Revised Common Lectionary Options
New Year’s Sunday: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13; Psalm 8; Revelation 21:1-6a; Matthew 25:31-46
Second Sunday of Christmas: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1: (1-9), 10-18
Epiphany Sunday: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
Narrative Lectionary: Jesus Says “Come and See,” John 1:35-51 (Psalm 66:1-5)
There are several options for this Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary.
For New Year’s, we begin with a poem on the seasons of humanity experienced in Ecclesiastes 3:1-13. Part of the Wisdom Literature, this poem reminds us that that seasons of joy and mourning, of struggle and release, are part of life. As we look to a new year, we are reminded that things come and pass. Though other passages of scripture remind us to look to a future with hope, in these uncertain times the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that all of life is uncertainty, a balance of suffering and hope.
Psalm 8 is a song of wonder and awe at God, the one who made all the heavens. God’s strong foundation and fortress is in the newly born, who sing God’s praise. The psalmist wonders, however, that out of all the universe, the moon and stars—why make human beings? What are we that God is mindful of us? And yet, God made human beings similar to divine beings, only slightly less so, and has given them glory and honor, and all of creation is under the care of human beings. How wonderful is God who has done this for us!
John of Patmos beholds a vision of a new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21:1-6a. In John’s vision, the heavenly city of Jerusalem descends to earth, and God’s home is made with humanity. There is no more dividing line between heaven and earth. Sorrow and mourning will cease, and God will bring us comfort. God is making all things new, for God is the beginning and the end.
Jesus tells a final parable in Matthew 25:31-46, though it’s not like the other parables. It’s the capstone on parables about the reign of God, and in this one, the Son of Humanity will sit on a throne as a king and separate the sheep from the goats. To those who have welcomed the stranger, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and the imprisoned, they have done so to him. To those who did not, they will depart to the eternal fire, for the righteous will inherit eternal life—those who have lived as if Christ was among the marginalized, poor, and oppressed.
The readings for the Second Sunday of Christmas begin with the prophet Jeremiah, the promise of the exiles returning in 31:7-14. God will bring back the exiles, the prophet declares, as God has fulfilled the promises of old. Celebration and restoration go hand in hand. God rescues the people from their oppression; as God has done so in the past, God will do so again. God, like a parent to all people, views Ephraim (another name for Israel) as the firstborn, the ones who changed how God related to all people the way a first child changes perspective for a parent.
Psalm 147:12-20 is a song calling for the city of Jerusalem to praise God as its protector. God is the one who gives strength and security to the people of the holy city. However, God’s commands are also for the whole earth. God is the one who works in all creation, yet also shares the commandments and ordinances with the people of Israel.
The opening of the letter to the Ephesians shares a blessing for God and for the community of believers, all of whom have become children of God through Jesus Christ. The theme of adoption is one used by the early church as a way of signifying that there were no divisions among the believers, for all were now part of one faith together. Through Christ, sins are forgiven, and God’s will revealed. Through the Holy Spirit, we are known to God and will know God’s salvation at the end of time.
John 1:1-18 was also the Narrative Lectionary choice for the fourth Sunday of Advent. John places Jesus at the beginning of everything with God, calling Jesus the Word (Logos). The Living Word was with God in the beginning, and is Life, the Light of all people, which shines in the darkness and is not understood. Dr. Wil Gafney translates darkness in this verse as bleakness in A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W, Second Sunday after Christmas. We must always be weary of how darkness and light have been used by white Christians to link darkness with evil and lightness with good. Instead, what John is conveying is that Christ came into this world to bring forth life to all people and nothing is able to overcome or extinguish life. John (the Baptizer) was sent by God to testify to the Word, the Life, so that all would believe in the Life. But the world did not recognize the Life, and neither did the Life’s own people. The Word became Flesh and lived among us, and we have seen the Word/Life’s glory, full of grace and truth. This is the Life that John testified to.
For Epiphany Sunday, we begin with the traditional reading from Isaiah 60:1-6. The words of Second Isaiah are hope for a people returning from exile. God’s glory now shines in the people who have returned, and other nations are drawn to their light, to the knowledge that God has remained faithful to them. Kings are drawn to the brightness of this new beginning, and the gifts and goods of other lands shall once again flow to the holy city of Jerusalem, including the image of camels bringing gold and frankincense.
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 is a prayer of blessing for a new king. The psalmist asks for God to bless the king with God’s sense of righteousness and justice for the poor. The prayer seeks God’s guidance for the king that they may have long life and peace. The psalmist continues, calling upon other kings to pay tribute and to bring gifts in service of this new king for Israel. This new king will pay attention to the marginalized and oppressed, rescue the poor and needy, and honor the lives of those often forgotten about by society, for they are precious to God.
