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Introduction To The Scripture For The Holy Name of Jesus - Year B
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7; Philippians 2:5-13; Luke 2:15-21

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John normally structures his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
The Holy Name of Jesus - Year B


NUMBERS 6:22-27                        This Aaronic blessing has been used 
extensively in a variety of worship situations.  As the final verse 
states, it was intended to be used as a divine blessing for those regarded 
as the people of God.

 
PSALM 8                                This majestic psalm sets humanity 
in a noble and yet dangerous position within the divinely created 
universe.  It appears to place us at the pinnacle of creation with 
dominion of all other creatures.  In recent centuries this great honour 
has been ingloriously misused to sanction the destruction of the 
environment.  Yet as the concluding verse proclaims, we are still subject 
to divine sovereignty.

 
GALATIANS 4:4-7                        Paul sought to convince this mixed 
community of Jews and Gentiles that Jesus the Jewish Messiah was indeed 
the Son of God who came to make them all children and heirs of God.  From 
the context, we gather that some of them may also have been followers of 
one of the mystery religions that were popular in the Greek world.  Others 
may have depended on the ritual celebration of Jewish festivals as their 
primary religious tradition.  


PHILIPPIANS 2:5-13                     [Alternate]  Paul encouraged 
another congregation of Jews and Gentiles that knowing and following Jesus 
the Christ was the true way to live in this world.  Just how each person 
is to live according to the example of Jesus Christ, as God desires, is 
for each to determine.

 
LUKE 2:15-21                           Having heard the lead angel 
announce the birth of the Messiah and Saviour and the chorus of angels 
sing his praise, the shepherds hasten to Bethlehem to find the Babe in a 
stable manger.  Eight days later, he was circumcised according to Jewish 
tradition and given the traditional Hebrew name, Yehoshua (or Joshua) 
which meant “God is salvation.”


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS

NUMBERS 6:22-27   This Aaronic blessing has been used extensively in a 
variety of worship situations.  As the final verse states, it was intended 
to be used as a divine blessing for those regarded as the people of God.  
Here it finds a fitting place at the beginning of the New Year.  It served 
as one of the most powerful blessings ever spoken to me by an Anglican 
colleague at my bedside as I wakened from surgery.

Exegetical comment regards the blessing as incorporated into the post-
exilic Priestly Document from earlier sources.  It may have been a 
remembered liturgy in the temple prior to the Babylonian Exile or from the 
reformation under Josiah in 621 BCE.  Some Christian liturgists have 
mistakenly suggested that the threefold invocation of the sacred name 
implies reference to the Trinity.  

That Yahweh is “to keep Israel” would naturally convey a sense of 
providence for Israel in a plentiful harvest, productive herds, good 
weather and perhaps military security.  A shining face would have been 
interpreted as a mark of happiness as in Ps. 23:5 where the divine anoints 
the head of the guest at table.  “To lift up countenance” implied that 
nothing could break the bond of friendship between parties to a covenant.  
Shalom (peace) is the characteristic Jewish blessing used both in greeting 
and parting.  It means more than an absence of discord, but refers to 
positive desire for the well-being of another.  No greater blessing could 
be extended to every congregation as we begin the New Year at worship.


PSALM 8   This majestic psalm praises God as Creator and sets humanity in 
a noble and yet dangerous position within the divinely created universe.  
It appears to place us at the pinnacle of creation with dominion of all 
other creatures.  In recent centuries this great honour has been 
ingloriously misused to sanction the destruction of the environment.  Yet 
as the concluding verse proclaims, we are still subject to divine 
sovereignty.

One can easily imagine the psalmist standing beneath the starry sky 
marveling at its splendour though understanding nothing about what he is 
beholding.  Knowing only the myths of his ancient culture, he does not ask 
any of the questions a modern person might ask about how this multitude of 
heavenly lights came to be.  He attributes the whole of what he sees to 
the handiwork of God.  Insignificant as he may feel at this moment, he 
also realizes that he and his tribe are no accident in the divine economy.  
He has been created for a purpose: to have dominion over the creatures of 
the earth.  He is God’s vice-regent, a concept borrowed from the poetic 
traditions of Gen.  1:26 and 2:19-20.  Lest he should be too self-centred 
in his contemplation of his own greatness, he ends his praise by repeating 
the doxology wit which he began.

 
GALATIANS 4:4-7   Unfamiliar with the later tradition of the virgin birth, 
Paul gave a theological and scriptural interpretation to the birth of 
Jesus.  Stating that God's Son was "born of a woman, born under the law," 
he places Jesus in continuity with Jewish tradition.  In some respects, 
this could be interpreted as a rebuttal of the doctrine of the virgin 
birth, although Paul probably did not intend it to be so.  He may not even 
have known about the somewhat later tradition of the virgin birth cited 
only in Matthew and Luke.  

