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Parable for Gentiles

The Epiphany season reminds us that Jesus is the Savior of Gentiles as well as Jews. Initially, the church in Rome was composed of Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Almost immediately, Jewish believers evangelized Gentiles. Then, Emperor Claudius banished all Jews from Rome. For 12 years, the Christian church in Rome consisted of only Gentiles. When Nero became Emperor, he invited the Jews back to Rome, noting that they were good for business and trade. The problem was that Gentiles refused to allow Jewish Christians back into the Christian church in Rome.

Paul’s letter to the Romans (about 71 AD) included a parable using cultivated olive and wild olive trees to illustrate Gentile’s proper response to Jewish Christian brethren. Carefully, read what Paul wrote to the Romans (Romans 11:16-24). In this parable of the in-grafted wild olive branch, Paul identified:

  • A root and branches (boughs) of a cultivated olive tree. The original cultivated olive tree with its root and branches is the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their offspring, the Jews. This root was solid and sure. Jews who believed in Jesus as Messiah were the original root and branches of the early Christian church. Branches broken off from the cultivated olive tree were Jews who refused to believe that Jesus was the long looked-for Messiah. These were most Jews who lived in Palestine and throughout the Roman Empire at the time.
  • A branch (bough) of a wild olive tree. The wild olive branch equated to Gentile Christians who believed that Jesus was the son of God and followed his teachings.
  • Grafting a wild olive branch onto a cultivated olive tree. Gentile believers were grafted into—became an integral, productive off shoot—of the Jewish faith.

Despite the lesser value of wild olive tree products than cultivated olive tree products, Paul’s parable didn’t mean that Jewish Christians were more valuable than Gentile Christians. Similarly, although Jewish Christians were represented by branches (more than one) and Gentile Christians by a single branch didn’t mean that there were more Jews than Gentiles in the Christian church at Rome. Probably, the opposite was true. Data aren’t available for the number of Jews who became believers in the early centuries after Christ’s death; but, by the early 21st century, most Christians are Gentiles. Globally, less than one half percent of Jews self-identified as Messianic Jews, Jews who believe in Jesus as Messiah.

Although the cultivated olive tree formed the root and some branches of the olive tree in Paul’s parable, the in-grafted wild olive tree branch resonates with most of us. We, Gentiles, are the wild olive branch. The interpretation of Paul’s parable in the eleventh chapter of Romans is that the Gentile believers were grafted into—became an integral, productive off shoot—of the Jewish faith. Epiphany and the Epiphany season celebrates the extension of Jesus’ saving power to non-Jews.

In the parable of the in-grafted wild olive tree, Paul encouraged a fully integrated church. Paul wasn’t attempting to make the Christian church in Rome a sect of Judaism, nor was he advocating that Gentile Christians replaced the Jews in God’s favor.

Epiphany Scripture

Epistle Reading – Ephesians 3:2-12 NIV: Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Gospel Reading – Matthew 2:1-12 NIV: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

What is Epiphany Season

Although some churches celebrate Epiphany on the Sunday nearest January 6, Epiphany Day occurs on January 6, or 12 days after the birth of Jesus (December 25). The Epiphany season (Epiphantide) extends from January 6 to the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. It encompasses six-to-eight Sundays depending on the date of Easter. In some churches, these Sundays are named Ordinary Time; however, better labels are the First Sunday of Epiphany, Second Sunday of Epiphany, etc. The feast of Epiphany originated in the Eastern Church and reflects the mystical thinking in Eastern Christian churches, to include the weaving and reweaving of themes in celebrations.

Epiphany Day (January 6) ends the Christmas season. The Epiphany season is time to lift our eyes from gifts, parties, and Christmas trees. In Epiphany, we imagine the faith it took for Magi (wise men) to follow a star up to one thousand miles. Their journey was hazardous. Most people they encountered couldn’t see this “so called” star they followed. At almost every stop or town along the way, the wise men were ridiculed when they told local people that they followed a star which was leading them to a new-born king.