In Ephesians 3:1-12, the writer declares that the mystery of Christ has been revealed: Gentiles and Jews, all people, are members of the same body. All share in the same promise of Christ, and all share in God’s grace. God’s wisdom is revealed through the church, in which all belong, and is made known to the whole world. The faithful can be in relationship with God through Jesus Christ, in whom we have the boldness and confidence of faith.
Matthew’s account of the magi occurs after Jesus’ birth. The magi came to Jerusalem, the royal city, and visited the current king, Herod, to ask where the new king was born. They observed his star at its rising, for they were probably astrologers. Herod, a puppet of the Roman government ruling under the governor’s authority, had no idea what the magi were speaking about and was afraid of an usurper of his power. He consulted the scribes, who searched the scriptures and found passages from the prophets about a new king being born in the city of David, Bethlehem, one to shepherd Israel. Herod sent the magi to Bethlehem to search for the child. The star stopped over the house of Mary and Jesus, and they presented their gifts to him, before returning home via another road, as the magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. The writer of Matthew uses more references to the Hebrew scriptures than other Gospel writers, and often out of context. This passage about the one to shepherd Israel from Micah 5:2 refers to a king in the prophet’s time when the Assyrian empire was invading. The writer of Matthew is concerned with proving that Jesus is the promised king for the people and tells a story in which Jesus fulfills those promises, though often not how people expected him to.
The Narrative Lectionary concludes chapter one of John’s Gospel with 1:35-51. When John sees Jesus and calls him the Lamb of God, his own disciples begin to follow Jesus. In John’s account, Andrew was first a disciple of John, but told Simon that they had found the Messiah. Jesus then calls Simon Peter. Jesus calls Philip to follow him, and Philip tells Nathanael that they had found the one spoken about by Moses and the prophets. But Nathanael is doubtful that anything good comes from Nazareth, a small town. When he meets Jesus, Jesus seems to know him already. Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw him under a fig tree, and Nathanael believes that he is God’s Son. Jesus tells Nathanael he will see greater things than these, including the vision that Jacob beheld of the angels ascending and descending from heaven.
Psalm 66:1-5 is a song of praise to God for God’s awesome works and deeds. All the earth worships God. In verse 5, the psalmist calls upon the people to come and see God’s deeds, and God’s awesome works for human beings.
It is hard to temper expectations when entering a new year, although the last few seem to have made us all pause. We do not know what the new year will bring, perhaps more than any other time in recent memory. Yet when we imagine two thousand years ago, an oppressive Roman Empire, a local government concerned with keeping power and the status quo, we can imagine that perhaps others were unsure how to have hope. In a time when there were several who claimed to be the Messiah (Acts 5:34-40) only to fail, it is the foreigners, the outsiders, who show those within the community that God is already present with them. Perhaps in a world of fear, we can look to the signs of hope and follow them. Life shines, despite the bleakness of our Covid world. Perhaps we can heed the warning signs from the past two years, and enter the new year by another way.
Call to Worship (for New Year’s Sunday, from Revelation 21:5b-6a)
God is making all things new,
For God’s words are trustworthy.
God is the Alpha and Omega,
The Beginning and the End.
We enter this new year with hope,
That we will draw closer to God;
For God has drawn near to us.
Together, we are Christ’s body.
Call to Worship (for Epiphany Sunday, from Isaiah 60:1-6)
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
The LORD will arise upon you,
and God’s glory will appear over you.
Lift up your gaze and look around,
Then you shall see and be radiant;
Your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
You shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of All Beginnings, we confess our own despair and distrust. Our expectations have been tempered, our hopes subdued. We are afraid of being let down again by the world. Remind us that our hope is not in the things of this world, in our leaders or our systems, but our hope is in You, Creator of heaven and earth. Shape our hearts to love more deeply. Open our minds to accept what we cannot change but to transform our own lives to Your ways. Mold our lives to live as You lived, in compassion and loving-kindness, in gratitude and peace. Lift up our hearts, so we may enter this new year with Your living hope. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. May you enter this new year with expectation that the world will change. Emmanuel, God is with us, now and always, and we can never be the same. The worst thing in the world is not the last thing that will happen to us. Goodness, love, and mercy will always prevail. Trust these words in your heart, trust the promises of God, and know that you are forgiven, loved and restored. Amen.
Wondrous Star that shines so bright! Shine in the bleakness and misery. Shine in the shadows and gloom. Shine in our hearts when our hopes are failing. Shine in our lives when we feel out of place and lost. Shine in our world when the systems and structures of the world oppress and condemn. Shine in us, so that we may shine Your light and life to the world. Bright Morning Star, shine our way. Amen.