This week’s readings
Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28
We find ourselves in the Gospel of John today, in spite of this being Lectionary Year B and Mark’s year. I think we haven’t had a reading out of John since Pentecost (May), well before our class began in August. Why not Mark?
Remember that the Lectionary is a three-year schedule, with each year corresponding to one of the synoptic Gospels. John is added throughout the year, especially during festivals like Advent, and especially in Year B because Mark is short. So we will be seeing a lot of him this year. It might be easy to think that John gets shortchanged because he doesn’t have his own year. Instead, think of him as so important that we never really leave John.
You’ll notice when we read John that his Gospel has a different feeling to it. John was written later, and by the “beloved disciple” himself. When we read John, we are getting a first-hand perspective from someone who has had some years to allow his thoughts to come together in a certain way. More than the other Gospels, the Book of John has a distinct structure, voice and themes. Finally, John doesn’t include all the same stories that the other three Gospels do. He has his own story to tell and is okay with leaving things out. He even says at the close of the Gospel:
This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:24,25)
Two hallmarks of John’s Gospels are the ideas of LIGHT and LIFE. Even as we read today, think about those two ideas. If you remember those every time we come to a John reading, it will help you to keep them together.
Today’s reading begins right after a passage you may have committed to memory: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” John establishes right from the beginning that he is telling a different story. And then we meet John the Baptist. Personally I like the way John opens with big ideas, and then comes back to verse 6, where our passage begins: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” The simplicity of that should get our attention. The story is getting started.
John the Baptist’s job was not to be Messiah, but to testify to Him. John t B was always very clear on his mission, even though people around him weren’t. This is a great model for us–it is easy for me to forget that I’m not that important. My job is to be a witness to Jesus. Does my life offer a testimony to Jesus? I think John’s words can challenge us here.
We skip some verses that do not address John t B specifically, but they are some of the most important verses in John. Take a moment to read them and listen to John’s language.
Back to verse 19, we get the testimony of John t B. When asked “who are you?,” his answer is “I’m NOT…” This is an unusual answer! But John t B knew what the priests and Levites were after, looking for the One who was promised, and he wanted to be very clear that he wasn’t there guy–but he was getting people ready because Messiah was near.
In a couple of weeks we will come to “Baptism of Our Lord” Sunday, where John t B baptizes Jesus. We will talk a lot more about baptism that week, how and why we baptize, and how our baptism today is different that the one John t B was doing near Bethany.
John stayed focused on his mission of testimony and baptizing. He answers the questions posed by those sent from the Pharisees truthfully, but they didn’t go away satisfied. John’s answers gave them even more reason to keep looking for Messiah!
OT: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Today’s passage is from the heart of the third portion of Isaiah. In particular, chapters 60-62 from a trilogy of sorts, with all three chapters focused on restoration. Chapter 60 is a call for hope and Chapter 62 reveals that Yahweh will break His silence. Our reading comes from the middle chapter, which describes how a human sent by God, rather than God Himself, will be the Savior.
Verses 1 and 2 are notable also because they were the ones that Jesus chose to read in the temple as told in Luke 4:18 and 19. They are also very reminiscent of the Christmas carol “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” don’t you think?
Verse 8 “covenant” language is familiar since we’ve been studying the covenant God made with His people in the book of Exodus. But this is a bigger covenant than that one. It’s discussed in Isaiah 55:3, and again in Isaiah 56, where God’s covenant extends to everyone who obeys–including foreigners and anyone who loves God and obeys Him. This is a huge expansion of God’s promise! By the time we get to Chapter 61, God is telling the “how” of this new covenant. Do you see how significant it was that Jesus chose THESE verses as the ones to read in the Temple?
This passage from Isaiah is truly a joyful and hopeful one. It helps develop our theme of joy today, as does the Psalm.
“What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” This Yiddish proverb is apt for today’s Psalm reading! If you are reading this lesson at home, by yourself, take a minute to stop and read the Psalm out loud. This is pure joy!
Everything isn’t perfect. “The Lord has done great things for us,” but then verse 4 is a call for even more restoration. “Please don’t stop, Lord!”
I think during Advent this is a good thought for us. The Lord is doing great things for us, be we are looking for his return. Please don’t stop, Lord!
NT: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
1 Thessalonians is likely Paul’s first letter, and he was writing it to a distraught church at Thessalonica. They were mourning some of their members who had died, and they were under the mistaken impression that since they had died, God had abandoned them. Paul writes to reassure them that they haven’t been abandoned.
The closing of the letter, our reading today, sounds like a laundry list of “to-dos.” Maybe you have a couple of things you say to yourself or your kids: “Stand up straight. Mind your manners. Be kind.” Paul’s list is like that, kind of a run-down of how to behave with each other. In English, the list looks a little random, but in the original Greek, Paul started every command with the “P” sound (greek letter Pi). It’s easy to imagine he intended this list to be memorized and taught to each other, maybe even like a little nursery rhyme for kids.
He closes with the promise that God is faithful. God has been faithful, and He will continue to be faithful. Paul’s call to joy is a great reminder during Advent. We can look forward to Jesus’ return, joyfully, because God is faithful.
Another reading: Luke 1:46-55
This week, we had two options for the Psalm, which is a little unusual. (Our church used the Psalm at worship, which is why I used it above.) The second choice was from Luke, Mary’s song traditionally known as the Magnificat. Bono, the lead singer of U2, said in a Rolling Stone interview that these verses, and Bach, were the inspiration for the U2 song (and one of my favorites), Magnificent. So I’ll leave you with the video. Enjoy and have a great week!