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Introduction To The Scripture For The First Sunday After Christmas - Year C
I Samuel 2:18-20,26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured 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	
Christmas 1 - Year C


1 SAMUEL 2:18-20,26        How does a family bring up children "in the
nurture and admonition of the Lord" as one traditional baptismal liturgy
reads?  This scripture tells us that it can best be done by exposing them
to the worship and teaching of our faith.

Yet, as the passage just prior to this one relates, that isn't all there is
to it.  The sons of Eli the priest did not follow in their father's
footsteps to become Israel's spiritual leaders.  That role fell to Samuel,
who became one of Israel's greatest prophets.


PSALM 148                  We tend to forget that God loves all the created
universe as well as the human race.  This psalm summons all of creation to
praise God just for being, as are God's people Israel.


COLOSSIANS 3:12-17         The heart of Christian worship and  ethics, wrote
Paul, is to create loving relationships - with God, with other people, and
with God's creation.
       
To make his point more vividly, Paul introduces a metaphor about putting on
new clothes.  In the early church newly baptized Christians were dressed in
new, white robes as a symbol of the new life Christ had given them.

Another metaphor of the indwelling Christ brings out the spiritual growth
that comes from worshiping and witnessing within the Christian fellowship.


LUKE 2:41-52               In much the same way that he drew from Hannah's
Song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 for a model of Mary's Song in Luke 1:46-55, Luke
here elaborates on the story of Samuel's growth under Eli's tutelage in the
Old Testament lesson above. 
       
Thus he clarifies for his readers that Jesus was an very human person, but
with unusual spiritual insight and understanding.  An early Christian
heresy, called Docetism, claimed that Jesus was divine, but only seemed to
be a real human being.  In the traditional view, based on scripture, he is
both fully human and divine.

************

1 Samuel 2:18-20,26   The story of Eli and his sons is a tragic one.  It
appears to have been told to emphasize the contrast between Samuel's
childhood and that of the two wayward sons of Eli.  Their sins appear to
have been against religious customs or else demanding privileges which were
not their due.(2:12-17)  One commentator noted that this is an example of
clericalism even in early Israel.  It should surprise no one that there is
still ample evidence of this human fault in clergy families today.  Quite
recently such an instance came to the fore in an important Canadian church.

The point at issue in our reading, however, deals with Samuel and the way
his family was rewarded for dedicating their son to service of Yahweh.  For
our time this issue might be stated in the words of one traditional
baptismal liturgy: How does a family bring up children "in the nurture and
admonition of the Lord?"  By exposing them to the worship and teaching of
the faith, this scripture tells us.  Would that it was so simple!  Many
communities have tales to tell of faithful church members whose children
betrayed everything the parents had stood for. 
       
The sons of Eli the priest did not follow in their father's footsteps to
become Israel's spiritual leaders.  That role fell to Samuel, who
subsequently became one of Israel's great prophets.  We know that dedicated
parenting isn't all there is to it.  Even the most piously trained young
people sometimes rebel against their parents' devotion. How many adults
absent themselves from the church because they claim to have had too much
of it in their youth? 

In practice, it is impossible to tell when and how parental efforts to
educate their children religiously will be effective.  We are dealing with
moral and spiritual matters in which results are notoriously difficult to
determine.  Some would use authoritarian means to achieve the end they
desire.  That would be self defeating, however, since it is an exercise of
power rather than advancing the processes of education and spiritual
development.  Practiced by governments on a regional or national level, it
becomes theocracy - a religious state where law is determined by religious
mandate rather than by justice for all.

A great deal of publicity was given recently to a situation in the southern
American state of Alabama where the chief justice of his state was removed
from office because he defied a judgment by the federal court to remove a
monument bearing the Ten Commandments he had erected at the entrance to the
state court building.  The federal court had ruled that the monument
constituted a government endorsement of Christianity, so violating the
separation of church and state.  The judge argued that being constantly
made aware of the laws of God would beneficially effect obedience to the
laws of the nation.  A similar case bordering on theocracy occurred in
northern Nigeria where Islamic shariah law was used by a provincial court
to condemn an unmarried mother to death for adultery.  The sentence was
later overturned by a higher court of justice.


PSALM 148   This is the third of five hallelujah psalms at the end of the
psalter.  It summons all of creation to praise God just for being.  So are
God's people Israel.  The well-known modern hymn, "This is my Father's
world," found its motif here.  We do tend to forget that God loves all the
created universe as well as the human race.  The psalm has a liturgical
structure with vss.5-6, 13-14 forming antiphons which could have been sung
by a Levitical chorus. 
       
The theological concepts of the psalm developed late in Israel's history.
Yahweh is transcendent, far removed from creation.  There are several
intervening heavens arranged concentrically like the walls of a city or
superimposed one on the other.  These concepts reappear in 2 Corinthians
12:2,4; and again in Hebrews 4:14; 7:26, so it must have been well-known in
rabbinical Judaism.  On the other hand, the celestial beings and stars
worshiped as gods in other eastern traditions are here seen as subordinate
to Yahweh. 

The "horn for his people" (vs. 14) which Yahweh raises up is a symbol of
strength and dignity drawn from the horns of animals in the Israelites'
flocks, their ancient source of wealth and power, but not possessed by
other animals, particularly those that preyed on the flocks. 
 
