An Uncommon Lectionary: A Companion to Common Lectionaries

Available from Polebridge Press

Ninth Sunday before Christmas
Eighth Sunday before Christmas
Seventh Sunday before Christmas
Sixth Sunday before Christmas
Fifth Sunday before Christmas
First Sunday of Advent
Second Sunday of Advent
Third Sunday of Advent
Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Uncommon Lectionary provides readings from gospels outside the New Testament—Thomas, Peter, Mary (Magdalene), the Sayings Gospel Q—and from other early church documents such as the Didache, the Secret Book of James, and the Odes of Solomon. Designed to complement and supplement common lectionaries, it helps priests, pastors, and liturgical leaders introduce modern listeners to the message of Jesus as it was understood and experienced in all its variety by his earliest followers. The section below provides pre-Christmas readings following the liturgical calendar.

Ninth Sunday before Christmas

Reading 1 Samuel 1:1–7a, Tanakh

There was a man from Ramathaim of the Zuphites, in the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives, one named Hannah and the other Peninnah; Peninnah had children, but Hannah was childless. This man used to go up from his town every year to worship and to offer sacrifice to the LORD of Hosts at Shiloh.—Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD there.

One such day, Elkanah offered a sacrifice. He used to give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he would give one portion only—though Hannah was his favorite—for the LORD had closed her womb. Moreover, her rival, to make her miserable, would taunt her that the LORD had closed her womb. This happened year after year.

Psalm: Ode 37

I extend my hands to You, O Lord*
I lift my voice toward You, Most High.
I speak through the lips of my heart*
You hear me when my voice goes to You.
Your Word comes to me with fruit of my labor.*
You give me rest through Your grace, O Lord. Hallelujah!

Gospel: Infancy Gospel of James 1–2, SV

According to the records of the twelve tribes of Israel, there once was a very rich man named Joachim. He always doubled the gifts he offered to the Lord, and would say to himself, “One gift, representing my prosperity, will be for all the people; the other, offered for forgiveness, will be my sin-offering to the Lord God.”

Now the great day of the Lord was approaching, and the people of Israel were offering their gifts. And Reubel confronted Joachim and said, “You’re not allowed to offer your gifts first because you haven’t produced an Israelite child.”

And Joachim became very upset and went to the book of the twelve tribes of the people, saying to himself, “I’m going to check the book of the twelve tribes of Israel to see whether I’m the only one in Israel who hasn’t produced a child.” And he searched the records and found that all the righteous people in Israel did indeed have children. And he remembered the patriarch because in his last days the Lord God had given a son, Isaac.

And so he continued to be very upset and did not see his wife but banished himself to the wilderness and pitched his tent there. And Joachim fasted ‘forty days and forty nights.’ He would say to himself, “I will not go back for food or drink until the Lord my God visits me. Prayer will be my food and drink.”

Now his wife Anna was mourning and lamenting on two counts: “I lament my widowhood and I lament my childlessness.”

The great day of the Lord approached, however, and Juthine her slave said to her, “How long are you going to humble yourself? Look, the great day of the Lord has arrived, and you’re not supposed to mourn. Rather, take this headband which the mistress of the workshop gave to me, but which I’m not allowed to wear because I’m your slave and because it bears a royal insignia.”

And Anna said, “Get away from me! I won’t take it. The Lord God has greatly shamed me. Maybe a trickster has given you this, and you’ve come to make me share in your sin.”

And Juthine the slave replied, “Should I curse you just because you haven’t paid any attention to me? The Lord God has made your womb sterile so you won’t bear any children for Israel.”

Anna, too, became very upset. She took off her mourning clothes, washed her face, and put on her wedding dress. Then, in the middle of the afternoon, she went down to her garden to take a walk. She spied a laurel tree and sat down under it. After resting, she prayed to the Lord: “O God of my ancestors, bless me and hear my prayer, just as you blessed our mother Sarah and gave her a son, Isaac.”

Eighth Sunday before Christmas

Reading: 1 Samuel 1:7b–19a, Tanakh

Every time Hannah went up to the House of the LORD, Peninnah would taunt her, so that she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why are you crying and why aren’t you eating? Why are you so sad? Am I not more devoted to you than ten sons?”

