Lectionary Commentaries for December 26, 2021
First Sunday of Christmas

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 2:41-52

O. Wesley Allen, Jr.

Even though it falls before Epiphany with its celebration of the Magi visiting Jesus in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1–12), the Gospel readings for the First Sunday of Christmas have traditionally been drawn from stories of Jesus’ childhood (Year A: the flight to Egypt in Matthew 2:13–23; Year B: the dedication of Jesus in the temple in Luke 2:22–40; and Year C: the story of Jesus in the temple at age twelve).

The story of Jesus in the temple addresses biographical interests. Continuing from the birth narrative, this scene explores Jesus’s family of origin. We see his parents’ piety in their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover (see also 2:22–24) and their care for Jesus in the anxiety and searching for him when he is not found in the group of family and friends with whom they traveled from and to Nazareth, as well as in the narrator’s closing words concerning Mary: “His mother treasured all these things in her heart” (verse 51b). 

More than being about his parents, however, the story really focuses on Jesus. In a very small way, it fills something of the gap between Jesus’ birth and baptism. It shows that he was raised in the ways of Jewish piety and tradition. In spite of missing the caravan’s departure back to Nazareth, the scene characterizes Jesus as obedient (verse 51) and growing in wisdom and growing in favor (verse 52; echoing verse 40).

The scene is similar to childhood stories found in ancient biographies of philosophers and other famous figures in history and mythology. In such scenes, the behavior of the child foreshadows the protagonist’s character as an adult.

Therein lies the christological import of this scene. Jesus is twelve years old, a signal to the original audience that he is on the cusp of adulthood as defined in the ancient world (see also Mark 5:42). His actions on this occasion, then, foreshadow his ministry and especially his relationship with God. 

In the birth narrative, Luke has already made it clear that Jesus is God’s son (see 1:32, 35). But here, for the first time in Luke’s narrative, near the end of his childhood, Jesus claims that relationship for himself and his sense of purpose. Jesus’ role will extend far beyond the piety in which he is raised. 

The story takes the form of a pronouncement story, which is made up of a setup and pronouncement. The focus is on the pronouncement, not the set up, but the set up contextualizes how the pronouncement is to be understood. The pronouncement in this scene is found in verse 49. This is a key verse for the whole of Luke because it is the first words Jesus utters in the narrative. The pronouncement is paradigmatic for Jesus’ ministry. This is signaled not only by it being Jesus’ first speech but because it is the first occurrence of the Greek word dei (it is necessary). Then NRSV translates the word as “must” which is idiomatically fine, but Luke uses it as a code word throughout the Gospel to indicate the necessity of Jesus doing such and such to fulfill scripture and his messianic purposes (for example, 22:37; 24:7, 26, 44).

The problem is that it is terribly unclear what “it is necessary” for Jesus to do because the Greek is ambiguous. It reads “Do you not know that it is necessary for me to be en tois of my father.” Let’s start with the second word tois. It is simply the article “the” used to modify a plural noun. The problem is that Luke does not have Jesus provide a noun for the article to modify. Moreover, the article could either be grammatically neuter or masculine. 

This leads us to en, a preposition that often means “in” but can be translated in English a wide range of ways depending on its object. So the phrase as a whole could mean “to be in the [house] of my father” (as indicated by the temple setting, per the NRSV; the use of the plural may be an idiom for “household”), “to be among [the people] of my father,” (referring to the teachers with whom Jesus has been speaking), or “to be about the [things] of my father” (see also the KJV, “my father’s business”). 

It is worth considering whether the ambiguity is intentional. In the context of the setup, the boy Jesus is answering Mary (albeit in the form of a question) about why he was not in the caravan and why they should not have had to search for him: he is in God’s house or conversing with God’s people. But in the wider narrative beyond the pronouncement story, the answer points to Jesus accepting his messianic mission to be about God’s things even as an adolescent with wisdom yet to gain. This would be the aspect that Mary and Joseph could not understand (verse 50). 

Preachers may be tempted to invite their congregation to identify with Jesus in the sense that we should accept our call in the same fashion he did. This, however, is not the best homiletical use of the text. The passage is thoroughly christological. So the preacher should offer the congregation an experience of who Jesus is by inviting them to identify with Jesus’ parents. We, like them, are looking for Jesus. 

We can find him out being about the “things” of his father. What those “things” look like is found in the rest of the gospel, especially in Jesus’ first, paradigmatic sermon: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor … Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (4:18–19, 21). 

First Reading

Commentary on 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26

Karl Jacobson

In some ways I am tempted to dare you to preach on this text, because it is, for lack of a better phrase, pretty challenging. Challenging in its brevity, challenging in terms of finding a point of purchase—where to begin, how to find the application, discern what is at stake—challenging in that it is so far removed from us both culturally and practically.