During Epiphany, we focus on our own faith. As we reach out to others with the good news of Jesus, we modern day “wise men” must be ready for physical hazards, laughter, and incredulity. Still, as the wise men kept going from their home in the East to Bethlehem, we too must keep reaching out with our belief in Jesus and his redemptive work that began when he was born in Bethlehem of Judah in the days of Herod, the King. The four main concepts of Epiphany10 are:

Divine Manifestation. Epiphany is a Greek word epiphania, which means “a god visited earth.”  Twelve days before the start of Epiphany, God came to earth as the baby Jesus. Jesus’ birth was the first incarnate manifestation of God the Son to humankind, but not his last manifestation. At the end of the ages, Jesus will again walk the earth. In this final manifestation, Jesus will bring with him an army of angels.

Royal Kingship. God’s son, the baby Jesus, was a manifestation of the greatest king that ever lived. At Christmas, Jesus was shown to Jews. At Epiphany, he was shown to Gentiles. At the end of the ages, when Jesus returns in all his majesty, the designation Jew and Gentile will be irrelevant. At that time, Jesus, the king of kings, will separate the righteous from the unrighteous regardless of whether the individual is of Jewish or Gentile heritage.

Light. The third theme that runs through the Epiphany season is light. During the Advent season, the world was in darkness. Christians prayed and waited for the coming birth of Messiah and his second coming in judgment. At Christmas, the Light broke forth; but, was seen only by Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. At Epiphany, the mysterious star summoned Gentiles to benefit from the work of God’s son. The prophecy is fulfilled: “The nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:3 ESV).

The royal nuptials. Marriage, or nuptials, is the final theme in the Epiphany season. Two thousand years ago God’s son married into humanity. Christ is the bridegroom and the Church his bride. Jesus’s celebration of the marriage feast at Cana is symbolic of Jesus’ marriage to the Church. The wise-men from a far-off Gentile country hurried to the wedding feast with royal wedding gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 Days of Christmas

Primary school students learned the Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It has a jaunty tune and repeats information which appeals to these students. Most students and holiday revelers had no idea that the popular carol was a hidden catechism for Catholics. For about 300 years (1558 – 1829) during a time of severe persecution in England, Catholics used this carol to transmit the Catholic faith from one generation to another. In the carol, basic tenets of the Catholic faith were symbolized.  Here are the verses of the song:

The Carol and Interpretation:

  • On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree. Me refers to all baptized persons, and more specifically, to all Catholics. A partridge in a pear tree refers to Jesus Christ. A pear tree references the wood of the manager.
  • On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. Two turtle doves refer to the two parts of the Bible, Old and New Testaments.
  • On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Three French hens are the Trinity: God, Son, Holy Spirit.
  • On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Four calling birds are the four Gospels.
  • On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Five golden rings are the first five books of the Bible.
  • On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Six geese a-laying are the six days of creation.
  • On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Seven swans a-swimming are the seven sacraments of the Catholic church.
  • On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Eight maids a-milking refers to the eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).
  • On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Nine ladies dancing refers to the eight levels of angels.
  • On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Ten lords a-leaping is the Ten Commandments.
  • On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Eleven pipers piping refer to the eleven apostles (minus Judas).
  • On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. Twelve drummers drumming refers to the twelve articles of the Apostles’ Creed.

Unmarried Pregnancy

“Mom, I’m pregnant.” Mary said to her mother.

Astonished, Mary’s mother responded, “Mary, you know that you and Joseph shouldn’t have had sex until you were married. What were you thinking?”

“Mom,” Mary replied, “The baby isn’t Joseph’s.”

Mary’s mother looked at her daughter, trying to process what possibly could have happened. “Oh, Mary, were you raped by one of those awful Roman soldiers?”

“No, Mom. I never had sex with anyone. The father is God.” Mary replied.

Can you imagine a conversation such as this one in a small house in Nazareth? Yet, it could have been the conversation between Mary and her mother. During it, Mary tried to convince her mother that she was carrying a baby who God fathered. Repeatedly, Mary stated with conviction what she believed was fact. She wouldn’t be swayed. We don’t know if Mary ever convinced her mother that her pregnancy was from the Spirit of God; however, Mary’s father was told of Mary’s pregnancy.

