Archive for the ‘Christmas Day’ Tag

Christmas is Just the Beginning   Leave a comment

Above:  The Nativity, by John Singleton Copley

Image in the Public Domain

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For Christmas Day, Second Service, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Glory be to thee, O God in the highest, who by the birth of thy beloved Son

has made him to be for us both Word and Sacrament:

grant that we may hear thy Word, receive thy grace,

and be made one with him born for our salvation;

even Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 118

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Isaiah 52:7-10

1 Timothy 3:14-16

John 1:1-18

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John 1:1-18, the prologue to the Gospel of John, is one of the greatest texts in the Bible.  The prologue establishes the timeless credentials of Jesus and contextualizes the story of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity in stunning theological poetry and poetic theology.  Sometimes prose does not suffice; poetry is necessary.  The prologue imitates the second creation (in chronology of writing, although the first in order of arrangement) myth (Genesis 1:1-2:4a), indicating a new creation of a sort.

The world has never been the same since the birth of Jesus.

A most attentive reader might notice that the first readings for the Christmas Day services on the old Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970 are (1) from Isaiah and (2) related to hopelessness and discouragement exiles felt.  That liturgical choice makes sense theologically, given the messianic hopes, born in exile, which the authors of the canonical Gospels linked to Jesus in their compositions.  The canonical Gospels are theological works, each with a thesis.  They are not chronicles, devoid of interpretation.

An early Christian hymn or confession of faith, quoted in 1 Timothy 3:16b, speaks of Jesus:

He was manifested in flesh,

vindicated in spirit,

seen by angels;

he was proclaimed among the nations,

believed in throughout the world,

raised to heavenly glory.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

That is a fine summary, is it not?  It reminds us of some of the events in the life of Jesus and of part of the progress of the early Church.

Christmas is just the beginning.  This is a truth also evident in The Methodist Hymnal (1966), which sets “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” to the same tune, that of the Christmas carol.  Christmas leads to Good Friday, which leads to Easter.

Christmas is just the beginning.  Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 23, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES OF JERUSALEM, BROTHER OF JESUS

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Jesus and Empires   Leave a comment

Above:  Annunciation to the Shepherds, by Anonymous

Image in the Public Domain

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For Christmas Day, First Service, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Glory be to thee, O God in the highest, who by the birth of thy beloved Son

has made him to be for us both Word and Sacrament:

grant that we may hear thy Word, receive thy grace,

and be made one with him born for our salvation;

even Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 118

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Isaiah 40:25-31

Galatians 4:1-7

Luke 2:1-14

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Luke 2 presents the honest, objective reviewer of history and the Gospel of Luke with a text full of factual holes yet profound truth and timeless meaning.  We cannot possibly line up all the historical details–the census and all those officeholders–at the same period in the past.

There never was a census of the whole Empire under Augustus (but a number of local censuses, and the census of Judea (not of Galilee) under Quirinius, the governor of Syria, took place in AD 6, probably at least ten years too late for the birth of Jesus.

–Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 1997), 233

The text of Luke 2:1-14, although factually inaccurate, is theologically true.

As Brown pointed out, the author of the Gospel of Luke, by linking the birth of Jesus to an imperial decree, introduced a divine plan that reached its culmination in Acts 28, when St. Paul the Apostle proclaimed the Gospel in Rome.  The song of the angels was for Jesus, not Augustus.  It constituted an imperial proclamation of a sort, too.

Code:  Jesus is more important than Augustus and his successors even were.

In Isaiah 40:27 exiles lament:

“My way is hid from the LORD,

my cause is ignored by God.”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

It is an understandable way of thinking.  It is also one of the following verses refute.

One meaning of the Incarnation is that God does not ignore we human beings.  In contrast, God loves us enough to become one of us, alive among us, and save us.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 23, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES OF JERUSALEM, BROTHER OF JESUS

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Reasons for Hope   1 comment

Above:  Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Proper 2

Isaiah 62:6-12

Psalm 97

Titus 3:4-7

Luke 2:[1-7] 8-20

Proper 3

Isaiah 52:7-10

Psalm 98

Hebrews 1:1-12

John 1:1-14

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The Reverend Will Humes, consistent with the Roman Catholic tradition of the three masses of Christmas, provides Propers 1, 2, and 3 in his proposed lectionary.  Proper 1 is for Christmas Eve.  Propers 2 and 3 are for Christmas Day.

