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Christmas 2, Cycle A

The party continues (with some good conversation). The themes of the texts stress celebration of the love of God in all aspects of life, entailing attention to Christ, Justification, and Sanctification as works of grace, as well as Creation, Church, and even some insights about the Trinity.

Psalm 147:12-20
This is one of the Psalms of Praise [zamar], a hymn praising God for his help. (The concept of praise in ancient Hebrew is associated with singing.) The song echoes themes of Job and Second Isaiah. After a call to praise Yahweh issued to the faithful in Jerusalem (v. 12), confidence is expressed that he will strengthen the bars (piercing objects) of the city’s gates (that is, strengthen the city’s defenses). As a result the people of Jerusalem will be blessed, granted peace, and feast on rich harvests (vv. 13-14). These themes of security and peace echo Isaiah 60:17-18. Reflecting themes of the Fourth Discourse of Elihu in Job 37:9-11, the psalmist sings of how Yahweh’s word runs swiftly, giving snow and hail (vv. 15-17). The word is said to be sent out and melts what it encounters, for the Lord will make the wind blow and the waters flow (v. 18). This text might be read prophetically as referring to God’s word in creation. This word is said to be declared to Jacob, regarding Yahweh’s statutes [choq, that is limits decreed by God] and judgments [mishpat, which in ancient Hebrew refers both to punishment and also a sense of comfort] reminding the people that other nations do not know these judgments of God (vv. 19-20). There seems to be clear allusions in the song here to the conclusion of Moses’ first address to Israel in Deuteronomy 4:6-8, 12-13.

Application: Especially if read in light of Christ and the Christian gospel the Psalm invites sermons on Christ’s role in creation and providence (governing the ways of the world), on the peace the word brings (keep in mind the Hebraic concept of peace [shalom] entails not just a state of no combat, but a climate of well-being that includes social justice), as well as on the special blessings the faithful have in knowing the ways and judgments of the Lord (a confidence in the ways of God) (Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, p. 358).


Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-20
This apocryphal book deliberately reflects a prayer of Solomon for wisdom recorded in 1 Kings 3:6-9 and 2 Chronicles 1:8-10. It was probably not written by Solomon, but by a Hellenized Jew from Alexandria, perhaps just decades prior to Jesus’ lifetime. The book is written in Greek in the form of a didactic exhortation. But the message is a word of consolation — to help Jews who have been dispersed from the motherland to recognize that they possess true wisdom which surpasses that of the Gentiles.

Wisdom [Sophia in this Greek text, and chokmah in Hebrew] connoted for Old Testament writers the personification of the wisdom of the Hebraic elders. It might be regarded as Israel’s individualized application of the morality taught to the whole nation (T.W. Manson, ed., A Companion to the Bible, p. 306). With Hellenization (the impact of Greek culture and thought forms on the people of Israel) connections between this understanding and Greek or Roman philosophy developed, so that it began to connote an order of knowledge related both to language and to what is firstborn of God. These developments indicate how the use of the term logos [word] in the prologue of John’s gospel was an appropriate development in the reinterpretation of the Hebraic concept of wisdom. (Themes like this are evident in the writings of an eminent first-century Alexandrian Jewish rabbi Philo [On the Account of the Word's Creation Given by Moses XLV].)

This text is a hymn testifying to how wisdom delivered Israel from Egypt (v. 15). Personified as a female, this wisdom enters the soul of one of the Lord’s servants and is said to withstand kings with wonders and signs (v. 16; cf. Isaiah 63:11-14). This text might be read as a prophecy of Christ. Wisdom is said to give holy people the reward of their labors, guiding them along a marvelous way and becoming a shelter to them (v. 17). As she brought the people over the Red Sea, drowning their enemies, the righteous are led to praise (vv. 18-20).

Application: The song invites sermons on the female aspect of God (presumably the second person of the Trinity). Christology (how we might speak of Christ as divine in the sense of the Hellenized conception of wisdom described above) is also a valid sermon topic inspired by the text. In addition, Christ’s role as a shelter to the faithful, as our deliverer, and the praise that insight inspires (Atonement and Sanctification) are themes legitimately developed from the text.

Jeremiah 31:7-14
The text is located in a book of prophecies of the late seventh-early sixth centuries BC prophet of Judah. It was dictated to his aide Baruch. The prophet frequently offers criticism of David’s heirs and the temple leadership, giving more attention to the Sinai covenant (to ways of serving Yahweh which pre-dated the temple cult established by David). This may be related to the fact that Jeremiah was an ancestor of one of David’s high priests, Abiathar, who lost control of the temple and was finally banished (2 Samuel 20:25; 1 Kings 2:26-27).

