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Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources

Second Sunday of Christmas - Uses First Sunday Readings Year A, Colour = White


Jesus is alpha and omegaIntroduction

This is a hard reading for us to read today in the light of all that has gone on in the previous year with refugees and asylum seekers. Our Lord was chased from his home because his parents feared for their lives. They found sanctuary in another country and we owe the life of our Lord to the fact that his parents were not turned away. Now picture your television screens over the last twelve months or the newspaper headlines which have described people in the same circumstance fleeing war in the middle east from places like Syria. They have been labellled as economic migrants, they have been described using the language of the plague 'swarms of migrants.' Mary and Joseph were not trying to steal the jobs of the indigenous population, they were not looking for handouts, they just wanted safety.

Thankfully they were able to protect their child. Our hearts and our conscience should be troubled by the fact that many children who were in the jungle camp at Calais last year were not so fortunate. Only 20 or so miles from England they were dispersed across Europe when the camp was destroyed. The whereabout of many of those children, many very young and vulnerable is now unknown, but they were surely targets for the sex trade and unscrupulous exploitation. Could we not have found room ?

Opening Verse of Scripture Psalm 148:11

Kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and maidens, old men and children. Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendour is above the earth and the heavens.

Collect Prayer for the Day

Almighty God, in the birth of your Son you have poured on us the new light of your incarnate Word, and shown us the fullness of your love: help us to walk in his light and dwell in his love that we may know the fullness of his joy; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

God our Father, in love you sent your Son that the world may have life: lead us to seek him among the outcast and to find him in those in need, for Jesus Christ’s sake.

First Bible Reading   Isaiah Chapter 63:7-9

I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us-- yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses. He said, "Surely they are my people, sons who will not be false to me"; and so he became their Saviour. In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Second Reading  Hebrews 2:10-end

In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises." And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again he says, "Here am I, and the children God has given me." Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Gospel Reading  Matthew Chapter 2:13-23

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son." When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead." So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene."

 

Post Communion Prayer

All praise to you, almighty God and heavenly King, who sent your Son into the world to take our nature upon him and to be born of a pure virgin: grant that, as we are born again in him, so he may continually dwell in us and reign on earth as he reigns in heaven, now and for ever.

Commentary

Having been to Bethlehem and seen the cave which Christians venerate as the birthplace of Jesus, I am struggling this year with trying to understand what happened that first Christmas night. We are told that Mary and Joseph had to leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem, because it was the home town of Joseph and the Roman were conducting a census. So off they trekked across the desert from Nazareth. When they arrived, Mary was about to give birth to the baby Jesus. Imagine that you were Joseph in this position.

Your wife is about to give birth, what do you do? I suspect that we would all go to the home of our very best friends and beg a favour. We are told that there was no room for them at the inn.

The word used by Luke which we choose to translate in this instance as ‘inn’ is ‘katalumati.’ Later in the Gospel (22:11) Luke will use the same word to describe the place where the last supper will be held, there it is often translated as ‘guest room.’ We all have pictures in our minds of nativity scenes in which a friendly hotelier takes pity on Mary and Joseph and finds them a place. The truth is probably very different. The phrase ’ there was no room’ might be intended to convey a much more cruel fact, that not even the friends and relatives of Joseph wanted to provide shelter for him and his disgraced wife. Had the news of the pregnant Mary reached Bethlehem before the couple arrived? There is nothing jucier than a bit of gossip about an unmarried mother, such news travels faster, even in an age deprived of the telephone. The fact that there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the ‘katalumati’ whatever one of those was, gives a huge insight into the attitudes of their friends and family. We can be sure of the fact that the place of birth was one which was not desireable, it was chosen because there was ‘no room’ in the place where Joseph and Mary would have chosen. This place was a place devoid of the usual comforts, because the baby Jesus was laid in a manger. Babies are not normally put into feeding troughs, a mother would only do this out of necessity. It is a striking point and no wonder that Luke mentions it three times in his nativity story.

