spoke in “tongues”. This is only one gift of the Spirit, but it is a very visible one.  It is believed by most that over the centuries this gift of the Holy Spirit has faded, and most believers do not receive this gift.  But a few churches today believe this gift is the only proof that one has received the Holy Spirit.  I do not speak in tongues, but there is no doubt in my mind that the Holy Spirit helps me at certain times. 

Why would the Holy Spirit be withheld from these Samaritan believers, until Peter and John intervened? Maybe the Lord wanted the church in Jerusalem to come to grips with their worldwide mission.  They had to get over their prejudices, and pray for their new brothers and sisters in Christ.  Maybe the Holy Spirit recognized a need in the Samaritan church’s understanding of Jesus, and called upon Peter and John to fill in the gaps of their understanding of Jesus.  One thing is for certain.  Peter and John set aside their personal feelings, and obeyed the Holy Spirit.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

All too often we want to keep Jesus for ourselves.  If someone attends our church that is different than us, it is too easy to ignore them.  The Holy Spirit calls us to do the opposite.  We are to go to them, lay hands upon them, and welcome them as our brothers and sisters.


 

LUKE 3:15-17, 21-22

THE BACKGROUND

You may recall that back in the middle of Advent, we read about John the Baptist.  We read that people heeded his call for repentance, and came to be baptized.  Tax collectors and soldiers even came forward and repented.  Today’s reading follows on the heels of that story—sort of.  In between that story and today’s reading are three verses about Herod’s arresting John, and putting him in prison.  (vv. 18-20, which are omitted from our lesson) Then, in verse 21 we get a flashback to John the Baptist in the River Jordan.  It’s weird, but that’s how Luke presents the story.  Maybe we should get out our biblical scissors and tape, and rearrange them.  But no, let’s leave it be, and just skip over verses 18-20, like we have it in today’s selection.

THE DETAIL

  • People are coming to John’s preaching, hoping and looking for the Messiah.  John sets them straight.  “I’M NOT THE GUY!  But he is coming, so you’d better get ready.”  (vv. 15-16)
  • John then turns up the heat.  “The Messiah is coming, and will separate the wheat from the chaff.  Worse yet, he’s gonna throw the chaff into the fire. DON’T BE THE CHAFF!!!”  (V. 17, my paraphrase)
  • After everybody else has been taken care of, Jesus comes down to be baptized.  In Luke’s account, we don’t get the little dialogue between Jesus and John (Mt. 3:14-15).  In this story, he is simply baptized, and begins to pray.  (v. 21a)
  • As he is praying, the heavens open up.  The Holy Spirit descends upon him in bodily form, sort of like a dove.  (What does this mean?  But how do you describe something heavenly, anyway?)  I especially like The Message’s translation for the words spoken from heaven: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”

THE TAKEAWAY

No, John was not the guy. But he was the one spoken of by the prophets who would prepare the way.  And Jesus came and was baptized, which pleased his Father.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Why did Jesus come to be baptized?  He certainly had no need for repentance.  We get a hint from Matthew 3:15b “…it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”  (Or, as The Message states it “God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.”)

For January 2, 2022

JEREMIAH 31:7-14

THE BACKGROUND

Jeremiah was a prophet to Judah before and during the Babylonian exile.  In the first 29 chapters of this book, we read of Jeremiah’s dire prophecies regarding Judah’s wayward life and what they can expect, if they do not repent and turn to God.  They do not, and are conquered by the Babylonians.  Many are deported, including Jeremiah.  Judah is defeated and dispersed.  They are broken-hearted.  God sends a message of hope to His people through Jeremiah. Chapters 30-33 are this message of hope and consolation.

THE DETAIL

  • God tells his broken-hearted people to shout with gladness and sing.  They are to sing raises and pray for God to save a remnant of their race to continue on.  Note that God calls his people “Jacob”.  In the next verse of this passage He also uses the name “Ephraim”.  These are characters from the old stories of Abraham, Jacob, and Esau.  Using “Jacob” to refer to Judah and “Ephraim” for Israel reminds them of their long heritage and the promise of God’s continued love and care for them.  (v. 7)
  • Here is the promise: God is going to gather up His dispersed peoples from all over, and bring them back to the Promised Land.  And not just those healthy and strong enough for the journey, but even the lame and women in labor.  No one will be left behind.  (vv. 7-9)
  • Jeremiah now proclaims that “He [God] who scattered Israel will gather him [Israel]…”  So, the same God who scatters is now the shepherd who will gather his flock.  Sending his people into exile was seen by His people as a punishment.  God was hitting the reset button, just like he did with Noah and the flood.  Now, he’s a shepherd, gathering His people back together.  (v. 10)
  • Here is the key verse, in my opinion.  God has ransomed and redeemed his people.  They are not strong enough to do this themselves.  God comes to the rescue.  (v. 11)
  • The remainder describes the joy those in exile will experience, when they return home.  (vv. 12-14)