What is more, the most obvious point of tension in the text, theologically, is around the gift and repayment question. In the story, the prayer is that Hannah will be repaid (the Hebrew here is śûm, which simply means “give,” although giving in kind does seem to be the gist of things) for the gift she had made to God. Actually, it is that her husband Elkanah would be repaid through Hannah (even though it was Hannah who decided to see him dedicated to the Lord). Either way, there is a convoluted economics going on here, from any number of perspectives. Indeed, one may well ask, What is the exchange rate for one’s firstborn? (As it turns out the answer is three sons and two daughters, see 1 Samuel 2:21 which for some reason is cut off from the story; but, maybe more on that later.)

So, yeah, I dare you: make a silk purse out of this pig’s ear.

What, then, do we make of this little story?

I want to suggest that, coming as this story does on the first Sunday of the Christmas season, a fruitful focus might be found in thinking about the young Samuel, and what God makes of him.

The final verse of our reading is, “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.” The key to this verse and what it means to us lies in part back in the already mentioned (as skipped) verse 21, at the end of which we read, “And the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.”

Age, experience, years, none of these are the key to this priest and prophet in the making. What mattered was that he was “in the presence of the Lord,” And so even the “boy Samuel” has the favor of the people, and is held in high stature. It is the Lord’s presence that enables Samuel to grow and become what is to become, to serve the way he and only he can serve, despite his youth.

This can be hard for other, older, wiser heads to handle. Perhaps this is why, while we may be quick to acknowledge that the children are the future of the church, we tend to keep that future in place as long as possible. The reality, that the children are every bit as much the present of the church as the rest of us, can be hard to make sense of.

But this is not an uncommon theme in the Scriptures. Consider Jeremiah, who, upon receiving his first vision from God said,

“Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”

But God responded,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;

for you shall go to all to whom I send you,

and you shall speak whatever I command you.

8 Do not be afraid of them,

for I am with you to deliver you,

says the Lord” (Jeremiah 1:6-8).

Or Timothy, whom Paul counsels, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Or again Jesus, who said that not only ought we to include the young, but we ought to be more like them:

“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14-15).

What, then, do we take away from this text, and how will it preach?

What if “stature” and “favor” are about childlike wonder?

What if this, as much or more than anything else, is the key to a faith that is energetic (Galatians 5:6), active, and effective through love?

Again, in this season as we bask once more in the birth of salvation—birthed for us as it is through an infant-God—what if our faith were to look more childlike: more like the joyful, wondering, exuberant reaction of a child given their first present in colorful paper and wrapped up in bows?

We can learn something, it seems to me, about “stature” and “favor” and what it means to be a child of God, by looking to the children, and learning from them.


Commentary on Psalm 148

Beth L. Tanner

The bloom is off the rose and it is not even New Year’s Day.

The tree is still up and the Creche awaits the Wise Men, but memories of food and fun and family are starting to fade. Families gathered are slowly making their ways home again. The decorations which were so festive a month ago, now remind us they must be boxed and returned to the attic. It is almost time to tuck in for the brunt of winter’s cold and snow.

Holidays pass so quickly.  All the preparation amounts to a few hours of celebration. The baby is still in the creche, but our minds turn elsewhere. Yes, this Sunday we will still sing carols and next week too, but by the 6th of January, the songs seem a bit out of place. The world has moved on. All of the holiday radio channels have returned to regular programming. The endless cycle of holiday movies and shows are tucked away until next November. Christmas candy and toys are already being replaced by heart shaped boxes as the consumer machine grinds on. Even the lectionary has moved on, today the young Jesus teaches at the Temple even before the Wise Men make their way to Nazareth on Jan. 6th!

Enter Psalm 148. This psalm is all praise to the LORD. The Psalter itself moves from lament to praise and this psalm is part of its crescendo. Psalm 148 stands out from the other psalms in part because the praise does not begin with people. In fact, the people are not called to join in the chorus until verse 11. It is as if there is a praise party and we are the last ones invited.

Often when we think of worship and praise, our thoughts turn to Sunday gatherings and human voices lifted in song. This psalm reminds us God’s whole creation offers up praise. As our holiday celebrations fade into winter and the next thing, the praise of God offered by the creation continues unabated. Like Jesus’s statement in Luke 19:40 “If they [the people] are quiet, even the stones will cry out.” Creation will praise when the humans are silent.

The psalm begins the chorus in the heavens with God’s Council of messengers [NRSV, angels] and hosts (verses 1-2). Next the sun, moon, stars and clouds [waters above the heavens] join in (verse 3). Verses 5-6 provide the reasons for this praise. The heavens and sky are praising God for their creation and God’s continuing control of their purpose or course. The creation sings praise to God simply because they exist! The creation rings out in joy for the very purpose God has set it in place to do. When we are too busy, the sun and the stars and the moon and even the clouds shout with glory to their Creator.

At verse 7, the sea monsters and the deeps along with the fire and hail, and snow and frost, and the stormy wind join to celebrate fulfilling God’s purpose. After a fall full of hurricanes and massive fires, it is hard to understand these phenomena celebrating “fulfilling God’s command.” They disrupt our plans and at their worst destroy our homes. Would our human policies change if we thought more about the relationship between the weather and its God? I am not sure, but the psalm provides us with a new perspective. The weather belongs to God and praises God.

