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January Lectionary Background

This second month of the Church Year again features a seasonal canticle that is one of the four great canticles from the Gospel account of St. Luke. In this case it is the “Benedictus,” Zacharias’ Divinely inspired first words after a long silence at the birth of his son, John the Baptizer. The canticle is called by its first word in Latin that we translate as “Blessed”. Note especially how this liturgical song, often used at Matins, emphasizes the themes of God coming to His people to redeem them and the relationship between salvation and forgiveness.

January picks up with the reading of St. Mark’s Gospel account where December left off. The Holy Gospel according to St. Mark may well have been the last of the Gospel accounts to have been written. While reading, note especially the identification of Jesus the God-Man with the Good News (what the word “Gospel” means) that St. Mark reports. Moreover, St. Mark’s account makes it clear that Jesus is both Christ and Son of God (note well the converted Centurion’s confession in Mark 15:39). The role of Christ is further elaborated as one both of the glorious Son of Man and of the Suffering Servant (about whom we read last month in Isaiah 53). Events are linked in quick succession, and St. Mark seems to focus more on Jesus’ deeds than words (even as we today focus on God’s Word combined with His sacramental actions).

As you near the middle of the month, be ready for an abrupt ending. Most ancient copies of this Gospel account end at Mark 16:8. (There are various theories as to why it might have ended there and as to from where vv.9-20 came.) Martin Luther had no qualms about these verses, as he used v.16 in his Small Catechism. Many newer editions of the Bible put some sort of separation between verses 8 and 9, but these text critical issues should not disturb our faith, as there is nothing foundational to our faith in vv.9-20 that we do not find elsewhere in the Bible.

In the middle of January, we switch from the New Testament back to the Old, reading the book of Genesis and wrapping it up on the last day of the month. Genesis, commonly held to have been written down by Moses but previously passed from generation to generation by the faithful believers, tells of salvation history from the beginning to the last days of Joseph (from where Exodus, which we will read in February, picks up the story). Especially important is the account of humankind’s fall into sin in Genesis 3, which also contains the proto, or first, Gospel in Genesis 3:15: that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, though the serpent would bruise His heel.

One writer says that “Genesis is foundational to the understanding of the rest of the Bible,” and no doubt it is true. Note well that in Genesis there is only one true God and that He opposes notions that there are other gods, no gods, or that everything is divine. Note, too, that subjects and themes of the first three chapters of Genesis are reflected in the final three chapters of Revelation. We must marvel at the literary genius of our God who is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, and Who inspired holy men of God to record His revelation, thereby giving to that record the property of inerrancy (being without error). Something to consider when the topic of evolution arises.


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