THE TAKEAWAY

How many coupons have you received in the mail that you have thrown away?  Most were useless slips of paper, not even worth the paper they were printed on.  But it seems there is always one that you can use.  It’s still just a piece of paper with ink on it.  But if you take it to the store and redeem it, it has value. God’s promise to us is that if we put our trust in him, he will transform our worthless lives into something of value.  He sends his son to redeem us and make us holy and happy.


EPHESIANS 1:3-14

THE BACKGROUND

This is the beginning of Paul’s letter to the young church in Ephesus.  The omitted verses, one and two, are simply the opening greeting. Now, Paul writes a beautiful faith-witness story.  Notice that it is God who does all the work.  Paul and his disciples merely receive these blessings by believing.  In verse 13, Paul tells us that we all get these blessings, too, when we believe in Jesus.

THE DETAIL

  • Paul begins his letter by praising God for blessing us with “every spiritual blessing”.  (v. 3)
  • Next comes a long list of actions that God has done for us:
    1. He chose us… (v. 4
    2. He destined us for adoption… (v. 5)
    3. He bestowed grace upon us… (v. 6)
    4. He has redeemed us and forgiven us… (v. 7)
    5. He has made known to us the mystery of his will (v. 9)
    6. He has given us an inheritance… (v. 11)
  • We, too, get all of this, when we believe in him.  We are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit [in our baptism].  (v. 13)

THE TAKEAWAY

God is great!  By His generous grace, he freely gives us all these gifts.  All we must do is believe in Jesus as our savior.  What a wonderful Christmas gift that is!

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Paul begins this letter by blessing God.  We often talk about God's blessings for us.  Is it possible for a mere mortal to bless God almighty?  Perhaps we can bless God with our thanks and praise.  And just maybe bless him with our actions.

 

JOHN 1-1-18

THE BACKGROUND

This part of John’s gospel is called the prologue by biblical scholars.  It is so rich that I believe we could spend the next four weeks studying it. This prologue clearly defines who Jesus is, as well as his place in history. 

THE DETAIL

  • In this prologue, John uses two nicknames for Jesus.  He does this to make a point.  The first nickname is the “Word”.  It is even more poignant in Greek—Logos.  Logos meant more than just “word”, it meant “the true word” or “the truth”.  Later in John’s gospel, Jesus will say that he is the way, the truth, and the life.  But here, Jesus is the Logos.  Furthermore, John states that Jesus was there at the beginning of creation.  Jesus existed at the beginning of time.  He took an active part in shaping God’s creation. (vv. 1-4)
  • In the last part of verse 4, John introduces his second nickname—Jesus is the Light.  The Light of Jesus shines in the darkness, and this miserable, dark world cannot overcome his brilliant presence.  (v. 5)
  • We shift now to mention John the Baptist.  The writer clearly defines John’s role.  He wasn’t the Light, but he testified to the Light.  (vv. 5-9)
  • Now we switch back to talking about the Light, Jesus.  Even though he created the world, most did not recognize or accept him. (vv. 10-11)
  • Here is one of the key verses:  But to those who did receive him, they became God’s beloved children.  (v. 12)
  • The next key verse is verse 14.  “And the Word became flesh, and lived among us… full of grace and truth [Logos].”  Jesus-God took on human form.  He experienced life as a human being, including being tempted, rejected, criticized, and more.  He truly has “walked in our shoes”.  (v. 14)
  • John the Baptist is again quoted, fixing John below Jesus in importance.  In the early days after Jesus’ life, John the Baptist had many followers, too.  This statement clearly defines the hierarchy of John to Jesus, making it clear who is on top.  (v. 15)
  • Here is the third key verse.  We got the law through Moses, but we get the grace through Jesus.  Thanks be to God!  (v. 17)
  • Finally, John says that while no one has seen God the Father, we clearly see what God the Father is like through the life of Jesus.  One of Jesus’ missions was to show us who God is by living his life as a model for us. (v. 18) 

