Bible Study: Christmas 1 - 2013

December 29, 2013

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

This passage is made up of two poetic tracts written about Israel’s deliverance from exile. As a “finale” in the body of Isaiah’s prophecies, it focuses on Israel’s ultimate redemption and restoration as a nation that will once again stand “before all nations.”

The first part of the passage speaks to the salvation and righteousness that God characteristically gives to Israel. The prophecy says that God’s people are clothed with the garments of salvation and describes righteousness as a covering or an adornment. In this analogy, Israel is being acted upon – salvation and righteousness come upon them like clothing.

Isaiah also prophesies that righteousness will spring up from God’s people and grow, using an agricultural metaphor to describe how it will become a part of them and flow out from them to the nations.

The second part of the passage is about the vindication and redemption of Israel. God deeply desires to bring home the outcast and the exile. The “crown of beauty” that Isaiah describes is the vision of a redeemed Israel, through which God will bless the world. The gifts of righteousness and salvation that God gives to His people will bring redemption to all people.

Just as God saves Israel from exile, He characteristically redeems His people through the ages by saving them, teaching them righteousness, and blessing them, in order to be a blessing for the world.

  • Particularly in this season of Christmas, how has God clothed our communities with the “garments of salvation,” and adorned us with the “robe of righteousness”? What sorts of responsibilities come with God’s gifts?

Psalm 147

Psalm 147 is marked by calls to praise God, specifically pointing to His power and majesty as the Creator of the universe. Recalling the creation narrative in the first chapter of Genesis, it is clear that there is something amazing about God’s creation of humans who respond to their Creator. God simply speaks into being, and the world is – His command makes it so. But He also invites Adam to partner with Him in creation by giving names to the living things on the earth. This call and response of words between Creator and creation marks our relationship with God. He sends out His Word, and we respond.

Verse 16 of the psalm recalls God’s continuing power to act in the life of the world, as the psalmist declares, “He sends out his command to the earth, and his word runs very swiftly.” The psalmist is referring to God’s Word of salvation and re-creation, sent into the world in order to redeem God’s people, who are called to respond to God with words of praise. This psalm is that praise, looking forward to Israel’s redemption.

As we recall God’s redemption of the world through the Incarnate Word this Christmas season, it is important to remember our role by responding to God with praise.

  • How does your own creativity flow forth through words? How much power do your words have, and what is the result when you use them? Do they offer praise? How does God’s Word redeem the world around us?

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

St. Paul wrote the Epistle to the Galatians to those who believed that gentile converts must be bound to the entirety of the Law. Paul’s strong and persuasive writing style makes clear that while the Law is important, God will save the world through His Son.

This portion of Chapter 3 begins with a difficult statement that “before faith came … the law was our disciplinarian.” It seems a stretch that Paul would suggest that the people of the Covenant, who were brought out of slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea, did not have faith in God. Instead, he explains that the law guarded faith until God revealed Himself among us. It is imperative that we remember the great importance of the Law throughout the salvation story, in the life of Jesus, and in what it still teaches us today. But Paul’s point is that it was not intended to save – only Jesus Christ does that. While the Law taught us God’s character, faith in Christ restores us as God’s beloved children. Paul is simply describing the unique way that God has brought salvation to the world through His immanent presence and action in His Son.

While the law played an important role in guarding faith, and is with us for our edification, Christ is now present with us for our salvation, and for the salvation of all who faithfully look to God as their Father.

  • How can we guard and reclaim the spirit of the Law in our Christian beliefs? How has God’s unique action in the Incarnation brought us to new faith? What does God’s spirit of Fatherhood show us about our relationship to Him?

John 1:1-18

The prologue to John’s gospel is arguably one of the most eloquent and beautiful pieces of poetry in the entire canon of scripture. Its use of the word logos, translated in English as, “Word,” repurposes an analogy used throughout Hebrew poetry to refer to the divine will and the revelation of God. The Word, in creation, is the expression of God through an ordered universe united with its creator. In redemption, according to John, the Word is the expression of God through Jesus Christ in order to reunite creation with Creator once again. It is by God’s Word that all things were created, and it is also by His Word that God continues to act in the world today, reconciling all things to Himself. John uses this deep truth as the basis for his gospel, that Jesus is the logos or Word of God, the revelation of God to the world, and the One by whom the world is reconciled to the Father. John begins and ends his poetic passage with the statement that God and His logos are united as one, in order to explain how the Son “gave power to become children of God.” Jesus became man in order to give mankind the ability to become children of God. This is the thesis of John’s gospel, and the whole prologue points to God’s desire, through Jesus Christ, to reunite creation with Himself.

Through the Incarnate Word, the eternal revelation of God in Christ, humanity is reconciled and restored to relationship as children of God.

  • What do you think John means when he uses the term logos as a name for Jesus? How does Jesus, by his birth to a human mother, give us power to be re-born as children of God?