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Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary and/or the Narrative Lectionary

See older posts from 2006 to 2014 on the blog archive site at blogarchive.kairosucc.org

Revised Common Lectionary Readings:
Epiphany Day: Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
First Sunday After Epiphany (Baptism of the Lord): Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29:1-11,
Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17

The coming Sunday takes us into the season of Epiphany. It comes two days after he Day of Epiphany when we celebrate the coming of the Magi bearing gifts for the young child Jesus.

I suppose we should begin with a few words about the meaning of “epiphany.” The word “epiphany” means “appearance” or “manifestation.” In popular usage, it means “a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something,” “a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you.” It may refer to “a powerful religious experience.” I sometimes think of it in terms of that popular image of a light bulb popping on over a cartoon character’s head indicating an “aha” moment.

Given those definitions we might ask how those who put together the liturgical calendar saw the story of the Magi as providing an “aha” moment. Is there an “aha” moment in it for us? Or, we could broaden the discussion and ask what have been the “aha” moments in our lives.

That “aha” moment didn’t come to me as I considered a focus for this week’s blog entry. I could suggest several different topics that are in one or more of the texts, but experienced no epiphany saying, “Here is the way to go”---no star leading me to an altar beside a manger or in a home or on a road to Egypt.

In our breakfast discussion, we got into some of the historical issues as “progressive” Christians are sometimes prone to do. Such discussion can sometimes be a bit unsettling. What do we really know? Then, someone popped up and said, “Whatever the details of history, I’m glad all these texts are part of our tradition, our history, my history.” I asked what it was about them that made her glad. I won’t try to give a faithful report of her answer here, but it gives me a handle for the rest of my comments, some of which were touched upon in her response.

The title for this blog entry is “A Wondrous Heritage.” The topics that come before us in the lectionary texts each week are truly awesome! What are some of the things in our religious heritage that are so powerful, and that empower us for living in difficult times?

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: First Sunday After Christmas: Isaiah 63:7-9. Psalm 148:1-4, Hebrews 2:10-18, Matthew 2:13-23

Holy Name of Jesus Day: Numbers 6:22-27, Psalm 8:1-9, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:15-23
New Year’s Day: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, Psalm 8:1-9. Revelation 21:1-6a. Matthew 25:31-46

Here we go again---three sets of readings for one Sunday. Funny things happen when Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Sunday. In this case, the readings for New Year’s Day double up with the regular readings for the First Sunday After Christmas, as do those for the feast day, Holy Name of Jesus Day, which is usually celebrated on January 1st. Enough said on that.

What I want to put before you is complicated enough without worrying about which days are which in a liturgical tradition which still seems a bit overly organized for some of us who grew up in the most “free” end of the Protestant tradition.

This week’s readings took me to a central puzzle of Christian doctrine. How do the divine and human come together in Jesus? I’m not going to try to offer a theological solution to the conundrum. The church battled mightily to capture the “right” definition in the most common creedal statements that are still used in worship in many congregations. We sometimes hear the phrase, “very God and very man,” used to describe Jesus.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings:
Proper 1: Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96:1-13, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20
Proper 2: Isaiah 62:6-12, Psalm 97:1-12, Luke 2:10-20
Proper 3: Isaiah 52:7-10, Psalm 98:1-9, Hebrews 1:1-12, John 1:1-14

 

There are three sets of lectionary readings for this week.  Those in the formal tradition have at least three Christmas services---Christmas Eve (early or midnight), early Christmas day (sometimes midnight), and midday on Christmas. Hence, three sets of scriptures with readings which are “proper” for each.

Christmas is widely associated with joy and celebration. It’s supposed to be a time of fun and happiness, isn’t it? There are family gatherings and the anticipation of gifts. Many know, though, that family gatherings don’t always go smoothly. Watch out for those political discussions in this year of heated political debate! Some gifts turn out to be disappointing.

Some are just plain “down” this time of year. We’ve had a bit of that in our family. We’re facing a major health crisis. We’ll not be able to be with our children. There’s been a lot of weeping. For those of a more “progressive” political orientation, there’ve been moments of depression. We even run into people who are experiencing a crisis of faith. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Some refer to such a mood during this season as a “Blue Christmas.” It is also, in the northern hemisphere, a literal time of increased darkness. I write this on the shortest day of the year. There’s actually a liturgy, called “Blue Christmas”, for the day. Some churches hold a service that honors people who have lost loved ones in that year. Even churches which don’t follow the formal liturgical calendar may have an event that brings together those who struggle with darkness and grief. It is a time to share empathy and mutual support, and, perhaps, find points of light and hope in the middle of the darkness.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Isaiah 7:10-16, Psalm 80:1-7, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25

I continue to be surprised when recreational reading I’m doing suddenly dovetails with my reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts. This time it happened with a novel I started yesterday, Edward Unspooled by Craig Lancaster. I suspect that it will, like much of the fiction I read, not turn out to be great literature. Such literature may still touch the soul and set one’s mind to ruminating on profound human experiences.