THE TAKEAWAY

  • By believing in Jesus as our savior, we become God’s beloved children.  (v. 12)
  • During the 11 days that follow Christmas Day, we reflect on the meaning of his birth.  God took on human form, and lived among us. For a time, we could see, hear, and touch God.  What should we learn about God from this gift?  (v. 14)
  • My pastor defines “grace” as God’s love, freely given.  The Law of Moses defines God’s high expectations for His people.  Not one of us is capable of keeping all these rules.  Through the gift of His son, we receive His grace.  Our sins are forgiven!  (v. 17)

For December 26, 2021

NOTE: Last Sunday was in Advent, and this Sunday is after Christmas.  Maybe you went to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  But if you didn’t, you missed the climax of all that waiting and watching—the birth of our Lord.  If you haven’t already done so, I suggest that you read the gospel lesson for Christmas, Luke 2:1-20. 

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The birth of Jesus is called the Incarnation.  That word means “in the flesh”.  God appears to us “in the flesh”.  He lives with us and for us.  What does that mean to you?  Here’s one suggestion.  Read the familiar bible passage below, and meditate on its full meaning.  I’ve printed it here for you in a very different translation.  I’ve done this to help you to think about the meaning of the words rather than the words we’ve all memorized so many years ago.

 

John 3:16-18 (The Message translation)

16-18 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

 

What do these words tell us about God?

What do these words tell us about ourselves?


 

 

1 SAMUEL 2:18-20, 26

THE BACKGROUND

Eli was the high priest for God’s People.  By tradition, this position should have gone to one of his sons.  But they were rebellious, and did not serve or respect God.  Hannah was a righteous woman who was not able to bear children.  She promised God that if she conceived, she would dedicate her son’s life to God’s service.  Once the baby was weaned, she took her son Samuel to Eli, to be raised in the synagogue. She and Elkanah, her husband, visited Samuel once a year.

THE DETAIL

  • Our story starts out by us learning that Samuel is performing his duties, “ministering before the Lord”.  He is wearing a linen ephod.  An ephod is an over-garment, like an apron, worn by clergy during their service to the Lord.  (v. 18)
  • Looks like his mother would make him a robe, and bring it to him each year.  Whether this was the ephod or something else, we do not know. (It doesn’t say.)  (v. 19)
  • The high priest Eli blessed the parents, Elkanah and Hannah for the gift of their son.  His blessing included wishing for them “many children”. (v. 20)
  • In the verses that the lectionary skips over, we are told that Hannah bore three sons and two daughters. (vv. 21-25)
  • The story concludes by telling us that Samuel grew up tall, strong and righteous in the eyes of the Lord. (v. 26)

THE TAKEAWAY

Samuel honored his parents’ wishes, and devoted his life to divine service. In today’s gospel, Jesus follows a similar path.


 

 

COLOSSIANS 3:12-17

THE BACKGROUND

Paul’s letter to the faithful in Colossae is a loving letter of how to live as Jesus’ disciples.  Before their baptism, most were pagan Greeks. When they were baptized, the new Christians wore a robe of white.  Their lives were changed forever. 

THE DETAIL

  • In the verses previous to this passage (vv. 5-11), Paul tells these new Christians to “put to death” the evil practices of their former lives.
  • They must now “clothe” themselves in the Christian way of love and caring for one another.  The words “clothes yourselves” would have been a reference to the new white robe they robe in their baptism.  This should be a reminder to us all of our baptism, and the new life in Christ into which we are all called.  (v. 12a)
  • What follows is a long list of Christian virtues.  I’ll give you an assignment in “Food for Thought”.  (vv. 12b-16)
  • All of these virtues are summarized in the verse 17.  “Whatever you do, do it in the name of the Lord.” 

THE TAKEAWAY

During this Advent season, John the Baptist has called us to examine our lives, and change.  We, too, should put to death our former lives, and “clothe ourselves with these Christian virtues.  Here in this passage, Paul gives us the new direction; a new way to live our lives. 

Two of the virtues mentioned are meekness and humility.  In our modern culture, these might be considered weak or wishy-washy.  I believe that a person who is strong in faith that still be meek and humble; it’s more of having a loving, gentle approach to life rather than a measure of strength. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Make a list of all the virtues listed in verses 12b-16.  Then, prayerfully reflect on your own behavior.  How do you measure up to each of these?
 

