Home » Archives for December 2014

Month: December 2014

Bible Tuesday for Christmas II, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Christmas II, 2015

Jeremiah 31:7-14

7For thus says the Lord: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.” 8See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. 9With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.

10Hear 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 a flock.” 11For the Lord has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. 12They 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 become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again. 13Then 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. 14I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the Lord.

This section of Jeremiah starts out with a prophecy against evil doers. Jeremiah is prophesying to Israel while it is in captivity in Babylon. Most Israelites understand themselves to be righteous before God and therefore deserving of God’s favor and rescue from Babylon. However, God looks at them through their complete lack of faithfulness to the covenant God made with Abraham, renewed with Isaac and then with Jacob and then with all twelve of his sons and their progeny forever, “’The covenant they broke though I was their husband,’ says the Lord.” While the Israelites see themselves as poor innocents, God knows them to be the very evil doers they decry to God.

Yet, God tells Jeremiah to prophesy the above passage. God will save the people, no matter how undeserving, because God is faithful to the covenant. “For the Lord has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.” Captivity and occupation under Babylon was in many ways very difficult, not the least of which was the inability to worship God as Moses and Leviticus command them to do. Here God promises that they will return to Jerusalem, to the Temple on Mount Zion, to a restored relationship with God. God will do this in God own forbearance through God’s grace, love, and covenant faithfulness.

Psalm 147:12-20

12 But the Lord delights in those who fear him, •
who put their trust in his steadfast love.
13 Sing praise to the Lord, O Jerusalem; •
praise your God, O Zion;
14 For he has strengthened the bars of your gates •
and has blest your children within you.
15 He has established peace in your borders •
and satisfies you with the finest wheat.
16 He sends forth his command to the earth •
and his word runs very swiftly.
17 He gives snow like wool •
and scatters the hoarfrost like ashes.
18 He casts down his hailstones like morsels of bread; •
who can endure his frost?
19 He sends forth his word and melts them; •
he blows with his wind and the waters flow.
20 He declares his word to Jacob, •
his statutes and judgments to Israel.

This psalm in its entirety praises God for creation and saving acts on behalf of Israel. Like Jeremiah above, this psalmist is also concerned with God’s faithfulness to the covenant which Israel repeatedly betrayed. When God creates, there is an implied covenant between God and the creation in that what God creates, God calls “good” and “very good.” It appears that, in God’s eyes, if it is worth creating, it is worth saving.

Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

First off, a little text criticism on Ephesians. The authorship of this book is unknown. Traditionally it is lumped in with Paul’s writings, but there are concepts, sentence structures, and phrases present in Ephesians that are not found in any of Paul’s known writings. Among these phrases is “to the praise of his glory.” When one looks at the Greek of this phrase, the translation is easy enough but the meaning is not made clear merely by translation. Speculation on authorship of Ephesians is that a disciple of Paul’s likely wrote it sometime in the late first century AD.

“…who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” can be understood to mean that through baptism into Jesus, we are showered with every spiritual gift possible.

” just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” As Lutherans, we reject predestination and struggle with any language in the Bible or in doctrine or dogma that smacks of pre-choosing, pre-ordaining, etc. The way we are made holy and blameless before God in love is through baptism into Jesus. Since the gift of baptism is for all people, one can read this passage as referring not to some chosen elect, but rather to all people. “having been destined according to the purpose…” can be understood the same way. Christ died and rose for the redemption of all people, of all creation. Therefore, all people can be understood to be destined according to God’s purpose.

John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life,* and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.*

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own,* and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,* full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,* who is close to the Father’s heart,* who has made him known.

