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Monday, December 17, 2007


Lexegete™ | Year A | Matthew


December 23, 2007

Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 (7)
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25
Color: Blue


1a. CONTEXT: Matthew 1:18-25

Matthew's infancy narrative is uniquely his own. In it he
forged a narrative which addressed a mixed community of gentile and
jewish christians and so set the stage for a gospel which had a
pluralistic church in mind. This gospel was directed to a converted
community (R. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, p. 47) and contained
exhortation and direction for the christian life. There would be some
familiarity with the old testament in Matthew's audience and he makes
good use of a prophecy/fulfillment scheme as he tells his story.

Matthew's particular theme in today's text is to introduce Jesus
and to answer the question "who is He?" It was a question posed by
the post-resurrection church which began to ask christological
questions. Matthew's answer is that Jesus is both Son of David and
Son of God while at the same time son of Mary and Joseph. To answer
these questions Matthew tells the story of Jesus' birth from Joseph's

The genealogical tablein Matthew makes allusions to OT salvation
history: Abraham as father of all nations, Moses and the exodus, and
the exile in Babylon. Jesus' story provides a parallel to these
events. Matthew also makes allusions to other characters in the old
testament stories. In today's text Joseph's reception of information
through his dreams is reminiscent of the old testament Joseph who was
famous for interpretation of dreams.

Joseph as the central character in the birth narrative is
difficult to square with modern assumptions about paternity. Jesus is
Son of David through Joseph even though he was not the biological
father according to Matthew. Matthew's audience would not be caught
in a contradiction between a virgin birth and Joseph's paternity,
however. Jesus is established as Joseph's son through his
acknowledgement (naming). Neither would Matthew's audience be overly
concerned about the "historicity" of the virgin birth. They were
well-accustomed to these claims. Modern readers bring different
questions to the text. The important homiletical task is to help the
modern listener to appreciate the questions the text is sensitive to
while giving adequate attention to the legitimate questions which
arise for modern people and with which they live.

1a. TEXT: Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV/Greek)

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ [1] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed [2] to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
[1] 1:18 Some manuscripts of the Christ

[2] 1:18 That is, legally pledged to be married


18του δε ιησου χριστου η γενεσις ουτως ην. μνηστευθεισης της μητρος αυτου μαριας τω ιωσηφ, πριν η συνελθειν αυτους ευρεθη εν γαστρι εχουσα εκ πνευματος αγιου. 19ιωσηφ δε ο ανηρ αυτης, δικαιος ων και μη θελων αυτην δειγματισαι, εβουληθη λαθρα απολυσαι αυτην. 20ταυτα δε αυτου ενθυμηθεντος ιδου αγγελος κυριου κατ οναρ εφανη αυτω λεγων, ιωσηφ υιος δαυιδ, μη φοβηθης παραλαβειν μαριαν την γυναικα σου, το γαρ εν αυτη γεννηθεν εκ πνευματος εστιν αγιου: 21τεξεται δε υιον και καλεσεις το ονομα αυτου ιησουν, αυτος γαρ σωσει τον λαον αυτου απο των αμαρτιων αυτων. 22τουτο δε ολον γεγονεν ινα πληρωθη το ρηθεν υπο κυριου δια του προφητου λεγοντος, 23ιδου η παρθενος εν γαστρι εξει και τεξεται υιον, και καλεσουσιν το ονομα αυτου εμμανουηλ, ο εστιν μεθερμηνευομενον μεθ ημων ο θεος. 24εγερθεις δε ο ιωσηφ απο του υπνου εποιησεν ως προσεταξεν αυτω ο αγγελος κυριου και παρελαβεν την γυναικα αυτου: 25και ουκ εγινωσκεν αυτην εως ου ετεκεν υιον: και εκαλεσεν το ονομα αυτου ιησουν.

2. ANALYSIS: Matthew 1:18-25

Mt. 1:18 - mnesteutheises teis metros autou Marias to Joseph,
prin ei sunelthein autous heurethe en gastri echousa ek pneumatos
agiou - "When Jesus' mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before
they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy
Spirit..." (AILL)- Matthew uses the word for betrothal
(mnesteutheises) which indicates the two-stage process in the typical
marriage of that day. Betrothal was more formal than our engagement
period and some parts of Israel (Judah) even allowed the man martical
rights with the woman (Brown, p. 124). According to Matthew, Joseph
and Mary were somewhere in the middle of the stages between promise
and cohabitation.

Mt. 1:19 - Joseph de ho aneir auteis dikaios on kai mei thelon autein
deigmatisai, ebouleithe lathra apolusai auten - "Joseph, being just
and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly"

(AILL) - Joseph's uprightness (dikaios) consisted of the fact that
although the law indicated that a man in his position should press
charges of adultery, he chose not to "make a display" (deigmatisai)
of Mary. Joseph took time to ponder his responsibility to the law,
but tempered it with mercy. "Divorce" is perhaps too strong an
translation for at least some modern ears; hence the TEV (Today's
English Translation) preference for "break the engagement." As
above, there is no exact modern equivalent in our vocabulary.

Mt. 1:23 - Idou parthenos en gastri exei kai texetai huion, kai
kalesousin to onoma autou Emmanouel - "Behold a virgin shall conceive
and bear a child, whose name shall be called Emmanuel" (AILL) -
Here Matthew follows the Septuagint as he quotes Isaiah 7:14 but his
wording for conception is unique and agrees with the earlier mention
in l:18 (LXX's" en gastri lepsetai" becomes "en gastri exei.")

The Masoretic text also uses the word "alma" which means "young girl"
and Matthew follows the more narrow rendering of the greek in LXX
and quotes this as "parthenos," or virgin. This is the first instance
of four in which Matthew uses a prophecy/fulfillment formula to
illustrate a particular aspect of the identity of the Christ. His
introductory formula in l:22 ,"All this took place to fulfill what the
Sovereign One had spoken by the prophet," is characteristic of all
four quotations in the infancy narrative. Usually Matthew chooses to
use these quotations to end a particular segment of the narrative.

In this instance, the words from Isaiah are inserted in the middle of
the story. This enables Matthew to conclude the narration of Jesus'
birth with the naming of Jesus on Joseph's lips; l:25b, "and Joseph
named the child Jesus" (AILL). This established Jesus as Joseph's
legal son and ensured his place in the geneological table as a Son of

3. STRATEGY: Matthew 1:18-25

It is no longer enough to ask "What happened?" when one studies
the birth stories in the gospels, writes Paul Minear (Matthew: The
Teacher's Gospel, p. 162). Even though many feel that the truth is
found only in the historical kernel underneath the husk of narrative
embellishment, the preacher assumes the responsibility of conveying
the message that there is another seed of truth in the gospel
proclamation. These stories are a witness to God's majestic act in
coming to the people of every generation and God does not depend on
historians alone to get that message across. Nevertheless is is a
formidable task to transcend the many barriers the modern mind
constructs which make it difficult for the modern person to appreciate
the depth to which the story witnesses to the great act of God in

A focus on Joseph as a parent for Jesus seems to be in keeping
with Matthew's intention in this text. He plays the role of Jewish
witness to the events. He is the one conscious of the law and the
bearer of the Davidic line. His acknowledgement/naming of Jesus as
his legitimate son is paradigmatic for the "people of the law," the
jewish nation. The preacher may speculate on what scruples this man
had to overcome in making his decision. In addition it is important
to give this father credit for playing the parental role as he did. It
is one shortcoming of the church's tradition that Joseph plays such a
cameo role.

4. REFERENCES: Matthew 1:18-25

Brown, Raymond. The Birth of the Messiah. Garden City, NY:
Doubleday - Image Books, 1977.

Minear, Paul S. Matthew: The Teacher's Gospel. New York:
Pilgrim Press, 1982.

Schweitzer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. David
Green, translator. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975.

5. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS: Matthew 1:18-25

SAVIOR OF THE NATIONS, COME (HB 54, LBW 28) would be an excellent
processional hymn. Sung to the accompaniment of a solo drum with
tambourine, it has a simple insistence to it that is very compelling
for the Advent season. This is something that children could taught
during Advent and then could lead the procession into the service.
COME, THOU LONG EXPECTED JESUS (HB 66, LBW 30) is a good hymn of the
day as it sums up the theme of Matthew's Gospel so well. Finally,
two lesser known hymns that might find an application during Advent
might be mentioned: IN A LOWLY MANGER BORN (LBW 417) is a 20th
century Japanese hymn which fits perfectly with a sermon depicting the
place of Joseph in the Nativity. Somewhat less suitable for the
season, yet worth considering for its strong message of reconciliation
and peace in a world of violence is LORD CHRIST, WHEN FIRST YOU CAME
TO EARTH (LBW 421,esp. stanza 3, "New advent of the love...").

Exegete: Dr. Maria Erling
Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, PA

6. FURTHER READING: Matthew 1:18-25

For further study of the "formula quotations" in Matthew, the exegete
may want to look up "Quis et Unde--Who and Whence? Matthew's Christmas
Gospel," chapter 5 in Stendahl, K., Meanings:The Bible as Document and
as Guide (Philadephia: Fortress Press, 1984), pp. 71-83. This brief
article gives a surprisingly thorough analysis of the shape of the
infancy narratives and Matthew's use of the Old Testament and would
serve as in interesting discussion-starter for a group of ministers
preparing for serious exegesis during Advent/Christmas/Epiphany.

Lexegete™ | Year A | Matthew

December 24, 2007
Set I - Christmas Eve
Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96 (11)
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
Color: White

1a. CONTEXT: Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

Chapters 1 and 2 of Luke's gospel appear to be unnecessary for a
complete telling of the story of Jesus, which begins with John the
Baptist's proclamation in chapter 3. This has led scholars to ask
where chapters 1 and 2 are truly Lucan material, or, if fashioned by
Luke, were they appended after the rest of the gospel was written?
What is perhaps MORE interesting as we consider this particular text
is the fact that chapter 2 is also quite independent of chapter 1.
The story could easily begin with "In those days a decree went

However, while chapter 2 is not dependent upon chapter 1 materials
for coherence, there is nonetheles a significant connection between
the annunciation/birth/naming narratives of John the Baptist and
Jesus contained in these chapters. Parallels abound. It is
therefore especially intriguing that specific references to
Elizabeth, Zechariah, and John the Baptist are completely missing
from Luke 2.

For our purposes, it is unnecessary to enter the debate of authorship
and sources. There is enough of a connection to the rest of the
gospel in word usage, style, and theological intent to make it seem
likely that one person fashioned all the material for his purposes.
While the independent units are intriguing, their independence is not
what makes them significant. What such independence does allow,
however, is a recognition by virtue of the texts' form that the story
in Luke 2:1-20 can (and does) stand by itself. This is an important
factor to understand as we approach preaching on this familiar and
beloved text. It has, in a sense, a life of its own that must be
respected. Rather than viewing such familiarity as a hindrance to
preaching, we must attempt to use it to enhance the incarnational
message. This story itself is,after all, a kind of miracle; it is
completely familiar and yet still fascinating to us, as is a person
we have loved for a long time.

1a. TEXT: Luke 2:1-14 (15-20) [ESV/Greek]

The Birth of Jesus Christ
2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when [1] Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, [2] who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” [3]
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
[1] 2:2 Or This was the registration before

[2] 2:5 That is, one legally pledged to be married

[3] 2:14 Some manuscripts peace, good will among men


1egeneto de en taiV hmeraiV ekeinaiV exhlqen dogma para kaisaroV augoustou apografesqai pasan thn oikoumenhn. 2auth apografh prwth egeneto hgemoneuontoV thV suriaV kurhniou. 3kai eporeuonto panteV apografesqai, ekastoV eiV thn eautou polin. 4anebh de kai iwshf apo thV galilaiaV ek polewV nazareq eiV thn ioudaian eiV polin dauid htiV kaleitai bhqleem, dia to einai auton ex oikou kai patriaV dauid, 5apograyasqai sun mariam th emnhsteumenh autw, oush egkuw. 6egeneto de en tw einai autouV ekei eplhsqhsan ai hmerai tou tekein authn, 7kai eteken ton uion authV ton prwtotokon: kai esparganwsen auton kai aneklinen auton en fatnh, dioti ouk hn autoiV topoV en tw katalumati. 8kai poimeneV hsan en th cwra th auth agraulounteV kai fulassonteV fulakaV thV nuktoV epi thn poimnhn autwn. 9kai aggeloV kuriou epesth autoiV kai doxa kuriou perielamyen autouV, kai efobhqhsan fobon megan. 10kai eipen autoiV o aggeloV, mh fobeisqe, idou gar euaggelizomai umin caran megalhn htiV estai panti tw law, 11oti etecqh umin shmeron swthr oV estin cristoV kurioV en polei dauid: 12kai touto umin to shmeion, eurhsete brefoV esparganwmenon kai keimenon en fatnh. 13kai exaifnhV egeneto sun tw aggelw plhqoV stratiaV ouraniou ainountwn ton qeon kai legontwn, 14doxa en uyistoiV qew kai epi ghV eirhnh en anqrwpoiV eudokiaV. 15kai egeneto wV aphlqon ap autwn eiV ton ouranon oi aggeloi, oi poimeneV elaloun proV allhlouV, dielqwmen dh ewV bhqleem kai idwmen to rhma touto to gegonoV o o kurioV egnwrisen hmin. 16kai hlqan speusanteV kai aneuran thn te mariam kai ton iwshf kai to brefoV keimenon en th fatnh: 17idonteV de egnwrisan peri tou rhmatoV tou lalhqentoV autoiV peri tou paidiou toutou. 18kai panteV oi akousanteV eqaumasan peri twn lalhqentwn upo twn poimenwn proV autouV: 19h de mariam panta sunethrei ta rhmata tauta sumballousa en th kardia authV. 20kai upestreyan oi poimeneV doxazonteV kai ainounteV ton qeon epi pasin oiV hkousan kai eidon kaqwV elalhqh proV autouV.

2. ANALYSIS: Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

Lk. 2:1-2 - apographesthai pasan ten oikoumenen - " that all the
world should be enrolled" (AILL) - Despite numerous attempts to
preserve Luke's historical accuracy, no evidence of a census either
during the reign of Caesar August or of Quirinius under Herod the
Great exists. Luke appears to have used the census as a literary
device not only to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem (where tradition
held that Jesus was born) but also to make some important theological
points. See Brown, Birth of the Messiah, pp. 412-18, for an
illuminating discussion. Brown suggests that a subtle contrast is
being set up between the Roman emperor (also called "savior of the
world" and "son of God") who ordered the census and this infant, the
true savior. Also, it is an appropriate moment to present the birth
of Jesus, "the savior of all those people who are being enrolled"
(Brown, p. 415).

2:4 - polin David neis kaleitai Bethleem - "to the city of
David,which is called Bethlehem" (AILL) - While Jerusalem usually
bears the appellation of "City of David," Bethlehem was David's
birthplace and where he spent his boyhood as a shepherd (I Samuel
16:11). This sets the stage both for Jesus as the Messiah ("A king
like David") and for the shepherds who receive the heavenly news of
Jesus' birth. It is as if David, the great king who was a shepherd
boy, hastens with the other shepherds to the manger in order to
worship the newborn Christ.

2:7 - A packed verse, and the source of much of our Christmas piety
(i.e., the heartless innkeeper, the stable, the friendly beasts, the
poverty of Jesus). Yet it is remarkably short and understated. Much
is left unsaid. This,too, may be a hint for Christmas preachers
--seek brevity and simplicity on this occasion.

2:8 - kai phulassontes phulakas tes nuktos epi ten poimnen auton -
"keeping watch over their flock by night" (AILL) - The angels appear
to those "keeping watch," who are awake to hear and see.

2:10 - evangellizomai humin charan megalen,hetis estai panti to lao -

"I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the
people" (AILL) - The angels' message to the shepherds forms the
centerpiece of the story. It makes public the announcement made to
Mary (1:26-38), and it is characteristic of Luke that such a
revelation would be made to shepherds, some of the "lowly" (1:38,52).
This is an exuberant cry: good news, great joy, coming to all people.

2:11 - hoti etechthen humin - To you is born. To all the people, but
also to you. - soter - Savior, the first title of Jesus (cf. 1:47,
69). Only used by Luke among the synoptics. - Christos kyrios -
"Christ (Messiah),Lord." More common would have been "The Lord's
Christ" (Christos kyriou,v. 26). Luke is the only synoptic writer to
use "Lord" as a favorite title for Jesus (14 times). The others use
it once each. "Lord" and "Christ" as titles appear also in Acts

2:14 - doxa en hupsistois theo kai epi ges eirene en anthropois
eudokias -"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among
those with whom God is pleased" (AILL) - A difficult construction
that is probably chiastic and should be rendered in two verses rather
than three (see Fitzmyer ,Anchor Bible vol. 28, pp. 410-12).
Fitzmyer, in basic agreement with Brown, translates it:

Glory in highest heaven to God;

and on earth peace for people whom he [God] favors.

A helpful discussion of the genitive eudokias (good pleasure, favor)
appears in both Fitzmyer and Brown.

2:19 - tauta sumballousa en tei charois autes -"pondering them in her
heart" (AILL) - "Tossing them together in her heart" (Fitzmyer) - a
sense of remembering and trying to find the correct meaning (Genesis

3. STRATEGY: Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

The Christmas sermon is probably the least important sermon of the
year, for so much is carried by the "simple" story itself, the
beloved carols, and the air of expectation among the worshippers, who
come already anticipating that they will experience something special
during that hour of worship. The sermon must fit--simply--into that
joy and expectation, but it can in great measure depend for its
impact upon the reading of the Lucan Christmas story, the singing of
the carols, and even upon the glow of the candles and the viewing of
the creche. The story and the carols touch something deep within us
and can even stand without comment, for which we have evidence in the
moving and popular Anglican tradition of "Lessons and Carols."

This does not, however, mean that less care and craft need go into
the Christmas sermon preparation. Rather, it is a recognition that
the sermon is of a different order and role than in the more usual

One may wish to preach this text differently depending upon whether
the service is being held Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. On
Christmas Eve there is a sense of quiet joy, wonder, thanks, and
praise that permeates the worship; often the church is darkened and
candlelight is the light by which we see this mystery unfold. On
Christmas Day it is "the morning after," when the implications of
this event need to be considered in the clear, cold light of day. It
is akin to the "What now?" that a new parent feels the morning after
the arrival of a child. "This is going to change my life," he or she
realizes. "I haven't an inkling of what it's really going to mean;
but there's no turning back now." Mary keeping all these things and
pondering them in her heart would be a good entree into the sermon
for Christmas Day. It implies an ongoing unfolding of meaning, in
process, understood bit by bit, which is a way of speaking with some
insight about an oft-repeated and familiar text and occasion.

Another possible focus (for either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day)
would be the angel's announcement to the shepherds. This is central
to Luke's birth narrative and also gives us much to consider
regarding who Jesus is and the extent of his Messiahship. (See also
the annunciation to Mary, Luke 1:26-38). Use the hymns ANGELS FROM
sermon. (In general, stay away from unfamiliar Christmas hymns for
the congregation, no matter how lovely they may be. And if you forget
to sing "Silent Night" on Christmas Eve, that will be all that anyone
remembers about the service.)

One would assume that the celebration of the Eucharist would be part
of any Christmas Eve or Christmas Day worship. It manifests in
sight, smell, touch, and taste the reality of the Incarnation--of
Christ coming in the flesh, taking on body and blood.

4. OTHER RESOURCES: Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

Martin Luther's Christmas Sermons. Luther preached on the Christmas
texts (John 1:1-14 and Luke 2:1-20) over 60 times in his life; for
example, in 1530 he preached five different Christmas sermons on Luke
2:1-20. The late Roland Bainton's brief anthology (below) is a fine
resource,as is Bainton's audio tape of some excerpts, available from
the Visual Educ. Svce., Yale Divinity School, 409 Prospect St., New
Haven, CT 06511; otherwise, Luther's sermons can be found in several
volumes of Luther's Works, a 56-volume set published by Concordia
Publishing House (St. Louis) and Fortress Press (Philadelphia). An
index volume has recently appeared.

5. REFERENCES: Christmastide

Bainton, Roland H. The Martin Luther Christmas Book. Philadelphia:
Fortress Press, 1948.

Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the
Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke. Garden City,NY:
Doubleday, 1977.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Gospel According to Luke I-IX. Anchor Bible
Series, vol. 28. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981.

Exegetes: The Revs. Susan P. and Michael P. Thomas are Pastors of
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Hanover, NH.



Dartmouth,MA 02747



Lexegete™ | Year A | Matthew

December 16, 2007

Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:5-10 (8) or Luke 1:46b-55 (47)
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11
Color: Blue

December 23, 2007
Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 (7)
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25


1a. CONTEXT: Matthew 11:2-11

John the Baptist poses the crucial question to Jesus in today's
Gospel: "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for
another?" Contained in these few words are the hopes and
expectations of his prophetic ministry, and he speaks for the
faithful in every generation who must make a decision. Is faith in
Jesus the answer to life's pressing problems, to the world's search
for hope? Matthew places Jesus in the center of these questions as
he tells the story of the encounter between the messengers of John
the Baptist and the Christ. Luke shares this story with few changes
(cf. Luke 7:18-35), but Matthew places particular emphasis on John's
imprisonment and so sets the stage for a major turning point in his
gospel. He begins to describe the ways in which hostility to Jesus'
message grew so that some who heard the message of the kingdom became
followers willing to give up their lives and others began to plot for
Jesus' death. In chapters 11:2-12 there is growing opposition, and
John the Baptist's imprisonment is the first sign of the price that
Jesus and his followers will have to pay.

John the Baptist's ministry did not dovetail so neatly with
Jesus' ministry as we might be led to believe from a superficial
reading of the gospel material. This particular Advent text does not
place John the Baptist at center stage, confidently announcing the
new kingdom. Instead we hear the questions and we are reminded, as
Minear points out (Matthew, The Teacher's Gospel, p. 76) that there
was a time in the early church when people knew disciples of John who
had not become christians. Jesus did not fulfill every expectation
and perhaps for that reason caused offense.

The significance of the Advent season is that there is one who
is to come, but it isn't Santa Claus any more than it is the wrathful
one who destroys the unrepentant in John the Baptist's preaching.
There are a whole host of other hero figures that we can conjure up
to satisfy the longings of the human heart, but the church proclaims
that it is Jesus who came and who is coming and that the answer to
our questions depends upon our own willingness to be put on the spot.

1a. TEXT: Matthew 11:2-11 (ESV/Greek)

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers [1] are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man [2] dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? [3] Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
[1] 11:5 Leprosy was a term for several skin diseases; see Leviticus 13

[2] 11:8 Or Why then did you go out? To see a man . . .

[3] 11:9 Some manuscripts Why then did you go out? To see a prophet?


( Online Text Copyright Info

Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition
© 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;

The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition
© 1975, United Bible Societies, London)

2ο δε ιωαννης ακουσας εν τω δεσμωτηριω τα εργα του χριστου πεμψας δια των μαθητων αυτου

3ειπεν αυτω, συ ει ο ερχομενος η ετερον προσδοκωμεν;

4και αποκριθεις ο ιησους ειπεν αυτοις, πορευθεντες απαγγειλατε ιωαννη α ακουετε και βλεπετε:

5τυφλοι αναβλεπουσιν και χωλοι περιπατουσιν, λεπροι καθαριζονται και κωφοι ακουουσιν, και νεκροι εγειρονται και πτωχοι ευαγγελιζονται:

6και μακαριος εστιν ος εαν μη σκανδαλισθη εν εμοι.

7τουτων δε πορευομενων ηρξατο ο ιησους λεγειν τοις οχλοις περι ιωαννου, τι εξηλθατε εις την ερημον θεασασθαι; καλαμον υπο ανεμου σαλευομενον;

8αλλα τι εξηλθατε ιδειν; ανθρωπον εν μαλακοις ημφιεσμενον; ιδου οι τα μαλακα φορουντες εν τοις οικοις των βασιλεων εισιν.

9αλλα τι εξηλθατε ιδειν; προφητην; ναι, λεγω υμιν, και περισσοτερον προφητου.

10ουτος εστιν περι ου γεγραπται, ιδου εγω αποστελλω τον αγγελον μου προ προσωπου σου, ος κατασκευασει την οδον σου εμπροσθεν σου.

11αμην λεγω υμιν, ουκ εγηγερται εν γεννητοις γυναικων μειζων ιωαννου του βαπτιστου: ο δε μικροτερος εν τη βασιλεια των ουρανων μειζων αυτου εστιν.

2. ANALYSIS: Matthew 11:2-11

Mt. 11:3 - su ei ho erchomenos ei heteron prosdokomen - The "one who
is to come" (AILL) was spoken of by the prophet Malachi in chapter
3:1 and is a phrase picked up in the New Testament a number of times
(Mt. 3:11; Jn. 1:15,27, 6:14; Acts 19:4; Hebrews 10:37; Rev. 1:4,8).
The prophet Malachi was addressing the levitical priesthood but his
strong imagery of purification and cleansing with fire may well have
appealed to John the Baptist. It is difficult to tell if the
question we have in Matthew's text comes from an actual encounter
between Jesus and the disciples of John (Schweitzer, The Good News
According to Matthew, p. 255), but Matthew was certainly aware of the
tensions between the message of John and the message of Jesus which
had surfaced in the early church.

Mt. 11:5 - tuphloi anablepousin kai choloi peripatousin, leproi
katharizontai kai kophoi akouousin, kai nekroi egeirontai kai ptochoi

evangelizontai - "the blind receive their sight and the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up,
and the poor have good news preached to them" (AILL) - This list
miracles is Jesus' answer to the disciples of John. The work of
Jesus goes far beyond the expectations of the messiah (healing
miracles) yet does not destroy the unrepentant (John), cleanse the
priesthood (Malachi), or punish the nations (Isaiah). What Jesus
does is find a place in the community for those who have been exiled
for one reason or another. He eliminates the barriers to fellowship
even preaching good news to the poor.

Mt. 11:6 - kai makarios estin hos ean mei skandalisthei en emoi -
"And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me" (AILL). - One of
Malachi's particular charges against the priests was that their
instructions had become a stumbling block (Mal. 2:8). Matthew has
Jesus blessing those who have made the difficult decision to become

Mt. 11:11 - ouk egeigertai en genneitois gynaikon meizon Johannou
tou Baptistou, ho de mikroteros en tei basileia ton ouranon meizon
auto estin - "among those born of women there has risen no one
greater than John the Baptist; yet one who is least in the realm of
heaven is greater than John" (AILL). - The earthly kingdom is here
contrasted with the heavenly kingdom. John the Baptist receives the
highest praise possible here on earth yet God has even greater things
in store which begin in the message of Jesus.