After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and stood before the LORD. The priest Eli was sitting on the seat near the doorposts of the temple of the Lord. In her wretchedness, she prayed to the LORD, weeping all the while. And she made this vow: “O LORD of Hosts, if You will look upon the suffering of Your maidservant and will remember me and not forget Your maidservant, and if You will grant your maidservant a male child, I will dedicate him to the LORD for all the days of his life; and no razor shall ever touch his head.”

As she kept on praying before the LORD, Eli watched her mouth. Now Hannah was praying in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Sober up!”

And Hannah replied, “Oh no, my lord! I am a very unhappy woman, I have drunk no wine or other strong drink, but I have been pouring out my heart to the LORD. Do not take your maidservant for a worthless woman; I have only been speaking all this time out of my anguish and distress.”

“Then go in peace,” said Eli, “and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him.” She answered, “You are most kind to your handmaid.” So the woman left, and she ate, and was no longer downcast. Early next morning they bowed low before the LORD, and they went back to Ramah.

Psalm: Ode 29

Lord, You are my hope. With You I shall not be lost.*
Through Your Praise You make me.
Through Your Goodness You give me common things.*
Through Your Mercy You raise me up.
Through Your Beauty You set me on high.*
You lead me out of the depths of Sheol, out of the mouth of death.
My enemies are laid low*
and You justify me through Your Grace.
I believe in You, I believe in the Anointed One.*
You come to me, show me Your sign, and lead me by Way of Your light.
You give me the rod of power*
to subdue the dreams of others, to bring down the mighty,
to make war through Your Word*
and come to victory through Your power.
Through Your Word You overthrow my enemy*
who is like stubble blown away in the wind.
I praise You. You are Most High and You exalt me, Your servant.*
You exalt the son of Your handmaid. Hallelujah!

Gospel: Infancy Gospel of James 3–4, SV

And Anna looked up toward the sky and saw a nest of sparrows in the laurel tree. And immediately Anna began to lament, saying to herself: “Poor me! Who gave birth to me? What sort of womb bore me? For I was born under a curse in the eyes of the people of Israel. And I’ve been reviled and mocked and banished from the temple of the Lord my God.

“Poor me! What am I like? I am not like the birds of the sky, because even the birds of the sky reproduce in your presence, O Lord.

“Poor me! What am I like? I am not like the domestic animals, because even domestic animals bear young in your presence, O Lord.

“Poor me! What am I like? I am not like the wild animals of the earth, because even the animals of the earth reproduce in your presence, O Lord.

“Poor me! I am not like these waters, because even these waters are productive in your presence, O Lord.

“Poor me! What am I like? I am not like this earth, because even the earth produces its crops in season and blesses you, O Lord.”

Suddenly a messenger of the Lord appeared to her and said: “Anna, Anna, the Lord God has heard your prayer. You will conceive and give birth, and your child will be talked all over the world.”

And Anna said, “As the Lord God lives, whether I give birth to a boy or a girl, I’ll offer it as a gift to the Lord my God, and it will serve him its whole life.”

And right then two messengers reported to her: “Look, your husband Joachim is coming back with his flocks.” You see, a messenger of the Lord had come down to Joachim and said, “Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God has heard your prayer. Get down from there. Look, your wife Anna is pregnant.”

And Joachim went down right away and summoned his shepherds with these instructions: “Bring me ten lambs without spot or blemish, and the ten lambs will be for the Lord God. Also, bring me twelve tender calves, and the twelve calves will be for the priests and the council of elders. Also, one hundred goats, and the one hundred goats will be for the whole people.”

And so Joachim came with his flocks, while Anna stood at the gate. Then she spotted Joachim approaching with his flocks and rushed out and threw her arms around his neck: “Now I know that the Lord God has blessed me greatly. This widow is no longer a widow, and I, once childless, am now pregnant!”

And Joachim rested the first day at home.