Like the gospel of Mark, the writer of John harkens back to the opening words of the Hebrew Scriptures to begin the story of Jesus, the Christ: “In the beginning”. While Mark begins his gospel with Jesus’ baptism, and Luke and Matthew begin with Mary’s pregnancy, John goes back to before creation, the eternity when there was just God. John tells us that before anything existed other than God, part of God that existed was logos, which English translates as “the word” but Spanish translates as “the verb”. In fact, the Greek word logos is a very complicated, multifaceted word that is quite hard to translate. Even in English, “word” means: a piece of language, a promise/a representation of one’s integrity (I give you my word), a label, etc. In Greek, logos takes on philosophical and volitional aspects that don’t translate to English at all.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” means that one person, one aspect of God that has always been is the volition, the intention, the promise, the action of God and all of that is attributed to Jesus. It is the Apostle Paul, and the gospel of John that tell us that God has always been and will always be Trinity, creator, redeemer, sanctifier, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As the gospel of John is the last of the four canonical gospels to be written, it addresses some issues that earlier gospels did not. Also, John’s audience is different than that of the other three. As I wrote in an earlier Bible Tuesday, even after John the Baptist’s death, and Jesus’s death and resurrection, there were disciples of John the Baptist who continued to look for God’s messiah and who did not recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior, Elohim and Messiah. In this first chapter of the gospel of John, the writer introduces one of several arguments for devotees to John the Baptist accepting Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah.

Verse 14 is translated, “And the word became flesh and lived among us.” A more literal translation is “And the logos became flesh and blood and pitched his tent next to ours.” There is a strong neighborliness to this sentence which is meant to state that Jesus lives just right next door.

The last aspect of the extremely multifaceted text that I will touch on is also mentioned in the Great Thanksgiving for the Christmas season, “beholding the word made flesh, we may love the God whom we cannot see.” Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus is presented as the visible, tangible means whereby we can encounter the untouchable, unseeable God. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Bible Tuesday for Advent Iv, 2014

Bible Tuesday for Advent IV, 2014

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

7 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”3 Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders[a] of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” 8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; 9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me, your throne shall be established forever.

There are a few topics to examine in this text:

Hubris-David has the gall to presume to build GOD a house! So David and his builders figure out how to build a wooden house and move from a tent into an immovable structure. Good for them, but how that qualifies David to house the creator of all that is, I do not know. David assumes that because he can be honored with a wooden house, God should certainly have the same, otherwise David looks greater than God. It is as if David has become so great, that now he wants to bring God up to his level. Hubris!

House-This whole text plays puns on “house”. The word for house is “bayit” which has been anglicized to “beth”. David comes from Bethlehem, which in Hebrew is “bayit lechem” or “House of Bread”. The Hebrew is playing on the fact that David comes from a “house” and now lives in a “house” and wants to build God a “house,” but God wants to make of David a dynasty, which God is calling a “house.” As a “house” is a permanent structure, as opposed to a moveable tent or the Ark of the Covenant, David’s desire to build God is house is also an effort to confine and domesticate God.

From the Pasture-David was a shepherd of sheep until God called him to be shepherd of Israel, by a very circuitous route, calling David out of the pastures of Bethlehem and into the pastures of all Israel.

Many scholars speculate that the scrolls of Samuel were originally written to prove the Divinely Chosen Status of the Davidic line (which was greatly disputed immediately after David’s death.)

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

1 I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. 2 For I said, "Steadfast love will be built up forever; in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness." 3 You have said, "I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: 4 ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.’" Selah 19 Of old you spoke in a vision to your godly one, and said: "I have granted help to one who is mighty; I have exalted one chosen from the people. 20 I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him, 21 so that my hand shall be established with him; my arm also shall strengthen him.22 The enemy shall not outwit him; the wicked shall not humble him. 23 I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. 24 My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted. 25 I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. 26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’

This psalm reinforces the establishment of the Davidic line, but makes it clear that God has done this. Despite the fact that through the prophets of Samuel and Nathan, God calls David “after my own heart”, nevertheless, rarely do the scrolls of Samuel every mention David praying. David seems to make some very shrewd maneuvers to solidify his monarchy and then proceeds to enlarge the kingdom, but he does these things without consulting the prophets or God through prayer, for the most part. In this psalm, God speaks and states that God has accomplished all these marvelous works through David. David is not a partner, or an independent actor, but a envoy, a tool, an agent.