So here we have a rejected couple, giving birth in an undesirable place, finding no suitable hospitality in the home town of Joseph. Little wonder that in the passage from Matthew today we read that Joseph decides to escape to Egypt. Given the lack of hospitality which Joseph has received in Bethlehem there is little reason to suppose that the couple will find protection. Any protective father would feel equally fearful for the family.

Those of you who know your Old Testament will remember that Pharaoh also gave orders to kill male Hebrew infants because he was warned in a dream of a new born Hebrew who would be threat to his kingdom. If were to examine the language used in Exodus and in Matthew we would see remarkable similarities. There can be no doubt that Matthew has in mind the story of Moses as he tells the story of Jesus, Pharaoh becomes Herod, whilst Moses becomes Jesus. Moses saved the people from bondage and slavery, now Jesus will save the people from their sins.

Such similarities between Old Testament passages and the nativity stories in Matthew have resulted in the passage from Matthew being seen as Christian midrash. Midrash was a way in which rabbis at the time of Jesus interpreted scripture in manner very different from our literal understanding of truth. It involved story telling and interpreting truth in new ways from previous events. This is not to say that these events never took place. We know that killing babies was exactly the kind of thing which Herod would have done.

Herod was enraged that the Magi hadn't "reported" back to him and he was prone to fly into a rage. Herod ruled from about 37BC until 4BC, (due to errors in the calendar we believe that Jesus was born about 6BC!), the Jewish historian Josephus records that Herold's later years were full of attempts to defend his throne against the Jewish Hasmoneans, the descendants of the Maccabees. This was a man who had ten wives, executed his own wife Mariamne and three sons Alexander, Aristobulus and Antipater. He had an elaborate network of spies, and he often executed people for real or imagined conspiracies against his throne. He slaughtered 45 Sadducees most of whm were members of the Sanhedrin and confiscated their property. Josephus (Jos. Ant 17.6.6) even talks about a plan, never carried out, to have all the Jewish nobility slaughtered at the time of his own death to ensure that everyone would be mourning when he died !

So we read in Matthew that Herod had a fit of rage and ordered that all of the male infants in Bethlehem under two years of age be killed. Early Christians tradition reported that perhaps 14,000 (Byzantine) or 64,000 (Syrian) babies might have died. The number is actually much smaller. Bethlehem was a small town of only perhaps 500-1,000 people, so it is possible that between 4- 20 babies might have been killed. Nevertheless such a slaughter was a most dreadful action which would have brought enormous fear and mourning to the town. We need to remember that this is the reality of that first Christmas. It will never appear on our Christmas cards and yet it is much more a feature of the birth of Jesus than the idyllic scene of ‘cattle lowing’ and a waking baby Jesus who doesn’t cry. Mary and Joseph are refused hospitality, they and the baby are now in real danger of being killed in the ensuing bloodbath. It was a very brutal Christmas in the present context of slaughter in places like Darfur, Zimbabwe and Iraq it perhaps has more to say to our world than we are prepared to allow.

We are told by Matthew that eventually the family return and go to live in Nazareth. Such a detail is also important. I love the fact that wherever I go I bump into people with whom I have an instant affinity, because we immediately recognise our origins in Merseyside. Being born in Liverpool means that you belong to a very easily identifiable group, the cheery disposition, and charming accent are just two of the qualities inherent in the Scouser. Liverpudlians love nothing better than sharing their good nature and friendly humour with others who have not had the benefit of such a birthplace. However there is a also a flip side, there are those who think that anybody who comes from Liverpool must be horribly vulgar, steal cutlery and can't pronounce 'grass.' We are seldom intimidated by this behaviour and we have expressions which characterise these ignorant people, these would be most inappropriate for Partnership News.

I say this because if Jesus was born in England, I think that he would have been born in Liverpool. For this reason alone the 'Liverpool Nativity' which was on television over Christmas was very appropriate. Let me explain, Jesus grew up in Nazareth in Galilee. Nazareth was not far from the major commercial trade routes, only several miles from Sepphoris an important city. Yet this was a place despised by many Jewish people at the time. It was just as unlikely that a Messiah would come from Nazareth as it was for Anakin Skywalker to come from Tatooine. If a Messiah was to come from anywhere it would be Jerusalem, not the uncultured North.

