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Wrestling With The Word, episode 2: Second Sunday after Christmas, Year B (Jan. 4, 2009) December 9, 2008

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This second episode of the Wrestling with the Word podcast discusses the biblical passages assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary for January 4, 2009, or the second Sunday after Christmas, Year B. The Gospel from John 1 announces that the Word-become-flesh in Jesus Christ 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, and the eternal existence of the Word has its background in the alternate lesson from Sirach. The psalm for the day, Psalm 147, praises God for the sending of the word, 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 2: Second Sunday after Christmas.

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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) Jeremiah was told 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

Praise to God who has unveiled the mystery of the new community, a community identified by baptism and waiting confidently for the inheritance to come.

Context

Scholars debate whether the Apostle Paul was the author of this epistle. In either case, the letter provides a profound discussion about the universal extent of God’s creation and redemption in Jesus Christ. It also calls on Christians to live in love to one another as a community of persons baptized in Christ. The passage is a hymn like those in 1 Cor. 13, Col. 1, and Phil 2.

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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”: cf. Sir. 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. 18. “full of grace and truth”: for Jesus as “truth” in John see 8:32, 36; 14:6; 19:37-38.