Romans 16:25-27

25 Now to God, who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

The writings of Paul are the most difficult to translate and interpret in the New Testament. The above text is a perfect example. As the Greek of the New Testament was written in all capital letters with no spaces between words and no punctuation, discerning writing like the above is open to many interpretations. In addition, while the gospel of John is written in very simply written, straight forward Greek (it is the book Greek learners start on), the writings of Paul are all in complex Greek, with many dependent clauses, asides, and other oratory tools. So, if you read the above sentence (yes, that is one sentence) and say to yourself, “Wait, what?” you are not alone. There are even comments in the later epistles of the New Testament that Paul’s writings are very hard to understand.

This text is the final sentence of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, his doxology. In it Paul invokes God’s ability to work through him and the good news of God that he brings, through Jesus, through history, through the prophets, and even through the Gentiles, to save all by His power displayed and culminated in Jesus.

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

When we read texts like this, ones we think we almost know by heart, it is very difficult to hear exactly what the text says. We tend to blend the gospels, to harmonize them as if they all say the same thing. That is especially true of the Christmas story. But remember, only two of the gospels have anything of the Christmas story. Only one gospel has shepherd and only one has the wise men. Not one has a drummer boy! Or lowing cattle! Or a donkey, long eared or not, on which Mary rides. When we read the Bible, most especially these familiar stories, it is important that we try to clear our heads of our familiarity of the story and hear what this gospel writer has to tell us of God.

If we read this text very cleanly and strictly, we know nothing of Mary except the following: Mary is an unwed woman. We are told this by the word that is here translated “virgin”. This word in both Greek and Hebrew means “unwed woman” and implies “young” and in both Old and New Testament culture, a Hebrew woman stayed a virgin until her marriage or she was a prostitute. This culture stoned Romeos and Juliets.

Mary is almost married to a man named Joseph, who was of King David’s line. Engagement in that culture meant that families had already made a covenant that the two people were going to be married. The only thing stopping the marriage at that moment were the various wedding plans coming to fruition and the synagogue official had to be present. To end this engagement required a decree of divorce, same as a marriage.

At the time of this visitation, Mary is still living in her family’s home. The only way an unwed woman left home was if she was orphaned and no relative took her in. In that case she became a prostitute or died of exposure. As Mary is alive and well and still a virgin, we know she lives in the home of a relative.

When the angel visits Mary, she is alarmed and confused. “Much perplexed” and “fear not” convey this. Also, notice how the angel tells Mary about the child she will bear, how he will be the Son of God and will fill a truly remarkable role in all history and all she says is, “But I am a virgin!?”

Mary and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, are relatives. No other gospel tells us this. No other gospel even includes the birth of John the Baptist.

Bible Tuesday for Rose Sunday 2014

Bible Tuesday for Advent III, Rose Sunday, 2014

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me as a herald of joy to the humble, to bind up the wounded of heart, to proclaim release to the captives, liberation to the imprisoned; to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favor and a day of vindication by our God; to comfort all who mourn—to provide for the mourners in Zion—to give them a turban instead of ashes, the festive ointment instead of mourning, a garment of splendor instead of a drooping spirit. They shall be called terebinths of victory, planted by the Lord for His glory. And they shall build the ancient ruins, raise up the desolations of old, and renew the ruined cities, the desolations of many ages. For I, the Lord, love justice, I hate robbery with a burnt offering. I will pay them their wages faithfully, and make a covenant with them for all time. Their offspring shall be known among the nations, their descendants in the midst of the peoples. All who see them shall recognize that they are a stock the Lord has blessed. I greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being exults in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of triumph, wrapped me in a robe of victory, like a bridegroom adorned with a turban, like a bride bedecked with her finery. For as the earth brings forth her growth and a garden makes the seed shoot up, so the Lord God will make victory and renown shoot up in the presence of all nations.

