Nativity of the Lord – Propers I through III – Year A

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. In verse 4, Isaiah refers to the divine miracle through which Israel’s enemies, the Midianites, had been defeated (Judges 6-7). 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 sections—first 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 call on images of 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 by means of 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 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 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 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: 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 brought about by God in days of old. It corresponds to and sheds new light on the divine victory God has wrought in connection with Christ.

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 the epistle, only the Scriptures of Israel 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 everything 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.
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.

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Year A

The last Sunday of Advent makes a transition from anticipation of God’s restoration to confidence that this restoration is actually under way. The first reading, from the book of Isaiah, presents the birth of an unnamed child as a sign that God will redeem Israel. While the prophecy is cast within its own historical period, later readers of Matthew’s Gospel found in it a picture of God’s deliverance that validated their own experience of Jesus. Although Psalm 80 is set in circumstances of national defeat, its tone of confidence suitably underscores Advent’s theme of patient expectation. Paul’s greeting to communities of believers identifies Jesus as son of David and sees in Jesus’ resurrection his appointment as the Son of God.

The First Reading
Isaiah 7:10-16
A Sign of Deliverance

In the first of today’s readings, the nation of Judah and its king, Ahaz, face a profound threat from two kings to their north, Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel. In the midst of the political crisis, Ahaz refuses to receive Isaiah’s word, perhaps in fear of its implications. Isaiah nevertheless declares that word, a sign of deliverance from the immediate threat. The promise is set within the span of time marked by a pregnancy and the newborn’s weaning. The fulfillment of that promised deliverance will confirm for the king and people what the child’s name declares, that “God is with us.” The Gospel according to Matthew, which serves as today’s Gospel reading, invokes the promise to suggest that Jesus’ birth accords with God’s faithful pattern of deliverance.

The Lord spoke again to Ahaz: “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God, be it as deep as Sheol or stretching high above.” But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask, so that I do not test the Lord.”

So Isaiah said, “Listen, then, House of David: Is it not enough for you to exasperate people, that you exasperate my God, too? Therefore, my Lord indeed will give you a sign. Here—this young woman is pregnant and will give birth to a son. She will name him, ‘Immanuel.’ He will eat soft cheese and honey, even know how to reject evil and choose good; before the lad knows how to reject evil and choose good, the land that you loathe because of its two kings will be abandoned.”

The Psalm
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
A Lament over the Destruction of the Kingdom of Israel

The psalmist bemoans the Israelites’ loss sovereignty over their land, with special reference to the Northern Kingdom (including the tribes of Joseph, Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh), which was conquered by Assyria in 722 BCE. In the Psalms, the one at God’s right hand (see, e.g., Psalm 80:17; Psalm 110:1) is the Israelite king. Here the king is the Davidic messiah, whom God has assigned to restore Israelite sovereignty. In some Christian interpretations, verses such as those of Psalm 80:17 have been understood to refer to Jesus, whose use of “son of man” to refer to himself can resonate with a literal reading of the Hebrew idiom in the verse: “…on the son of man you made strong for yourself.” Routinely in biblical Hebrew and early Judaism, however, the term “son of man” means, simply, “a person.” Thus, as a psalm of Israel, this psalm pleads specifically for the renewal of the Kingdom of Israel.

To the conductor, according to “lilies,” a testimony of Asaph, an accompanied psalm.
  1. Shepherd of Israel—listen!—
         leading Joseph like a flock,
         astride the cherubim,
    unveil your splendor,
  2.      before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!
    Awaken your might,
         and come as deliverance for us!
  3. God, restore us;
         shine your face towards us so that we shall be rescued!
  4. Lord, God of heavenly divisions, for how long will you remain angry at your people’s prayer?
  5. You have fed them the bread of weeping,
         and made them drink a full measure of tears.
  6. You have made us an object of reproach to our neighbors,
         and our enemies snicker to themselves.
  7. God of heavenly divisions, restore us;
         shine your face towards us so that we shall be rescued!
  1. Let your hand be on the one at your right hand,
         on the one you made strong for yourself.
  2. We shall not turn away from you;
         give us life so we might call upon your name.
  3. Lord, God of heavenly divisions, restore us;
         shine your face towards us so that we shall be rescued!

The Second Reading
Romans 1:1-7
God’s Victory Proclamation of the Anointed Lord Jesus

Paul begins his letter to the Romans with a lengthy and unusual salutation. Having not yet visited Rome, he introduces himself and asserts his authority as a called Apostle. This assertion establishes his right to address the Roman believers and to communicate God’s victory proclamation—the gospel concerning Jesus. This salutation includes an early creedal confession, which originated in a Jesus-believing Jewish community. Paul emphasizes the scriptural grounding of Jesus’ identity, as one descended from David and announced by the prophets. He then adapts the creed with his own additions in order to articulate his particular view of God’s proclamation concerning Jesus as the appointed Son of God, which is itself an echo of the combined sonship and kingship language found in the Psalms, e.g., in Psalm 2. Paul extends grace and peace to the believers from both Jesus the Anointed and God, whom he calls “father,” invoking the father’s particular role within the Roman household.

Paul, called Apostle, a servant of Jesus the Anointed, having been set apart for God’s victory proclamation, which God announced beforehand through the prophets in the holy Scriptures concerning God’s Son, who was:
          born David’s descendant according to the flesh,
          appointed Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness—
                    through resurrection of the dead.
          This is the Anointed Jesus, our Lord,
through whom we have received grace and apostleship to accomplish faithful obedience on behalf of God’s name among all the nations; among those you too are called to belong to Jesus the Anointed.

To all of God’s beloved who are in Rome, called and holy: Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Anointed Lord Jesus.

The Gospel
Matthew 1:18-25
The Birth of Jesus

In recounting Jesus’ birth, the Gospel according to Matthew characteristically refers to texts from Israel’s Bible. The Gospel, thereby, describes the birth in accord with expectations about God’s faithful deliverance that the prophet Isaiah has portrayed. Isaiah’s prophecy, quoted in this reading from the Greek version rather than the Hebrew, used the birth of a child to a young woman to assure Israel in perilous times that “God is with us.” As the Gospel applies the prophecy to Mary’s pregnancy, it assures Matthew’s community again that “God is with us.” An angel also directs Joseph to name the child “Jesus,” which means that God “shall save.”

The Anointed Jesus’ birth happened in this way: when his mother, Mary, was promised in marriage to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be pregnant by divine action. Her husband, Joseph, who was decent and did not wish to disgrace her, considered releasing her from the marriage privately. But as he pondered what to do, look: the Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a dream, and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, because what is conceived in her is from divine action. She will bear a son, and you will name him Jesus, since he will save his people from their sins.” All this happened in order to accord with what was said by the Lord through the prophet who said, “Look: the young woman will become pregnant and bear a son, and they will name him Emmanuel (which is, translated, ‘God is with us’).” Joseph was raised from sleep and did as the Lord’s messenger directed him: he took his wife and did not know her until she bore a son. And he named him “Jesus.”

Third Sunday of Advent – Year A

Among all the seasons of the liturgical year of the church, Advent is the most focused on the future, when God’s vindication of the people of God will come to fruition. This theme, emerging from Israelite expectations of divine restoration, animates Isaiah 35:1-10. That passage is set in the Babylonian eExile but looks forward to a divine rescue of the people of Israel, celebrated by a definitive change of natural as well as social conditions. Although God’s gracious action is to culminate in the future, divine mercy is already evident in God’s help of those who are oppressed (Psalm 146:5-10) and those who rely humbly on divine support (Luke 1:46b-55). Their faith looks forward to its consummation, however, in a final, future judgment (James 5:7-10); Matthew 11:2-7 portrays John the Baptist as the classic New Testament bearer of this perspective.

The First Reading
Isaiah 35:1-10
The Joy of Return and Restoration

This reading from the book of Isaiah celebrates with vivid imagery the transformation of a forbidding wasteland into a royal road for the people of Israel to return from exile in Babylon. Earth and its elements, animal life and its savagery, fear and paralysis, foolishness and confusion—all of these evaporate together with the grief and groaning of the people. As God opens the way for return and restoration, all creation is renewed and joins in Israel’s jubilation.

  1. The wilderness and desert will rejoice;
         the wasteland will celebrate and blossom like a crocus.
  2. It will indeed blossom and celebrate, with a most celebratory shout.
         The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the honor of Carmel and Sharon;
         they will see the glory of the Lord and the honor of our God.
  3. Strengthen the weak hands; steady the staggering knees.
  4. Say to the trembling-hearted, “Be strong! Fear not!
         Here is your God—
              vindication draws near, God’s fulfillment—
         God draws near to save you.”
  5.      Thus blind eyes will be made clear and deaf ears will be made to hear.
  6.      Thus the lame like a ram will bound and the tongue of the mute will resound.
              Indeed, water will erupt in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
  7.      Parched earth will become a pool and thirsty ground, springs;
              the haunt of jackals, an oasis; and grassland, a stand of reeds.
  8. There will be a high road there, that is, a way;
         it will be called the Way of the Holy One.
         Nothing that defiles will pass along it; it is God’s.
         Treading it, even fools will not go astray.
  9. No lion will be there and beasts will not intrude on it.
         Nothing will be found there, but the redeemed will march along.
  10. Those the Lord has rescued will return;
         they will come to Zion with a shout, crowned with perpetual joy.
    Exultation and joy will arrive, as grief and groaning fly away.