St. Gregory I “the Great,” Bishop of Rome (d. 604), provided the oldest surviving documentation of the three masses of Christmas.  The midnight mass was at the Church of St. Mary Major.  The second mass, at dawn, was at St. Anastasia’s Church.  The third mass of the day was at the Church of St. Peter.

Proper 2

The context of Isaiah 62 was the end of the Babylonian Exile.  The nations had witnessed the vindication of Israel in 61:10-62:2.  The best days of the returning exiles lay ahead.  The problem was that, according to all historical sources, those predictions of paradise on Earth did not come true.  Returning exiles lived in a poor, backwater satrapy of the Persian Empire.  Many people pushed those vaunted hopes into the future.

God is in charge.  This is good news for the righteous and bad news for those He consumes.  Justification by grace, which results from divine mercy, makes the justified heirs to eternal life, which is knowing God via Jesus (John 17:3).  Part of living faithfully, of responding favorably to God in response to divine mercy, is striving to live more patiently as one acknowledges God’s promises.  There is always hope, even though some of it has yet to arrive.

Regardless of the year you are reading this post, O reader, I guarantee that global news looks nothing like God’s full-blown reign on Earth.  This is a matter of human sinfulness and of divine scheduling.  Mustering patience can be difficult, I know, but we need not rely on our strength, which is insufficient anyhow.  Fortunately, God seems to smile upon even the effort to muster patience; at least the attempt is a sign of good faith.

Proper 3

The readings from Hebrews 1 and John 1 present the heavenly Jesus, who dwelt among people and met with both acceptance and rejection.  All the people of the Earth should rejoice because of the Incarnation, but most do not.  This is unfortunate.  It is also a matter for divine judgment and mercy; I will not presume to know more about the balance of those two factors than the very little I perceive.

The reading from Isaiah 52 is a prophecy of the restoration of Jerusalem.  The Presence of God will dwell with the people, as it did after the Exodus and before the crossing into Canaan, we read.  The full victory of God remains for the future, but the Incarnation constitutes a unique divine intervention into human events.  The Incarnation points toward intervention and tells us, among other things, that we who follow Christ have excellent reasons to hope for the future.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, APOSTLE OF IRELAND

THE FEAST OF EBENEZER ELLIOTT, “THE CORN LAW RHYMER”

THE FEAST OF ELIZA SIBBALD ALDERSON, POET AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN BACCHUS DYKES, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY SCOTT HOLLAND, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER AND PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/devotion-for-christmas-day-years-a-b-c-and-d-humes/

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The Scandal of Grace at Christmas   1 comment

Above:  Angels Announcing Christ’s Birth to the Shepherds, by Govert Flinck

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR CHRISTMAS DAY, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN  THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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God, you make us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ.

Grant that we may joyfully receive him as our Redeemer,

so we may with sure confidence behold him when comes to be our judge,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 76

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Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (Protestant)/Isaiah 9:1, 5-6 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

Psalm 5

Galatians 4:1-7

Luke 2:1-20

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The setting of Luke 2 is troublesome within itself.  There was no such imperial census, we know from historical records, but there was a regional census in Judea (not in the Galilee) in 6 and 7 C.E., written records tell us.  Father Raymond E. Brown, in his magisterial Introduction to the New Testament, states that Luke’s account gets historical details wrong.  Brown also argues that Luke-Acts speaks of a divine plan set inside the Roman Empire.  The text of Luke-Acts contextualizes the birth of Jesus in the reign of the Emperor Augustus (Luke 2) and concludes with the arrival of St. Paul the Apostle in Rome (Acts 28).  Brown writes of the song of the angels to the shepherds.  That song, he insists, is similar to an imperial proclamation in an empire that labeled Augustus the savior of the world.  The point is plain:  Christ is greater than Augustus.

In Psalm 5 the beleaguered author (allegedly David) seeks divine deliverance from his enemies.  He, referring to the Temple, writes,

But I can enter your house

because of your great love.

–Verse 8a, The New American Bible

In Christ we have the Temple in the flesh.  This is the Temple that became flesh out of great love.

The reading from Isaiah 9 is a description of the ideal Davidic king.  One probably thinks most intensely about the ideal ruler when one’s ruler falls far short of the ideal and does not try to live up to that ideal.  Otherwise one might extol the virtues of one’s ruler instead.  In this case the ideal Davidic king, according to the standard, traditional English-language translations is, as The New Revised Standard Version (1989) states:

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

–Verse 6c

Perhaps the familiar language obscures the meaning of the Hebrew text.  Consider then, O reader, the translation from TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985):

The Mighty God is planning grace;

The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler.

