Bible Study: 2 Christmas (A)

January 5, 2014

Rod Clark, Seminary of the Southwest

“On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 84; Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a; Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

Jeremiah 31:7-14 

The Old Testament reading for today is another in a series of promises that God delivers through his prophet, to the scattered people of Israel. Jeremiah has to be pleased with today’s selected reading. After all, he finally gets to relent from lamenting.

Jeremiah’s prophecy of hope for Israel stands in stark contrast to most of his other writings. He even lamented having to lament (20: 7-9).

So, Chapter 31 takes on special significance because it is a fulfilling of long desires on two levels. First, it is a promise that the people of Israel will be released from captivity and exile. Their journey home will be one without obstacles or want for comfort. Jeremiah tells them that God “will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble” (31:9). And they are promised to have cause for celebration and dance (31:13).

On another level, it fulfills Jeremiah’s desire, not only for Israel’s release from captivity, but the promise also of Israel’s repentance. And of course, there is Jeremiah’s desire to relent from lamenting. He finally gets to bring good news.

Have you experienced a time when you have had hopes and promises fulfilled? How might that fulfillment have been working in more ways than one?

Psalm 84

This psalm is a song of longing to be in the Holy City. The Temple is the spiritual home of all Israelites, and this psalm sings praises to it.

Psalm 84 is also a pilgrim song. It begins with words of longing to be in the House of the Lord. Throughout the text there are motifs of pilgrimage: a sparrow finding a home, highways to Zion within the hearts of the faithful, a specific reference to traveling through the valley of Baca. The theme of pilgrimage also reveals the double-entendre of verse 11. For “those who walk uprightly” can be both pilgrims going up to the Temple, as well as those who follow the Torah and lead a faithful and moral life.

Making pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem was not supposed to be a singular event in the life of faith. In fact, making sacrifice at the Temple was an important aspect of Jewish life. Where do you see pilgrimage in your daily/ordinary life?

How might you incorporate pilgrimage into your spiritual disciplines?

Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a 

Unlike some of the other letters attributed to Paul, it is not clear whether the letter to the Ephesians focuses in on a single community or was circulated among several communities. Instead of resolving differences or writing to specific issues, the letter to the Ephesians is general in its exhortation and teaching.

The major theme of the letter is the unity between Jews and gentiles within the church. And this unity is part of God’s vision for salvation. In His Kingdom, we are all heirs.

Today’s reading reminds us of this truth with words of adoption and inheritance. The unifying aspect of this kinship to the Father comes through Christ, and it was part of his purpose in creation. We were chosen before the formation of the world. Before there was free or slave, Greek or Jew, male or female, we were all one in Christ.

Soteriology (the study of salvation) comes in many flavors. One of which is “Universal Salvation.” In this form of soteriology, God saves all people, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Atheist or Buddhist. Some of the readings from the lectionary seem to support such a view of salvation. Yet there are other passages of scripture that seem to refute such a view. “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) is one such passage. How can we hold the tension between texts of such variance?

How do you hope God’s salvation works?

Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

The gospel reading from Matthew continues our themes of unity, salvation and pilgrimage.

It seems that Jesus’ very being is already redemptive for those who were considered “outside.” His safety is assured by returning to the land in which the people of Israel were once enslaved. As a baby he made no conscious choice to go to Egypt, but God’s plan for salvation includes all of us – the Holy Family is already caught up in this redemptive movement of the Spirit.

Likewise, the departure of the wise men in today’s reading further develops the idea of unity in Christ. The wise men were not Jewish kings, they were gentiles. So, their visitation is significant, not only as a marker of God’s Kingdom and Christ’s reign, but it gives new meaning to “God’s chosen people.” So, the prophet’s words and God’s plan come to fruition in a chain of events.

We can also see how pilgrimage continues to be a part of God’s plan. Joseph, Mary and the Christ child have not been at home since the Incarnation project began. The family is forced to go on a long journey and is taken to a foreign country for safety. And just when things are looking as if they might settle down and the family can come home, Joseph has another dream. We know how the rest of the story goes, and it seems that Jesus’ ministry will mimic the nomadic reality of his childhood years: on the move, working out God’s plan of salvation for us all.

We often read about how Christ and his actions fulfilled scriptures or words spoken by the prophets. But how does Christ continue to fulfill the promise of salvation, resurrection and justice today? What other points of contact do you see between today’s gospel reading and the other selections from today’s lectionary? How are those points of contact significant to you in your current circumstance?

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