Nativity of the Lord – Propers I through III

Celebrations of Christmas, as a principal feast of the year, offer variations of readings for each service. Each of the three options, however, follows the same pattern. A reading from the Hebrew Bible looks forward to the consummation of God’s promises to the people, Israel. A psalm particularly focuses on the justice that is involved in the fulfillment of God’s will. The epistle, most often taken from the Letter of Paul to Titus, speaks of Jesus’ coming as a fulfillment of God’s promise, while the Gospel readings relate the significance to humanity of Jesus’ birth.

Nativity of the Lord – Proper I

The First Reading
Isaiah 9:2-7
A Birth Brings Joy and Promise

The prophet Isaiah uses the announcement of a royal birth to anticipate the sovereignty and prosperity that God will restore to Judah and Jerusalem one day. Although a time of discipline and trial lies ahead and the nation does not yet “abound,” nevertheless the prophet sees a day coming when this promise will mature just as a royal infant does. Thus there remains hope for the Kingdom of David, a hope the New Testament writers understood as fulfilled in Jesus.

  1. This people—those walking in darkness—have seen a great light.
    Those dwelling in a land as dark as death—a light has shined on them.
  2. Have you made the nation greater? No! You have increased the joy.
    They have rejoiced in your presence as with rejoicing at the harvest,
    or as they would celebrate in dividing up spoils of war.
  3. For their burdensome yoke and the bar on their shoulder,
    the rod of their oppressor, you have shattered—like the Day of Midian!
  4. Indeed, every boot tramping in pandemonium and cloak drenched in blood
    will become a conflagration, fuel for a fire.
  5. For a child has been born for us, a son has been given to us,
    and power will fall on his shoulder.
    They will call his name Wondrous Guide, Almighty Hero, Enduring Father, Prince of Peace.
  6. For the abundance of his power, and for peace, there will be no end—
    on David’s throne and over his government,
    to confirm it and to sustain it
    with justice and with right, from now until forever.
    The fervor of the Lord of heavenly divisions will do this.

The Psalm
Psalm 96
A Call to Worship the Lord

God’s power and justice awaken a response in the form of prayerful praise. The idea emerges in each of Psalm 96’s two sectionsfirst with a call to sing God’s praises (verses 1-6) and then with the command that all peoples and all the earth recognize God’s greatness (verses 7-14).

  1. Sing to the Lord a new song!
    Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
  2. Sing to the Lord; praise God’s name!
    Announce God’s deliverance day by day!
  3. Recount God’s glory among the peoples;
    among all the nations, God’s wondrous acts.
  4. For the Lord is great and highly praised;
    God is majestic above all the gods.
  5. For all the gods of the nations are weak,
    while the Lord created the skies.
  6. Splendor and grandeur go before God.
    Strength and beauty are in God’s sanctuary.
  7. Credit to the Lord, families of nations;
    credit to the Lord glory and strength.
  8. Credit to the Lord the glory of God’s name;
    bring an offering and enter God’s courts.
  9. Bow down to the Lord in holy adornment.
    Let all the land tremble before God.
  10. Pronounce among the nations: God reigns!
    Indeed, God established the world; it will not teeter.
    God will judge the peoples equitably.
  11. Let the skies rejoice and the earth delight.
    Let the sea and all it contains thunder.
  12. Let the fields be jubilant, and all that is in them.
    At that time, let every tree of the forest cry out in joy—
  13. before the Lord, for God is coming.
    For God is coming to judge the earth.
  14. God will judge the world in righteousness,
    and the nations faithfully.

The Second Reading
Titus 2:11-14
Ethical Exhortations while Awaiting the Arrival of Jesus

In this epistle, Paul encourages Titus to maintain an ethically upright life reflective of the grace that he received as he eagerly awaits the arrival of Jesus, God’s Anointed, in the age to come.


For the saving grace of God has appeared for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly desires, so that we should live sensibly, rightly, and godly in this present age, as we await the blessed hope and manifestation of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus the Anointed, who gave himself for us in order to ransom us from all lawlessness and cleanse for himself a people of his own, who are passionately committed to good deeds.

