Christmas 1B

Last revised: December 14, 2020
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RCL: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40
RoCa: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:22-40

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Reflections and Questions

1. Strangely, the images of this text go better with either of the two epistle lessons (the first lesson more often being made to fit the gospel lesson). It begins with the metaphor of dressing, which perfectly fits the Catholic choice of Col. 3, though the Revised Common Lectionary did not follow suit here in also choosing Col. 3 — and neither did the Catholic lectionary choose this first lesson, though they seem made for each other. It appears to be a case of mismatching. Yet the imagery of the second part of this text ends up being not a bad match for the Gal. 4 text. Vindication among the nations means being called by a new name — in other words, something akin to adoption (which is the highlighted theme in Gal. 4). The theme of vindication has strong Girardian possibilities.

Galatians 4:4-7


1. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, pp. 77-81. In this section, Hamerton-Kelly argues that the primary metaphor operating for St. Paul regarding the cross is not sacrifice but ransom. He cites Gal. 3:13 among other texts, which need to be interpreted in terms of Gal. 4:4-5: that Christ came to redeem us, to win us back from Satan’s power that we might come to live under God’s grace as children. Christ redeems us to become children of God. To do so Christ submits to the curse of living under the law, thus becoming a willing victim to its sacrificial mechanisms. Rather than the idea of taking the punishment of God’s wrath for us, Christ reveals to us our own wrath and its violence, that we might live by God’s true power, which is love, not wrath.

2. Ibid., pp. 121ff. Gal. 4:4-5 also comes up in H-K’s discussion of life “according to the flesh,” which might be timely for the Christmas season, as we ponder the wonder of the Incarnation, of Christ’s entering into life according to the flesh.

3. James Alison, On Being Liked, pp. 71ff. Gal. 3:29-4:9 is quoted as a centerpiece in an essay, “Confessions of a Former Marginaholic.” It is an autobiographical essay that narrates a transformation from being a person addicted to being on the margins to one reborn in Christ as an heir of the Creation — the experience of being an heir the key feature highlighted from the Galatians text. He writes, for example,

I want to try to tease out several dimensions of this experience of receiving an inheritance, since I am not quite sure where it’s all going. The first dimension is that of being in on the center of things without being the center. It is Christ who is in the center of the experience, the one who occupies the place of shame and marginalization and victimage. And because he occupies it freely, and because he likes us, it means that there is a strange sense of both being in on the center, because he has made it a place not to be feared, and yet, because it is no longer a sacred space, and thus a frightening space, of there being no center at all any more, and thus the center being everywhere, including where I am. A bit like an existential version of Pascal’s description of God as a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. (72)

4. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from December 29, 2002 (Woodside Village Church).

Reflections and Questions

1. This truly is a great Christmas season text. It is condensed, as is much of Paul’s writings, but it can be unpacked to express all the basics of the incarnation, of why it is that “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” It even fits our modern celebration, which focuses on the importance of family, as it expresses the importance of the incarnation in familial terms: because Jesus could fulfill his mission as Son of God, that same Spirit of Sonship is given to our hearts that we might also truly become children of God, freed from the slavery of sin.

Colossians 3:12-21

Reflections and Questions

1. A great Pauline exhortation to imitate the behavior of Christ, yet all done under the delightful metaphor of putting on new clothes. This image might pay some great dividends in preaching a Girardian sermon that makes use of the mimeticism of fashion trends, but then turns it around to the good mimesis of putting on Christ.

Luke 2:22-40


1. Gil Bailie, “The Gospel of Luke” audio tape series, tape 2, side B. Link to my notes on tape 2. Bailie makes two comments about this passage: (1) Simeon’s canticle declares the closing of the Old Testament portion in a sense. He represents the Jewish tradition and the recognition of Jesus’ fulfillment of it. The whole tradition is summed up and brought to conclusion; the Messiah has arrived. (2) Simeon’s prophecy to Mary (2:34-35): “the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.” Conscience leads to greater consciousness (or self-consciousness). There is an epistemological revolution underway; the question involves its locus, its driving force. Inner thoughts will be revealed by the fact that he is rejected. Jumping ahead to Luke 23:48: people walk away from the crucifixion suddenly aware of something about themselves; they beat their breasts. Conscience and consciousness are closely related. The real evolution of consciousness has to do with the workings of conscience. When the myth that justifies our sinfulness is shattered, our sinfulness becomes a problem. This is the beginning of interiority because we can begin to see our self from outside the mythological veil. “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Girard calls this the first definition of the unconscious. Only several verses later, however, the spectators of the cross see (Gr. theoreo) what has happened, and they go home beating their breasts. The epistemological handicap has been removed, and immediately there is a pang of conscience and the beginning of a new consciousness.

2. James Alison, Undergoing God, chap. 7, “Reconciliation in the Blink of a Hippo”; he creatively reads this story along with 2 Cor 5, focusing on this passage on pp. 101-05. An earlier version of this chapter can also be accessed online: “Blindsided by God: Reconciliation from the Underside.”

Reflections and Questions

1. The sacrificial context of Simeon’s and Anna’s prophecies is striking. Luke is rather elaborate in setting up this passage by telling us the details of the sacrificial practice. The summary of Anna’s prophecy puts things in terms of “redemption,” which we discussed above with Hamerton-Kelly’s take on Gal. 4. Christ comes to redeem us from the powers of the sacrificial institutions. As an infant, Jesus is brought by his parents to participate in the sacrificial institutions. As an adult, on the cross, he will once again participate in those sacrificial institutions, but in a way that will reveal their true nature, thus redeeming us from them. Simeon and Anna prophecy that revelation, which will not only redeem Israel, but will also be a light to the Gentiles.

2. My sermon on Luke 2:22-40 three years ago was along the theme cited from Gil Bailie’s tape series on Luke (in the Advent 4 material): Keeping Faith and Breaking Ground. The sacrificial context and the elderly prophets represent a keeping of the tradition; but this salvation will also need to reach beyond the tradition if it is to be a light to the Gentiles, if it is to be universal.

The contemporary example I used to ‘flesh’ this theme out is one our congregation is currently facing: how do we remain rooted in the tradition while trying to reach out to the younger generations, especially in our worship and music? Change in our century has happened so rapidly that each generation effectively has its own new culture, even within the same racial and ethnic boundaries. Congregations can be segregated racially and ethnically these days and still find themselves facing a crisis of a “generational multi-culturalism,” if I may coin that term. Either congregations intentionally face this newly accentuated problem of integrating the generations, or they begin to segregate along generational lines, as well. Unfortunately, many congregations already find themselves in the situation of having all the young people leave. On the other hand, many newer congregations, which cater to the younger generations, find themselves with few senior members, and little sense of the tradition. But the Gospel does mean to be universal, to offer salvation to all people, so how do we keep the faith and break new ground in ways that reach out to others?

3. I heard a sermon in 2003 that made an impression on me. In the Catholic church this is Holy Family week, and the priest reflected on this lesson to the theme of family in three spheres. First, the biological family: God in the incarnation honored the human family through Jesus. Second, the church family: Jesus in his ministry stressed, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). Finally, the human family: Simeon prophesies that this child will be a light even to the Gentiles. God in Jesus blesses our human families and challenges us to continually stretch the boundaries of our families.

4. Also in 2003, with war against Iraq pending, our family was wearing buttons that simply said, “I have family in Iraq.”

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