The lesson is part of a section in Jeremiah called the Book of Consolation (30:1—31:40). These are oracles and poetry speaking of a future restoration of Israel and Judah. Consequently it is likely that this literature dates from a period after the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem in 587 BC. However, this text and others in this section refer to Ephraim (v. 9), one of the northern tribes of Israel after their secession from the Davidic king of Judah in 922 BC. Consequently Old Testament scholars conclude that parts of these oracles (including the one we now consider) were originally addressed to the Northern Kingdom and then expanded by the prophet or an editor to apply to Judah. Rather than being a troubling insight, this loosening of the promises in our text from their original historical context entail that God’s promises are not the result of a last-minute feeling of passion on God’s part but have been part of the divine plan from the outset, are unconditional (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, pp. 351-352). These themes are evident in the lesson’s rejoicing over the salvation of the remnant of Israel from all over the world (vv. 7-8, 10). He is identified as Israel’s Father (v. 9; Hosea 11:1). Yahweh is prophesied as ransoming Jacob, redeeming the people (v. 11), and leading them to become radiant over Yahweh’s goodness (v. 12). As a result his goodness will be praised, leading to joy and bounty in the restored homeland (vv. 13-14).

Application: The text affords an opportunity to continue to proclaim the Christmas joy, the word that God’s promise to deliver from hard times is part of who he is, that forever and ever he has planned to deliver us (Justification by Grace and Realized Eschatology). Christian life (Sanctification) as a life of celebration is also implied by the lesson.

Ephesians 1:3-14
The text is a thanksgiving for blessings showered on the whole created order, offered in a circular letter written by Paul from prison late in his career or by one of his followers who had a hand in assembling a collection of his epistles. The latter prospect is made likely by the fact that the letter includes vocabulary and stylistic characteristics different from the indisputably Pauline writings. It may have been written to and for a later generation of Christians, as the writer claims to have heard of the recipients’ faith and love toward all faithful (1:15). Thanks are offered to God the Father of Christ for blessings showered on us in heavenly places (realities behind and above the material universe) (v. 3). Reference is made to our election in Christ before the foundation of the world, an election to holiness (vv. 4-5, 11). In him redemption through his blood is given by grace (vv. 7-8a). With wisdom God is said to have made known to the faithful the mystery of his will set forth in Christ (vv. 8b-9). This will is that in the fullness of time (an eschatological image) all things in heaven and earth be gathered up in Christ. In him we obtain an inheritance (vv. 10-11). This could refer to the church as the Body of Christ or to all the world being redeemed in him, and it could also refer to a cosmic Christ whereby all created realities are understood to be absorbed in his deity. The Holy Spirit, to be given to seal or as a pledge of our redemption, is said to be given with faith in Christ (vv. 13-14).

Application: Occasion is provided to proclaim the awesome deity and majesty of Christ (Christology) that all creation is in him (see Gospel Lesson), all are destined for salvation (Single Predestination), and the whole church is gathered together in unity such that individualism and selfishness do not have a chance (Sanctification).

John 1:(1-9) 10-18
The prologue of the last of the four gospels to be written, probably not composed until the last two decades of the first century. It is very different in style and in comparison to the other three (so-called Synoptic) gospels. In fact it is probably based on these earlier gospels. The book has been identified with John the Son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and this claim was made as long ago as late in the first century by the famed theologian of the early church Irenaeus (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 144). It is likely that it was written by a disciple of John. Hints of that possibility are offered by the first post-biblical church historian Eusebius of Caesarea who claimed that the book was written on the basis of the external facts made plain in the gospel and so John is a “spiritual gospel” (presumably one not based on eyewitness accounts of the author) (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 1, p. 261). Its main agenda was probably to encourage Jewish Christians in conflict with the synagogue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (20:31).

The gospel’s emphasis on the incarnation (the deity of Jesus Christ) is made evident in that this is a theme of the prologue. The logos [word] is said to have been in the beginning and with God, identifying God with the word (vv. 1-2). (If the author’s use of logos is drawing on Stoic or Greek philosophical suppositions, what is connoted here is that the essence of the word is rationality and that the things of the world that came into being through the word reflect this linguistic rationality. Also see commentary on the Wisdom of Solomon text, above.) All things are said to have come into being through the word. He is the light [phos] of all people that the darkness [skotia], which may correspond to its Hebraic equivalent term choshek, which connotes “oppression,” cannot overcome (vv. 3-5). Apart from Christ both the physical and spiritual dimensions of reality would recede into nothingness.

Reference is made to John, who came as a witness to the light, but not himself the light (vv. 6-9). This point may have been to mitigate competition that existed between followers of John and the Christian community to whom the gospel was addressed. The text proceeds to report that the word came into the world, but the world did not know him, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received Christ it seems that he gave power to become children of God who are born of God and not of human will (vv. 10-13). Then it is proclaimed that the word became flesh and lived among us, full of truth and grace. In testifying to him, John said that the word was the one who he had said ranks ahead of him (vv. 14-15).

From the fullness of the word it is reported that grace upon grace (that is a limitless amount of grace) was received (v. 16). The law is said to have been given through Moses, but truth and grace come through Jesus Christ (v. 17). No one has seen God, the Johannine author notes. But his only Son who is close to the Father (in complete communion with him) has made him known (v. 18).

Application: The Johannine prologue affords opportunities for sermons on the Trinity (the relation between the Father and the Son and also a vision of God as creatively talkative), on creation (by the word), providence (that the universe is only upheld from chaos by God), and also that despite our rejection of him (Sin), God will never let us go (Justification by Grace).

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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