The Gospel
Luke 2:1-14, [15-20]
The Birth of Jesus

Among the Gospels, Luke’s Gospel alone relates Jesus’ birth to Roman history through reference to a census that was taken at the time. The triumphant message of angels to shepherds, however, sidelines the power of Rome, insisting that Jesus, born from the line of David, is to be savior of all. Mary, Jesus’ mother, who first appears in the reading in a position secondary to Joseph, emerges at the close of the reading as the person who best understood events.

At that same time an ordinance went out from Augustus Caesar for the inhabited world to be registered. This first registry happened while Quirinius governed Syria. All proceeded to be registered, each to one’s own town. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea into David’s town, which is called Bethlehem, since he was of David’s house and paternity, to be registered with Mary, who was contracted in marriage to him, being heavily pregnant. While they were still there, the days were filled for her to bear, and she bore her first-born son, and swathed him, and laid him in a feed-trough, because there was no place for them in the lodging. In the same region, shepherds camped and kept watch at night over their flock. And a messenger of the Lord stood over them, the Lord’s glory shined around them, and they were afraid—with great fear. And the messenger said to them, “Do not fear, because, look: I proclaim to you great joy such as will be for all people, because a savior has been born for you today, who is Lord Anointed, in David’s city. And here is a sign for you—you will find a baby swathed and lying in a feed-trough.” And suddenly there was with the messenger a multitude of heaven’s army, praising God and saying, “Glory is with God in greatest heights, and peace on earth among those God favors.” 

[When the messengers went away from them to the heaven, the shepherds started to speak with one another: “Now let us go over to Bethlehem and see this announcement made real, which the Lord made known to us.” They hastened and located Mary and Joseph, and also the baby lying in the feed-trough. As they saw they made known the announcement spoken to them concerning this child. And all who heard marveled concerning what was spoken by the shepherds to them, but Mary safeguarded all these announcements together, turning them over in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they heard and saw—just as was spoken to them.]

Nativity of the Lord – Proper II

The First Reading
Isaiah 62:6-12
Zion Hears Her Rescue Announced

Jerusalem and the surrounding nations hear the prophet Isaiah announce that God is taking action to restore the city after the long Babylonian Exile. A dramatic picture and a resounding report use images from war, agriculture, construction, and national rescue to convey the excitement of the promise fulfilled: God has not abandoned you.

  1. On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have stationed guards;
    neither by day nor by night will they ever grow idle.
    O heralds of God, do not fall silent,
  2.      nor let God fall silent until God has laid a foundation,
    setting up Jerusalem for praise throughout the land.
  3. The Lord has sworn by right hand and strong arm:
    I will no longer give your grain as food for your enemies;
    foreigners will not drink your wine for which you have worn yourselves out.
  4. Rather, those who gather it shall eat it and praise the Lord,
    and its harvesters shall drink it in my holy domains.
  5. Pass on, pass on through the gates; prepare the people’s way.
    Build up, build up the road; clear it of rocks.
    Raise a signal toward the nations.
  6. “Here is the Lord!”—announce it to the end of the land;
    say to Zion’s children, “Here, your rescue is coming—
    see, together with reward and God’s benefits in the lead.”
  7. Thus people will call them: “The People of the Holy One, Those Redeemed by the Lord”;
    you will be called: “Recovered, A City Not Abandoned.”

The Psalm
Psalm 97
God’s Justice Is Evidenced on Earth

In this reading, God’s justice and power appear in a perfected world in which idolatry comes to an end, as all nations recognize the Lord’s singular might and glory.

  1. The Lord is king:
    Let the earth rejoice!
    Let the many coastlands be glad!
  2. Clouds and storm clouds surround God;
    righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s Throne.
  3. Fire goes before God,
    scorching God’s adversaries all around.
  4. God’s lightning illumined the world;
    the earth saw and quaked.
  5. Before the Lord, mountains melted like wax,
    before the Master of all the earth.
  6. The heavens proclaimed God’s righteousness,
    and all the peoples witnessed God’s glory.
  7. All who worship idols will be humiliated,
    those who boast of the gods.
    Bow down to the Lord, all you gods!
  8. Zion heard and was glad;
    the daughters of Judah rejoiced,
    because of your just acts, Lord!
  9. For you, Lord, are Most High over all the earth,
    highly exalted over all the gods.
  10. Hate evil, all who love the Lord!
    God protects the lives of the pious.
    God rescues them from the hand of evil-doers.
  11. Light is sown for the righteous,
    and joy for the upright in heart.
  12. Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous ones,
    giving thanks to God’s holy name.

