The Visitation: Don’t forget Elizabeth!

Between the dramatic stories of how the angel Gabriel appeared first to Zechariah and then to Mary, Luke mentions that Mary paid a three month long visit to Elizabeth, one of  her blood relatives and Zechariah’s wife. Although artists have painted or otherwise portrayed The Visitation for centuries, it is all too easy to read right past it. So let’s give Elizabeth her due.

Luke says she and her husband were blameless, but they may not have looked blameless to the rest of the people in their community. After all, the old priest Zechariah had never been chosen to light the incense in the temple.… Read the rest

Preparing for the birth of Jesus, image of the invisible God

The season of Advent looks forward to the human birth of Jesus. Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem only because of human sin. The early church leaders who devised the Christian calendar recognized that  it would be inappropriate to celebrate his birth without a season of penitence to prepare for it.

We have forgotten that in our society. Today, we prepare for the birth of Jesus (or maybe just Xmas) by spending money we don’t have for things perhaps no one needs, and in some cases, to give them to people we don’t much like. If we’re not careful, the only times Jesus will intrude on our thoughts will be when we come to church on Sundays or if we happen to notice the Christmas carols piped into the mall.… Read the rest

Two narratives, one birth: one Jesus Christ

All we know about the birth and lineage of Jesus comes from accounts (including genealogies)  in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. But they seem so different! That’s because they have different emphases and different perspectives. Before exploring the differences, it is important to emphasize what Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-3 have in common:

  • Jesus was born in Bethlehem
  • Jesus was raised in Nazareth
  • He was a direct descendant of King David
  • His parents were named Joseph and Mary
  • Mary was a virgin until after Jesus was born
  • An angel told both parents (separately) to name him Jesus.
  • Herod reigned as king in Jerusalem

Matthew’s narrative

Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ legal lineage from Abraham and David in order to establish his royal credentials.… Read the rest

God’s Servant: killing sin softly with his song

God will conquer the world and drive sin out of it, but as the four Servant Songs in Isaiah make clear, he will not act like an ordinary human conqueror. He has appointed a gentle servant to accomplish the task. The first (Isaiah 42:1-4), while not a typical Advent scripture, is very appropriate for this time of year.

Isaiah has already identified Israel as his servant (Isaiah 41:8-10), but, as it turns out, a thoroughly incompetent one (Isaiah 42:18-22). In the Servant Songs, God reveals another Servant, none other than the chosen Messiah, Jesus. God has put his Spirit on this Servant to bring justice to the Gentiles.Read the rest

Isaiah 40: one prophecy, three fulfillments

Isaiah 40 may be one of the best-known passage among all the Old Testament prophets. Anyone who knows Handel’s Messiah will immediately recognize the text for the first tenor recitative and aria, the first chorus, the first alto aria (with chorus), and the second alto aria among the first eleven verses of the chapter: “Comfort ye my people,” “Every valley shall be exalted,” “And the glory of the Lord,” “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,” and “He shall feed his flock.”

We associate these verses with the Christmas story at least because John the Baptist claimed to be the “voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,” words quoted in the tenor recitative.… Read the rest

The Prince of Peace

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” — Isaiah 9:6-7

Thank God for this tremendous promise. We have not seen the entire fulfillment of it. Jesus has indeed been given to us. To all who know him, he is indeed a Wonderful Counselor, this son revealed as Mighty God and Everlasting Father. And how we need a Prince of Peace.

Saying so does not imply that Jesus is not the Prince of Peace, but we certainly do not yet see the government on  his shoulder.… Read the rest

Reclaiming the remnant, the next time around

The time leading up to Christmas, Advent,  prepares worshipers to receive the coming of the Lord in at least two senses. Christ has come once as a baby and will return as a conquering king. Scripture often contains multiple meanings and multiple layers of fulfillment. A familiar passage in Isaiah, delivered probably in the days of King Ahaz, refers to both arrivals.

The “stump of Jesse” in verse 1 indicates that David’s line will be cut down, which it was about 120 years after Isaiah delivered the prophecy. Just as a tree, having been chopped down, can grow again from the stump, so will a shoot arise from the destruction of the Jewish kingdom.… Read the rest