Here the school of prophets that scholars assume authored Isaiah speaks directly to the people of Israel. He/They proclaim their authority to speak; he/they have the spirit of the Lord upon them (speak with God’s voice) and he/they are anointed for this task. This first verse refers to the Year of the Lord’s Favor or the year of Jubilee. The concept of Jubilee is that when the Israelites, under Joshua, conquered the promised land and possessed it, the land was granted to the people by Tribe, Clan, and family. The tribe was given a “state” if you will, the clans were given “counties”, and the families were given large parcels. These were to stay in the family for perpetuity. However, in practical terms, people got into debt and the only real asset they had was this land so sometimes they sold it and indentured themselves to earn food, clothing, and shelter. The year of Jubilee was the year that all debts were forgiven and all returned to its rightful families. The year of Jubilee was supposed to happen every 50 years or every other generation. In the above passage, the prophet Isaiah is proclaiming Jubilee for all of Israel as they return from captivity in Babylon.

Terebinths are a type of tree seeming to be planted as a testimony of victory.

Luke 1:46-55 Magnificat

46 And Mary[a] said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary sings praises to God for the reversals God has, is, and will wrought. In the culture of Mary’s day, wealth and power were understood to be limited. If someone was rich, it meant wealth was usurped from others. If someone was powerful, it was because power was ripped away from others. A strong theme in this magnification of God through prose is that God has and continues to restore balance between wealthy and poor, powerful and powerless. This is not God forcing people to trade roles, but rather a reversal of the extremes of sin.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit.20 Do not despise the words of prophets,[a] 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.

23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound[b] and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

When I read Paul, I tend to gloss over his lists, whether vices, admonishments, or gifts. Forcing myself to focus is not a wasted effort, especially not on this list.

“Rejoice always.” What a challenge Paul lays out for us! To rejoice when one is fired or is given a terrible diagnosis seems a choice for denial through a Polly Anna outlook. But, if we are able to open ourselves to God’s work and will in all things, then the fear, anger, and fetal position are eased with optimism and willingness to accept what is. Recently my son posted something on Facebook, “Just because you are given a cactus doesn’t mean you have to sit on it.” I would add, there might actually be something to learn from this cactus, something to appreciate about it, which we miss if all we do is complain about its prickliness.

“Pray without ceasing.” If we understand prayer to be a pretty one sided conversation with God, then this sounds preposterous. If prayer speaking to God and listening to God, then this sounds like great advice, but wow, it is hard! How does one know when God is speaking or acting and it isn’t just one’s own Jiminy Cricket? “But test everything!”

John 1:6-8, 19-24

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed. “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “No.” And are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’’ as the prophet Isaiah said. They had been sent from the Pharisees.

A main theme in the gospel of John is “Come and see. Now go and tell.” Be a witness! In these first verses of the gospel of John, we are introduced to the first witness to Jesus.

“Verse 6 [of chapter 1 of the gospel of John] introduces an actor from the human drama into the Prologue: John. John has a slightly different function in the fourth Gospel than in the other Gospels. He is never identified as ‘the Baptist,’ nor is he ever called the forerunner of Jesus. Instead, John has one function in this gospel: to witness to Jesus.” New Interpreter’s Bible.

There were, and still are, disciples of John the Baptist who did not leave John to follow Jesus. The gospel of John especially stresses that John is “not the light” to direct his disciples away from himself to Jesus. Later in the chapter, John sees Jesus and states, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

To witness, in Greek is to martyria, from which we get the English word, martyr. The word does not mean to die for the faith, but rather to witness to it. In the above passage, maryria is translated “testimony”.