3. STRATEGY: Matthew 11:2-11

This Advent text continues the emphasis on John the Baptist
introduced on Advent II. In this reading, however, there is the
opportunity to examine more closely the implications of John's
preaching and the expectations he aroused. The situation for the
worshipper during the Advent season contain some interesting
parallels. By this time the expectations for Christmas reach almost
a fever pitch and the "hopes" expressed bear almost no relation to
the reality of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed. Christmas is a
holiday which should be enjoyed, but the coming of Christ has much,
much more to offer--though not necessarily on our terms. It is truly
possible for the modern christian to take "offense" at the
proclamation of Jesus, even as they prepare so assiduously for the
coming of the "Christ Child."

This text seems to lend itself especially well to the
traditional sermon against the "commercialization" of Christmas or,
more positively, the "true meaning of Advent/Christmas/Epiphany."
I don't think that this message ever gets too old, but I certainly
would warn against spoiling the holiday for the faithful. A way to
get at that message without seeming too heavy-handed would be to
examine the nature of adult expectations (how often we are
disappointed and fall into cynicism, or learn to have "realistic"
hopes). It seems that, in the name of "maturity," we at times can
be especially poor in spirit and unwilling to hope at all. But the
wonder and wisdom of Advent is otherwise. Jesus' coming is a real
event and is marked by real signs--though maybe not what we have
been led to expect.

4. REFERENCES: Matthew 11:2-11

Minear, Paul S. Matthew: The Teacher's Gospel. New York: The
Pilgrim Press, 1982.

Schweitzer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. David
Green, translator. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975.


HARK! A THRILLING VOICE IS SOUNDING! (HB 59, LBW 37) is suggested as
the hymn for the day and would be very appropriate. ONCE HE CAME IN
BLESSING (HB 53, LBW 312) would also be an excellent hymn of the day.
A hymn to set off the Isaiah passage is ISAIAH IN A VISION DID OF OLD
(LBW 528), and it would make a wonderful substitute for the singing
of the psalm of the day.

Exegete: Dr. Maria Erling
Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, PA


Several other resources might be useful in planning services and
especially selecting hymns in coming weeks:

Hatchett, Marion J. A Liturgical Index to the Hymnal 1982. Hymnal
Studies 5. NY: The Church Hymnal Corp., (800 2nd Avenue, NY
10017), 1986. This spiral-bound volume contains 340 pages of
excellent hymn suggestions based on the Daily Office, Holy
Eucharist and numerous other sections of the Book of Common
Prayer. An inexhuastible tool!

Hartman, Olov. The Birth of God. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969.
This simple little book (out of print,as far as we know) is
worth looking up it for its 30 "readings" pertaining to the
Advent/Christmas/Epiphany texts. Hartman, a Swedish dramatist
and theologian, brings a fresh perspective to the inner
meaning of our holidays and holy days, one needed today.

Schuessler, Paul, T.R. Bartsch, and David Rebeck. Scriptural and
Topical Indices to LBW. Lima, Ohio: C.S.S., 1985. This brief
paperback gives helpful suggestions for hymns in the Lutheran
Book of Worship, based on a lectionary index.


Dartmouth,MA 02747


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Lexegete™ | ADVENT TWO



December 9, 2007

Isaiah 11:1-10

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 (7)

Romans 15:4-13

Matthew 3:1-12


1a. CONTEXT: Matthew 3:1-12
The formidable figure of John the Baptist appears in all four of the
Gospels,but as is characteristic of Matthew, this account carries the
Gospeler's own unique stamp. Source material taken from Mark (Mt.
3:1-6) and material shared with Luke (3:7-12) have been freely
adapted to communicate clearly Matthew's understanding of who John
was, why he had come, and the significance of his ministry for the
Jewish-Christian community for whom Matthew wrote. A widely known
figure, John probably commanded initially a far greater following
than Jesus himself, a fact with which the early had to struggle.
Though the problem of the relationship between John and Jesus is
treated most extensively in the Fourth Gospel, nowhere in the
Synoptics is there more concern for presenting the Baptist (or
Baptizer, Mk. 1:4) in his proper place within God's plan of salvation
than in the Gospel of Matthew (K. Stendahl, Peake's Commentary, p.

Standing in the ancient tradition of the prophets--indeed by dress,
habits and message being understood by some as Elijah himself--John
appeared as the immediate forerunner of God's Anointed One.As Plummer
perceptively pointed out decades ago, of the two trumpet ntoes John
sounded, it was the second which revealed his particular role as
herald of the Messiah (An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel
According to St. Matthew, p. 22). Like the prophets before him, John
preached the coming wrath of God and a call to repentance. Yet it
was John alone who was commissioned to issue that summons because "
the realm of heaven is at hand" (3:2,AILL).These words also sound the
basic theme of Jesus' ministry (see Mt. 4:17, 10:7; Mk. 1:15)
and yet take on new meaning in light of the Cross.

As one who came to fulfill the prophecy of a voice crying in
preparation of God's coming, John makes clear that no one is exempt
from the need to repent and to prepare themselves to make straight
the paths of God. Clearly Jewish lineage was not enough to guarantee
entrance into the kingdom (Mt. 3:9). Only those who bore the fruits
of repentance would be spared from God's righteous axe and the fire
of judgment (Mt. 3:10,7:19,12:33;Is. 10:34). "Repent"--not a
half-way declaration of our sins and vague feeling of contrition but
a radical turning, returning to God, beginning again in a new
relationship with God. This word drives home the total demand of
repentance in both the Old Testament and the New. The Hebrew root
for "repent" (sub) is closely connected to the notion of God's
covenant with Israel and implies a returning to that relationship
Yahweh has established between God and God's people, despite the
faithless breaking of that covenant again and again. That sense of
radical conversion which puts us back in right relationship with our
God is clearly what lies at the heart of the Baptist's message,
reminding us not only that God has continually searched us out, but
also foreshadowing the reality of a new and unending covenant made
with us through Jesus Christ.

