Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week we open with the first reading from Genesis 21. Next, we look at two readings for the second reading, one from Hebrews and the second from Colossians.  Finally, we conclude with the Gospel lesson from Luke.

Introduction to the First Reading:

There are two first readings, either from the Apocrypha or the Book of Genesis, we will cover the one from Genesis. The reading is from Genesis chapters 15 and 21.

The context of the reading is the promise and the fulfillment of the promise by God to Abram (later called Abraham) regarding the birth of a son. This firstborn son of Sarai (later called Sarah) was the son of promise through whom all of God’s blessings would flow. Although God did also bless Abram’s first son born through his servant Hagar, God told Sarai that this son Ishmael would be a “wild donkey of a man” (Genesis 16:12). The future Arab nation came through Ishmael, whereas the Hebrew people through Isaac. The conflict between the two sons and two people groups continued later with the birth of Jacob and Esau as recorded in Genesis 25. Here God told Rebekah (Isaac’s wife), “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23). God made promises regarding both the godly line of Isaac / Jacob as well as the carnal line of Ishmael / Esau.

First Reading:

1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.” 2 Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” 4 Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6)

1 Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised. 2 So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. (Genesis 21:1-3)

In the first passage, we see that Abram was concerned that he did not have an heir. However, God comforted him by telling him that he would not remain childless. God promised to give him a son that would eventually start the line of descendants that would outnumber the stars (v. 5). They key verse is “Abraham believed in the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (v. 6). This is an important point that Paul brings out in the Book of Romans that salvation is by faith and not by works (Romans 4:3). This story is important to us because it clarifies the foundation of a people saved by faith in God. We are part of the offspring of Abraham when we walk by faith, as Abraham is the father of all who believe (Romans 4:16).

In the second passage, we see the fulfillment of God’s promise made to Abram, now called Abraham. Sarah bore Isaac in her old age, something that was impossible but was not too difficult for God. You can imagine how hard it would be to believe in God’s promises when it seems so impossible. But now they experienced the reality of God’s blessing through the birth of Isaac, the child of promise.  Likewise, God calls us to live by faith and His promises even when the feels the odds are against us.

Looking back at the introduction, Isaac was the fulfillment of God’s will, plan and timing for Abraham. In contrast, Ishmael was how Abraham went about what he thought was a way to fulfil God’s plan for him but without being obedient to God’s timing. As Christians, we will encounter times when we attempt to fulfil our desires but according to the method and timetable that we desire. Some examples of this would be engaging in premarital relations or by satisfying our sexual desires by focusing upon a person other than our wives our husbands. What does this mean for single people? Singles face a unique challenge as the carnal desires certainly rage against the spiritual ones to focus only upon God in advance of God delivering a spouse to them or not.

Introduction to the Second Reading:

There were two passages given this week for the second reading, we will cover each of them. The second of the readings was from Hebrews chapter 11. Hebrews 11 is known as the “hall of faith” in which is recorded the faithful actions of godly men throughout biblical history beginning with the father of faith, Abraham.

Note: We included the intermediate verses that were skipped in the reading.

Second Reading:

8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE. 13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. 17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18 it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” 19 He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Hebrews 11:8-19)

We see in this passage of God has commended Abraham and Sarah for their faith. In the beginning of this chapter we find that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). With all of these examples including Abraham who is the father of faith, we find inspiration for our own journey of faith in God. Abraham was called out of his own land to go to a place that God would show him. He didn’t have a map of God’s plan but walked in faith day by day of what he did know.  Then God promised him a son after Sarah was beyond the age of childbearing. By faith Abraham believed that God could perform this miracle. As we read earlier, Sarah conceived and gave birth to Isaac. When we walk by faith in God we are living as Abraham’s children.

The other of the first readings was from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.

12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. 18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. 20 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. (Colossians 3:12-21)

Looking at the full context of this reading, we must understand that we first “put off” the old man because of who we are in Christ. Paul said in the opening of this chapter, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). That is a big “if.”  This passage is conditional upon a having a heart that has been changed by God (John 3:3, born from above). Paul continued, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). After putting off the “old man” with its practices (v. 9), we are to put on the new man as explained by Paul in the reading. Paul culminates the list of things to “put on” by describing how love is the anchor for these good character qualities that we see in this passage. He said, “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (v. 14).

Introduction to the Gospel Reading:

The Gospel reading is from the second chapter of Luke. The context is the Mary and Joseph’s following of God’s law to have their newborn son Jesus circumcised on the eighth day of His life on earth.

Gospel Reading:

22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS.” 25 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel.” 33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed– 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul–to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” 36 And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. 40 The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. (Luke 2:22-40)

In the opening verses, Mary and Joseph were fulfilling the requirements of the Law that called them to provide a sin offering in the temple 41 days after the birth of Jesus. Next, Simeon comes into the story as man of faith of faith that patiently waited for the fulfillment of God’s promise through the birth of the Messiah. Four hundred years had passed from the time of God’s last revelation during which the Jews waited for the fulfillment of the promises. This time of silence was suddenly broken with the various miraculous events surrounding the birth of Jesus. This story tells of yet another miraculous outpouring of God’s spirit of prophecy through Simeon and Anna. Simeon’s prophecy focused upon Jesus being God’s salvation prepared for all people, both Jews and Gentiles. He also prophesied to Mary about the grief she would bear over the Child’s destiny. Anna, who was a prophetess, also verified that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

What do all of these things mean for us during this Christmas season? First, we can be confident that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. He is the One who provides salvation to all people. Like Simeon, Anna, Abraham, and Sarah who waited almost their entire lives to see the fulfillment of God’s promises we too need to remember to be patient and wait for God’s fulfillment of His plan in our own lives. This means that even when we encounter extremely difficult circumstances we can still trust that God is working behind the scenes and will finish the good work that He has begun in is (Philippians 1:6). In this Christmas season if you are having a difficult time finding joy amongst the celebration, you can turn to Jesus who is the “consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25).

Reflection Questions

1.  In the first reading, we read how Abraham patiently waited for the fulfillment of God’s promises. In what ways do you identify with Abraham and Sarah who waited for the fulfillment of an impossible promise? How does their story of faith give you direction and hope for your own journey of faith?

2.  In the second reading, Paul provides a list of qualities that flow out of being set apart and loved by God that should affect how we live our lives. How does being “holy and beloved” (Colossians 3:12) change how you approach relating to God, yourself, and others? Re-read the list of character qualities (Colossians 3:12-21) and consider how each of them are expressed relationally in your own life.