Quite a few things about Jesus and the Gospels start to make sense when we understand this In John1:46 we read that Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote it is Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." The response of Nathaniel was "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?"

People from this northern region stood out. When Jesus was arrested and Peter was accused of being with Jesus by the servant girl, (Mark 14:67) she said "You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus’. We all know that Peter denied any contact with Jesus, but as soon as he opened his mouth Peter gave himself away, because he would have spoken with a Northern accent! So we are told Peter is accused himself of being ‘a Galilean.’
Jesus never argued about the title, he would never shake it off, and presumably people would know where Jesus came from every time he said ‘grass.’ Jesus seemed to bear the disdain of others about his roots throughout his adult life. So it was that Pilate would have thought it a kind of joke to write ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’

So the hopeless scene of an asylum seeking Joseph and Mary wandering around the streets of Liverpool is not too far from the truth. How could Jesus be born anywhere else, a messiah from Tunbridge Wells would just be too ridiculous. Charles Royden
 


Meditation


“Not throned afar, remotely high,
Untouched, unmoved by human pairs,
But daily, in the midst of life
Our Saviour in the Godhead reigns”
Yes that is a verse from a Easter hymn, but it links to the message of Christmas – that God comes to dwell with us, born as a vulnerable baby, and experiences all that life throws at us. He knows what we go through because he has gone through it too. So he understands all about us. And he does this out of love for the whole world.

God’s nature is described in our Isaiah reading : compassion, love and mercy – and these are reflected in actions – in many kindnesses to the people of Israel – God is also distressed to the people of Israel. God is also distressed in their distresses : he is involved : he cares. This is good news. The theme is continued in Hebrews where we see that Jesus shared human native and experience in every respect. Because he himself suffered and was tempted, so he can help us in those situations. He isn’t a detached God : he identifies with us so he is able to sympathise with us. And because he has met our sorrows and faced out temptations he knows what help we need and he can give it. Life for Jesus was certainly not full of sunshine and roses, any more that it is for us. He was “ a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
And it all started very early on as the gospel reading tells us Jesus is born with a price on his head! There are plots. It was not to be expected that Herod would calmly accept the news that a child had been born who was to be King. In our Messy Church Nativity Herod explains “ I am the King!” He carefully asks the wise men where they had seen the star ; he’s working out the child’s age so that he could be sure he didn’t miss him when he orders that every child in Bethlehem under two years old to be killed. Herod was not a nice man. He thought nothing of killing members of his own family ; so he was not going to bat an eyelid at the thought of killing lots of little babies in case one of them should be regarded as a royal pretender.
So Jesus was born in a land where there was trouble, tension, violence and fear. We shouldn’t dwell too much on peaceful, beautiful Christmas scenes. Jesus, the Prince of Peace was a homeless refugee with a price on his head before he had learned to walk and talk. But Matthew wants us to see that even when things are at their darkest, this is how Israel’s Redeemer was to appear; this is how God would set about bringing freedom and justice. Tom Wright writes “No point arriving in comfort when the World is in misery.” No point having an easy life when the World suffers violence and injustice! If he is to be Emmanuel, God with us, he must be with us where the pain is -----------In Jesus, not despite the frantic and tragic events that happened around his birth but because of them, God is providing the salvation and rescue that Israel longed for and through that, his justice for the World.
The news this Christmas 2013, of Syrian catastrophe suggests that there is still a long way to go before that is realised. It is no easy road, yet as the carol say.” The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Richard Ledger

Hymns

  1. Come Down O love Divine
  2. Unto us a boy is borne
  3. O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
  4. Go tell it on the mountain

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

representation of prayer as seed growing

 


"Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian.

If it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die."

 

Lord Jesus, at this time we can look back to the old year, and forward to the new. We give thanks for the blessings of the past year, and we place into your hands the mistakes we have made. As you are “the Light of the world”, take away the darkness in our lives. As you are “the Way”, lead us in the year ahead. As you are “the gate of the sheepfold”, protect us from danger. We entrust the past to your mercy, Lord, the present to your love, and the future to your providence. Amen.