Edward Unspooled contains letters to a recently conceived son, along with the responses of the child’s mother to his letters. Edward Stanton has a high-functioning version of Asperger’s Syndrome, but he has “wigged out” at the idea of becoming a father. He is a lover of words, obsessed with using them with a great deal of precision. He explains to Cellular Stanton (his choice for naming his son at this stage of development) that he is “wigged out” at the prospect of becoming a father, noting that this is “a slang phrase that means becoming panicky or nervous.”

So, what prospective father does not become a little “wigged out.” Joseph, in this week’s reading from Matthew, maybe? Well, yes and no. Much has been written about Joseph’s role in this whole story and I’m not sure I can add anything to it. Yet, as I first looked over this week’s readings, I was again drawn to this oft-overlooked “hero.” Mary has taken on lofty status and spiritual significance as the mother of Jesus, but who is Joseph. He’s not even really the father, or is he?

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 146:5-10 OR Luke 1:46b-55, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11

This week’s Gospel lesson from Matthew might be humorous if it weren’t so serious. Some of us have grown up with such reverence for scripture that’s it’s almost sacrilege to let out a snicker. The Advent/Christmas story can be seen as a huge laugh in the midst of a depressingly and oppressively devastated humanity and landscape.

Many associate the heart-warming movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, with Christmas. The elements are there---the contrast between a nightmarish Bedford Falls and and the wonderful one that has been infused with George Bailey’s good deeds. This year I’ve been thinking more along the lines of The Hunger Games---the power of hope in the face of tyranny as Katniss Everdeen (and others) are willing to pay great sacrificial prices. Is it, perhaps, a Christmas tale for our times?

Back to the Gospel lesson. John the Baptist, in prison, hears about Jesus and his work. He sends some of his disciples to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to await another?” (Matthew 11:2-3) Jesus answers, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (vss. 4-5)

Jesus refers to the great visions from which his people have drawn strength through the years, the hope of a Messiah (a king anointed by God’s Spirit) who would come to his suffering people, torn by war and disease and injustice, and set things right. He draws from both Isaiah 35 (this week’s reading from the Hebrew scriptures) and Isaiah 61. The vision God gives Isaiah is one in which “the eyes of the blind” are “opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” Under the reign of the hoped-for king, “the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.” (Isaiah 35:5-6) In Isaiah 61 we read the familiar words, “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” (Isaiah 61:1-4)

In Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus reads this scripture in the synagogue, he says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Isaiah 11:1-30, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12

Humans often use animals as a symbol of their identity, in some cultures even taking on the name of an animal---Spotted Wolf, Crazy Horse, Running Antelope, Sitting Bull, Thunder Hawk, etc. In modern Western culture, we see it most frequently in sports. We divide ourselves into tribes of fighting animals.

Our youngest son attended high school in Niagara Falls, New York. During his time in school, the two city high schools merged and a brand new consolidated campus was constructed. As part of their new beginnings, the students chose a new mascot---the wolverine. The wolverine “has a reputation for ferocity and strength out of proportion to its size, with the documented ability to kill prey many times larger than itself.” There you go---a perfect symbol for our gridiron fights.

I’m not sure what it is here in Oregon. Our most prominent teams are Beavers and Ducks, Trail Blazers, Pilots, and Vikings (often stereotyped as violent warriors).

This week’s reading from Isaiah is jarring when we place it alongside our images of a “dog-eat-dog” world. It depicts the wolf living with the lamb, the leopard lying down with the young goat, the calf and the lion, the cow and the bears living peaceably together, the child playing over the home of a poisonous snake. (Isaiah 11:6-8) It’s an inspiring picture, giving rise to a painting, The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks, a Society of Friends (Quaker) minister. Reading this passage, often quoted during the Advent season as a dream associated with the Messiah and applied to Jesus ministry and teaching, always moves me.

And that’s without even mentioning the powerful and challenging clause, “and a little child shall lead them.”

Can this be for real?

Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122:1-9, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44

I write this on “Black Friday.” Traditionally “black” was used to describe, among other things, something with a dark mood about it. Here we are having just celebrated a day of giving thanks and launching a season of gift-giving and hope. Why would we want to make it a “dark” day? And then there’s the whole use of “black” to denote something negative, a practice which is offensive to those whose skin color is described as “black.”

Whatever we call it, for some, it is the beginning of the Christmas “rush.” For years, some have complained about the commercialization of Christmas, and a shopping season that creeps earlier and earlier. Christmas symbols begin to mingle with Halloween decorations.

For those who follow the “liturgical” calendar of the church, preparation for Christmas begins with Advent, the first Sunday usually being the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We even take it a step further. This season of “waiting” is the beginning of a whole new year in the life of the church. We get a jump on the rest of the world in starting the next year.

The focus of Advent, however, is not on selling and buying. It is upon waiting and preparing.

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