Bible Study: Christmas 1 - 2014

December 28, 2014

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

The reading from the Hebrew Bible today comes from the final section of Isaiah, generally referred to as Third Isaiah (Chapters 56-66), and is marked by Israel’s return to Palestine after a long time in exile. Salvation, hope and transformation are key themes in this passage.

The metaphors move from what more concretely describes the human domain, the splendid garments for a wedding (v. 10) to nature “as the earth brings forth its shoots” (v. 11), but there seems to be no division between the two, as the images flow one into another.

  • What is the writer saying about the future of God’s people?
  • How is salvation described in this passage from Isaiah?
  • What does “you shall be called by a new name” (v. 2b) signify to you? And how does it relate to transformation?

Psalm 147 Laudate Dominum

Psalm 147 makes up part of a quintet of praise psalms (Laudate Dominum, Book of Common Prayer, p. 804), starting with Psalm 146 and ending with Psalm 150. The praise psalms are typically read during Christmastide.

The Hebrew Hallelujah is translated as “Praise the Lord.” In the Book of Common Prayer it is subtitled Laudate Dominum, Latin for “Praise God,” and is often sung in many congregations today as a Taizé chant. (The Taizé Community is an ecumenical monastic order in France.)

God’s promises have been fulfilled (vv. 1-6): Yahweh rebuilds (v. 2), heals those traumatized by years in exile (v. 2), counts the stars (v. 4), “lifts up the lowly” (v. 6), brings rain (v. 8) and provides food for all creatures (v. 10).

  • What is the purpose of praise?
  • If you were rewrite this psalm today, what metaphors would you change?

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

In the epistle lesson for today Paul addresses a conflict between gentiles and Judaizers in Southern Galatia (modern-day Turkey). The debate was about whether gentiles be part of the faith community without adhering to the rituals (e.g., circumcision) of Mosaic Law.

Paul forcefully says that, yes, they could, because Christ’s coming made the rituals of the Law unnecessary for salvation. With that, Paul flings open the door to salvation to the gentile community.

The Greek word paidagogos, translated in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible as “disciplinarian” and in other translations as “custodian” or “tutor,” appears two times in the passage. William Barclay points out that in the Greco-Roman world, it was customary to leave the ethical upbringing of a child up to the most trusted and oldest slave/servant of the household. (“The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians,” Westminster Press, 2002):

“It was the function of the law to bring a man to Christ by showing him that by himself he was utterly unable to keep the law. … But once a man had come to Christ he no longer needed the law, for now he was dependent not on law by on grace” (p. 33).

  • Where does the Law leave off and grace pick up in your own life?
  • Are there Christian religious practices that sometimes get in the way of grace?

John 1:1-18

John begins the prologue to his gospel with the Word, logos, from the Greek legó, which means “a word as embodying an idea, a speech, a statement.”  The English word “logo” also derives from the Greek word, and is defined by Dictionary.com as “a graphic representation or symbol of a company name, a trademark abbreviation, etc., often uniquely designed for ready recognition, also called logotype.” But the Word becomes much more than a representation of an idea. The Word is Christ: “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (v. 13).

The reading from John’s prologue serves as a bridge between the human birth of Jesus at Christmas to the mystery of God made flesh in Jesus Christ and dwelling among us, and leads the reader closer to the incarnation of Christ celebrated during the season of Epiphany.

  • How is the Word embodied and revealed in communities of faith today?
  • How does your answer relate (if at all) to verse 18: “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”