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Christmas 1, Cycle C (2015)

Christmas: Dreams Realized! This is a Sunday for continuing the celebration of Christmas, focusing on what Christ’s coming into the world does for us (especially Sanctification and Justification by Grace).

Psalm 148
This is a hymn calling on all created things (including animals, trees, mountains, stars, and angels) to praise [halal] God. Creation is said to transpire by his command [tsavah] or Word (v. 6; John 1). Yahweh’s name [shem] is to be praised. The reference to “horn” [geren] in verse 14 refers to God’s strength and power. In short, the Psalm claims that Yahweh has raised up strength for his people. Our strength politically, it seems, is his work.

Application: If the reference to God’s Word is interpreted Christologically in terms of John 1, then sermons might be developed along the lines of the Christmas Season and the theme that the babe in the manger is the all-powerful creator. Other options for sermons on the text include making links to the praise we give Christ and Christmas with an awareness that creation itself praises him and in Christ the yearnings of creation are fulfilled (Creation and Sanctification). Likewise the awareness that our strength (even America’s political strength) is God’s work reminds us that the good things in our nation and the American Dream are God’s gift realized in the Christmas vision (Social Ethics).

1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
This book’s origins as a distinct book of the Bible derive from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint), which divided the story of Israel’s monarchy into four sections (1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings). There are probably two or three sources for the books: 1) Early traditions about Samuel and Saul; 2) The work of an editor who molded material into a connected history, implying a critique of the events deeming kingship as problem, and so must be set under the rule of God and his prophet Samuel; and 3) Incorporating the previous strand into the more Deuteronomistic history (the result of sweeping religious reforms under King Josiah in 621 BC).

This text is a part of the account of the evil conduct of the sons of the High Priest Eli in contrast to the maturing spirituality of Samuel whose mother Hannah had given him to Eli as a servant of the Lord (v. 11). Samuel is reported to have worn a linen ephod (a ceremonial garment) made by Hannah each year when with her husband they came to where Samuel lived with Eli in Shiloh where the temple was housed in order to offer sacrifices. Eli thanked Samuel’s mother and father for the gift of their son, calling on Yahweh to bless them with more children (vv. 18-20). It is reported that the boy Samuel grew up in favor [tob be-ene, good in the eyes of] in the Lord’s presence (v. 26).

Application: Sermons on this lesson will exhort total dedication of one’s life to God and perhaps to promote Christian parenting as giving children over to God (Sanctification). This should be framed with creating an awareness of sin as a lack of such dedication and an affirmation that this dedication only happens as a result of grace (God’s presence). Appreciation of how such a life is the fulfillment of the meaning of Christmas should also be provided.

Colossians 3:12-17
The lesson is drawn from a circular letter that was either written by Paul from prison (4:3, 10, 18) late in his career or by a follower of Paul who had a hand in assembling the collection of his Epistles. These conclusions follow from the fact that the letter includes vocabulary and stylistic characteristics different form the authentic Pauline corpus. The Epistle addresses Christians in a town in Asia Minor near Ephesus, which though not likely founded by Paul was basically in line with his teachings, save being threatened by ascetic teachings (2:21, 23), ritual practices rooted in the Jewish traditions (2:16), and philosophical speculation (2:8, 20), all of which were related to visionary insights. Christ’s cosmic Lordship is a central theme.

The lesson is a continuation of discourse on the Christian life, further describing the implications of the new self with which the faithful are clothed (v. 10). Colossians are identified as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. They are urged to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving each other when there are complaints. We are to forgive as the Lord forgives [charizomai, literally “be gracious”] (vv. 12-13). Next Paul urges the faithful to clothe [enduo, put on (see v. 10)] themselves with love that binds in perfect harmony (v. 14). The image of being clothed suggests that these virtues belong to the new nature. Paul would have the peace [eirene] of Christ rule/umpire [brabeueto] in the hearts of the faithful, for they are called [kaleomai, also elect] one body (v. 15). He then urges the Colossians to let the Word [logos] of Christ richly dwell in them, to teach [didasko] and admonish each other with all wisdom and gratitude (v. 16). In whatever they do it is to be done in the Name [onoma] of the Lord Jesus (v. 17).

Application: This lesson encourages sermons which explain and proclaim how we put on Christ (Justification by Grace and Intimate Union with Christ) leading to spontaneous good works (Sanctification), and how this Word expresses the meaning of Christmas.

Luke 2:41-52
We are again reminded that this gospel is the first installment of a two-part history of the church traditionally attributed to Luke, a physician and Gentile associate of Paul (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). Along with Acts, the author’s intention was to stress the universal mission of the Church (Acts 1:8). Addressed to Theophilus (1:1), it is not clear if this means that the work was written for a recent convert or for a Roman official from whom the Church sought tolerance. But since Theophilus means “lover of God” it is possible that the author addressed all the faithful. This lesson is the story of Jesus’ presentation in the temple in Jerusalem and encounter with Simeon and Anna. This is another account unique to Luke.

The gospel reports that every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for Passover [pascha] (v. 41). When he was twelve they went as usual (v. 42). Twelve was approaching the traditional age for training in the Law. They were not legally obligated to go for these Passover festivals, and so likely did so from pious motives. When the festival ended that year and his family started their return, Jesus stayed behind with his family being unaware. They traveled one day before realizing this (vv. 43-44). Returning to Jerusalem, Jesus’ parents find him in the temple receiving instruction (vv. 45-46). All who heard Jesus were amazed [ekplessomai] at his understanding (his intelligence and answers) regarding the rudiments of Judaism (v. 47). When asked by his mother why he had not left town with the family but remained in Jerusalem, Jesus responds that they should have known he would have been in his Father’s house, busy with his affairs (vv. 48-49). His parents reportedly did not understand [sunimui] this. Then Jesus accompanies them back to Nazareth and was obedient/subject [hupotasso]. All these things Mary treasured [dieterei, kept carefully] (vv. 50-51).

Application: Sermons on this story aim to make the faithful aware of Jesus’ single-minded devotion to God which might in turn inspire such devotion among the faithful. The concept of freedom from the Law (and a Situational Ethic) should also receive attention.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen