Sunday Message: Problems with the Lectionary (Jim Jeatt)

First Sunday of Christmas

Scripture: Isaiah 63: 7-9; Matthew 2: 13-23; Hebrews 2: 10-18

Have you ever thought about something called the lectionary?  It is a three-year cycle of biblical readings and brings together the old testament, the psalms, the gospels and epistles (letters to the early churches.  It is what we know as the scripture readings.  I never really pay attention to it either.  Except when I am asked to present a service and preach a sermon.

When I opened the prescribed verses for today, I was shocked and concerned that there must be a mistake.  We have just celebrated the birth of Jesus.  We have heard the angels sing.  The shepherds have come to worship, the magi bring their gifts it is a beautiful scene of a child in a manger.

 We ponder the gifts, that God has given us in this this story we reflect on hope, peace, joy and love.  But today’s readings, I mean they are so out of place, so distressing so different than the manger scene.

The light that has come into the world is attacked by darkness

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Well we have a reading from Hebrews maybe that is better

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Hmmm that’s not very cuddly not very babe in the manger not what I am ready for, I mean there must be a mistake.

Let’s take a moment and study Hebrews

The author identified neither himself nor the people to whom he was writing. The treatise is the longest sustained argument of any book in the Bible.  With a careful and closely-knit discussion, the unknown author moves with confidence step by step through an elaborate proof of the pre-eminence of Christianity over Judaism.

The author spends the first ten and a half chapters of this thirteen-chapter book (1:1 – 10:18) emphasizing the superiority of Christ and the new covenant to Moses and the old covenant. In chapters 1-2, he focuses specifically on the superiority of Christ to angels.

God had spent a long time trying to connect to humanity, ever since Adam and Eve had separated themselves from God through sin in the garden.  Most of Adam and Eve’s descendants also chose to forget about God.  God loves people, his creations that he placed on earth. God called to us in some ways He screamed at us.  He had resolved to destroy all mankind but instead sent a flood. He sent a rainbow to remind us of his covenant.  He tried to get humanity’s attention through parting of the Red Sea, famines, prophets, and manna, to call people back to himself.  God even invaded people’s dreams and if that didn’t work, he woke them up in the middle of the night.

The writer of this epistle a little earlier in Chapter 1 verse 14 writes regarding angels “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are about to obtain salvation.

At the beginning of chapter 2 We are warned not to drift away from the message from God.  The superior status of the Son to angels authenticates his message and lays a greater obligation on those who heard.  The message was declared by angels.

So, what did God do to connect us?

In the play The Incarnation a drama…  in Cloth for the Cradle, from the Iona Community,[1) we pick up the story

 Jonathan:   God looked around and saw the world which was made a long time ago.

                         And what God saw was upsetting.

                         In one place  preachers were talking about peace,

                         priests were talking about peace,

                         prophets were talking about peace.

                         So much talking,

                         but there was no peace.

                         There was only talking to hide the noises of war.

                         God sighed a heavy sigh.

Connie as God:   (God sighs)

Laura:          In another place

                         people were building,

                         building banks and warehouses,

                         building monuments to their own greed,

                         building meat mountains and butter mountains.

                         So much building,

                         while the poor became poorer

                         and the scales of justice were biased to the rich.

                         God sighed a heavy sigh.

Connie as God:   (God sighs)

Jonathan:    In another place

                         people were doing their own thing,

                         doing their own thing about loving,

                         doing their own thing about trusting,

                         doing their own thing about healing.

                         So much doing their own things,

                         but the truth was

                         that nothing was being done,

                         for all were divided, suspicious and lonely.

                         God sighed a heavy sigh.

Connie as God:   (God sighs)

Laura:           In another place,

                         people were worshipping,

                         worshipping what their hands had made,

                         worshipping what their money had bought,

                         worshipping what their fantasies had imagined.

                         So much worshipping,

                         but no faith and no hope and no God.

                         God signed a heavy sigh.

Connie as God:   (God sighs)

Laura:          Then God stopped sighing and got angry,

                         and said…

Connie as God:   I’m fed up.

                         There’s only one answer to this mess –

                         I’m going to destroy the world!

Jonathan:    Then God thought for a minute

                         and began to cry.

                         And through the tears God said…

Connie as God:   How can I kill those who were born out of my love?

                         I am God, not a human being.

                         I will not destroy.

                         I will save the world.

                         I will let the world know that I love it.

Jonathan:    So, God got to thinking:

Connie as God:   How can I tell my people that I love them?

                         Then God had an idea.

Connie as God:       I’ll send… I’ll send…

                          I’ll go there myself… but how?

Jonathan:     God called a meeting of the Trinity – the Creator, the Word and the Spirit.

Connie as God:       I move the Word goes,

Laura:            said the Creator.

Connie as God:       (Using a different accent) I second that.

Laura:            said the Spirit.

Connie as God:       (Using a different accent) Wait a minute!

Laura:            said the Word.

Jonathan:     But there was no minute,

                     for there was no time.

                     So, the Word became flesh:

                     tiny and frail flesh,

                     diaper wet and whimpering flesh,

                     bone of our bone,

                     flesh of our flesh,

                     the son of Joseph and Mary.

 God loved the world and needed to make a difference. Christ Jesus, the second person of the trinity was as Paul writes, the very nature God. Yet he surrendered his heavenly glory to make himself, nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. The Son of God becomes Immanuel, God come to make God’s home among us, to draw us back to himself. 

Humanity was separated from God through sin. Jesus was the pioneer the one who could connect us back to God, he was going before his followers and pointing out the way.  Nothing and no one else could bear the full brunt of God’s righteous fury over our sins.  People needed a saviour who was truly human and truly God.  Jesus Christ alone is, in a way we can’t fully understand, both God and human in every way.

Jesus enters the world and lives beside us and suffers the pain of being human.  This epistle writer understands that God is with us and God is like us in every way except that he was perfect.  Jesus had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way to reach across the chasm to break us away from sin and death. To be human is to experience suffering. Since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he can give help to those who are being tempted.

Jesus is not afraid to call you brothers and sisters.  He knows what it is like to live in a world that is perilous and full of sin. Christ’s life demonstrates an obedience to God through all temptations and sufferings in life.  Jesus is tempted to turn from God throughout his own life.  At the end of his life his temptation is magnified, and He feels abandoned by God.  Yet he chooses to remain faithful. He choses to save God’s children from sin and death. 

For Jesus through his death destroys the one who has the power of death, that is the devil and frees those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. He is a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God who will stand beside us and call us brothers and sisters before the master to reconcile our life.

Today’s lectionary readings are an accelerated version of the Life of Jesus. In Mathew it moves us quickly away from the manger into the world of darkness, suffering, and uncertainty.  Yet that is the world we live in today. Darkness attacks the light as we see a world full of refugees.  It is also the world of the past and the future until God comes again. 

In Hebrews we contemplate suffering, sin and death.   It is an exhortation to stay the course to continue to struggle and be obedient to God as Christ had done. We can ease our suffering by turning to God.  He is the one with us and like us. We can work to be called his brothers and sisters.

The key is not to get stuck.  Don’t linger too long at the stable, don’t fear the struggle, don’t agonize over his death, step back and see the big picture.  The big picture that we see with the help of the lectionary Amen.

Copyright December 29, 2019
Jim Jeatt (Dayspring Elder)


[1] – The Incarnation a drama…  in Cloth for the Cradle: Worship Resources and Readings for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. Iona Community, 1997, 2000.
https://www.giamusic.com/store/resource/cloth-for-the-cradle-print-g5109

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