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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.”