We will be continuing our Sermon Series "God Bless Us Everyone". This week's sermon is titled "The Life of Christmas Present: Look Upon Me". This sermon series does not follow the Lectionary Reading list. The two scripture lesson for the series are:
Deuteronomy 15:7-11 - Do you ever wonder if there is a Biblical Law commanding us to give willingly, joyfully, and generously to the poor? Well, here it is and it is NOT ambiguous. "If there is anyone in need in your community . . . open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land."
Matthew 2:1-18 - This is typically a reading for Epiphany Day (January 6, the 13th day after Christmas). This is the full and disturbing story of the visit of the magi who bring gifts to the recently born King of Israel. The Wizards of an Eastern Country or Kingdom see a sign in the stars and follow it to Jerusalem. They ask King Herod where the baby has been born. Herod hears this as a threat to his reign and rank in the Roman Empire. Consulting the priests and scribes, he learns that Bethlehem is the town, so he sends the Wizards on their way commanding them to return and let him know where to find the baby king. The Wizards find the child, give the gifts they brought, and prepare to leave. This is the story we most often read in our modern Christmas story. But there is more. An angel warns the Wizards to return home without going back to Herod. Another angel warns Joseph that Herod wants Jesus dead. Joseph then takes Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape. When the Wizards fail to return, Herod gets really p----d off and sends troops to Bethlehem to kill every boy two years old or younger. (This lets us know that the visit of the Wizards could have happened two years after Jesus' birth. They may have seen the star sign when Jesus was born and taken two years of travel to find Jesus.) The big question of the story is, "If God's angel warned Jesus, why weren't the other families warned?" Maybe they did but the recipients of the message ignored the warning. Think of all the people who stay behind after being told to get out of the way of an incoming hurricane.
Our Lectionary Readings are:
Isaiah 35:1-10 - The wilderness will bloom abundantly and the desert will have its rain. Tell the weak and afraid to stand firm for the Lord will come to save. When that happens the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap, and the speechless will sing with joy. A Highway will be built to bring the exiles back to Israel and the Holy Way will be made safe. The redeemed of Israel will return home and they will be joyful. Jesus refers to this passage in our Matthew reading below.
Psalm 146:5-10 - Those who place their hope in God are happiest. The Lord will bring justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, and will set the prisoners free. The Lord lift up those bowed down and will watch over strangers, widows, and orphans.
James 5:7-10 - James calls for us to be patient in waiting for the Lord. Much like a farmer waiting for the harvest. Until the coming of the Lord we are to be patient with each other, not grumbling against another, and refraining from judging others because the true Judge is coming.
Matthew 11:2-11 - John the Baptist is in prison and hearing about the work and preaching of Jesus, the one he baptized. He sends messengers to ask Jesus if Jesus is the one John has been waiting for. Jesus tells the messengers to report to John what they have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor hear the Good News. When they leave Jesus asks the crowds what they expected about John. He praises John claiming that there is no one greater then him. Yet, even the least in the Kingdom is greater than John. The rest of Jesus' discourse about John continues in verses 12-19. Verse 12 is especially interesting. The NRSV translation reads "the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force." It notes an alternate, "the kingdom of heaven has been coming violently, and the violent take it by force." The NET Bible has an alternate reading, "the kingdom of heaven is forcibly entered and violent people take hold of it." The NIV reads, "the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it." Whew. What do you make of this disturbing verse?
Have a great week reading scripture and listening to the voice of God lead you into all righteousness.
Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor