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Wrestling with the Word, episode 54: Second Sunday of Christmas, Year C (January 3, 2010) December 28, 2009

Posted by Dana Gillin in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
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Second Sunday of Christmas

The early church worked earnestly at many issues regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ, struggling at times to explain his unique person as both human and divine. The struggle is evident in the way the four Gospels describe when Jesus’ divinity began. The earliest Gospel, Mark, tells us nothing about Jesus as Son of God until his baptism as an adult by John the Baptizer. The next Gospels to appear, Matthew and Luke, announce that his conception in Mary’s womb marked the beginning of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. The fourth Gospel, the last to be written, gives us a completely new perspective. The Gospel from John announces that the Word that became flesh existed from all eternity as the Son of God. The connection between God’s “son” and salvation has its background in the first lesson from Jeremiah 31, and the eternal existence of the Word has its background in the alternate lesson from Sirach 24. The psalm for the day, Psalm 147, praises God for the sending the word to the earth, and the second lesson, a hymn in Ephesians 1:3-14, announces that the coming of Christ was God’s plan from the beginning of time.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 54: Second Sunday of Christmas, Year C.

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Jeremiah 31:7-14
Just as the Lord sent Israel into exile, so will the Lord bring back his first-born with singing, reversing their fortunes that they know shalom.

Context
At his call to be a prophet (1:4-10) God told Jeremiah that his role would be not only to pluck up and break down but also to build and to plant.  While most of the preceding oracles are ones of judgment, in chap. 30 is a series of good news promises regarding restoration begins.

Key Words
V. 10.  šim‘û debar YHWH = “hear the word of the Lord”:  the precise expression occurs 33 times in the OT, but only here and in Ezek. 20:47; 25:3 as an address to anyone other than Israelites.

V. 10.  wehaggîdû ba’’iyyîm = “declare in the coastlands”:  often used as a synonym for “nations” or “earth” to focus on God’s reach beyond the confines of Israel:  Ps. 97:1; Isa. 24:15 (where people in the coastlands give glory to the Lord); 41:1; 42:4, 10, 12 (universal praise of God); 49:1.

V. 13.  wenichamtîm = “and I will comfort them”:  the expression is common in regard to the exiles in Second Isaiah:  40:1; 51:3, 12; 52:9 (// “redeemed”).

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Sirach 24:1-12 (alternate)
Like the word of God, the wisdom of God came forth from God’s mouth to cover the earth but eventually pitched a tent in Jerusalem to be present in a special way as God’s torah.

The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach (alias Ecclesiasticus) is one of the key books included in the Old Testament Apocrypha. The 15 books in this collection did not fit the criteria of the Jewish community at the end of first century for inclusion into its approved writings (or canon).  The Hebrew Bible comprised basically the 39 books many Christians know as the Old Testament. Other books that were not written in Hebrew but in Greek and other languages and were not believed to have been written between the time of Moses and that of Ezra made up the separate collection of “hidden books” (the meaning of Apocrypha). These books were included in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, and were used by early Christian writers.

The work of Jesus ben Sirach was produced in Hebrew in the early decades of the second century B.C.E , but his grandson’s translation of the work into Greek at least 5o years later is the only manuscript available.

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Psalm 147:12-20
The psalm of praise extols the power and the grace of God. The portion assigned here looks to the word of God that both controls nature and instructs Israel in a unique way because of its election.

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Ephesians 1:3-14
Having adopted us as children through the forgiveness of our sins in Christ’s death, God calls the church and each of us to live out our future inheritance by glorifying God here and now.

Context
The Epistle to the Ephesians is not in the strictest sense an epistle, and it might not have been addressed to the Ephesians. Furthermore, in spite of its first word, it was probably not written by Paul. Written sometime before A.D. 95, this essay by an admirer of Paul was apparently intended as a theological teaching about the unity of the church under the leadership of Christ, its head. That unity was emphasized because of the growth of the church in Gentile circles and the apparent difficulty of remembering the church’s origin among Jewish people and Jewish traditions. The piece selected as our pericope is a hymn about God’s blessedness and how that blessing affects the life of the baptized.

Key Words
V. 5.  en agapē  proorisas hēmas eis huiothesian dia ’Iēsou Christou = “in love having destined us for adoption through Jesus Christ”:  The term huiothesia = “adoption” is used at Rom. 9:5 for the relationship of Israel to God and also at Gal. 4:5 for the relationship of Christians to God through baptism.

V. 7.  en hō  echomen tēn apoltrōsin dia tou haimatos autou, tēn aphesin tōn paraptōmatōn = “in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins”:  These expressions in the hymn indicate that by the time of the writing of this epistle, they had become common liturgical expressions and are quoted without explanation. Interestingly, while Paul used the word apoltrosis = “redemption” in the sense of freedom from the power of sin and death (slave market imagery), the apposition here appears to define  ”redemption” as God’s pardoning of our sins.

V. 10. eis oikonomian tou plērōmatos tōn kairōn = “as a management of the fullness of time”: Mark summarizes the beginning of Jesus’ preaching in terms of “the time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul writes of the “fullness of time” as the incarnation of God’s Son in the world to redeem those under the law in order that our adoption might occur (Gal. 5:4-5). Here, the words point to the grand purpose of God, namely, to “manage” the promise of a new order for the entire universe over which Christ will rule.

V. 12. eis to einai hēmas eis epainon doxēs autou = “for us to exist for the praise of his glory”: The hymn defines Christian responsibility to be and do what God created humanity for: the glory of God. Note the climax to the hymn Paul quotes at Phil. 2:5-11.

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John 1: (1-9) 10-18
The eternal Word of God who existed alongside God from all eternity and who was God has become one of us to share in our lives, our sufferings, and in all the conditions known to humanity.

Context
Some NT scholars regard the background of the piece in an ancient wisdom hymn or at least from ancient wisdom themes. In the OT and in the Apocrypha “wisdom” seems to have been personified in several ways (Prov. 8:22-31; 9:1-6; Sirach 24:1-12). Verses 9-15 might be interpreted in light of these wisdom traditions, particularly in light of Sir. 24:  “light … in the world … came to his own home … children of God.”  On the other hand, other scholars see the outline as a historical reflection of Israel’s past and the coming of Christ:  “in the world … yet the world did not known him” (the period from Adam to Moses), “came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him” (the Sinai law), “children of God” (the faithful remnant of Israel), “the Word became flesh” (Incarnation), “and we have seen his glory” (the Transfiguration). Whether or not either of those backgrounds provides wording and imagery for this hymn, the content describes the story of Jesus quite well.

Key Words
V. 1. en archē = “in (the) beginning”: The same words the LXX uses at Gen. 1:1. Note that Mark’s Gospel also starts with “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” (1:1). The Gen. 1 themes of darkness and light follow here in John 1.

V. 14. kai eskēnōsen en hēmin = “and pitched a tent among us”: Compare Sirach 24 where the Creator assigned for Wisdom “the tent” (skēnēn, v. 8), ordered Wisdom to “tent (kataskēnōson, v. 9); “in the holy tent” (skēnē) Wisdom ministered before the Creator (v. 10).

V. 14. plērēs charitas kai alētheias = “full of grace and truth”: For the intimate relationship between  Jesus and “truth” in John, see 8:32, 36; 14:6; 19:37-38.

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