The Second Reading
Titus 3:4-7
God’s Kindness and Generous Love through Jesus the Anointed

This confessional creed serves as a reminder of God’s grace. God’s benevolent love is experienced through baptism and renewal through God’s Spirit, which is poured out by the Anointed Jesus.


When the kindness and the benevolence of God our savior appeared, God saved us not because of the deeds which we did ourselves in righteousness, but rather according to divine mercy. God saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewal from holy Spirit, which was poured out abundantly upon us through Jesus the Anointed our Savior, so that being justified by God’s grace we might become heirs with respect to the hope of eternal life.

The Gospel
Luke 2:[1-7], 8-20
The Birth of Jesus

Among the Gospels, Luke’s Gospel alone relates Jesus’ birth to Roman history through reference to a census that was taken at the time. The triumphant message of angels to shepherds, however, sidelines the power of Rome, insisting that Jesus, born from the line of David, is to be savior of all. Mary, Jesus’ mother, who first appears in the reading in a position secondary to Joseph, emerges at the close of the reading as the person who best understood events.


[At that same time an ordinance went out from Augustus Caesar for the inhabited world to be registered. This first registry happened while Quirinius governed Syria. All proceeded to be registered, each to one’s own town. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea into David’s town, which is called Bethlehem, since he was of David’s house and paternity, to be registered with Mary, who was contracted in marriage to him, being heavily pregnant. While they were still there, the days were filled for her to bear, and she bore her first-born son, and swathed him, and laid him in a feed-trough, because there was no place for them in the lodging.]

In the same region, shepherds camped and kept watch at night over their flock. And a messenger of the Lord stood over them, the Lord’s glory shined around them, and they were afraid—with great fear. And the messenger said to them, “Do not fear, because, look: I proclaim to you great joy such as will be for all people, because a savior has been born for you today, who is Lord Anointed, in David’s city. And here is a sign for you—you will find a baby swathed and lying in a feed-trough.” And suddenly there was with the messenger a multitude of heaven’s army, praising God and saying, “Glory is with God in great
est heights, and peace on earth among those God favors.” When the messengers went away from them to the heaven, the shepherds started to speak with one another: “Now let us go over to Bethlehem and see this announcement made real, which the Lord made known to us.” They hastened and located Mary and Joseph, and also the baby lying in the feed-trough. As they saw they made known the announcement spoken to them concerning this child. And all who heard marveled concerning what was spoken by the shepherds to them, but Mary safeguarded all these announcements together, turning them over in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they heard and saw—just as was spoken to
them.

Nativity of the Lord – Proper III

The First Reading
Isaiah 52:7-10
Your God is King!

Rescue does not just happen; salvation is not by chance. The prophet Isaiah heralds the moment of rescue and salvation with vivid images of the besieged Jerusalem’s being set free. As word of the victory reaches those who wait for it, the cry goes up that God has acted, that the proper ruler has regained the capital for the kingdom. 

  1. How delightful on the mountains are the feet of a messenger
    reporting peace, announcing good things, declaring rescue,
    saying to Zion, “Your God is king!”
  2. The voice of your lookouts: they raise a shout, together they cry out
    as, one by one, their eyes gaze on the Lord’s return to Zion.
  3. They erupt! They shout out together! “O ruins of Jerusalem—
    the Lord has indeed had mercy on God’s people, has redeemed Jerusalem.
  4. The Lord has bared the holy arm for all nations to see,
    and the farthest reaches of the land have witnessed the rescue by our God.”

The Psalm
Psalm 98
Let the Entire Earth Celebrate God’s Victory

Psalm 98 is a hymn of praise for the victory instigated by God in days of old. It corresponds to and sheds new light
on the divine victory God has wrought in connection with Christ.

