Engaging the Word: Readings for 1/3/16 (The Second Sunday after Christmas Day)

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By Barbara Klugh

Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 84; Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, Jeremiah has a message of hope to God’s people, Paul tells Christians that God chose us for a reason—that we should be holy and blameless in God’s sight, God guides Joseph to take his family and flee to Egypt.

Jeremiah, the Prophet

Jeremiah, the Prophet, by Barthélémy d’Eyck (fl. 1444-1469). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jeremiah 31:7-14: In this week’s reading, Jeremiah gives the people hope for future reconciliation and restoration between God and his people following the destruction of Jerusalem. The exile will be ended; the Lord will gather his people “from the farthest parts of the earth,” and a great company of people—including “the blind and the lame, those with child, and those in labor”—will return home. The Lord, the father to Israel, will keep them as a shepherd keeps his flock; the people will sing aloud as the Lord turns “their mourning into joy,” and will “give them gladness for sorrow.”

Later in this chapter (v. 31-34), Jeremiah spoke about the New Covenant, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people….I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” We see Jesus as the realization of this prophecy as we remember the words of the Last Supper in our Eucharistic Prayers: “This is my blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for the many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Psalm 84: Our psalm, one of my favorites, is known as “The Pilgrim’s Way,” and overflows with the joyful anticipation of worshiping God in the temple in Jerusalem. The temple is a place of safety, where even the birds find a home.

Brahms included Psalm 84 as the fourth movement of his Requiem. Here is a video of the Westminster Abbey Choirs singing “How Lovely are Thy Dwellings Fair” at the Queen Mother’s funeral.

St. Paul by Meiser aus Halberstadt, c. 1185. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul c. 1185. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a: This letter is named for the Christian community in the City of Ephesus, now in western Turkey. It was an important center of Early Christianity from the AD 50s. Some, but not all, scholars doubt that Paul was the author of the letter. I’ll leave that debate to the scholars, follow the canon, and call Paul the author. Ephesians was a circular letter to a group of churches around Ephesus.

Our reading begins with a blessing: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Every spiritual blessing” had been preordained before the foundation of world and we have been destined for adoption as children of God through Jesus Christ. We Christians are chosen to be different—holy and blameless—that we may receive the full abundance of our heritage.

In the second part of our reading, Paul gives thanks to the Ephesians for their faith in Jesus and their love “toward all the saints.” Paul prays that God may give them “a spirit of wisdom” that “with the eyes of your heart enlightened,” they (and we) may fully know their heavenly calling, glorious inheritance, and the immeasurable greatness of his power.

Flight into Egypt by Gentile da Fabriano, 1423. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Flight into Egypt by Gentile da Fabriano, 1423. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23: In this week’s reading, which appears only in the gospel according to Matthew, we hear the story of the Holy Family’s escape into Egypt and their return to Israel. We can hear echoes from Israel’s history—the saving of baby Moses, the Exodus, and the return to the Promised Land.

An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, and warned him to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt because Herod was about to search for the infant Jesus and kill him. Joseph was told to keep the family there until Herod died. The text says, “This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the Prophet [Hosea], ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’” Matthew’s Gospel frequently presents events as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies.

The lectionary omits the middle episode. Herod realized that he had been tricked by the Wise Men, who had failed to tell him where Jesus was. Infuriated, he ordered the killing of all male children two years old and younger around Bethlehem. This event is known as the Massacre of the Innocents and the Church remembers “The Holy Innocents” every December 28.

Return of the Holy Family from Egypt by Jacob Jordaens, c. 1616. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Return of the Holy Family from Egypt by Jacob Jordaens, c. 1616. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

When Herod died, Joseph again had a dream, telling him to return the family to Israel, which he did. But when Joseph learned that Herod’s son Archelaus was ruling over Judea, he was led through another dream to settle in Nazareth, in the district of Galilee.

As soon as the Jesus entered the world, we see the conflicting responses of those who seek God’s kingdom, like the Wise Men, and those who oppose it, like Herod. But God protected Jesus through Joseph and Mary and by guiding Joseph in dreams. Thanks be to God.

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