LUKE 2:41-52

THE BACKGROUND

In “bible times”, it was customary to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for celebration of the Passover.  Elkanah and Hannah did this in our first lesson; Mary and Joseph are doing the same in today’s lesson.  They usually traveled with a large group with other pilgrims.  They did this for safety and protection.

THE DETAIL

  • The story begins by telling us that Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem every year for the Passover. This year was no different.  Oh, by the way, he’s 12 years old.  It is good to know that he will have his Bar Mitzvah within a year.  After his Bar Mitzvah, he will be considered a man instead of a boy.  (vv. 41-42)
  • You know the story. Mary and Joseph leave Jerusalem, thinking that Jesus is with the group.  They head out on foot on a three day journey back to Nazareth.  At the end of the first day, they look for Jesus. He is nowhere to be found.  They are beside themselves with anxiety.  They return to Jerusalem.  After three days,  they find him in the temple asking questions and learning.  (vv.43-46)
  • They are upset. Jesus calms them by saying “where else would I be, but here in my Father’s house?”  (vv. 47-49)
  • I find the next verse very interesting.  They did not understand his answer [at the time].  (v. 50)
  • The happy ending is that Jesus went home with them, and was obedient to them.  Even though she did not understand all of this at the time, Mary treasured these things in her heart.  That’s what moms do, isn’t it?  (v. 51)
  • This is we last story we have of Jesus’ childhood.  Luke summarizes it by saying that Jesus grew in wisdom and favor over the years following. (v. 52)

THE TAKEAWAY

  • The first and last verses of this passage sound very much like those of our first lesson.  Perhaps this was intentional, or maybe not. 
  • It is interesting to me that Jesus is already aware of “his Father’s” mission for him, even at this age. It is also interesting that his earthly parents did not understand what he was saying.  They knew that he was special.  But maybe they did not know that whole story, like many of us assume. 
  • We consider the age of 12 to be pre-adolescent.  In Jesus’ culture, we was within a year of becoming an adult.  It was right for him to be in the temple, asking questions, wasn’t it?

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Who were Jesus’ real parents?  Mary? Joseph? 

Were Mary and Joseph strict parents, or did they give Jesus a lot of freedom? 

Jesus was very aware of his Father’s intent, even at age 12.  Are we clear about God’s mission for us in life?  Are we walking that walk”?

For December 19, 2021

 

“Jesus is coming soon!” We’ve all seen these signs on street corners and along the road.  But if you have been observing Advent, and pretending that the Christ Child comes on Christmas Day, it really is true.  This Sunday is the 19th.  Christmas Day is only 6 days away.  Let us make our final preparations for his arrival.

Again this week, our hymn of praise is not from the book of Psalms.  This Sunday’s hymn of praise comes from Mary’s lips; her Magnificat. We will study this in today’s Gospel reading.

 

MICAH 5:2-5a

THE BACKGROUND

The prophet Micah lived during the reign of Hezekiah around 700 B.C.  The Assyrians were attacking from the north.  The outlook appeared grim for the people of Judah.  Micah presents a prophecy of hope for the hopeless inhabitants of Jerusalem. 

THE DETAIL

  • In the verse preceding today’s reading, it appears that the enemy has laid siege to Jerusalem. Furthermore, the king has been humiliated by being slapped on the cheek with a rod.  The situation is dire. 
  • Next is a sweet and familiar prophecy for us Christians.  But what did it mean to those in Jerusalem at the time of the siege? Micah, speaking for God, reassures His people that there is hope.   A king will come forth from Bethlehem for His people, just like David did.  Out of that tiny village, big things will occur once again.  (v. 2)
  • Bad times are indeed in store for God’s people, but after a time, they will return.  (v. 3)
  • The actions of this new king are now described.  He will feed his flock, they shall live secure, and he shall be known throughout the world.  (v. 5)
  • Best of all, the king shall be “one of peace”.  (v. 5a)

THE TAKEAWAY

These words from God were a comfort to the people of Micah’s time.  We Christians see the connection to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Matthew, Luke and John include references to Micah’s prophecy, so they saw it, too.  Big things did indeed come forth from that little village.  So, how does God plan to get a carpenter and his betrothed, expectant bride all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to make this prophecy come true?  I wonder…


HEBREWS 10:5-10

THE BACKGROUND

In several ways, the book of Hebrews is a strange book to me.  I must keep in mind that it was written by a Jew for the Christian-Jewish church.  It was written to explain the meaning of Jesus’ mission.  This is all done from a Jewish-Christian perspective.  Sometimes, it is difficult to follow.  Let’s work our way through today’s passage.

