Keyword Search

  • Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company
    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

Christmas — Proper III

All four of the texts chosen for our use on Christmas Day refer to the coming of the Lord God. That coming is perceived in a way that is unique to each text. The most noticeable differences are that in the two texts from the Older Testament the coming of the Lord is expressed by use of a series of anthropomorphisms (depictions of God using various features and characteristics of humans), while in the two texts from the Newer Testament the Lord is depicted as coming incarnate (in the actual form of a human person). Let us look more closely at each of these texts. Perhaps the differences between these two depictions are not as large as they may at first appear to be.

Isaiah 52:7-10

This delightful portrayal of watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem singing joyously when they see the first indications of the return of the Lord God to Jerusalem is an entirely appropriate text from the Older Testament to serve as the First Lesson in Christian worship services on Christmas Day. The feet of the messenger who will be able to announce the return of the Lord God as they skip at a rapid pace over the hills approaching the city are described as beautiful, for their arrival means that the Lord God has come to the city to make it holy once more. The Lord God comes in the form of the feet of the messenger and of the voices of the watchmen. May our longing on this Christmas Day for the peace and salvation that only God can give to us be as great as that of the inspired poet of the Isaiah tradition during the period of the restoration of Jerusalem. May we, like the ancient Israelites, see the coming of the Lord in the feet of the messenger and in the voices of the watchmen among us.

Psalm 98

The primary anthropomorphism that is used in this psalm is that of a victorious military hero who becomes a king. The most notable human model for this achievement in ancient Israel was David and in our own history in the USA is George Washington. Most nations have military heroes who become political figures highly honored within the national-civil expressions of religion. Within the Older Testament use of anthropomorphisms, even when there are many references to physical characteristics such as the “right hand” and the “holy arm” of the Lord, it is not likely that a physical coming, an incarnation, a presence of God in human form is intended. Anthropomorphisms such as these are used with great frequency in the Older Testament and continue to be used widely among Jews and Christians, as well as among many Muslims, Hindus, and others, simply because such anthropomorphisms are the most vivid way in which people can attempt to describe God and depict actions of God. The use of anthropomorphisms in the language with which we and other people express faith in God does not imply incarnation. There is no doubt, however, that the heavy use of anthropomorphisms in Israelite-Jewish sacred scriptures and in Jewish theology contributed very significantly to the development of incarnation theology in the Christian Church and to our understanding of the meaning of Christmas.

In the final verse of Psalm 98 the entire world is called upon to sing praises to the Lord, who is depicted as the righteous, equitable judge of the entire world. For us as Christians during this Christmas season and throughout the year, it is easy to see Jesus as Lord with powers and responsibilities that are similar to those ascribed by the Israelites and Jews to Adonai as Lord.

Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12)

The primary contrast in the initial portion of this treatise in which the writer argues that Jewish background followers of Jesus should not return to their Jewish lifestyle is between what is written here about Jesus as the Incarnate Son of God and the important but inferior prophets through whom God spoke and the angels who merely delivered messages from God. Jesus as the Son of God is said to be the heir of God, the one who will receive all that belongs to God. As in the Gospel According to John, the Prologue of which follows here as the Gospel selection for Christmas Day, Jesus is said to have been the one through whom God created the world. To Jesus is ascribed the reflection of the glory of God, the imprint of God’s nature. It is claimed in this document that after Jesus had himself gone into the “Holy of Holies” and offered not the blood of sheep and of goats but his own blood upon the altar in order to purify us from our sins, Jesus took his position at the right hand of God on high. Within these few verses we have a brief abstract or synopsis of the entire Christian understanding of salvation. It is a huge, adult-size gift package under our Christmas tree! It is far more than a series of anthropomorphisms; it is fully an incarnation theology. Its high Christology is matched only in the Fourth Gospel within our New Testament and surpassed only by the Gnostic Christians for whom Jesus was perceived to have been only divine and never incarnate.

John 1:1-14

How different this hymn of acclamation of Jesus the Christ as the Logos face-to-face with God and as God is from the Lukan writer’s literary drama scenes! Who would ever attempt to portray this hymn to Christ in a Sunday school or chancel Christmas drama? How many Christmas greeting cards have you seen that are based on John 1:1-14? The reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews, however, has prepared us for this.