But is there another possible interpretation of the phrase?  In Exodus 27:2
the instructions for the building of the altar included horns at each
corner.  They were made of wood covered with bronze.  Probably of Canaanite
origin and possibly similar to the horns of a ram or a bull, tradition held
that this was the most important part of the altar, with special powers to
protect those seeking asylum.  Adonijah and Joab grasped the horns of the
altar to save themselves from Solomon during the struggle for succession to
David (1 Kings 1:50; 2:28).  Instructions for  sin offering (Leviticus 4:7,
18,25) also states that the priest should wipe some of the blood of the
sacrificial animal on the horns of the altar.  Lev. 8:14 refers to this
being done by Moses when he ordained the Aaronic priesthood.  Aaron did so
also when he performed the sin offering (Lev. 9:9).  This gives a symbolic
significance of divine power resting in this appurtenance of the sacred
altar. By the time the psalm came into liturgical use in the late post-
exilic period, it is possible that the historic symbolism remained
regardless whether or not the ancient sacrificial practice or sacred
accountrements of the temple still remained.


COLOSSIANS 3:12-17   Much scholarly energy has been expended in debating
whether or not Colossians was written by Paul or by someone else.  Perhaps
the most satisfying conclusion to this observer, though admittedly
unprovable, is that of Eduard Schweizer: It was composed by Timothy on
behalf of Paul and himself while the apostle was imprisoned in Ephesus.
(1:1)

The heart of Christian worship and ethics, this passage says, is to create
relationships - with God and with other people.  This is the special work
of Christ whom believers encounter in their life together as the church in
the real world.  Thus the list of five virtues which the Christian must
"put on."  These are summarized by "love" in vs.14 and supplemented by the
"peace of Christ to which you were called in the one body."  This all
refers to the life of the Christian community, most likely a contentious
mix of Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, employers and employees, perhaps
even slaves and free.

To make his point more vividly, Paul reiterates a metaphor about "putting
on" as one puts on new clothes contrasting with the "putting off" of the
five evils of v.8.  In the early church, when catechumens came to be
baptized, they took off their old clothes and were dressed in new, white
robes as a symbol of the new life Christ had given them.

Another metaphor of the indwelling Christ brings out the spiritual growth
that comes from the worshipping and witnessing of the Christian fellowship.
The dynamic for creating the new relationships the church brings to the
world is what Schweizer calls "the stream of love flowing from God to
humankind via Christ."


Luke 2:41-52   In much the same way that he drew from Hannah's Song in 1
Samuel 2:1-10 for a model of Mary's Song in Luke 1:46-55, Luke here
elaborates on the story of Samuel's growth under Eli's tutelage in the Old
Testament lesson above.  However, this story should not be interpreted as
Jesus' bar mitzvah, a practice developed in rabbinical Judaism no earlier
than the 15th century CE.
       
Luke clarifies for his readers that Jesus was an very human person as well
as having unusual spiritual insight and at least an elementary awareness of
his divine mission.  The portrait we have here is of a headstrong
adolescent who disappeared from the company of Galilean travelers as they
left Jersualem after the Passover festival.  He went missing for three
days, a terrifyingly long time for his anxious parents.  They finally found
him in the temple questioning the learned scholars about spiritual matters.
Naturally, Mary rebuked him, as all mothers would.  Instead of submitting
to her rebuke, he answered her back.  The distance between the boy and his
parents was already widening, in spite of Mary's treasuring of this
memorable experience.  Who was this child-man who so mystified them?

In his biographical study of the biblical record, *Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate
Biography* (Doubleday, 2000), Bruce Chilton reasons that Jesus was actually
an outsider, a *mamzer,* even in his own family because of his unusual
birth.  Chilton believes that Jesus fled from Nazareth to join John the
Baptist's movement calling for repentance as young as sixteen or seventeen.
Both those who hold to the virgin birth and those who do not can take some
rationale for their respective points of view from this story.  It would
seem that Luke's intention in telling it was the provide a narrative which
later generations would codify in traditional creeds that Jesus was both
fully human and fully divine.

An early Christian heresy, still evident in some parts of the church today,
claimed that Jesus was divine, but wasn't a real human being.  Today this
may be no more than an overemphasis on Christ's divinity in contradiction
to the easy humanizing of Jesus and his ethical message so prevalent in our
post-Enlightenment culture and the renewed search for "the historical
Jesus" many traditionalists find so disturbing.  On the other hand, to
minimize the humanity of Jesus is as heretical as overemphasis on his
divinity.  Luke does not attempt to do anything more than tell his story
and leave the reader to answer the crucial question which confronts us all:
Who is this?

Nearly a century ago, some of the Protestant churches in Canada developed
two strong teenage youth programs as a counterpart to the Scouting
movement.  The boys' groups were called TUXIS and the girls', CGIT
(Canadian Girls In Training).  TUXIS was an acronym for the program's
motto: "You and I training for service with Christ and nothing but Christ
between us."  TUXIS groups were formed as midweek activities of Sunday
school classes in many local congregations.  Both of these groups had as
their biblical basis the text of Luke 2:52 (KJV): "And Jesus increased in
wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man."  This text provided
the four basic elements of the groups' program: healthy growth of mind and 
body, and of one's interpersonal and spiritual relationships.  A few of the
boys' groups lasted until the early 1950s, but eventually succumbed to a
lack of strong male leadership and competition from the Scouting movement.
A significant number of male lay and ordained leaders of the church
received their strongest religious education from participation in TUXIS
groups.  There are still CGIT groups in some congregations of The United
Church of Canada.  Many of the prominent lay women as well as diaconal and
ordained ministers of the present generation in the United Church began
their leadership training in CGIT.

Panentheism holds that the divine spirit dwells in each person and in all
of creation.  It is not too much to say that the panentheism which
characterizes the theology of many contemporary clergy stems from passages
like this.  Luke's narrative in chapters 1 & 2 points to Jesus as being a
human person in whom the Spirit dwelt from the time of his conception and
was evident to him as early as his visit to the temple in Jerusalem when he
was twelve years old. 

                         
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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