Today’s passage consists mainly of quotations from the bible.  To make matters confusing, they used the Septuagint.  That was an Old Testament translated into Greek, the universal language of the time. Our Old Testament is a translation from the original Hebrew.  Occasionally, like today, there are “slight” differences.

THE DETAIL

  • The passage begins with them “quoting” Jesus.  The passage is actually from Psalm 40:6-8.  Jesus and David are both kings, and speak for God, so I guess they thought it was as good as Jesus saying these words, too.  The main point the writer is making is that Jesus (God) is no longer interested in the old way of burnt offerings and sacrifices as an atonement for sin.  In Psalm 40:6b, our bible reads “but you have given me an open ear”, but Hebrews 10:5b reads “a body you have prepared for me”.  This is due to the use of the Septuagint.  But the overall meaning is the same— a new way to atone for sin is replacing the old.  (vv. 5-6)
  •  Let’s take verses 7 through 10 as one big chunk, broken into three bites. 
    1. Jesus says “See, God, I have come to do your will…” (v. 7a)
    2. Jesus talks again about sacrifices aren’t the new way. (vv. 7b-8)
    3. Jesus says (again) “I have come to do your will”. The writer explains that Jesus abolishes the first, to establish the second.  In other words, when Jesus did his Father’s will by dying on the cross, he abolished the need for repeated sacrifices.  He himself was the sacrifice, ONCE, for ALL!

THE TAKEAWAY

Jesus has done his Father’s will, and sacrificed himself for us.  Our response as Jesus’ followers is to obey the Father’s will.  We live our lives by loving one another, and giving ourselves just as Jesus so freely gave of himself.


 

LUKE 1:39-55

THE BACKGROUND

You may recall from the previous weeks, that we have been following the life of John the Baptist. Last week, we saw the adult John preparing the way for the Messiah.  This week we have a flashback.  His mother Elizabeth is six months pregnant with John, when her cousin comes to visit.

THE DETAIL

  • As soon as Mary greets her cousin Elizabeth, the fetus John leaps in her womb.  I’m going out on a limb here to say that this was the first time that John proclaimed the coming of the Messiah.  (vv. 39-41a)
  • Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, and proclaims a beautiful blessing to Mary. Note that verse 42b is a portion of the Roman Catholic prayer called the Hail Mary.  (vv. 41b-44)
  • Mary’s answer to Elizabeth is that beautiful hymn of praise that we have named The Magnificat. “Magnificat” is Latin for “magnifies”, the operative verb in the first line.  Verses 46-49 are Mary’s song of thanksgiving.  Verses 50-55 declare God’s intentions for the child she will bear. (vv. 45-55)

THE TAKEAWAY

Biblical scholars like to point out the similarity between Mary’s Magnificat and Hannah’s song of praise in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.  Mary was, no doubt, well-versed in the scriptures, she was most likely familiar with this song.  But her praise song differs in many ways from Hannah’s.  Why not study them both to see how they are similar and different?  The takeaway for us from this story comes in verses 50-55.  God is about to turn things upside-down.  Are you ready?

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

In some churches, Mary is called the “Mother of God”.  Others find this offensive, and claim her to merely be an instrument of God’s plan. For sure, Mary must have been the one of the most righteous and worthy women on earth.  God chose her for this special task.  From her knowledge of the song of Hannah, it appears that she was familiar with scripture.  She also appears to have done a pretty good job of raising Jesus, too, wouldn’t you say? What might God have thought of Mary, to give her this important task?  What does Mary’s role in this story mean to you? 

For December 12, 2021

ADVENT 3

In liturgical churches, the colors used to decorate the worship space are chosen to match the mood or spirit of the season.  For many centuries, the color used for the season of Advent was purple.  Purple is the same color used for the season of Lent; to evoke a somber, penitent mood appropriate for the season.  But 20 or 30 years ago, a change was made.  The color for Advent was changed to blue, to signify hope.  I say this, because many of us use Advent wreaths during this season, and the color of most of the candles is now blue. There is also a white one for Christmas Day.  But there’s that one pink, or rose candle, and that’s what we need to talk about. The rose candle is for the third Sunday of Advent.  In Latin, it is called Gaudete Sunday, or “Joy” Sunday.  We take a short break from our preparation and inward, penitent reflection to feel a little joy.  We know that Jesus will be born on Christmas Day.  We know that he brings us salvation; our joy is an appropriate feeling.  This Sunday is reserved to feel a little joy along our Advent journey.  But it is Advent, so you know it won’t last for long.

 

ZEPHANAIAH 3:14-20

THE BACKGROUND

In the verses preceding today’s passage (verses 1-13, not shown), the prophet Zephaniah comes down hard on the political and religious leaders of the day.  God wants his people to care for the poor, the widows, orphans, and foreigners; pretty much everyone who is disadvantaged in their society.  Instead, those in political and religious power were more concerned with lining their own pockets than having pity on those in need. Verses 1-13 are addressed to those in power.  Verses 14-20 are for everybody else.  They are a song of joyful victory that God will deliver over their oppression.  This is the message of hope that Zephaniah received from the Lord. 

THE DETAIL

  • We are to sing, and shout, and rejoice, and exult with all our hearts.  This sure does sound joyful.  But why? (v. 14)
  • We get two good reasons: 1) God has decided not to judge us for our wrongdoings, and 2) we have a new and righteous king in our midst!  (v. 15)
  • Verse 16 starts out “on that day”, so I guess we are still waiting.  God will be in their midst.  (Sounds like Jesus to me!)  The verses following give greater detail as to and how we will rejoice.  (vv. 16-17)
  • Next, we learn why we will rejoice. 
    • Disaster will be no more
    • God will deal with our oppressors
    • He will save the lame and outcast
    • Shame will change to praise
    • We will be renowned and praised by others
    • Our fortunes will be restored

These really are great things to be joyful about!  (vv. 18-20)

THE TAKEAWAY

Since we know that the Messiah is coming, these words ring with a new meaning.  Jesus is this righteous king.  He is our warrior who gives us victory—the victory over death. 


 

PHILIPPIANS 4:4-7

THE BACKGROUND

This is Paul’s “love letter” to the church in Philippi.  Since the bible is God’s word for us, it is also God’s love letter to us. 

THE DETAIL

  • The opening phrase in this passage is right in line with the theme for this Sunday—“rejoice”.  Rejoicing is the active form of feeling joy.  By rejoicing, we show that we have joy in our hearts.  Why do we feel this joy?  It is because our Lord is near.  He is coming soon!  (v. 4)
  • We are to “let our ‘gentleness’ be known to everyone”. I don’t think they mean the sort of gentleness that is soft and wishy-washy.  It’s all about how we show God’s love to others.  They are talking about the kind of gentleness that comes from having kind compassion for those around us.  We can show God’s love by being a judgmental “bull in the china shop”, or we can lovingly care for our brothers and sisters in Christ in kind gentleness.  Which do you think would be more effective?  (v. 5) 
  • Next, we are told how to manage our worrying.  (If we worry about things, it’s hard to be joyful.) To eliminate this road block, we should pray “in supplication and thanksgiving”.  We all know that thanksgiving is being thankful for God’s blessings.  Supplication is a big word which means to ask God for things.  See, the word “supply” is hidden in that word.  We are asking God to supply is with the things we need to eliminate our worry.  (v. 6)

THE TAKEAWAY

In school, I learned that if a teacher repeats himself, the point he’s trying to make is an important one.  Paul starts off this passage by repeating himself, saying “rejoice” twice.  Also, he is writing this from a dark, dank Roman prison cell.  If he can feel the joy of Jesus there, we most certainly can feel that joy in our lives. 

Washing away worry with prayer is good advice.  Ask God to give us what we need to eliminate the worry, so we can feel the joy and do some rejoicing.  Jesus is coming!


 

LUKE 3:7-18

THE BACKGROUND

Last week, we got an introduction to John the Baptist.  We heard his father’s hymn of praise to God, and John’s mission was made clear in the Old Testament references.  Today, we get to see John in action.