Bible Tuesday for Advent II

Bible Tuesday for Advent II, 2014

Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and declare to her that her term of service is over, that her iniquity is expiated; for she has received at the hand of the Lord double for all her sins. A voice rings out: “Clear in the desert a road for the Lord! Level in the wilderness a highway for our God! Let every valley be raised, every hill and mount made low. Let the rugged ground become level and the ridges become a plain. The presence of the Lord shall appear, and all flesh, as one, shall behold—for the Lord Himself has spoken.” A voice rings out: “Proclaim!” Another asks, “What shall I proclaim?” “All flesh is grass, all its goodness like flowers of the field. Grass withers, flowers fade when the breath of the Lord blows on them. Indeed, man is but grass. Grass withers, flowers fade—but the word of our God is always fulfilled!” Ascend a lofty mountain, o herald of joy to Zion. Raise your voice with power, o herald of joy to Jerusalem—raise it, have no fear. Announce to the cities of Judah: Behold your God! Behold, the Lord God comes in might, and His arm wins triumph for Him. See, His reward is with Him, His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd He pastures His flock. He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them in His bosom. Gently He drives the mother sheep.

I cannot read this without hearing those marvelous tenor and alto solos from Handel’s Messiah. In my mind’s ear, what I hear is that truly glorious, ethereal music which I love, and which, for me, clouds the sounds of the Isaiah’s actual words. “When I was sick and in prison, you visited me,” says Jesus. Well, that is what Isaiah is doing. Jerusalem and all Judah with that city, has been in prison and house arrest in Babylon for a couple of generations. God has told the prophet to go speak words of comfort. “Her term of service is over, that her iniquity is expiated,” means that Judah has served its term in captivity and can now, FINALLY be released to go home! The content of that first tenor area, “Every Valley” can be summed up by the words, “Roll out the red carpet, the prisoners of war are coming home.” It is Yahweh, powerful and glorious, who will bring about this freedom and lead his people home.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

O Lord, You will favor Your land, restore Jacob’s fortune. Show us, O Lord, Your faithfulness; grant us Your deliverance. Let me hear what God, the Lord, will speak. He will promise wellbeing to His people, His faithful ones; may they not turn to folly. His help is very near those who fear Him, to make His glory dwell in our land. Faithfulness and truth meet; justice and wellbeing kiss. Truth springs up from the earth; justice looks down from heaven. The Lord also bestows His bounty; our land yields its produce.

This psalm is also written by the Israelites from Judah who are asking for God’s favor and restitution that they may be freed from exile and return to the land God has promised them.

2 Peter 3:8-15

8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you,* not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.*

11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness,12waiting for and hastening* the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him,

The author of Second Peter is addressing a very common issue among first century Christians, “When is Jesus coming back? Why is he taking so long? Some of the faithful are dying and Jesus has not returned yet. How will they join us in heaven with God?” The author attempts to answer this unanswerable question with: God’s time is not our time. Then author also conflates the Day of the Lord with the return of Jesus “coming on the clouds with his angels.” But what I perceive to be the meat of this pericope is “What sort of people out you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness waiting…” Yes, what do we do while we wait for the Lord? This author and Luther answer that question. This author says, “strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish.” Luther said, “Plant a tree…Sin boldly,” that is, trust in God that whatever you bind on earth will indeed be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will indeed be loosed in heaven, and move ahead in the dark as best you can until Christ is the light of all.

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news* of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.*

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,*
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,*
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
4John the baptizer appeared* in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with* water; but he will baptize you with* the Holy Spirit.’

Mark does not begin his gospel with angels or magi, or dreams or even Mary and Joseph. No, Mark begins with the great “good news” right off the bat, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark opens and ends this story of God and creation in one line. “In the beginning” are both the exact same first words of Mark’s gospel and the Greek edition (Septuagint) of the book of Genesis. The book of Genesis tells us of this amazing God that created all and how humanity used to know him face to face but due to the fall, humanity has been groping in the dark for God since Eden, groping for one who would save us from the darkness and restore us to relationship with God. That one would be the Son of God, the peacemaker, arbitrator. In addition, since the fall, since God is not personally with humanity, people need God’s agent to lead them, govern them, protect them. That one would be Messiah or Christ. The whole of the Hebrew Scriptures since chapter 4 of Genesis is the story of people looking for the Son of God and the Messiah. This gospel of Mark tells its readers that Jesus is BOTH the Son of God and Messiah, Christ.