After all of the skies and seas, the surface of the earth is heard; mountains and hills, trees and wild animals and domestic animals and creepy things we do not like, and the birds (verses 9-10).  All of this praise and song and celebration goes on before humans ever open their mouths! Everything made, even the animals and creatures which scare or repulse us, sing to their Lord and Maker.

Are we, like the rest of creation, made to offer constant praise? The psalms certainly imply this is the preferred state of all of creation including us. Yet everything seems to get in the way. As noted about, even before end of the Christmas season, other things occupy our minds.  There is so much to do that praise is usually reserved for Sunday mornings and a few special services. Sure, I try to count my blessings and remember all of the gifts of God, but only for a few moments each day. Then I am back to the world. Yet Psalm 148 is still there, even in my busiest days as a reminder that the creation is still singing and offering an invitation to us.

Everyone is lamenting the state of the world, especially our meanness and divisiveness. It seems naïve to suggest that praise could fix our mean spirits. But is it really that naïve? The creation invites us to rejoin the song. Would we look at the world differently if praise was our default position? Would we treat each other differently if we heard and joined in them with joyful song?  Like the Apostle Paul, I am foolish enough to think it just might change us. Psalm 148 reminds us that we are being invited to a massive praise party, every day, all the time. Maybe instead of worrying about the world and the packing away of the creche, we should simply join the party!


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Dec. 30, 2018.

Second Reading

Commentary on Colossians 3:12-17

Edward Pillar

Christmas changes everything! Well, not quite, but it is true to say that the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, which we celebrate during this Christmas season, changes everything. And this passage certainly is centered upon Christ and the profound difference he makes, not just to individuals but to entire communities.

As believers and disciples of the Lord Jesus we are described as “chosen, holy, and beloved.” All these affirmations are rooted in Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel takes up the words of the prophet Isaiah to affirm Jesus as God’s “chosen one” (Matthew 12:18), Peter affirms, on behalf of the Twelve that Jesus is the holy one (John 6:69), and of course the baptismal narratives each remind us that Jesus is beloved. But, these wonderful affirmations about Jesus are placed squarely on disciples of Jesus—chosen, holy (literally set apart), and loved.

It is not unusual to read of clothing oneself within Pauline letters. And here there is a distinct contrast with the character traits listed in 3:5-9. I wonder sometimes whether it is possible to truly abandon negative characteristics without taking on new, positive traits. Certainly here, the encouragement is to undress from the negative, divisive, disruptive characteristics, and to reclothe oneself with “compassion, kindness, meekness, and patience”the list of five virtues in direct contrast with the double lists of five vices in 3:5 and 3:8.

Compassion is a deep empathy with one other. Kindness is a basic, even fundamental Christian attribute, a clear fruit of the Spirit. Humility is the quality of listening, respecting, engaging, and honoring another. Meekness is the dialing down of personality in cases where others need space to express themselves. Meekness seeks to not trample on others, but to help them up and along. And patience is all about waiting, and waiting for others.

But, however idealistic we might frame these qualities to be, verse 13 makes it clear: yes, of course there will be disagreement and forgiveness will be necessary. It seems unavoidable to draw a parallel here with the conditional words of the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” The Lord’s Prayer is the daily confessional prayer for the disciple, and regular acknowledgement of the need for a refilling of the Holy Spirit in order to honor Christ and others in everyday life.

However, all this must be bound together and held by love. As with the encouragement in 3:12 to “clothe yourselves,” here also there is a voluntary aspect. Disciples are not forced to love, but do so in honor of Christ and the Body of Christ. The term “bind” is a familiar term, a simple band, brooch, or fastener which holds everything together. Interestingly, Plato in Republic uses this same term to describe the binding together of communities. That idea is certainly in view here. But, whereas Plato considered that the community is held together by common respect for law, here the believing community is bound together by love. Love is decisive. The Apostle Paul makes this abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 13:2, “without love, I am nothing.”

The believing community are to choose to let the peace of Christ rule amongst them. Everything therefore, relationships, decisions, and plans, are to be considered in view of honoring the peace of Christ. And there will be struggles at times, rather than settling for the lowest common denominator. But the peace of Christ is the shalom, a wholeness and harmony through the struggles. The term “rule” would be understood as a director or arbiter in matters that need to be decided and agreed. We can reflect here on Aristotle who argued that the Court should administer the law to bring about happiness in communities. But it is the peace of Christ, which is the true path of harmony.

“And be thankful.” Thankfulness is transformative. In the life of any community, differences that are appreciated and given thanks for, make for harmonious relationships. Thankfulness transforms the individual’s outlook and inner life.

And the “word of Christ” is to make its home in each one. The word of Christ here cannot really be pinned down to a single word, but rather the entire teaching of Jesus and the life and character of Jesus. If there is to be a single word, then we might see echoes of John 15 and the word spoken to the disciples to love, which is clearly in tune with our passage today.

Everything is to be done as those who represent the true nature and character of the Lord Jesus. This is what it means to act in the name of the Lord Jesus. Disciples are representative of Christ, and the community of Christ represents his living, incarnate body.