Engaging the Word: Readings for 01/01/17 (The Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ)

 By Barbara Klugh

Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:15-21. . Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, God gives Moses and Aaron the words of the priestly blessing, Paul reminds us of our adoption as God’s children, and, in accordance to the Law,  Jesus is circumcised and named on the eighth day.

Moses and Aaron Speak to the People by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Moses and Aaron Speak to the People by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Numbers 6:22-27: The Book of Numbers tells the story of Israelites’ 40-year wilderness journey as they traveled from Mt. Sinai to the River Jordan. The distance was about 200 miles, but it took 40 years of spiritual formation—and transformation—for the Israelites to make their journey from slavery to freedom.

In this week’s reading, God tells Moses and Aaron the blessing to be given by the priests to the gathered community. This blessing has been used throughout the centuries in Christian and Jewish communities.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Here’s a beautiful rendition of the Priestly Blessing by John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers.

Psalm 8: This week’s psalm is a hymn of praise to God as Creator, and the psalmist is amazed and humbled at the duties and responsibilities God has given to human beings. “What is man that you should be mindful of him? The son of man that you should seek him out? You have made him but a little lower than the angels; you adorn him with glory and honor. You give him mastery over the works of your hands; you put all things under his feet.”

Christ Pantocrator icon, 6th century.Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons*
Christ Pantocrator icon, 6th century. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.*

Galatians 4:4-7: In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul defends himself from attacks against his authority, and defends the gospel against the false teachings of a group of Jewish-Christians. They were teaching that the followers of Jesus needed to observe the rules and regulations of the Law of Moses.

In this week’s reading, Paul explains that at the right time, “God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law….” By being born of a woman, Jesus shared our human nature. Also, because Jesus was born under the Law, he was born a Jew. Yet through his life, death, and resurrection, we are set free from the Law and have become adopted children of God and heirs to God’s kingdom. Just as Jesus did, we too, can call out to God, saying, “Abba! Father!

*Christ Pantocrator (“Almighty” or “All-powerful”) icon at St. Catherine’s Monastery located at the foot of Mt. Sinai in Egypt. From the 6th century, this is the oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator. The two different facial expressions on either side may emphasize Christ’s two natures as fully God and fully human. In iconography the right hand often is raised in blessing, though in this icon the right hand depicts the conventional rhetorical gesture that represents teaching. The left had holds a closed book with a richly decorated cover featuring the cross and represents the Gospels. (Information from Wikipedia.)

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 2:15-21: Earlier in his gospel, Luke has told us of the birth of Jesus in the city of David called Bethlehem. He told us that the shepherds in the fields were visited by an angel who brought them the good news of the birth of “a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  Then the multitude of the heavenly host joined the angel and praised God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

In this week’s reading, the angel has left the shepherds and returned to heaven. The shepherds decide to go to Bethlehem right away and see the holy baby for themselves. Sure enough, the shepherds went to Bethlehem “and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.” Then they spread  the good news to others, who were amazed.

If you remember, before Jesus was conceived and angel had said to Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you will name him Jesus.”  And so it was. “After eight days had passed it was time to circumcise the child and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”





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