Seventh Sunday before Christmas

Reading: 1 Samuel 1:19b–28, Tanakh

Elkanah knew his wife Hannah and the LORD remembered her. Hannah conceived, and at the turn of the year bore a son. She named him Samuel, meaning, “I asked the LORD for him.” And when the man Elkanah and all his household were going up to offer to the LORD the annual sacrifice and his votive sacrifice, Hannah did not go up. She said to her husband, “When the child is weaned, I will bring him. For when he had appeared before the LORD, he must remain there for good.” Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Do as you think best. Stay home until you have weaned him. May the LORD fulfill the utterance of your mouth. May the LORD fulfill His word.” So the woman stayed home and nursed her son until she weaned him.

When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with three bulls, one ephah of flour, and a jar of wine. And though the boy was still very young, she brought him to the House of the LORD at Shiloh. After slaughtering the bull, they brought the boy to Eli. She said, “Please, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am a woman who stood here beside you and prayed to the LORD. It was this boy I prayed for; and the LORD granted me what I asked of Him. I, in turn, hereby lend him to the LORD. For as long as he lives he is lent to the LORD.” And they bowed low there before the LORD.

Psalm: 1 Samuel 2:1–11

And Hannah prayed:
My heart exults in the LORD;*
I have triumphed through the LORD.
I gloat over my enemies;*
I rejoice in your deliverance.
There is no holy one like the LORD,*
Truly, there is none beside You;
There is no rock like our God.*
Talk no more with lofty pride,
Let no arrogance cross your lips!*
For the LORD is an all knowing God;
By him actions are measured.*
The bows of the mighty are broken,
And the faltering are girded with strength.
Men once sated must hire out for bread;*
Men once hungry hunger no more.
While the barren woman bears seven,*
The mother of many is forlorn.
The LORD deals death and gives life,*
casts down Sheol and raises up.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich;*
He casts down, He also lifts high.
He raises the poor from the dust,*
Lifts up the needy from the dunghill,
Setting them with nobles,*
Granting them seats of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S;*
He has set the world upon them.
He guards the steps of His faithful,*
But the wicked perish in darkness —
For not by strength shall man prevail.
The foes of the LORD shall be shattered;*
He will thunder against them in the heavens.
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth.*
He will give power to His King,
And triumph to his anointed one.

Then Elkanah and Hannah went home to Ramah; and the boy entered the service of the LORD under the priest Eli.

Gospel: Infancy Gospel of James 5–6, SV

But on the next day, as he was presenting his gifts, he thought to himself, “If the Lord God has really been merciful to me, the polished disc on the priest’s headband will make it clear to me.” And so Joachim was presenting his gifts and paying attention to the priest’s headband until he went up to the altar of the Lord. And he saw no sin in it. And Joachim said, “Now I know that the Lord God has been merciful to me and has forgiven me all my sins.” And he came down from the temple of the Lord acquitted and went back home.

And so her pregnancy came to term, and in the ninth month Anna gave birth. And she said, “Is it a boy or a girl?”

And her midwife said, “I have been greatly honored this day.” Then the midwife put the child to bed.

When, however, the prescribed days were completed, Anna cleansed herself of the flow of blood. And she offered her breast to the infant and gave her the name Mary.

Day by day the infant grew stronger. When she was six months old, her mother put her on the ground to see if she could stand. She walked seven steps and went to her mother’s arms. Then her mother picked her up again and said, “As the Lord my God lives, you will never walk on this ground again until I take you into the temple of the Lord.”

And so she turned her bedroom into a sanctuary and did not permit anything profane or unclean to pass the child’s lips. She sent for the undefiled daughters of the Hebrews, and they kept her amused.

Now the child has her first birthday, and Joachim gave a great banquet and invited the high priests, priests, scholars, council of elders, and all the people of Israel. Joachim presented the child to the priests and they blessed her: God of our fathers, bless this child and give her a name which will be on the lips of future generations forever.”

And everyone said, “So be it. Amen.”

He presented her to the high priests, and they blessed her: “Most high God, look on this child and bless her with the ultimate blessing, one which cannot be surpassed.”

Her mother then took her up to the sanctuary — the bedroom—and gave her breast to the child. And Anna composed a song for the Lord God:

“I will sing a sacred song to the Lord my God because he has visited me and taken away the disgrace attributed to me by my enemies. The Lord my God has given me the fruit of his righteousness, single yet manifold before him.

