Session 4: Incarnation
JANUARY 6, 2021, LAST CLASS FOR SESSION 4
INCARNATION: REDISCOVERING THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRISTMAS
FROM REV. ADAM HAMILITON’S ADVENT STUDY FOR 2020
OPENING DIRECTIONS AND QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
I GIVE ALL CREDIT TO REV. HAMILTON AND HIS
CHURH OF THE RESURECTION UMC
FOR CREATING THIS STUDY
LAST SESSION GOALS
This Session’s readings, reflections, activities, and prayers will equip participants to:
• Understand the Gospel of John’s identification of Jesus as God’s Word and God’s Light.
• Examine the prophet Isaiah’s call for righteous living that shines God’s light in a dark world; and
• Contemplate how the magi’s visit to the young Jesus points to Jesus as Lord.
IN PREPARATION FOR THE STUDY
EMMANUEL IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC
In Preparation for class, consider reading Chapter 4 of and the Epilogue of the text, in the INCARNATION. As well as these Scriptures:
John 1.1-5; 9-14
WE WILL VIEW THE DVD; AND DISCUSS THESE QUESTIONS:
1. Hamilton talks about the Christmas candlelight service he leads each year: How does your congregation use candles in its Advent and Christmas worship? How do you use candles or other lights in your own or your family’s Christmas traditions?
2. What memorable instances of light in Scripture do you hold in your heart? Do you draw any connections between them and the Christmas message?
3. Hamilton reminds us that the season of Christmas continues to the Feast of the Epiphany. In Western Christianity, the Epiphany commemorates the wise men’s visit to the child, Jesus. How, if at all, does you congregation celebrate the Epiphany?
4. How do the Wisemen figure in your own holiday celebrations? What do they represent to you?
John’s Christmas Story
We need two readers:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
1. Why does Hamilton call these verses “John’s account of Christmas?” (page 121)
2. In what ways are these verses also John’s account of creation?
3. John claims God’s Word became a human being in Jesus (verses 1, 14). The Greek word for word is “logos.” Hamilton writes, logos “also has the connotation of reasoning, wisdom, or logic.” (page 133) What do these definitions tell you about who John says Jesus is? What does thinking about Jesus as the Word of God mean to you?
4. Hamilton writes. “While Christans often speak about the Bible as the Word of God, the Word of God in its most decisive and definitive form came to us not as a book, but as a person. (page 134) If Jesus is the Word of God, Should Christians also refer to the Scripture as the Word of God? Why or why not?
5. John states not everyone welcomed God’s Word, God’s light, (verse 9-13; Compare John 3.19-21,”19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” How do you believe God’s Word is rejected today? When have you rejected or resisted God’s Word and light?
6. “Christmas,” writes Hamilton, “ is God’s response to both forms of darkness, the moral and the existential” (page 127). How do you respond to John’s claim that darkness does not overcome God’s light (verse 5)?
Called to Spread the Light of God
Would someone read this from pages 141-142
“As we become children of the light, we cannot keep that light within ourselves. It is meant to spill out from us naturally and touch the lives of others. . . What does carrying light into dark places look like? Centuries before Jesus, Isaiah the Prophet pointed the people of Israel to an answer.”
We need to read Isaiah 58.1-10 aloud:
False and True Worship
58 Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
3 “Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator[a] shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
1. What problem does this prophecy address? What connections, if any, do you draw between this ancient condemnation of the people’s worship and modern celebrations, in society and church, of Christmas today?
2. How does God promise the people can experience light instead of darkness? What implications does God’s promise hold for church and society today?
3. This prophecy describes the “fast” God chooses. From what must God’s people fast in order to do what God wants them to do?
4. How, specifically, is your congregation involved in the work to which God calls the people in this prophecy?
5. Hamilton writes that we sometimes ask why God hasn’t done something about the darkness in our world, but God answers, “I did do something. I sent Jesus to be the light so you could see what to do” (page m140). How satisfying or unsatisfying do you find this answer; and why?
Kneeling Before the Lord
If we have time we will read Matthew 2.7-12
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[a] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,[b] until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped,[c] they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
1. How does the Story of the magi (“wise men”) in Matthew connect to the theme of light we discussed in John’s Christmas story?
2. What does this story say about who holds true power and authority? How?
3. Hamilton Speculates the magi, who were Persian astrologers and priests, may have believed Jesus was the Saoshyant, or messiah, of the Zoroastrian religion. He writes, “I love what this story says about the wideness of God’s mercy” (page 158). What do you think this story says about God’s mercy? How should the example of the magi influence our relationship to people of other faiths today?
4. Hamilton writes that though the magi’s gifts to the young Jesus may have symbolic meaning, he thinks it is likely Matthew’s “primary reference” in mentioning them was to evoke a prophecy of Isaiah 60.1-7.
a. What does God Promise to the people in these verses?
b. Why does Matthew connect this prophecy to Jesus?
5. Remembering these titles used in this study—Messiah, King, Savior, Emmanuel, Word of God, Light, Lord—which title means more to you as a result of this study?
6. How has our study of the INCARNATION changed your experience and observance of this Advent and Christmas Season?
Thank you for joining us for this study!