THE DETAIL

  • John does not mince words.  He gets straight to the point, calling the crowds a “brood of vipers”, or a bag of snakes!  (v. 7)
  • He doesn’t dwell on the name-calling long. He tells them to repent.  No.  Not just to repent, but to bear fruits of repentance.  In other words, don’t just feel sorry about your sinful nature, do something about it!!!  (v. 8a)
  • The second part of verse 8 needs a little explanation.  Remember that John the Baptist and the crowds were all Jews.  They were “children of Abraham”.  John challenges them to put their heritage aside, and consider their sinful nature head-on.  In order to understand the impact of his statement, I suggest that we substitute our denomination for “children of Abraham”.  Here are two examples,
    • If you are Lutheran, like me, John’s statement would be “Do not even think of saying ‘but ‘I’ve been a Lutheran for over 30 years, how can you talk to me about sinning?’ [John says] God can change these rocks into Lutherans if he so desired!”
    • If you are a Baptist, John’s statement might be “Do not even think of saying ’But I’ve been a Baptist my whole life.  My family has been Baptists as far back as I can remember, how can you talk to me about sinning?  We love the Lord!’  [John says] God can change these rocks into Baptists if he wanted to!”

John’s point here is that regardless of who we are, what we are, or what we have done, we all need to reflect on our sinful nature.  (v. 8b)

  • John’s speech includes a little fire and brimstone, as well.  He reminds us that God holds the power of life and death over us.  I am thankful that “God is patient and kind, abounding in steadfast love”.  (v. 9)
  • John’s sermon must have had the desired effect. People ask how they can “bear fruits of repentance”.  (v. 10) John gives them three examples.
    1. If you have two coats, give one away. (v. 11) Jesus also said this.  The point here is that we should share from our abundance.
    2. Tax collectors should “collect no more than the amount prescribed”. (v. 13)  Tax collectors were notorious for abusing their authority.  Their job was to collect taxes from the locals for the Roman Empire.  But in doing so, most would collect more than what was due, and pocket the difference.
    3. Roman soldiers should “not extort money… [but] be satisfied with your wages”.  (v. 14) The Roman soldier was an ominous and powerful presence.  Many would abuse this power, and force people to do things such as extort (a fancy word for robbing) money from people.

 

THE TAKEAWAY

Well, we started out this study in a joyful mood.  I guess with the Gospel lesson, that party is over!  We are pulled back into the hard work of Advent, preparing the way of the Lord by inward penitent reflection. 

When we have dinner guests, two things must be done.  Not only must we prepare the meal, but we must prepare our home for our guests’ arrival. We would never think of having people over to a dirty house—the house gets a thorough cleaning.  Our Advent reflection and repentance is the way we clean our spiritual “house”.

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Jesus is coming on Christmas Day. Is your “house” clean?

 

 

 

For December 5, 2021

ADVENT 2

This is the second of a four-Sunday season we call Advent.  During Advent, we prepare for the Christ Child’s arrival on Christmas Day. It is a time for us to reflect on our lives.  Are we ready for his arrival?  If he returned tomorrow, would we be ready?  Most importantly, how do we get ready?  Today’s readings reflect these types of thoughts.  Hopefully, we will reflect, discover, and make changes as necessary to prepare for his arrival this Christmas.

Here’s a joke for you. A grandmother was sitting in her rocking chair, reading her bible.  Two grandchildren were sitting at her feet.  “What’s Grandma doing?” said the one child.  The other child answered “She’s studying for her final exam.”  The season of Advent is about preparing for our “final exam”, whether it is Jesus coming here or us going there.

 

LUKE 1:68-79

Normally, I don’t comment on the Psalm.  But this week’s hymn of praise is not from the book of Psalms, but from Luke.  The story actually begins in Luke 1:5-20. The angel Gabriel announces to a priest named Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would bear a child.  When Zechariah expresses doubt, because of age, Gabriel makes him mute.  (That’ll teach him!) 

Fast forward to Luke 1:57-67:  Elizabeth delivers the child.  People ask her what to name him, and she says “John”.  Not satisfied with her answer, they ask her husband.    Zechariah’s first words are “His name is John”.  What follows is Zechariah’s beautiful hymn of praise.  This is today’s psalm.  By the way, this child becomes the man we call John the Baptist. 

 


MALACHI 3:1-4

THE BACKGROUND

The prophet Malachi lived during the post-exilic period of Judah.  During this time, God’s people reverted to their old ways, not giving the Lord the honor and praise He deserved.  Sacrifices and offerings were weak, and not backed up by righteous living. 