The most perceptive among the members of the congregations in which we serve will be aware from their study of our biblical traditions and from their participation in Christian worship that there is not one theology but many “theologies” and not one Christology but many “Christologies” within our Newer Testament collection of documents. It would be appropriate within the message on Christmas Day to show that we are aware of the richness of our biblical tradition in these various Christologies, as a “preview of coming attractions” during the subsequent Sundays of this year. It would be helpful to share that for the Apostle Paul, divine powers were bestowed upon Jesus by God the Father through Jesus’ death and resurrection. For the Markan writer, God “adopted” Jesus and gave to Jesus powers as God’s Son at the time of the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. For the Matthean and Lukan redactors, God made Jesus the Son of God by means of Jesus being conceived within the reproductive system of a virgin woman by the power of the Spirit of God. Here in the Gospel According to John, as well as in the Epistle to the Hebrews, God had apparently made Jesus divine “before the foundations of the earth were laid,” and Jesus had participated fully or perhaps even with no involvement by God as God the Father in the creative process. We see, therefore, as we proclaim the Christmas message on Christmas Day using Hebrews 1:1-4 (5-12) and John 1:1-14 that we are at the extreme outer edge of the Christologies presented within our Newer Testament documents, Christologies in which there is no “baby Jesus” and, therefore, actually no “Christmas” as such at all!

Leave a Reply

  • Get Your FREE 30-day Trial Subscription to SermonSuite NOW!
    Chris Keating
    The Double-Dog Dare Days of August
    August’s lazy, hazy dog days quickly became a deadly double-dog dare contest between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un, the supreme leader of North Korea. Both nations have been at odds with each other for nearly 70 years. During his working golf vacation in New Jersey last week, President Trump responded to North Korea’s rhetorical sword-rattling by launching a verbal preemptive strike of his own.
         Call it the Bedminster bombast, or the putt that rocked Pyongyang. But the duel between the two countries is more than fodder for late-night comedians. It’s a deadly standoff with history-changing repercussions.
         There is no vacation from matters of national security, or the orations of war. Indeed, much of the war of words between Washington and North Korea seems to confirm Jesus’ counsel in Matthew: “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” The contrasts between these barbed exchanges and the biblical understanding of peacemaking offers an intriguing opportunity to hear Jesus’ words in a world filled with double-dog (and even triple-dog) dares....more
    Feeding The 5,000
    The assigned Gospel text for this week skips over a couple of sections in Matthew's story. Matthew 14:34-36 cites Jesus' journey to Gennesaret. The crowds of people recognized him immediately and all of the sick came to him for healing. Just a touch of Jesus' garment brought healing to many. The crowd in Gennesaret recognized Jesus. They came to him in their need....more
    Wayne Brouwer
    Religious balkanization
    One dimension of religious life we have in common across faith traditions and denominational lines is the incessant divisiveness that split our seemingly monolithic communities into dozens of similar yet tenaciously varied subgroups. A Jewish professor of psychology said of his tradition, "If there are ten Jewish males in a city we create a synagogue. If there are eleven Jewish males we start thinking about creating a competing synagogue."...more
    C. David McKirachan
    Jesus Is Coming, Look Busy
    Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
    I had a parishioner who would walk out of the sanctuary if he saw a djembe (African drum) out in front to be used in worship.  I asked him about it, in a wonderfully pastoral manner, and he told me that things like that didn’t belong in worship.  I said that it was in the bible to praise God with pipes and drums (I think it is).  He told me he didn’t care what the Bible said, he knew where that thing came from and he wouldn’t have it.  I asked him why things from Africa would bother him.  He told me that he knew I was liberal but that didn’t mean he had to be.  I agreed with him but cautioned him that racism was probably one of the worst examples of evil in our world and I thought he should consider what Christ would think of that.  He asked me who paid my salary, Christ or good Americans....more
    Janice Scott
    No Strings Attached
    In today's gospel reading, Jesus seemed reluctant to heal the Canaanite woman's daughter. He told her that he wasn't sent to help foreigners, but only his own people, the Chosen Race. The words sound unnecessarily harsh, but perhaps this is an interpretation unique to Matthew, for this story only appears in Matthew's gospel, which was written for Jews....more
    Arley K. Fadness
    Great Faith
    Object: Hula Hoop or circle made out of ribbon, twine or rope
    What an amazing morning to come to church today. I am so glad to see you and talk to you about a wonderful story from the bible. Let me begin by showing you this circle. Now let's get into this circle. (Physically, all move into the circle) It's fun for us all to be together in this circle. We don't want anyone to be left out. To be left out is to be sad. To be kept out is even more sad and painful....more

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