The Psalm
Psalm 146:5-10
God Protects the Righteous and Needy

God, who created the world, continues to support all in that world who need and deserve divine help: the oppressed as well as the hungry, orphans, and widows. These are classes of people who, lacking a human support network, have a special claim upon God for protection. The psalm’s conclusion reflects the hope that the good brought about by God’s reign will be eternal.

  1. Joyous is one whose help is the God of Jacob,
         whose hope is the Lord, their God—
  2.      creator of heaven and earth,
              the sea, and all that is in them;
         who stays forever reliable:
  3.           doing justice for the oppressed,
              giving bread to the hungry—the Lord frees the imprisoned!
  4. The Lord gives sight to the blind;
         the Lord straightens up those who are bent over;
         the Lord loves the righteous.
  5. The Lord protects outsiders;
         orphans and widows the Lord supports,
         but contorts the path of the wicked.
  6. The Lord will rule forever,
         your God, Zion, through every generation.

or Luke 1:46b-55
Mary’s Song

Luke’s Gospel attributes this hymn, the “Magnificat,” to Jesus’ mother, Mary, at the time of her meeting with her cousin, Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist). Its title derives from the Latin equivalent of the verb “exalt” in the first line. Anticipating the significance of her child’s birth and her own role, Mary articulates the themes of God’s exaltation of the lowly and rejection of human arrogance. These themes echo those of the Hannah’s song, which she sang to celebrate bringing the prophet Samuel into the world (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Thus, the Magnificat appears in the New Testament as a continuation of the psalms and prophecy of the Scriptures of Israel.

  1. Mary said:
  2. 46b. “My soul exalts the Lord,
  1.      and my spirit exults in God my savior,
  2. since God esteemed me, God’s servant, in humble condition.
         So that, look: from this moment all generations will consider me favored,
  3. because the One who is powerful has done great things for me.
         Indeed, God’s name is holy,
  4. and God’s mercy is for generations and generations
         among those who fear God,
  5. who has acted with a mighty arm:
         scattering the arrogant in their hearts’ purpose,
  6. taking down the powerful from thrones,
         and exalting the humble;
  7. who has filled up the hungry with good
         and dispatched the rich away empty.
  8. God supported Israel as a child, keeping mercy in mind,
  9.      just as God spoke to our ancestors,
         to Abraham and to Abraham’s seed forever.”

The Second Reading
James 5:7-10
A Call for Unity and Patience while Waiting on the Lord’s Arrival

The letter of James offers a view of an early community of Jews who believed in Jesus as God’s Anointed (Messiah). These Jews experienced the social tensions and divisions in Jerusalem in the decades prior to the First Jewish War with Rome. They remained committed simultaneously to the covenanting God of Israel, the Jerusalem Temple, and faith in Jesus. Through various struggles and suffering, their vibrant expectation of Jesus’ return provided them with the strength and patience to maintain their unity in faith.

Be patient, beloved friends, until the Lord’s arrival for judgment. Notice how the farmer waits to receive the best fruit from the earth, being patient with it, until it receives the early and the late rain. You also, be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s arrival has drawn near. Friends, do not complain against one another, so that you may not be judged. Even now, the judge is already standing at the door. Friends, imitate the example of the patient suffering of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The Gospel
Matthew 11:2-11
John the Immerser and Jesus

John the Immerser plays a key role in the readings of Advent, as the one who prepares the way for Jesus. But John’s question to Jesus from prison (where he had been sent by Herod Antipas) makes it clear that John does not fully understand Jesus’ identity. Jesus answers the question by alluding to a series of passages aggregated from the book of Isaiah. He then provides an assessment of John’s significance, adapting a quote from Malachi 3:1. John is a prophet, even more than a prophet. He is the “messenger” who will prepare God’s way, and yet Jesus still sees him as being a person more of this world (that is, “woman-born”) than of the kingdom of heaven that is to come. In that new realm, even the least gifted will have greater insight than John has now.

From prison John heard the deeds of the Anointed, and through his students he sent a message to Jesus. He said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?” Jesus answered them, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:
          Blind people see again and the lame walk,
          people with skin disease are purified and the deaf hear,
          the dead are raised and the poor are given news of victory.
          And whoever does not take offense at me is favored.”

While they were going back Jesus started to speak about John to the crowds:

“What did you go out into the wilderness expecting to see? A reed shaken by wind? Then what did you go out to see? A man attired in luxurious clothes? Look: those in royal palaces wear luxurious clothes! So why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. This is he concerning whom it is written, ‘Look: I dispatch my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Amen, I say to you, there has not been raised among woman-born anyone greater than John the Immerser! But the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is!”

Second Sunday of Advent – Year A

Advent’s emphasis on the finality of the judgment Jesus will bring at the end of time is paired with the idea that his role was deeply embedded in the Scriptures of Israel. Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 11:1-10) relates to the “root of Jesse,” the father of King David, who is linked directly to Jesus in Matthew’s genealogy (Matthew 1:1-16). As “David’s son” (a designation applied to Jesus in the Gospels), Jesus takes on the royal dignity and prerogatives of judgment assigned to kings in the Hebrew Bible. The use of Psalm 72 within the Lectionary endorses this royal identity. At the same time, Paul insists in Romans that Jesus’ coming as the anointed descendant of David extends his rule beyond Israel to gentiles on the basis of his mercy (Romans 15:4-13). Through the prophecy of John the Baptist, Matthew takes the perspective of the end of all time, presenting Jesus as the sole arbiter of what God will preserve and what God will destroy.

The First Reading
Isaiah 11:1-10
A Vision of a Renewed Davidic Monarchy

Isaiah looks forward to the renewed monarchy of Israel, ruled by a descendant of David (that is, a shoot from Jesse, David’s father). The vision is idyllic, as the prophet envisages a completely peaceable kingdom under an ideal ruler. In this realm even wild beasts live in harmony with one another and with human beings.

  1. Then a shoot will emerge from Jesse’s stock; a sprout from his roots will blossom.
  2. The spirit of the Lord will settle on him: a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
         a spirit of counsel and might, a spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.
  3. He will breathe it in through fear of the Lord,
         so that he shall not render judgment by what appears before his eyes, nor convict on the basis
         of what falls on his ears,
  4. but he will judge poor people by means of what is right and render a verdict on behalf of
         common folk through fairness.
         He will thump the ground with the rod of his mouth and destroy evil by the breath of his lips.
  5. Righteousness will gird his hips; faithfulness will be his weapons-belt.
  6. A wolf will dwell with a lamb and a leopard will take its rest alongside a goat;
         calf and lion will grow fat together, and a small child will lead them.
  7. Cow and bear will become friendly, so that their offspring rest together.
         A lion will eat hay like cattle [8] and an infant will play over the nest of a cobra;
         a toddler will stretch out its hand over the opening of a viper’s den.
  1. Neither evil nor destruction will be done on all my sacred mountain,
         for the land will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea.
  2. In that day, nations will seek out Jesse’s root,
         standing as a national symbol,
         and his capital will be glorious.

The Psalm
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
A Prayer for the Righteous Monarch

The psalmist prays for God’s help in teaching the dynastic king to rule justly, in particular so that he will judge fairly the cases of the poor and powerless. The image in verse 7 of the blossoming of the righteous reflects the lectionary context of this reading, immediately following Isaiah 11, the first verse of which refers to the blossoming of Jesse’s roots. The final verses of this reading, 18-19, are separate from the rest of Psalm 72. Their statement of God’s power and glory provides an overall conclusion to the collection of poems that comprise Psalms 42-72.

Of Solomon.
  1. God, to the monarch dispense your justice,
         and to the monarchy, your righteousness.
  2. May the monarch judge your people in righteousness,
         and the powerless in justice.
  3. May the mountains bear peace for the people,
         and the hills, in righteousness.
  4. May the monarch bring justice to the powerless among the people,
         deliverance to the poor,
         and crush any bully.
  5. May they hold you in awe while the sun shines,
         and then before the moon, for generations on end.
  6. May the monarch be like rain falling upon a fresh-cut field,
         like showers irrigating the land.
  7. In these days, may the righteous blossom,
         and peace, in abundance until the moon is no more.
  1. Blessed is the Lord, God, the God of Israel,
         who alone does wonders.
  2. And blessed be his glorious name forever.
         May the whole earth be filled with God’s glory.
         Amen and Amen.

The Second Reading
Romans 15:4-13
God’s Faithfulness to Israel through the Inclusion of the Gentiles

The Apostle Paul exhorts those believers gathering in various Roman houses to accept one another based on the example of Jesus’ acceptance of them. Through a collection of Hebrew Scriptures, Paul argues that God receives gentiles alongside Israel, God’s people. These verses repeatedly demonstrate the inclusion of the gentiles with Israel (Psalm 18:49 and 2 Samuel 22:50, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:10). Further, the Isaiah citation situates the Anointed Jesus within Isaiah’s prophetic vision of the arrival and reign of the root of Jesse.

For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, so that through both the continuing support and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. And so, may the God of this continuing support and encouragement give to you the same respect for one another as is in keeping with the Anointed Jesus, so that together with one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Anointed.

Therefore, accept one another just as the Anointed also accepted you for the glory of God. For I assert that the Anointed came as a servant to the circumcised on behalf of God’s truthfulness in order to confirm the promises to the patriarchs, and on behalf of mercy in order that the gentiles might glorify God. As it is written,
          “On account of this, I will proclaim you among the gentiles,
          and to your name I will sing praise.”
And again it says,
          “Gentiles, rejoice with God’s peoples!”
And again,
          “Praise the Lord, all you gentiles,
          and let all the peoples praise God!”
And again Isaiah says,
          “The root of Jesse will come,
          the one who rises to rule the gentiles.
          In God, the gentiles will hope.”
And so, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in this hope by the power of the holy Spirit.

The Gospel
Matthew 3:1-12
John the Baptist’s Prophecy of Jesus

The Gospels present John the Baptist as Jesus’ precursor, whom Matthew identifies with the voice prophesied in Isaiah as preparing God’s way (Isaiah 40:3). John’s dress and location, as well as his call to repentance, are reminiscent of the portrayal of Elijah (1 Kings 17-19; 2 Kings 1-2). In the setting of Matthew’s community, John’s preaching is pointed vehemently against the Pharisees and the priestly group known as Zadokites, despite the legitimately high regard for them within Judaism. By the time the Gospel was written, they and the teachers of the Matthean church were irreconcilably opposed to one another. When John the Baptist in this Gospel proclaims Jesus’ coming, the point is not simply that Jesus will come in John’s time, but that at the end of time Jesus will exercise final judgment.

In those days John the immerser came, proclaiming in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has approached.” He is the one spoken of through Isaiah the prophet: “Voice of one calling in the wilderness—‘Prepare the Lord’s way, make God’s paths straight.’” John wore clothing from camel’s hair with a skin strap around his hips, and his diet was locusts and field-honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the surroundings of the Jordan went out to him; while declaring their sins they were immersed by him in the river Jordan. Yet when he saw many of the Pharisees and Zadokites coming for immersion, he said to them, “Nest of snakes! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? So, produce fruit worthy of repentance! Do not presume to say among yourselves, ‘Our father is Abraham.’ Because I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise children for Abraham! The axe is already put to the root of the trees, so every tree not producing good fruit is chopped down and thrown into fire. I indeed immerse you in water for repentance, but the one who comes after me is stronger than I am. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will immerse you in holy Spirit and fire. His pitchfork is in his hand, and he will clear out his threshing floor and gather his grain into the storehouse. Yet the useless husks he will incinerate with unquenchable fire.”

First Sunday of Advent – Year A

Advent begins the liturgical year of the church. The season’s focus is on the future; the Latin term adventus refers to what is coming from the unknown that always lies ahead in human experience. The First Sunday’s readings epitomize this focus by reaching their climax in the passage from Matthew’s Gospel. Here the condition of humanity at the time of Noah’s Flood is compared to its present condition, which awaits judgment by Jesus as the Son of Man. Paul’s charge to the Romans reminds his readers that the light that comes to illuminate all things at the end of time is present already as an imperative of ethical transformation. Special consideration is accorded the Scriptures of Israel during Advent, because they articulate promises which Jesus and the New Testament insist are in the process of being realized. Isaiah, in a classic passage of prophecy, envisions universal peace and a gathering of all nations at Mount Zion. The celebration of Jerusalem in Psalm 122 within this cycle of readings conveys a sense of a glorious past as prelude to the final glory of the future.

The First Reading
Isaiah 2:1-5
A Promise of Justice and Peace

Isaiah’s vision is set at the end of a critical period of time, “after these days.” Following chapter 1 with its strong assertion of God’s judgment against injustice, it offers assurance of God’s ultimate reign. The vision shows humanity gathering at the Temple in Jerusalem, in the region of Judah, to learn God’s ways as the revealed guide for their conduct. It promises that divine justice, rendered by God among all peoples, will abolish war and even the weapons of war.

  1. The promise that Isaiah ben Amotz saw with regard to Judah and Jerusalem—
  2. It shall be after these days:
         The mountain of the Lord’s Temple shall be established first among the mountains,
              exalted above the hills.
         All the nations shall stream to it.
  3. And many peoples will go and say:
         “Come, let us go up to the Lord’s mountain,
              to the Temple of the God of Jacob.
         God will instruct us from God’s own ways,
              so that we will walk in those paths.”
         For instruction stems from Zion,
              the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
  4. The Lord shall sit as judge among the nations,
              rendering justice for many peoples.
         They will pound their swords into plow-blades
              and their spears into pruning shears.
         Nation will not raise the sword against nation;
              they will no longer even give war a thought.
  5. House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the Lord’s light!

The Psalm
Psalm 122
A Pilgrim’s Ode to Jerusalem

Expressing great joy at having reached Jerusalem, a pilgrim praises the city as a spiritual center (the location of God’s Temple) and national home (the seat of the throne of David). The psalm dates from after the Babylonian Exile (586-538 BCE), which had seen the Temple destroyed and Jerusalem devastated. It reflects the deep and continuing Jewish connection to God’s chosen city, especially the joy brought by Jerusalem’s having been rebuilt and restored to splendor.

A Song of Ascents, of David.
  1. I rejoiced when they said to me,
         “Let us go to the Temple of the Lord!”
  2. Our feet were standing within your gates, Jerusalem:
  3. Jerusalem, built up, as a city united all together;
  4. the city to which the tribes went up as pilgrims—
         the tribes of Yah!—
    a witness for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
  5. For there sat the thrones of judgment,
         the thrones of the House of David.
  6. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
         May those who love you, Jerusalem, find well-being.
  7. May there be peace on your ramparts,
         well-being in your royal halls.
  8. For the sake of my family and friends,
         I do pray for your peace.
  9. For the sake of the Temple of the Lord, our God,
         I seek your welfare.

The Second Reading
Romans 13:11-14

Admonition to Moral Alertness in Anticipation of the Lord’s Arrival
After citing hymnic material known in the Roman house churches, the Apostle Paul offers moral instruction that builds upon the hymn’s outlook on final salvation and judgment. Paul challenges his listeners to live according to the new age that has dawned with the heightened expectation that their salvation is soon to arrive.

Know the significance of this time—
          “The hour has already come for you to wake from sleep:
          Even now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.
          The night is about over, the day draws near.
          So then, let us put aside the works of darkness,
          and wrap ourselves in the weapons of light.”
As in the daytime, let us conduct ourselves properly, not in partying and drunkenness, not in immoralities and indecency, not in bitter conflict and jealousy. Instead, wrap yourself in the Anointed Lord Jesus and do not encourage the flesh’s inclination to lust.

The Gospel
Matthew 24:36-44
The Unexpected Coming of the Son of Man

Advent readings point to the future as the time when God’s reign will at last be fulfilled. Still, these readings insist that God does not operate according to any schedule that people can know. Matthew’s presentation of this teaching expands on this point by comparing the present to the condition of humanity just prior to Noah’s Flood. Because people cannot know God’s timetable, one must live as though judgment is imminent, attending to God’s works and ways in the present. The passage closes with a call for such preparation.

“Concerning that day and hour,” [Jesus said to his committed students], “no one knows, neither the messengers of heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. Exactly as the days of Noah were, so will be the Son of Man’s arrival for judgment. As in those days before the flood people simply went about eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah entered the ark, and they were oblivious till the flood came and took everyone—so the Son of Man’s arrival for judgment will be. Then there will be two in the field: one taken away and one left. Two grinding at the mill: one taken away and one left. Be alert, then, because you do not know on which day your Lord comes! But this you do know: a householder who had known the nightwatch in which the thief was coming would have stayed alert and would not have permitted the home to be broken into! For this reason, prepare yourselves: the Son of Man comes at an hour you cannot discern.”

Ash Wednesday – Year A

This day begins the traditional forty-day fast of Lent, a period designed in the ancient church for the preparation of candidates for baptism. At the celebration of Easter, those who were baptized imitated the example of Jesus in receiving the Spirit of God. The theme of the day’s readings as a whole focuses on the kind of devotion that God intends to be associated with that Spirit.

The First Reading
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
A Day of Destiny

The book of Joel is one of the latest writings in all of biblical Israel’s Scripture. The book crystallizes the image of the “Day of the Lord” that had become familiar in earlier times, casting it as a time of anticipation for the people of God in any age and any circumstance of dire upheaval. The following verses join this theme with one of Israel’s most reassuring images of God—as “gracious and merciful, long on patience and generous with constant love.” Together these images sound a call to repentance in the face of adversity, with confidence that the Lord will remain faithful to promises made over many ages.

