Fifth Day of Christmas   10 comments

Above:  Johann Sebastian Bach

Foreboding Foreshadowing

DECEMBER 29, 2023


1 John 2:7-11 (New Jerusalem Bible):

My dear friends,

this is not a new commandment I am writing to you,

but an old commandment

that you have had from the beginning;

the old commandment is the message you have heard.

Yet in another way, I am writing a new commandment for you

–and this is true for you, just as much for him–

for darkness is passing away

and the true light is already shining.

Whoever claims to be in light

but hates his brother

is still in darkness.

Anyone who loves his brother remains in light

and there is in him nothing to make him fall away.

But whoever hates his brother is in darkness

and is walking about in darkness

not knowing where he is going,

because darkness has blinded him.

Psalm 96:1-9 (New Jerusalem Bible):

Sing a new song to Yahweh!

Sing to Yahweh, all the earth!

Sing to Yahweh, bless his name!

Proclaim his salvation day after day,

declare his glory among the nations,

his marvels to every people!

Great is Yahweh, worthy of all praise,

more awesome than any of the gods.

All the gods of the nations are idols!

It was Yahweh, who made the heavens;

in his presence are splendour and majesty,

in his sanctuary power and beauty.

Give to Yahweh, families of nations,

give to Yahweh glory and power,

give to Yahweh the glory due to his name!

Bring an offering and enter his courts,

adore Yahweh in the splendour of his holiness.

Tremble before him, all the nations.

Luke 2:22-35 (New Jerusalem Bible):

And when the day came for them [Mary and Joseph] to be purified in keeping with the Law of Moses, they took him [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord–observing what is written in the Law of the Lord:

Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord

–and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is prescribed in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.  Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon.  He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to the restoration of Israel and the Holy Spirit rested on him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord.  Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do what the Law required,he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:

Now, Master, you are letting your servant go in peace

as you promised;

for my eyes have seen the salvation

which you have made ready in the sight of the nations;

a light of revelation for the gentiles

and glory for your people Israel.

As the child’s father and mother were wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,

Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed–and a sword will pierce your soul too–so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.

The Collect:

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The readings for December 25, the First Day of Christmas, were joyous.  The lectionary took a turn to include the major feasts of Saint Stephen (December 26) and St. John the Apostle (December 27) before coming to major feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28).  There the dark foreshadowing of the death of Jesus began with the deaths of innocent children whose sole offense was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Episcopal lectionary readings for December 29, the Fifth Day of Christmas, extend that foreshadowing to Jesus himself.  The elderly priest Simeon tells Mary that a sword will pierce her heart.  Jesus will die because of who he is.  Yet he will be innocent of any offense.  That is disturbing news indeed, especially so close to birth.

Yet there is good news:  resurrection followed death.

The authors of the canonical Gospels knew how the story ended before they began writing.  And each of them wrote with a specific thesis in mind.  Thus they selected the details which supported each thesis, thereby focusing each Gospel nicely.  This was just good composition.  So it is that early in Luke’s Gospel we read foreshadowing of the death of Jesus.

David Emory Stooksbury, a faithful Episcopalian and the State Climatologist of Georgia, grew up (United) Methodist, as I did.  He brought to my attention the fact the 1965 Methodist Hymnal provides the option of singing “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” to the same tune:  Easter Hymn, from Lyra Davidica (1708).  The Christmas-Easter link becomes explicit if one sings the two hymns back-to-back, as if they are one hymn.

And Johann Sebastian Bach incorporated the Passion Chorale (“O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded”) into his Christmas Oratorio.  The great Lutheran composer understood the link between the birth of Jesus and the death of Jesus.   This is why he was born, Bach was saying.

This is why Jesus was born.  Let us remember that, then proceed to the Resurrection.


Written on June 5, 2010


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