–Verse 5c

This version cuts to the chase nicely; God is planning grace.  We find another example of that grace in Galatians 3 and 4.  At the end of Galatians 3 we read in a glorious and duly famous passage that, through Jesus, Gentile believers join the ranks of Jews as “sons of God,” a term that indicates being the Chosen People, as in Deuteronomy 14:1-2.  With grace, such as that which makes people “sons of God,” also comes responsibility to shed the light of God brightly.  That is fair.  Grace is free yet certainly not cheap, for it requires much of its recipients.  That is fair.

Traditional categories, such as Jews, Greeks, slaves, free people, males, and females do not divide “sons of God,” all of whom are heirs of God.  That is wonderful news!  Why, then, do so many of us maintain, magnify, and create categories for the purpose of defining ourselves as the in-crowd and other “sons of God” as outsiders?  All who do so demonstrate that they prefer psychological comfort to the scandal of grace.

Grace is scandalous.  By means of it we receive more than we deserve; so do people we dislike strongly.  We, like the author of Psalm 5, want better than we deserve yet desire the worst for our foes.  By means of grace a defenseless newborn boy is greater than Augustus Caesar.  Much is possible via grace.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 29, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE BEHEADING OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

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Deciding or Refusing to Repent   1 comment

Adoration of the Shepherds, by Mikael Toppelius

Above:  The Adoration of the Shepherds, by Mikael Toppelius

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Isaiah 6:(8) 9-13 or Jeremiah 10:1-16 (17-25)

Psalm 35 or 94

John 12:17-19, 37-50

Romans 11:2b-28 (29-32) 33-36

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You have seen, O LORD, do not be silent!

O Lord, do not be far from me!

–Psalm 35:22, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Happy are those whom you discipline, O LORD,

and whom you touch out of your law,

giving them respite from days of trouble,

until a pit is dug for the wicked.

For the Lord will not forsake his people;

he will not abandon his heritage;

for justice will return to the righteous,

and all the upright in heart will follow it.

–Psalm 94:12-15, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Some of the readings for this occasion seem to indicate that God has, at various times, designated entire populations and refused to permit them to repent of their sins.  This reading is at odds with the theology of unlimited atonement (by Jesus, via his death and resurrection), which ends a process begun by the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth.  My understanding is that (A) all of us are sinners, (B) God desires all sinners to repent, and (C) many sinners simply refuse to repent.  In Judaism one can find an interpretation of the lection from Isaiah that insists that God predicted that many people would not understand and did not desire them to fail to understand.  In this reading First Isaiah’s mission was to help people to repent, not to prevent it.  This makes sense to me.

Why might one not repent?  One might identify a set of reasons, but perhaps the most basic reason is that one must recognize something as an error before one seeks to correct it.  Spiritual blindness is a major problem from which all people suffer.  We can, by grace, see what occupies our blind spots.  Assuming that we do this, do we want to change?  Maybe we think that necessary change is pointless or too difficult.  Or perhaps we are simply afraid to take action by trusting in God and venturing into unknown (to us) spiritual territory.  Either way, one does not repent.

Whoever loves himself or herself more than God is lost, we read in John 12.  To be a Christian is to follow Jesus, who went to a cross then a tomb, which he occupied only briefly.

To think this much about Good Friday and Easter Sunday on Christmas Day might seem odd, but it is theologically correct.  The recognition of this reality is hardly new.  Indeed, Johann Sebastian Bach incorporated the Passion Chorale tune into his Christmas Oratorio.

Grace is free to all, fortunately.  Yet many will not accept it and the demands accompanying it.  Each of us has a responsibility to say “yes” to God, whose grace is always free and never cheap.  Each of us has a responsibility to love his or her neighbors as he or she loves himself or herself.  Doing so will, for different people, lead to different ends in this life, and translate into action in a variety of ways, depending on circumstances.  The principle is constant, however.  Jesus, who came to us first as a baby, demands nothing less than taking up one’s cross and following him.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 30, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRIETTE LUISE VON HAYN, GERMAN MORAVIAN HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/devotion-for-christmas-day-year-d/

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The Universal and Timeless Love of God   1 comment

Micah

Above:  Icon of the Prophet Micah

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Ecclesiastes 7:15-29 or Micah 7:1-20

Psalm 44

Matthew 10:9-23 or Luke 12:1-12

Romans 3:1-22a

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Rouse yourself!  Why do you sleep, O Lord?