Let your mighty hand and your outstretched arm, O Lord, be our defence. Let your mercy and loving-kindness in Christ Jesus be our protection. May your true and faithful Word be our instruction and guide; and may the grace of your life-giving Spirit be our comfort and strength, to the end and in the end, now and for ever. Amen. 
John Knox, 1513-1572

O most loving Shepherd, in the deepest of all waters we will trust you. In the darkest of all valleys we will rejoice in your presence. In the worst of our days we shall rest at peace in your arms. In the most troubled of our nights we shall be comforted by your saints. Amen.
Archibald Campbell Tait, 1811-1882

Preserve us, O God, in the faith of your saints, a faith both tried and trusted. May we enjoy both now and for ever the eternal love of the Father, the abiding love of the Son and the indwelling of love of the Holy Spirit, one God in glory and majesty, world without end. Amen ;
Hilary of Poitiers, 315-367

O Lord, whose way is perfect, help us always to trust in your goodness, to walk in the way of faith, and to follow in the path of simplicity. Teach us to cast our cares on your providence, that we may possess a quiet mind and a contented spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen 
Christina Georgina Rossetti, 1830-1894

Additional Material

Commentary

I recently visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It is the oldest surviving church in Europe, it was saved from the destruction which involved the invasion from Persia, this was because the invading army saw in the church a picture of the Magi. Recognising them as coming from the same country they decided not to destroy the church, which survives to this day.

In our reading to day we hear of the reaction of Herod the Great to the birth of Jesus. Herod has all the infants in the Bethlehem area killed because he fears that Jesus may succeed to his throne, rather than a son of his. He is completely opposed to the birth of Jesus and will persecute the Holy Family as they set off to escape to Egypt. Hence Jesus becomes a member of a persecuted family chased by soldiers who wish to see him dead. This is the kind of God which we worship this Christmas time, one who lives alongside us, sharing in the most vulnerable and difficult of human circumstances.

The "Wise men from the East" by contrast come to Herod asking "'Where is the child that has been born king of the Jews?'" They subsequently visited the child with Mary, paid him homage and offered him gifts. Now at Christmas time many people will discover some of their spiritual roots and make the annual pilgrimage to church. They are not against Jesus, but neither are they committed to the challenge of the Christian faith either. They are somewhat ambivalent and most probably just too preoccupied with other things.

There are many people who will speak of the decline of morality and the breakdown in society, but who have given up the practice of attending church. Our failure as a nation to hold on to our spiritual values is affected deeply by the decline in church attendance. The problem is that it is impossible to be a Christian in isolation, the Christian faith is about community, being called by God to belong to a Christian family. Since people have stopped going to church, they are culpable in whatever breakdown of morality they perceive there to be in our community. Not only have they become cut off from their spiritual roots, they have contributed to the decline of the church and its influence in society. If people cease attending church then they will wither, just as surely as the Christmas trees which are cut off from their roots and are now dropping their needles all over the place. Moreover if we all ceased going to church, then churches will increasingly close as we can only afford to pay for fewer and fewer clergy, and church building will literally crumble. I am assuming from experience that these people do not have standing orders with the local church to help it to pay its bills in their absence! So the next time somebody tells you that they are a Christian but that they do not go to church, please alert them to the financial facts of life.

It is important that we are prepared to be engaged in the important spiritual act of witness, as we too go to worship the Christ child. We take our stand with those wise people and shepherds who were prepared to stand up and be counted. Each time we Christians enter our church during these special holy days of Christmas and then on throughout the year, we declare to the whole world our belief. We demonstrate our firm conviction that, at a certain point in history, the one and only God entered into the constraints of space and time, was clothed in human skin, felt the warmth of a mother's love. We say that our very God took on flesh and then took tools into his hands and worked for a living, rejoiced at wedding receptions, cried at the death of a friend, fed those who were hungry, healed the sick and raised the dead. He who was a baby refugee, still walks as God with us.

In this holy season we celebrate the doctrine called the Incarnation. This teaches the mystery of God entering into human flesh; the doctrine from which flows our conviction that, there is nothing...nothing in this world that escapes the loving embrace of God. as we come together and worship as a Christian community so we proclaim Christ to our world. The Revd Charles Royden

Meditation

“When I die I shall see myself as I’ve never seen myself before, I shall see myself in the light of God’s truth. That may not be very comfortable at all. Sometimes I feel afraid of it. All can do is trust that God already sees that truth and already loves me. So even when I see myself in the most unattractive light, God is still love. Can I accept that? We’ll see when I die.”

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Church of England.

The people of Ancient Rome thought there were many gods, and the month of January is named after ‘Janus’, their god of doors and gateways, of beginnings and endings. In Rome, the temple of Janus had doors facing east and west for the rising and setting of the sun, the beginning and end of each day. Between those doors stood the statue of Janus with two faces, looking in opposite directions. As we start the New Year, looking both backwards and forwards, we can think of the new year as a gate - an opening to what we choose to do in the future. The darkness of winter and of past mistakes will give way to the light of spring and of new opportunities. 

‘I said to the man who stood at the gate of the Year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” 

And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way’ ;

May that almighty hand guide and uphold us all.

Matthew and the birth stories

Matthew presents Jesus as the "new Moses." He shows events from the life of Moses which find parallels in Jesus

The number five is clealry important for Matthew. There were five books of Moses, hence he delivers 5 'books' in Matthew, each one prefaced by words from Jesus.

Matthews tells us that there were five dreams and there are Old Testament fulfillments.

'Out of Egypt I have called my son' is taken from Hosea, it is not about Jesus but a commentary on Exodus. (Hosea 11: 1-4) However Matthew uses it to point to Jesus, who will liberate his people just like Moses.

'Ramah' - This is from Jeremiah 31:15 and relates to the Exile into Babylon c. 600 BC. Rachel who is the mother of Israel weeps because her children are deported.Ramah is where the Israelites gathered for the march to Babylon)

Matthew vaguely cites "the prophets" as saying that "h e will be called a Nazarene." He couldn't specify a particular prophet since none had ever spoken of Nazareth. In fact, the word "Nazareth" does not appear in the Old Testament at all. Matthew did have to get Jesus to Nazareth since everybody knew that Jesus was, in fact, from Nazareth.

Matthew presents the birth of Jesus as a recapitulation of the history of Israel. He survives assassination, as did Moses. He goes to Egypt, as his people once did, and comes out again, as his people also did. He is afflicted by Herod, as Moses was afflicted by Pharoah. Rachel, the mother of the nation, is his mother too.

Thus, he is a fitting "Messiah," one who encapsulates the history of his people, and one who will lead them into a new relationship with God, with each other, and even with their enemies.

 

 

Hymns

Love came down at Christmas

Thou didst leave thy throne

 

What if the One who shapes the starss
and puts the planets in their place
should set all majesty aside
and move amongst the human race?
What if the One who engineers
the eye, the ear, the heart, the brain,
should make his home here as a child
at Mary's breast in Bethlehem?

What if the One who spoke the word
when all was dark, 'Let there be light!'
should enter this disordered world
to make our fading hopes more bright?
What if the God who waits outside
should all at once be found within,
and Mary's child be given the strength
to overturn the power of sin?

What if the One who always was,
creation's hidden energy,
should-for love's sake-inhabit time,
God's living Word for all to see?
Yes, true it is: Christ's Gospel truth,
the truth on which we all may build!
So let this be the truth for us
as now we welcome Mary's child.


When our God came to earth,
not for him noble birth:
he affirmed human worth
from a humble manger,
just another stranger.
Let the poor rejoice!
Let the mute give voice!
Love is shown,
God is known,
Christ is born of Mary.
 
Not for kings was the word
which the poor shepherds heard:
hope renewed, grace conferred,
and the hillside ringing
with the angels' singing.

 
Bethlehem, humble town
where the babe wears the crown,
turns the world upside down:
God so unexpected,
homeless and rejected.
Chorus
 
Let us sing Mary's song,
bringing hope, righting wrong,
heard with fear by the strong,
poor and humble raising,
God of justice praising.
Chorus