Saturday, January 01, 2011

Second Sunday after Christmas Day

Isaiah 61:1-3 * Matthew 2:19-23
"And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene."

Where exactly is that? I have seen many cases where Bibles with reference columns have pointed to the most fitting passage that various publishers can think of in the Old Testament. I have heard many explanations for why this or that verse is singled out, and all I can say is, it would help if only they knew Hebrew. I will explain this in a moment. But, first I want to look at Matthew's other seemingly far-fetched Old Testament reference (all his other Old Testament references make perfect sense right away). I refer to what comes earlier in the same chapter.

"When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son."

It is from Hosea 11:1. "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." Or, so says the King James Bible. We see "child" and "son" as synonyms. But, not so the Hebrew, which uses the word נַעַר (na'ar). In modern English we would say "youth" rather than "child." The youth, Israel, and God's Son who is called out of Mizraim, or Egypt, need not be the same. The prophet foretold that like the entire nation of Israel, God's Son would be called to out of the land of Mizraim, or as our English Bibles say, Egypt. In fact, this has everything to do with Christ being a prophet like unto Moses, as is written in Deuteronomy:

"The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him...And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him"(Deuteronomy 18:15,18,19)

Indeed, the entire episode of saving the infant Jesus from a mad king who ordered the death of the male children, fits that pattern; for Pharaoh had wanted all the male Hebrew children killed, you may recall, in the Book of Exodus; but, Moses was hidden. Centuries later, it was because of Herod that the holy family was sent by God into Egypt. As Moses came out of Egypt with the people of Israel, yet a youthful nation, God's Son came out of Egypt with the holy family, the chosen of the chosen, the virgin Mary his mother and Joseph his adopted father.

So, where does the Old Testament call the Messiah a Nazarene? The answer will surprise you. It is in Isaiah 11:1, and it will surprise you because no English translation could carry it.

"And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his root."

Yes, there it is. Now, I did not see that at all until I read this in the Hebrew. The word for "Branch" is נֵצֶר (nazir). It may be rendered "and a Nazarene shall grow out of his root." As such, it may strike you that Matthew sees even something we may loosely regard as a pun, as having great weight. Jesse is who? The father of David; and so the reference to Jesse is clearly Messianic, foretelling the eternal and peaceful reign of the Lord's Anointed.

My reason for going on like this about the Old Testament prophecies is explained simply in that passage from the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus reads aloud the Old Testament lesson that we had in place of an Epistle reading. In the 4th chapter of Luke we read:

"And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." (16-21)]

In a recent post on The Continuum, Fr. Charles Nalls spoke of the time in which we find ourselves, specifically for us, in which we find ourselves as Continuing Anglicans:

"It is clear that we are entering a new stage in the life of the church, one that calls us from the effort to preserve to the work of growing and prospering."

That is where we are as the larger Church, and it is where we are as St. Benedict's in Chapel Hill. And, the only way to approach our mission begins with the words "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me." The Spirit of the Lord was on the Messiah, and so St. Peter would say to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius: "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him (Acts 10:38)."

The Spirit of the Lord was on Christ, and the Spirit of the Lord is on the Corporate Christ, that is the Body of Christ, the Church. Otherwise, we would have nothing to offer, and no mission in this world. But, as it is we have the mind of Christ and the power that Christ demonstrated by teaching, by healing, and in every genuine way setting free those who were captives to sin and death.

If we are to follow the Lord and be true to His Great Commission as the Church, and as individual members of the Church (I Cor. 12), then we need to have a solid grasp ourselves on what the Gospel is. We need to know and understand our faith, and we need to be living it. We need also that supernatural power that only the Holy Spirit gives. The first thing that the Spirit of the Lord empowered the Lord to do, in His earthly ministry, was this, as we read:

1. "The LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek."