THE DETAIL

  • God warns his people that he is sending a messenger ahead of his arrival to the temple. The temple was where God resided on earth.  God tells us that he will “suddenly” come to his temple.  For sure, he is really coming!  Since they are not ready for his coming, He sends a messenger ahead to warn them.  (v. 1)
  • But think about it—who can really withstand this event?  It’s not going to be a cheery parade.  It will take endurance and strength!  To refine metal, you must use intense heat to drive off the impurities. A fuller was a person responsible for making clothes pure white (without Clorox).  A fuller’s soap must have been the strongest thing they had.  (v.2)
  • So, once God returns, he is going to turn up the heat to the melting point “until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.”  In other words, our offerings will not be acceptable to the Lord until our right actions match our offering gift.  Ouch!  (v. 3)
  • But then, once we offer in righteousness, our offering will be pleasing to the Lord.

THE TAKEAWAY

Early Christians were quick to recognize this passage as a prophecy of the messenger who went before the coming of the Messiah.  This reminded them of the mission of John the Baptist.  John’s mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah by getting people to reflect and repent.  To prepare their hearts for the coming Messiah. 

And, just in case you’re wondering, Jesus did indeed turn up the heat.  If you’re in doubt, read he Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, especially 5:17-37.)

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

I can hear my father telling me “Actions speak louder than words”.  God is not interested in our offerings, sacrifices, or worship, unless our beliefs shine forth in righteous living.  How might we be falling short of God’s expectations?


PHILIPPIANS 1:3-11

THE BACKGROUND

The apostle Paul was in a Roman prison, writing this letter to the church in Philippi.  Prison life in Roman times was no picnic.  In fact, they didn’t feed or care for the prisoners; that was the responsibility of friends and family.  Churches like the one in Philippi were his lifeline.  You can tell from the tone of his message that they must have reached out to support him in this time of need.  The joy and love that is in this letter is remarkable, considering the agony that Paul must have been subjected to .

THE DETAIL

  • Paul starts out the letter with thankfulness, joy and prayer.  In spite of the fact that he is in prison, he’s happy to hear that they are sharing the gospel!  (vv. 3-5)
  • He’s confident that their work will be “brought to completion” by the time of Jesus’ return. The “one who began a good work among you” is the Holy Spirit, of course.  (v. 6)
  • Verses 7 & 8 are remarkable in that there is this intense love between Paul and this church—so much so that the prison bars almost seem to melt away! 
  • Paul’s prayer for this church is that their love will flow and increase even more, that they will learn what the best path is for them to follow, and that they live in righteousness.  (vv. 9-11)

THE TAKEAWAY

The Advent message for us lays in verses 5 and 6.  We should be working hard to share the gospel message with those around us, as we wait for Jesus’ return. 


 

LUKE 3:1-6

THE BACKGROUND

Today’s passage is our introduction to John the Baptist’s ministry.  We will study this in detail next week. 

THE DETAIL

  • The passage starts with a list of political and religious leaders.  It is written this way because at the time, they did not have calendars like we do, to mark the date of an event.  By stating it this way, Luke was able to pinpoint the beginning of John’s ministry.  (vv. 1-2)
  • John’s work was not done in the big cities, but out in the boondocks—“the wilderness” along the Jordan river valley north of Jerusalem.  He preached repentance for one’s sins, and offered “a baptism” as a sign of repentance and forgiveness.  (v. 3)
  • Luke now quotes Isaiah 40:3-5, to show that John’s ministry was part of God’s plan to prepare the people of God for His coming Messiah.  (vv. 4-6)

THE TAKEAWAY

It is interesting that the bible doesn’t mention baptism until these verses in the New Testament. Isaiah 1 speaks of the sinfulness of God’s people, and the need to repent.  Verse 16 instructs the repentant ones to wash themselves clean of their sinfulness. 

John calls to each one of us today.  He calls us to examine our lives, “come clean”, and be honest with ourselves.  We should identify the many ways we have fallen short of God’s expectations.  He calls us to repent & begin again, knowing that we are loved and forgiven. This is how we prepare for Jesus’ to enter our hearts on Christmas.

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

How do we prepare for his coming?

  • By making sure that our righteous actions match the piety we profess.  (Malachi 3:1-4)
  • By sharing the Good News with others, while we wait.  (Philippians 1:3-11)
  • By reflecting on our sinful nature, repenting, and starting anew.  (Luke 31-6)

Looks like we all have a lot of work to do this Advent season!

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