This week, with Christmas Eve and the Sunday after Christmas, we have eight readings.
Isaiah 62:6-12 - The 5 verses before these seem to be a love song by God for his people and nation of Israel that look forward to a day when they will be united (in marriage). These verses turn to a more protective theme. God will protect his people with the restored fortress of his kingdom (Jerusalem?) and no enemy will attack them or take from them.
Psalm 97 - The psalmist sings the praises of God who is King and reigns over all the earth. All of the heavens and earth proclaim his holy name. He call us to "Give thanks to his holy name."
Titus 3:4-7 - Here is an interesting thought. We know that works, the things we do, will not save us. What if faith doesn't necessarily save us either? What if our salvation is totally God's work of grace through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection and the power of the Spirit which has been poured out on us? "So that, having been justified by [God's] grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." Think about it.
Luke 2:(1-7) 8-20 - This is the Lukan story of the birth of Jesus which Luke set in political, historical setting (verses 1-2). A census is called and Joseph and Mary make the long (3-4 days walking and/or riding a mule, donkey, or horse) journey to Bethlehem. The only thing Luke tells us about Bethlehem was that there was no room in the inn so they had to stay in a barn. Verse 8 begins the story of the shepherds and the visitation of the angel and the heavenly hosts. The shepherds (a group of men that were looked down upon by society) visited Mary, Joseph, and the baby and told Mary everything that happened. I think verse 19 is one of the most intriguing in this passage, "Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart." I think it was more than the shepherds' words that she pondered. She must have also pondered the words of the angel that visited her, Elizabeth's words, Zechariah's, Simeon's, and Anna's (read all of chapter 1 and 2). What did this all mean and what will happen?
Isaiah 63:7-9 - Isaiah recognizes that it is God who has saved Israel and that God has become their savior "It was . . . his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried then all the days of old."
Psalm 148 - The psalmist call on everyone to praise the Lord. This is very similar to Psalm 97 above.
Hebrews 2:10-18 - According to the author of Hebrews, Jesus was made perfect by his sufferings which make him a brother to us all. Because Jesus was flesh and blood like you and I he shares in our sufferings. In Jesus' death he was able to defeat death and set us free from the bonds of death. His death, his self-sacrifice to our god of death (or in modern terms, our machinery of death) allows him to help all people. What are we to do? Nothing, for it is all God's work that we might be set free from death.
Matthew 2:13-23 - We skip right over the visit of the Magi which we will read on January 2 but is rightly read on January 6, Epiphany. It is because of the visit of the Magi that we have this week's text. Herod gets mad when the Magi don't return to tell them where the future king is and he orders the killing of all boys 2 and under in Bethlehem. Joseph seems to be prone to having dreams with angels or the Lord appearing. This happens 3 times in this passage: get out of Bethlehem and go to Egypt; Herod is dead so go home (Bethlehem); and Herod's son is worse so go to Galilee (Nazareth). For an interesting exercise compare the sequence of events and where Mary, Joseph and Jesus are in Matthew 1:18-2:23 (Bethlehem, Egypt, back to Bethlehem and on to Nazareth) and Luke 2:1-40 (Nazareth, Bethlehem, the temple in Jerusalem, back to Nazareth).
I pray that everyone will have a joyous celebration of Jesus' birth. Reflect on the fact that we celebrate Christmas because of Easter.