  • 1. Sound the shofar in Zion; shout the alarm on my holy mountain!
  • Let all the earth’s inhabitants quake,
  • for the Day of the Lord comes—it is near!—
  • 2. a day of darkness and doom, a day of cloud and gloom.
  • Like dawn crawling across the mountains, swarms a large and powerful people:
  • never in our experience has there been any like this,
  • nor ever will there be again, throughout all the ages.
  • 12. Yet, even now—the word of the Lord:
  • Turn back to me with all your hearts,
  • with a fast and weeping and wailing.
  • 13. Tear open your hearts, not just your clothes.
  • Turn back to the Lord your God,
  • who is gracious and merciful,
  • long on patience and generous with constant love;
  • who relents from harsh punishment.
  • 14. Who knows? The Lord may turn back and relent,
  • leaving us a blessing—God’s own offerings of grain and drink.
  • 15. Sound the shofar in Zion!
  • Set a holy fast! Call a sacred assembly!
  • 16. Gather the people, prepare a holy conclave;
  • bring together elders, gather children and nursing infants.
  • Let the bridegroom abandon his chambers,
  • and the bride, her dressing room.
  • 17. Between the entryway and the altar,
  • let the priests weep—those who serve the Lord;
  • let them say, “Take compassion, O Lord, on your people.
  •        Do not subject your heritage to shame, so that foreigners rule over them.
  • Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

or Isaiah 58:1-12
Devotion to God Requires Devotion to Others

As Israel sought to establish its national life anew following the two generations of exile in Babylonia, this prophecy reminded the nation that a robust life as God’s people calls for more than proper piety. Restoration and renewal will be built on a new commitment to compassion, virtue, and self-giving service. God will accompany those who embrace these values, giving them an enduring legacy.

  • 1. Bellow out a cry; do not hold back. Raise your voice like a ram’s horn
  •     to proclaim to my people their offense and to the House of Jacob their sins;
  • 2. then they will seek me day by day and desire knowledge of my ways.
  • Like a nation that does right, not abandoning the justice of their God,
  • let them ask of me right judgments;
  • let them delight in their nearness to God.
  • 3. “Why do we fast,” [they say,] “and you do not see us,
  • deprive ourselves and you take no notice?”
  •       Look, on your fast day you see to your own interests,
  • relentlessly driving all your workers.
  • 4. Indeed your fasting ends in quarreling and struggle and striking with a wicked fist.
  • Do not fast like that today, if you would make your voice heard on high.
  • 5. Is the fast that I choose like this: a day focused on one’s own deprivation?
  • Is it for folding oneself over like a reed, draping sackcloth and ashes?
  • Do you call that a fast and a day that the Lord wants?
  • 6. Is not this the fast that I choose:
  • release unjust shackles, unstrap the yoke’s harness,
  • set free the oppressed—you shall demolish every yoke!
  • 7. Is it not giving up your food to the hungry,
  • and that you take in the wandering poor?
  • Seeing someone naked, you cover them,
  • rather than look away from your flesh and blood!
  • 8. Then your light will break out like the dawn
  • and your well-being will emerge quickly;
  • your righteousness will precede you;
  • the Lord’s glorious presence will surround you.
  • 9. Then you will call and the Lord will respond;
  • you will cry out for help and the Lord will say, “I am here”:
  • when you remove from among you the yoke,
  • finger-pointing, and slander;
  • 10.     when you give of yourself to the hungry
  • and make reparation for the humiliated;
  • when your light shines out in the darkness
  • so that your gloom is like midday.
  • 11. The Lord will always guide you and satisfy you in bare wastelands;
  • he will strengthen your spine and you will be an irrigated garden,
  • like a spring whose waters never disappoint.
  • 12. Your people will rebuild ageless ruins,
  • you will re-establish the foundations of generations,
  • and you will be called “repairer of the breach,”
  • restoring pathways for habitation.

The Psalm
Psalm 51:1-17
A Prayer for Forgiveness

Thematically appropriate to the beginning of the Lenten season of penitence, Psalm 51 presents King David’s plea for divine forgiveness. Central here is not just David’s desire to be cleansed of past wrong-doings, but also his hope for God’s help so that he might stop sinning and only teach and follow God’s ways. As presented in The Revised Common Lectionary the psalm ends with a call for contrition rather than animal sacrifice. In the psalm’s full form, however, its final verses—which are excluded here—pray that God rebuild the city of Jerusalem, allowing expiatory sacrifices again to be offered on the Temple’s altar.

