Lesson: Isaiah 62:6-12
6 Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have posted sentinels; all day and all night they shall never be silent. You who remind the LORD, take no rest,
7 and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it renowned throughout the earth.
8 The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: I will not again give your grain
to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink the wine for which you have labored,
9 but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the LORD, and those who gather it shall drink it
in my holy courts.
10 Go through, go through the gates, prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway, clear it of stones, lift up an ensign over the peoples.
11 The LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to daughter Zion, “See, your salvation comes; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”
12 They shall be called, “The Holy People, The Redeemed of the LORD”; and you shall be called, “Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.”
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were compiled from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE.
Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and are the words of a prophet (one who speaks for YHWH – translated as “LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) who called for Jerusalem to repent in the 30 years before Jerusalem came under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55. In these chapters, a prophet brought hope to the Judeans during the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they had suffered enough and would return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 in which a prophet gave encouragement to the Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile had ended.
Today’s reading is from “Third Isaiah” and follows a series of verses which acknowledged that Jerusalem was still recovering from the harsh effects of the Babylonian conquest in 587 BCE.
The prophet, speaking on behalf of YHWH/LORD, told the Judeans that sentinels (prophets) would guard over them (v.6). He urged them not to allow YHWH to rest until YHWH established Jerusalem and made it renowned in the earth (v.7). The “ensign” (v.10) is a symbol for the people to assemble and to serve as a guide back to Jerusalem.
The prophet assured the Judeans that YHWH will be their protector against plunder (v.8) and they would be known as the Redeemed of YHWH (v.12). Getting new names (v.12) was a sign of a new beginning.
Epistle: Titus 3:4-7
Although Titus is not mentioned in the extensive descriptions of Paul’s journeys in the last half of Acts of the Apostles, he is mentioned in two of Paul’s authentic epistles – Galatians and Corinthians. Titus was Paul’s co-worker and envoy, and this letter is crafted as if it were a letter from Paul to Titus reminding him how to serve the large Jewish Jesus Follower Community in Crete. The letter was structured, however, as one intended for an audience, and not just for one person.
The Letter to Titus is one of the so-called “Pastoral Letters” (the others are 1 and 2 Timothy) which contain practical advice to Paul’s co-workers and to the Jesus Follower communities as they were becoming more structured. Most scholars conclude that the Pastoral Letters were written in Paul’s name by some of Paul’s disciples well after Paul’s death in Rome in 63 CE.
In today’s reading, the author presented succinct creed-like statements about key understandings of the meaning of the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the continuing work of the Spirit. It is noteworthy that the author did not claim that Jesus Followers are saved by the Crucifixion, but rather by “the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (v.5). Jesus Followers are “justified” (put in a right relationship with God) by the “grace” of the Spirit “poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (v.6).
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was Paul’s first letter and was written around 50 CE. Accordingly, it is the oldest writing in the Christian Scriptures.
Thessalonica is a seaport city and was the capital of Macedonia. Even today, Thessaloniki (as it is now called) is a charming city of one million persons, and the cultural center of Greece. The saying there is that “Thessaloniki is to Athens as San Francisco is to Los Angeles.”
The letter encouraged the community to be steadfast in the face of persecution. Today’s reading consists of concluding verses of the letter and follows an exhortation for the Jesus Followers to be at peace among themselves (v.13) and to not repay evil for evil (v.15).
Paul emphasized that God’s call to us is ongoing and he encouraged them to rejoice, pray, and hold fast to that which is good (vv.16-21) in anticipation of the parousia – the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 23).
Paul urged them not to “despise the words of prophets” (v.20). Prophesy in this context meant words spoken, usually during worship, as coming from the Lord to the community through inspired members of the assembly.
In his prayer that their “spirit and soul and body be kept sound (v.23), Paul was not treating these as separate parts of a human person, but as three vantage points for viewing persons, each of which is important.
Gospel: Luke 2:1-20
1 In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.]
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.