1st Sunday after Christmas Year B

 Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40.  

In the fullness of time God gives joy to those seeking the Consolation of Israel.   

The readings for this Sunday visualize (1) the glorious public appearance of an awaited king with the prolific mother city, (2) the hallelujah choruses of heaven and earth, (3) the human dimension of the fullness of time, and (4) the consummation of hope for the faithful visionaries in Israel.  

Isaiah 61:10-62:3.  

The Prophetic reading opens with the exultant cry of a royal figure who speaks on behalf of true Israel.  

God in God’s own person has dressed this speaker in “garments of salvation” and a “robe of righteousness.”  This attire is appropriate to the joy and delight of a royal wedding, a time when the groom wears the most glittering headdress and the bride the most luxurious jewels.  This glory in the social and political world is like the outbreak of new growth in fields that are fertile and blessed, and like the luxuriant plantings of well-watered and carefully tended gardens (verse 11).  

As this figure representing Israel is gloriously clad before the nations, so Mother Zion will be revealed to the nations as vindicated from past woes (62:1-3).  For her too, the headdress of royalty will glitter and shine as the Lord puts his arm around her (as it were:  “…in the hand of the Lord,…in the palm [literally] of your God,”62:3).  Zion and Israel, marvelously attired, are re-united in God’s loving care for wife and son.  They will be the ornaments of the time of fulfillment.  

Such is the prophet’s vision of the consolation of Israel.  

Psalm 148.  

As if beholding the blinding glory of the royal coronation, the Psalm breaks forth in a tumult of Hallelujahs!  (Every occurrence of “Praise …” in the English versions is a translation of the Hebrew hallelu, the plural imperative.  In hallelu-jah, the jah is the shortened form of the divine name Yahwéh.)  

The psalm drives exuberantly through all the reaches of heaven and earth to find entities and creatures to summon to Praise!  

In verses 1-6 the heavenly realms are called upon at large and in detail to hallelu the Lord.  The poet follows the cosmic structure of Genesis 1 and of Psalm 104, so these heavenly powers both extend beyond and encompass what human eyes can see.  After all the unseen heavenly things are summoned, the call goes out to all the stuff more familiar to the human eye.  

As for the earthly realms, their summons to praise (verses 7-12) begins with the exotic creatures of the deep, then goes on to the mysterious places of the sky and the distant horizons with their storehouses of all kinds of weather.  After summoning the mountains, trees, and the animals, both wild and domestic, humans are addressed:  the mighty of the earth, but also the ordinary young men and women.  Let them all hallelu the Lord because of his glory, but also … also because “He has raised up a horn for his people…for the children of Israel who are close to him” (verses 13-14).  

Thus, as the climactic—and almost add-on—thought, the realms of heaven and earth are called to rejoice in something special for Israel.  Because of this newly-revealed glory for Israel, all the world is called to hallelu-jah!  

Galatians 4:4-7.  

The Epistle selection is part of a rather complex theological discussion, but its pertinence to the Sunday after Christmas stands out in the following clauses (NRSV translation):  

·        “when the fullness of time had come…”

·        “God sent his Son, born of a woman…”

·        “born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law…”

The “Fullness of Time” has its meaning in reference to Israel’s covenant history with the Lord, ranging through the promises to Abraham, Moses, and David, and the prophetic messages of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the visionary Daniel.  

The phrase “born of a woman” has echoes of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, but primarily affirms that God’s care reaches its embodiment at a fully human level.  

The phrase “born under the law” insists that salvation under the New Covenant is first of all for Israel, coming as the fulfillment of all God’s patient and yearning care for that troublesome and beloved people.  Whatever else Paul had to say about his fellow kinfolks, this priority of Israel in God’s plan of salvation is steadily maintained.  

Luke 2:22-40.    

The most gracious and endearing presentation of the Consolation of Israelis in this Gospel reading.  It is the narrative of the aged ones who have waited so faithfully and persistently to see the salvation of the Lord, the righteous Simeon and the dear prophetess Anna.  

The passage is at pains to make clear that Jesus’ birth was fully in accord with the laws of Moses.  (Strictly speaking, two separate rituals are combined here, the purification of the mother after birth, Leviticus 12, and the presentation of the male firstborn, Exodus 13:2, 11-16.)  From this viewpoint, Jesus was fully an Israelite.  He was duly circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (verse 21, just before our reading), making him a son of the covenant of Abraham (Genesis 17:9-14).  Then, forty days after his birth, he and his mother were brought to the temple for the “purification” and the redemption of a firstborn son.  In the logic of the sacred rules, the firstborn belonged to God until the father made a sacrifice to redeem it and allow it to live in the ordinary world – an action referred to the sparing of the Israelite firstborn at the time of the exodus (Exodus 13:14-15).  

Though Jesus was fully an Israelite, he was a poor one—economically speaking.  The sacrifice presented by Joseph and Mary for her purification was two pigeons, the sacrifice made by the very poor who could not afford a sheep (2:24, referring to Leviticus 12:8).  

It was while the parents were engaged in the details of fulfilling the law of Moses that Simeon and Anna found them.  By the ordinary work-a-day folks, crowded and busy in the temple precincts, these two old folks must have seemed strange characters from another age.  In the evangelist’s view, however, they are heirs of Israel’s true hope for its time of fulfillment.  

In a poignant moment of prophetic insight, Simeon foresees Jesus’ destiny and the pain that the mother is yet to know.  Speaking to Mary he says, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition... And a sword will pierce your innermost being too” (verses 34-35, CEB). 

So, true Israel, in its ancient wisdom, anticipates the agony and disturbance that yet lie between the coming of this little child and the mystery of God’s final salvation! 

 

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