If Jesus was born "under the law," then his birth must have been regarded 
as the natural result of human sexual activity rather than the asexual 
descriptions of later Gospels.  For Mary to have given birth before 
marriage would have been a serious transgression of the law as defined by 
Deut.  22:13-28 and as alluded to in Matthew's narrative.  Paul, however, 
wrote to the Galatians circa 50 CE, possibly 25-30 years before the birth 
narratives were written.  If there was an earlier tradition of the virgin 
birth, Paul did not share it.  

Instead he focused on the redemption of all humanity effected through 
Jesus, the fulfilment of Israel's hope.  The phrase "the fullness of time" 
expresses the prophetic view that God is sovereign over all history.  So 
God's plan will be fulfilled according to God's timing when the Messiah, 
Jesus Christ, reigns as the divinely appointed sovereign of the world.  
The redemption of which Paul spoke (vs. 5) began with coming of Jesus, the 
Messiah.  This *already but not yet* eschatological process will be
completed only at the Parousia.  

Paul conceived the idea of believers being adopted as children of God and 
heirs with Christ (vs. 5b-7) as the fulfilment of both his Jewish heritage 
and his Christian faith.  This was also the new status of the Galatians.  
God's promise to Abraham, including freedom and election as God's chosen 
people, had been made good through Jesus.  But the Christian communities 
in Galatia included Gentiles as well as Jews.  The main theme of the 
letter declared that Gentiles and Jews alike were now freed from slavery 
to "the elemental spirits of the world" (vs. 3) and to the law of Moses.  
The new relationship with God through Christ made everything different in 
their relationships with each other and with the particular cultural 
milieu in which they lived.  Paul would spell out just what that meant in 
the latter segment of the letter (especially 5:13-6:10).  So as well as 
fulfilling their heritage, the relationships born of their new-found faith 
in Jesus Christ, rather than any previously held convictions, would also 
give rise to a definite discontinuity with that same heritage.  Their new 
spiritual inheritance as a result of receiving the gift of the Spirit made 
all this possible.


PHILIPPIANS 2:5-13   [Alternate]  Paul encouraged another congregation of 
Jews and Gentiles that knowing and following Jesus the Christ was the true 
way to live in this world.  Just how each person is to live according to 
the example of Jesus Christ, as God desires, is for each to determine.

Undoubtedly one of the finest excerpts from Paul’s writing, this passage 
tells the Philippians how to live as Christ lived, selflessly, 
sacrificially and in faith that God in enabling them to do so.  The 
central part of the reading (vss. 5-11) may have been an early Christian 
hymn, perhaps originally composed by Paul himself.

Paul constantly appealed for unity in the Christian communities he had 
founded.  In some respects the Philippian congregation may have been the 
strongest and most united of all.  A few clues suggest that it may also 
have been his favourite; e.g. “make my joy complete” (vs. 2); “just as you 
have always obeyed me” (vs. 12).  Nonetheless, his special feeling for 
them in no way prevented him from seeing that they represented the 
powerful influence of the Holy Spirit of God at work among them (vss. 1b, 
13).

Perhaps more than a doctrinal statement about which some may quibble, the 
hymn declares that the exemplary model of Jesus as the best that human 
beings can be rests on his special relationship with God.  And so does the 
quality of our moral life (vss. 4-5).  The Christian life consists of 
being like Jesus, even to reiterating his sacrifice and, as John envisions 
in Revelation 7, being accepted into the heavenly realm to the praise of 
his glory.


LUKE 2:15-21   Having heard the lead angel announce the birth of the 
Messiah and Saviour and the chorus of angels sing his praise, the 
shepherds hasten to Bethlehem to find the Babe as they had been told in a 
stable manger.  Eight days later, he was circumcised according to Jewish 
tradition and given the traditional Hebrew name, Yehoshua (or Joshua) 
which meant “God is salvation.”

Ancient and modern art has depicted these events in many different 
scenarios.  The shepherds finding the babe in the manger has been 
pantomimed by children from and adults from the time of the mediaeval 
morality plays and perhaps much earlier.  We tend to deal with the 
Nativity on a sentimental plane.  How sweet! We hate to leave the stable 
scene to face its worldly implications.  Not so Luke in his stark 
narrative.  He does not leave either the shepherds or the infant in their 
innocence.  As if presaging who this newborn child really is and the way 
in which the Good News of his presence in the world spread through the 
ancient world like wildfire, the shepherds hastened from the stable behind 
to tell all that they had seen and heard.  As soon as he was old enough 
and according to the ancient custom of Jews, the child’s parents took him 
to be circumcised and named as a member of the sacred covenant of Israel.  

At this early pointing his narrative, Luke linked the naming of the child 
to the visitation off the angel at the time of his conception (Luke 1:31).  
This linkage clarified the theological significance of the child’s birth: 
he is human, yet divine.  His name proclaims the source and the means of 
the world’s salvation.  
 
                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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