The Old Testament readings for Christmas Day (with two alternative readings) remain the same for each year in the Revised Common Lectionary. They come from different sections of Isaiah. The readings set for the first Sunday after Christmas vary from year to year. In Year A we have another reading from Isaiah, 63:7-9 as in Year B, Isaiah 61:10-62:3. In Year C, however, we hear 1 Samuel 2:18-20 and 26. If needed a passage from Jeremiah, Jeremiah 31:7-14, is read on Christmas 2 if the feast of Epiphany falls on a weekday following the second Sunday after Christmas.
The readings for Christmas clearly continue many of the themes raised in the Advent readings, especially in Years A and B where Isaiah is a focus. Isaiah 9 is chosen for its reference to a 'child born to us' and the royal messianic themes. On the other hand, the alternative readings come from Third Isaiah and Second Isaiah, after and near the end of the period of captivity in Babylon. Hope is realised but the joy that comes with it cannot be separated from the broader context of the material around the readings selected. Hope is not realised easily or painlessly. The corresponding Gospel readings also seek to qualify that hope and define it more closely in terms of the birth of the baby Jesus.
In Year A the reading on Christmas 1 is Isa 63:7-9, which comes from the time of Third Isaiah, just after the return of the people from exile to Jerusalem. If read in isolation it could be interpreted as a thanksgiving for what God has done for the people in the past, and in the context of our Christmas celebrations, it can even give us words with which to celebrate the coming of God among us in Jesus Christ. However, when read in its Isaiah context, the passage is really a motivation for God not to forget his people in their distress, mostly of their own making, and to remain loyal to his covenant. It is part of a bitter lament where God has even become his own peopleís enemy. The realisation of hope is not without its struggles even as the coming of the messiah in Jesus is not without its ambiguities and potential difficulties.
In Year B the reading for Christmas 1 is another passage from Third Isaiah, Isaiah 61:10-62:3. While it is located close to the reading from Isaiah 63 in Year A, it is far removed in its theme. This passage likely comes from a slightly earlier period than Isaiah 63, a time in which there were still high hopes for the triumphant return of Godís people to Jerusalem. The passage sees this return as a cosmic event in which the nations shall witness Israelís vindication. The passage echoes in some aspects the hopes of Isaiah 2.
Some of the themes of the Advent readings are maintained in the Christmas season. The theme of the one who comes coming in a time of turmoil is maintained in the readings from Isaiah. The horrors of the exile (Isaiah) lie close behind and around the readings. The echoes with the oppressive Roman rule behind the Gospel story of Luke are clear to see. We are constantly reminded by these readings that our faith in the God of Jesus is one lived out in the midst of difficult times.
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