I have quoted a line that Fr. Nalls gave us on The Continuum. Let me quote now a few words of my own from this week's blog posting there:

"We have no deficiency of Anglo-Catholics (sort of) who can carry out a High Church liturgy that has every bell, every whistle, every Missal rubric and every Ritual Note under the Sun. That is just fine, but only as long as laity and potential members are not driven out because the smoke is so thick that their asthma begins to kill them, or are otherwise left behind in the dust (mistakes I made in years past, so I know whereof I speak). We have a good grasp of what makes sacramental validity, and in many cases even of grace through the sacraments.

"But, for balance we need a good dose of Evangelical preaching, the kind that sets forth the Gospel in powerful and direct terms, that is simple enough to be heard clearly without compromising its integrity. People need to know the way of salvation, what Jesus did for them, and that they must Repent and believe the Gospel. I do not know where the idea came from that the catholic Tradition can be complete without its evangelical message... You can't be a true catholic unless you are also a true evangelical, and you can't be a true evangelical with being a true catholic. For some of you, that means a radical new understanding, a comprehensive grasp of orthodox Christianity--by the way, that is what Anglicanism is supposed to be."

Then we see what else the Spirit of the Lord empowered in Christ's earthly ministry:

2. "He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound."

Again, consider how St. Peter summarized the ministry of Christ, that He "went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil." Christ not only preached, but He healed and cast out demons. He opened the prisons of sin and death, and gave people His light and freedom. We cannot enter into the substance of His ministry unless we have the same love for people that He did. We cannot do the work of the Lord unless we have, as He did, compassion on the weak, the ignorant, the helpless, the poor, and those who are in bondage to sin and death. If we do, as Fr. Lindsay preached a few weeks ago, after praying for our own needs, we ought to pray "Lord use me." And, we can pray Lord use us.

3. "To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."

That must refer to the Year of Jubilee, when people were set free and loosed from all debts. What it symbolizes for us, in the Church, is the constant ever present now. So writes St. Paul:

"We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) (II Cor. 6:1,2)"

The Psalmist wrote "This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).

Always, from the moment He came out of the tomb alive again, to the day of His return, this is the day of salvation. This is the acceptable year, the day that the Lord has made, for now is the time in which God empowers us to proclaim freedom from every debt of sin.

It is free to us, but it cost God dearly. God gave His only begotten "Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world." He canceled every debt by paying it all in full (τελω - teleo, John 19:30). He paid your full debt of sin, which you could never have paid throughout all eternity; and He paid mine, and He paid the debt of every human being; "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2)." Because the risen Christ has the marks of His passion and death, He sends us out to tell the world that the debt has been paid and that now is the time to repent and to receive His grace freely.

4. "To comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness."

Ultimately, the good news is that Christ has conquered death itself. If we mourn, let it be the mourning of true heart felt repentance, not the mourning of despair. As I said to you recently, this generation has two systems of eschatology to choose from, that is two versions of the end of the world. Modern science can offer no better hope than the eventual end of all life on earth when the Sun, in a few billion years, becomes a "red giant" before it goes supernova. But, we see a different end, the end of the world system of sin and death. In the words of St. John:

"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful (Rev. 21:1-5)."

The only true and lasting comfort that relieves the mournful state of fallen mankind is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the words of Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life (John 6:68)." No one else has overcome death. No one else has appeared to witnesses after rising from the dead to a new and immortal life: "Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him (Rom. 6:9)."

The Spirit of the Lord is even now, this very day, on the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ the Church, which answers in the words of her heavenly bridegroom:

"...because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified."

1 comment:

Byron Woolcock said...

Dear Father,
As usual your good and solid Evangelical Catholic proclamation. Indeed those two glorious words are one and cannot be divided.Even the
terms I am so fond of, "Word and Sacrament", as you so clearly point out, are one in the Glorious Good News proclaimed in and through
Christ's Church. May Gods Spirit guide you through the new year in continuing to rightly divide the word of truth.
In Christ,
Fr.ByronWoolcock,TDC.