  • To the conductor, a song of David, when Nathan the Prophet came to him after he had relations
    with Bathsheba.
  • 1. Have mercy on me, God, as suits your steadfast love;
  • according to the greatness of your mercy, wipe away my sins!
  • 2. Cleanse me thoroughly of my guilt;
  • purify me of my sin!—
  • 3. for I admit my transgressions;
  • my sin is ever before me.
  • 4. Against you, only you, I have sinned;
  • I did what is evil in your eyes,
  • so that your sentence is justified,
  • and your judgment warranted.
  • 5. Indeed, I was birthed guilty;
  • my mother conceived me sinful.
  • 6. Yet you desire the truth about that which is concealed.
  • Regarding that which is hidden, give me insight!
  • 7. Sprinkle me with a hyssop stem to purify me;
  • cleanse me whiter than snow!
  • 8. Make me hear sounds of joy and gladness;
  • let the bones you crushed rejoice!
  • 9. Hide your face from my sins;
  • wipe away all of my guilt!
  • 10. Fashion for me a pure heart, God;
  • renew in me a steadfast spirit.
  • 11. Do not banish me from your presence;
  • do not take from me the spirit of your holiness.
  • 12. Let me again enjoy your protection,
  • and may a willing spirit sustain me.
  • 13. I shall teach sinners your ways,
  • so that transgressors will return to you.
  • 14. Save me from bloodshed,
  • God—God of my deliverance!
  • My tongue will sing out your righteousness!
  • 15. Lord, open my lips,
  • and let my mouth declare your praise!
  • 16. For you do not desire sacrifices
  • as I offer them;
  • burnt-offerings do not please you.
  • 17. God’s desired sacrifice is a contrite spirit.
  • God—a contrite and crushed heart
  • you will not despise.

The Second Reading
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Commendation as a Servant of God

In this reading the apostle Paul establishes himself as a servant of God and representative of the Messiah. He encourages believers in Corinth to receive God’s grace with fruitfulness. In times of difficulty and unfair treatment, they are to maintain the same manner of godly attributes that Paul himself has upheld throughout his ministry.

On behalf of the Messiah, we make the appeal: “Be reconciled to God!” God made the one who did not know sin to be a sacrifice on our behalf, so that we can embody God’s righteousness in that one.

Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For God says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I helped you.” Look! Now is a favorable time; now is a day of salvation. We do not put a single obstacle in anyone’s way, so that the ministry may not be discredited, but in every detail we establish ourselves as servants of God by great endurance in afflictions: by hardships, distressing situations, beatings, and imprisonments; by riots, labors, sleepless nights, and times of hunger; by purity, understanding, patience, and kindness; by holy Spirit, genuine love, word of truth, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right and left hands. Throughout we are honored and dishonored, slandered and praised; regarded as imposters and yet are honest, as unknown and yet are well known, as dying and yet—look!—we are alive, as punished and yet not killed, as sorrowful but always rejoicing, as poor but making many rich, as having nothing and yet possessing everything.

The Gospel
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
True Devotion

Matthew’s Gospel presents teaching in regard to religious practice within its Sermon on the Mount, a discourse that brings together Jesus’ teachings on various occasions. The portion of text the Lectionary presents on this day bookends the Lord’s Prayer, which appears in Matthew 6:9-13 (omitted here). Jesus, in Matthew’s presentation, describes the inner attitude of devotion that is consistent with prayer. Written in a setting of fierce competition both within the church and with other religious institutions, this reading from Matthew’s Gospel contrasts the church’s approach to devotion with others’.

“Careful: do not display righteousness in front of people, to be seen! If you do, you have no compensation from your Father who is in heaven. When you give charity, do not trumpet your generosity, as the pretentious do in the congregations and in the streets, to be glorified by people. Trust me, I tell you: they already have their compensation! You, though, when you give charity, your left hand should not even know what your right hand does, so the charity you do is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will make it up to you. And whenever you pray, you shall not be as the pretentious, because they delight to stand up in prayer in congregations and on street corners, to flaunt themselves. Trust me, I tell you: they already have their compensation! But when you pray, enter into your most private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will treasure you.

“When you fast, do not be morose like the pretentious, who put on an expression to parade their fasting. Trust me, I tell you: they already have their compensation! But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that your fasting is not apparent to people, but only to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will treasure you. Do not store up valuables on earth, where moth and decay ruin them and where thieves break in and steal. Instead, store up valuables in heaven, where neither moth nor decay ruin and where thieves do not break in and steal. Where your treasure is, there will be your heart.”