Matthew portrays John as lashing out at the Jewish leadership (the
Pharisees and Sadducees) as faithless and sinful: "You brood of
vipers! Who warned you of the wrath to come?," invective which Luke
addresses to the multitudes (Lk. 3:7). For Matthew, the Jewish
authorities are seen as those who have willfully forsaken the true
Law of God, and are responsible for the people rejecting the Messiah.

(Compare Matthew's use of this harsh phrase in the words of Jesus in
12:34 and 23:33.) John comes to announce the time of judgment and
preaches a baptism of repentance and preparation using water as the
outward and visible sign of preparing ourselves to become highways of
God. Unlike Mark and Luke, Matthew reserves baptism "for the
forgiveness of sins" (Mk. l:4, Lk. 3:3) for Jesus alone. He may do
this to more clearly delineate the relationship between John and the
Messiah. As Stendahl has described it,John's batpism of preparation
and repentance gives way in Christ to a baptism not as preparation
for the Spirit but as one which gives the Spirit (Peake's Commentary,
p. 773). Suddenly baptism itself is transformed through Christ,
promising us both that which is life-threatening and life-giving, the
righteous judgment and the merciful love of our God. The humble and
despised servant depicted by Matthew, the Messiah, is understand as
the One who came to fulfill the Law and to go beyond it. John
pointed the way by proclaiming a baptism of repentance while
prophecying a baptism of judgment and redemption. The fire of
destruction John warned about becomes the fire that refines and
transforms and leads us to new life through Christ (Mal. 3:2a-3).
But as Matthew continues to reiterate, we must remember that it is
fire nonetheless (Mt. 13:30,40,49-50).

1b. Text: Matthew 3:1-12

John the Baptist Prepares the Way
3:1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare [1] the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (ESV)

1εν δε ταις ημεραις εκειναις παραγινεται ιωαννης ο βαπτιστης κηρυσσων εν τη ερημω της ιουδαιας 2[και] λεγων, μετανοειτε, ηγγικεν γαρ η βασιλεια των ουρανων. 3ουτος γαρ εστιν ο ρηθεις δια ησαιου του προφητου λεγοντος, φωνη βοωντος εν τη ερημω, ετοιμασατε την οδον κυριου, ευθειας ποιειτε τας τριβους αυτου. 4αυτος δε ο ιωαννης ειχεν το ενδυμα αυτου απο τριχων καμηλου και ζωνην δερματινην περι την οσφυν αυτου, η δε τροφη ην αυτου ακριδες και μελι αγριον. 5τοτε εξεπορευετο προς αυτον ιεροσολυμα και πασα η ιουδαια και πασα η περιχωρος του ιορδανου, 6και εβαπτιζοντο εν τω ιορδανη ποταμω υπ αυτου εξομολογουμενοι τας αμαρτιας αυτων. 7ιδων δε πολλους των φαρισαιων και σαδδουκαιων ερχομενους επι το βαπτισμα αυτου ειπεν αυτοις, γεννηματα εχιδνων, τις υπεδειξεν υμιν φυγειν απο της μελλουσης οργης; 8ποιησατε ουν καρπον αξιον της μετανοιας: 9και μη δοξητε λεγειν εν εαυτοις, πατερα εχομεν τον αβρααμ, λεγω γαρ υμιν οτι δυναται ο θεος εκ των λιθων τουτων εγειραι τεκνα τω αβρααμ. 10ηδη δε η αξινη προς την ριζαν των δενδρων κειται: παν ουν δενδρον μη ποιουν καρπον καλον εκκοπτεται και εις πυρ βαλλεται. 11εγω μεν υμας βαπτιζω εν υδατι εις μετανοιαν: ο δε οπισω μου ερχομενος ισχυροτερος μου εστιν, ου ουκ ειμι ικανος τα υποδηματα βαστασαι: αυτος υμας βαπτισει εν πνευματι αγιω και πυρι: 12ου το πτυον εν τη χειρι αυτου, και διακαθαριει την αλωνα αυτου, και συναξει τον σιτον αυτου εις την αποθηκην, το δε αχυρον κατακαυσει πυρι ασβεστω.

-- Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament:

2. ANALYSIS: Matthew 3:1-12

Mt. 3:2 (see also Mt. 4:17) - metanoiete, eingiken gar hei basileia
ton ouranon - The Greek more literally means "the kingdom of the
heavens has drawn near" or "has come near." Marcan and Lucan
parallels employ "the kingdom of God"to point to the same reality.

Matthew paints a more eschatological picture (the final reign of God
yet to come in which all history is gathered up and brought to
perfection) while the teachings of Jesus in each of the Synoptics
also indicate the beginning of the new age here and now (Lk. 11:20,
17:21; Mt. 12:28; Mk. 4:11,26-29).

Mt. 3:9-10 - poiesate oun karpon axion teis metanoias - ("Bear fruit
that befits repentance": AILL) - The Greek for "bear" also means "do"
and is elsewhere translated as "produce" as well. For Matthew
"fruit" clearly equals "deeds," i.e. confession and repentance must
lead to something mroe than contrition, i.e. to works which embody
that radical re-turning to God.