Awake, do not cast us off forever!

Why do you hide your face?

Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?

For we sink down to the dust;

our bodies cling to the ground.

Rise up, come to our help.

Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.

–Psalm 44:23-26, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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The readings for this occasion present a realistic appraisal of the world, not only in antiquity or today, but during all the times in between.  Certain powerful empires conquer weaker neighbors.  Wicked people flourish.  Good people perish.  Persecution of people of God occurs.  Nevertheless, one should avoid committing the theological error of assuming or otherwise concluding that the existence of God, of whom caring is an essential property, precludes the reality of suffering for many righteous people.  At this point one might point to the Book of Job and the crucifixion of Jesus as Exhibits A and B in that case.

Although suffering (for righteousness, sin, and simply having a pulse) occurs, that fact does not negate or contradict the mercy of God.  That mercy is available regardless of ethnic and cultural factors and boundaries.  That love is evident in the form of baby Jesus, born into a place and time at which his life was in danger.  That love is and always has been evident in many ways.  That love is worth pondering every day, but especially on Christmas Day.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 23, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MARTIN DE PORRES AND JUAN MACIAS, HUMANITARIANS AND DOMINICAN LAY BROTHERS; SAINT ROSE OF LIMA, HUMANITARIAN AND DOMINICAN SISTER; AND SAINT TURIBIUS OF MOGROVEJO, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF LIMA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN COPELAND, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/08/23/devotion-for-christmas-morning-year-d/

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The Incarnated Light   1 comment

04039v

Above:  Interior, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Palestine, Between 1934 and 1939

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/mpc2004002998/PP/)

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-04039

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The Collects:

All-powerful and unseen God, the coming of your light

into our world has brightened weary hearts with peace.

Call us out of darkness, and empower us to proclaim the birth of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

and

Almighty God, you gave your only Son to take on our human nature

and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Set One:

Isaiah 62:6-12

Psalm 97

Titus 3:4-7

Luke 2:[1-7] 8-20

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Set Two:

Isaiah 52:7-10

Psalm 98

Hebrews 1:1-4 [5-12]

John 1:1-14

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Some Related Posts:

O Blessed Mother:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/o-blessed-mother/

A Christmas Prayer:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/a-christmas-prayer/

Blessing of a Nativity Scene:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/blessing-of-a-nativity-scene/

A Christmas Prayer:  God of History:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/a-christmas-prayer-god-of-history/

A Christmas Prayer:  Immanuel:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/a-christmas-prayer-immanuel/

Christmas Blessings:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/christmas-blessings/

A Christmas Prayer of Thanksgiving:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/a-christmas-prayer-of-thanksgiving/

The Hail Mary:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/the-hail-mary/

O Little Town of Bethlehem:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/12/09/o-little-town-of-bethlehem/

Joy to the World:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/joy-to-the-world/

Christmas Prayers of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/christmas-prayers-of-praise-and-adoration/

Christmas Prayers of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/christmas-prayers-of-dedication/

A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Christmas:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/a-prayer-of-thanksgiving-for-christmas/

How Can I Fitly Greet Thee:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/how-can-i-fitly-greet-thee/

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Light has dawned for the righteous:

and joy for the upright in heart.

–Psalm 97:11, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

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You have made known your victory:

you have displayed your saving power to all nations.

–Psalm 98:3, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

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The readings for Christmas Day, the first day of Christmas, focus on the arrival of salvation.  In some ways this announcement constitutes old news, especially when reading the lessons from Isaiah.  And, as another text tells us:

In many and various ways God spoke to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom he also created the ages.  He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power.  When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs.

–Hebrews 1:1-4, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition

Salvation was–and remains–old news.  And the one new means of it is about 2,000 years old in human terms now.  Through Jesus we have access to

…the cleansing power of a new birth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit….The result is that we are acquitted by his [Christ’s] grace, and can look forward in hope to inheriting life eternal.

–Titus 3:5b and 7, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

The Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, proclaimed to shepherds, is potentially good news for people of various socio-economic backgrounds and cultural origins.  Grace is good news, is it not?  Yet grace, although free, is costly, not cheap.  It demands much of us.  And there is potentially bad news from a certain point of view.  To follow Jesus–to be a disciple–might cost one more than one wants to pay.  It has cost many people their lives.

On this Christmas Day and on all other days may we accept the challenge to take up a cross and follow Jesus, the Word made flesh and the Light who shines in the darkness without the darkness overcoming it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORG NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN HINES, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/devotion-for-december-25-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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