  1. A psalm.
  1. Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for God has performed extraordinary acts;
    God’s right hand brought God victory,
    along with God’s holy arm.
  2. The Lord has made that victory known;
    in the sight of the nations, God revealed God’s righteousness.
  3. God recalled God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to the House of Israel;
    all the ends of the earth saw our God’s victory.
  4. Let all the earth raise a shout to the Lord;
    let them burst forth in a joyous shout, give a ringing cry, and sing in praise.
  5. Let them sing praise to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and sound of melody.
  6. With trumpets and the sound of the shofar,
    let them raise a shout before the Lord, the King.
  7. Let the sea roar, and all that it contains,
    the earth, and those that dwell on it.
  8. Let the rivers clap hands;
    together let the mountains give out a ringing cry
  9. before the Lord,
    for God is coming to judge the land.
    God will judge the earth with righteousness
    and the peoples with an even hand.

The Second Reading
Hebrews 1:1-4, [5-12]
God’s Son, Greater than the Angels

The Epistle to the Hebrews presents a concentrated consideration of Jesus in relation to God, beginning with a strong, startling assertion of Jesus’ superiority to angels. For the unknown author of Hebrews, only Israel’s Scriptures could undergird such an assertion. The author in this passage, therefore, uses direct quotations from the book of Psalms, building on the Psalms’ imagery of Israel’s royal rulers, in order to express Jesus’ character as the Son of God. The reason for the emphatic contrast of Jesus with the angels is to insist that the Son directly speaks on God’s behalf, while prophetic inspiration derives from intermediary angels.

During ancient times, God spoke to the ancestors in many different ways by means of the prophets. In these last days God has spoken to us by means of a Son, whom God made inheritor of all things and through whom God structured time and space:

  •      Being the brightness of the glory and the character of God’s nature,
  •      upholding every thing by the command of his power,
  •      and having made purification for sins,
  •      the Son sat at the right of the majesty in the heights.
  •      He became as much greater than the angels
  •      as the name he inherited exceeds theirs.

[To which of the angels has God ever said, “You are my son; I have begotten you today”? And again, “I shall be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me”?

Moreover, when God brought the first-born into the world, Scripture says, “All God’s angels shall worship him.” And while it says of the angels, “God makes the angels spirits, and the attendants flames of fire,” it says of the Son:

  •      Your divine throne endures age after age, and the power of your kingdom is ethical.
  •      You love righteousness and hate wrong-doing,
  •      so that God, your God, anointed you,
  •      with oil of gladness exceeding your companions.

And:

  •      Lord, you founded the earth at creation;
  •      the heavens are the works of your hands.
  •      They shall pass away, but you remain;
  •      everything will wear out as a garment;
  •      like a cloak you will roll up the heavens and the earth,
  •      and as a garment they will be changed,
  •      but you: ever the same, and your years will never end.]

The Gospel
John 1:1-14
The Word Become Flesh

The opening of John’s Gospel introduces a theme that became dominant in Christian theology: the understanding that the world encounters the force of its creator in the person of Jesus. For that reason, the Gospel begins with a description of how God shaped the world, stressing that God did so by means of “the word,” a term that in Greek (logos) refers to the meaning and purpose of a speaker’s words. “The word” refers not only to the specific terms a speaker uses but also to the speaker’s choice of language. Here, however, the speaker is God, so that the spoken word brings reality itself into existence. That reality encompasses the making of humanity, and also the redemption that can make people children of God.


At creation: The word, so close to God that it was God. At creation, close to God, everything existed through the word. Apart from it not one thing existed which has ever existed. Life was by the word, and life was the light of humanity. The light shines in the darkness, and darkness does not grasp it.

There was a person sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness, so he could testify concerning the light, so that all would believe through him. He was not the light, but came so he could testify concerning the light.

The light was true, which enlightens every person coming into the world. It was in the world, but, although the world existed through it, the world did not recognize him. He came into what was his own, and his own did not accept him. Whoever did accept him—to them he gave authority to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were begotten not from bloodlines, nor from the will of flesh, nor from the will of a man, but from God.

The word became flesh and resided among us; we saw his glory, glory as of an only child close to a father, full of grace and truth. 

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