Mt. 3:12 - kai diakathariei tein halona autou - ("the Sovereign will
clear the threshing floor":AILL) - The Greek literally means to
"thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor." In the mouth of John these
words point to the end time when the fiery wrath of God will consume
all those who have not born the fruit of repentance. If we consider
the image of cleansing itself, we also find important connections to
the reality of Jesus' ministry in the present: as he teaches the
multitudes about God's sovereign reign, Jesus has compassion on the
crowds and stands in their midst as one who heals, cleanses, casts
out demons and raises from the dead. These are the marks of the
Messiah's presence (Mt. 11:2-6, Advent III). Judgment, compassion,
and the forgiveness of sins are all woven together, fulfilling yet
going beyond John's prophecy of the One who was to come. No wonder
even the Baptist had second thoughts: "Are you he who is to come, or
shall we look for another?" As Frederick Buechner succinctly put it,
"Where John baptized, Jesus healed" (Peculiar Treasures, p. 70).

3. STRATEGY: Matthew 3:1-12

If we respond to Advent as a season of repentance, new possibility
and hope, indeed as an invitation to participate with God in
"creating all things new," then we recognize that serious personal
preparation and intentional outward action must be woven together to
make ourselves the very pathways of God. It is a thrilling if
terrifying thing to join with Joseph and Mary in becoming bearers of
the Christ. What does this really mean for us, individually and
corporately? What does it mean to truly live in expectation, in
hope? As suggested above,we must begin by recognizing who we are and
whose we are. Quite solitude and the kind of prayer which comes only
out of the silence of our hearts is a good place to begin. We can
help our congregations continue on this journey even as the rush
towards Christmas accelerates. Advent is a time to discover God's
time, to create space in our lives for reflection and medition on the
One who has come and who is continually breaking into our everyday
lives now. Being ready, being prepared, yet living in open
expectation that we will be surprised and gifted beyond our most
cherished dreams--the preacher can help the congregation take
serously the Gospel's call to repentance while helping them see the
new life which awaits and the new life which we also give birth to
when we re-turn to our God. Rather than ignore or whitewash the notes
of judgment sounded in this passage, it is part of our task to link
judgment, repentance and new obedience as the foundation of the love
and life we wait and hope for. In keeping with John's cry, key words
might be recognition and vision.

In an Advent essay entitled "Recapturing Lost Visions," John
Westerhoff defines repentance as a change in our perception, the
recognition that the reign of God is at hand, that life in the world
to come has indeed begun (A Pilgrim People, p. 46). Advent, he says,
"is a season of paradoxes: longing anticipation and patient watching;
transforming the way we envision life and yet living prepared; living
out a wait for what never seems to come and continuing in hopeful
trust; desiring to give up control and opening ourselves to new
possibilities for life" (A Pilgrim People, p. 43). Just what IS the
kingdom of heaven all about? Who shall inherit it, and how? What
ARE the fruits of true repentance? The Gospels give us some rather
specific answers. How do we recognize our individual and corporate
fiathlessness, forsaking justice in the name of self-interest and
greed? How do we recognize the Christ within and around us, how do
we create enough room inside to be pregnant with new life,new grace,
new hope? How do we give birth to that Presence and receive it anew
through the lives of those around us, friend or stranger, rich or
poor, sinner or saint? In the midst of a tired, chaotic, sinful and
self-destructive world, Advent offers us the opportunity to see and
to help create a different reality, one which helps us to glimpse if
just for a moment the reign of God which is at hand. Repent--bear
fruit--enter new life in Christ!

4. REFERENCES: Matthew 3:1-12

Buechner, Frederick. Peculiar Treasures. San Francisco: Harper &
Row, 1979.

Plummer, A. An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St.
Matthew. London: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1910.

Stendahl, Krister. "Matthew," pp. 769-98 in Peake's Commentary on
the Bible,ed.M.Black & H.H. Rowley. Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson
and Sons,Ltd.,1962.

Westerhoff, John. A Pilgrim People. Minneapolis: The Seabury Press,

5. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS: Matthew 3:1-12

The 2nd Sunday of Advent offers a rare opportunity to lift up the
figure of John the Baptist not only in Scripture and sermon but in
song as well. PREPARE THE WAY, O ZION (HB 65,LBW 26 alt.) and
ON JORDAN'S BANKS THE BAPTIST'S CRY (HB 76,LBW 36) are good choices.

Other Hymns which also convey significant Advent images relating to

If the preacher wants to draw a conscious connection between the
Advent Gospel and the need for repentance, an unusual and
thought-provoking hymn choice would be WHERE RESTLESS CROWDS ARE
THRONGING (LBW 430). This is a hard-hitting lyric to the old Welsh
tune LLANGLOFFAN. It underscores the need for Christ's presence in a
world where many do not have the eyes to see that presence.

Exegete: Katheryn Keene, All Saints Episcopal Church, Attleboro, MA

6. FURTHER READING: Advent/Christmas

Simcoe, Mary Ann, ed. A Christmas Sourcebook. Chicago: Liturgy
Training Publications (155 E. Superior St., Chicago 60611),
1984. This is an elegant, spiralbound volume of prayers,
readings, poems, hymns and myriad other resources
for Christmastide, starting with the Winter Solstice and
continuing through the Baptism of Our Lord. It would make a fine
gift for anyone who enjoys unusual liturgical resources.