Mary’s father had to take the news to Joseph, Mary’s betrothed. Joseph denied that he was the father of Mary’s child. Mary’s father told Joseph exactly what Mary told her mother. Probably, neither man believed Mary’s statement that the Spirit of God got her pregnant. Joseph determined to set Mary aside quietly so that she wouldn’t be stoned for adultery. However, God intervened. Joseph had a dream in which an angel told him to marry Mary. When Joseph woke, he took Mary home to be his wife; but, had no sexual intercourse with her until after Mary’s son was born (Matthew 1:20-25).

 The next several events were affirming to Mary. Joseph took her (his wife) with him to Bethlehem. Shepherds told a story of a heavenly host announcing the birth of the infant to them. In the temple, both Simeon and Anna identified baby Jesus as Messiah. Important astronomers came to Bethlehem to worship the young child. These wise men brought gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, for the child. The Bible noted several places that Mary remembered these events and pondered them in her heart. Ponder means to contemplate, deliberate, or think over. Being a teen-ager, I bet Mary also concluded: “Good! I have been justified. Now, Joseph won’t think that I betrayed him with another man.”

 God told Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt, so they would be safe from King Herod’s wrath.  Several years later, Joseph’s family left Egypt; but, rather than return to Judea, they traveled north and settled in Nazareth. Resettling in Nazareth was hard for Mary. Her reputation as a virtuous woman was profoundly compromised in the Nazareth community. Anything Mary said to influence others that her pregnancy was a supernatural event or that her son was the promised Messiah was met with an eye roll and the equivalent of “Yeah, right.” Mary and even Joseph had a difficult life in this small insular town.

Copyright 12, 28, 2020: Carolyn Roth

Christmastide scripture

Collect for Christmas Day:7 “O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he come to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”  

­­­                Epistle Reading –  Hebrews 1:1-9 NIV: In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.  For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?  And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

Gospel Reading – Luke 2:1-20 NIV: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

 

Advent Visit

During her pregnancy, Mary visited Elizabeth:

Gospel Reading –  Luke 1:39-56 NIV: At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

Reflection: I’ve never been pregnant but many of you who are reading this have been. Can you imagine the mother of God visiting you during your pregnancy?

Scripture, First Two Sundays of Advent 

Scripture readings for Advent are divided into two sections. On the first and second Sundays, Bible readings focus on the second coming of Jesus. The third and fourth Sundays center on the coming of the Christ child at Christmastide. Below are Scriptures read in some churches during the first and second Sundays of Advent:

Old Testament Reading – Malachi 3:1-4 NIV: “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.

Epistle Reading – 1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13 NIV: How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day, we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Gospel Reading – Luke 21:25-36 NIV: There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time, they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. That summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.

Copyright 12/5/2020: Carolyn Adams Roth

What is Advent?

Advent: In contrast to the western civil calendar which begins on New Year Day (January 1), Advent starts the church new year. Advent is a season, an approximate four-week period, that encompasses four Sundays before Christmas (December 25). In the West, Advent begins any time between November 27th and December 3rd. The word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus which means “arrival.” During this season, the church and Christians prepare themselves for Jesus’ joyful birth, his arrival into the world. Also, the church reflects on Jesus’ second coming, a somber contemplation.

Copyright 11/17/2020, Carolyn Adams Roth

Getting Started on Advent

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV)

November 29, 2020: The first day of Advent is the first day of a new Liturgical (or church) calendar and begins a four week period of preparation in anticipation of the nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The Advent Season is all about reflecting on how we can prepare our hearts and homes for Christ’s birth in the world as it is today.

This year Advent Sundays are November 29, December 6, December 13 and December 20. Advent ends with the start of the Christmas Season which begin December 25.

(Meditation 1) Getting Started on Church Seasons

Prayer:1 Loving God, I am reminded that there is a time for everything in life. Help me to look at each day this church year as a new opportunity to be your servant. Allow me to see you in the lives of those who surround me. Open my eyes to look at them as you do, with love and compassion, so I can give myself in love to them.

Blessed Jesus, as this church year progresses, I want you to be my companion. Teach me to overcome my sinful thoughts, my pride, and my selfishness. Open my heart to your forgiveness and strength. Lift me when I fall. Carry me when I am weak.

Holy Spirit, guide me into the way that leads to life. Make me sensitive to your promptings—eager for the presence and power of sanctifying grace. Allow me to be your ambassador wherever I go this church year. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen

Posted 11/16/2020, Carolyn Adams Roth