Who will announce to the sons of Reubel that Anna has a child at her breast?

‘Listen, listen, you twelve tribes of Israel: Anna has a child at her breast!’”

Anna made her rest in the bedroom — the sanctuary — and then went out and began serving her guests. When the banquet was over, they left in good spirits and praised the God of Israel.

Sixth Sunday before Christmas

Reading: Genesis 28:10–17, Tanakh
Jacob left Beersheba, and set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. He had a dream; a ladder was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it. And the LORD was standing beside him and He said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring. Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants. Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is present in this place, and I did not know it!” Shaken, he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven.”

Psalm: Psalm 87, BCP 1979

On the holy mountain stands the city he has founded;*
the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are spoken of you,*
O city of our God.
I count Egypt and Babylon among those who know me;*
behold Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia: in Zion were they born.
Of Zion it shall be said, “Everyone was born in her,*
and the Most High himself shall sustain her.”
The LORD will record as he enrolls the peoples,*
“These also were born there.”
The singers and the dancers will say,*
“All my fresh springs are in you.”

Gospel: Infancy Gospel of James 7–8, SV

Many months passed, but when the child reached two years of age, Joachim said, “Let’s take her up to the temple of the Lord, so that we can keep the promise we made, or else the Lord will be angry with us and our gift will be unacceptable.”

And Anna said, “Let’s wait until she is three, so she won’t miss her father or mother.”

And Joachim agreed: “Let’s wait.”

When the child turned three years of age, Joachim said, “Let’s send for the undefiled Hebrew daughters. Let them each take a lamp and light it, so the child won’t turn back and have her heart captivated by things outside the Lord’s temple.” And this is what they did until the time they ascended to the Lord’s temple.

The priest welcomed her, kissed her, and blessed her: “The Lord God has exalted your name among all generations. In you the Lord will disclose his redemption to the people of Israel during the last days.”

And he sat her down on the third step of the altar, and the Lord showered favor on her. And she danced, and the whole house of Israel loved her.

Her parents left for home marveling and praising and glorifying the Lord God because the child did not look back at them. And Mary lived in the temple of the Lord. She was fed there like a dove, receiving her food from the hand of a heavenly messenger.

When she turned twelve, however, there was a meeting of the priests. “Look,” they said, “Mary has turned twelve in the temple of the Lord. What should we do with her so she won’t pollute the sanctuary of the Lord our God?” And they said to the high priest, “You stand at the altar of the Lord. Enter and pray about her, and we’ll do whatever the Lord God discloses to you.”

And so the high priest took the vestment with the twelve bells, entered the Holy of Holies, and began to pray about her. And suddenly a messenger of the Lord appeared: “Zechariah, Zechariah, go out and assemble the widowers of the people and have them each bring a staff. She will become the wife of the one to whom the Lord God shows a sign.” And so heralds covered the surrounding territory of Judea. The trumpet of the Lord sounded and all the widowers came running.

Fifth Sunday before Christmas

Reading: Ladder of Jacob 7:1–35, OTP

And as for the angels you saw descending and ascending the ladder, in the last years there will be a man from the Most High, and he will desire to join the upper (things) with the lower. And before his coming your sons and daughters will tell about him and your young men will have visions about him.

Such will be the signs at the time of his coming.

A tree cut with an ax will bleed, three-month-old babes will speak understanding; a baby in the womb of his mother will speak this way; a youth will be like an old man. And then the unexpected will come, whose path will not be noticed by anyone.

Then the earth will be glorified, receiving heavenly glory. What was above will be below also. And from your seed will bloom a root of kings; it will emerge and overthrow the power of Eve. And he himself will be the Savior for every land and rest for those who toil, and a cloud shading the whole world from the burning heat. For otherwise the uncontrolled will not be controlled. If he does not come, the lower (things) cannot be joined with the upper.

At his coming the idols of brass, stone, and any sort of carving will give voice for three days. They will give wise men news of him and let them know what will be on earth. By a star, those who wish to see on earth him whom the angels do not see above will find the way to him.

Then the Almighty will be on earth in body, and embraced by corporeal arms, he will restore human nature. And he will revive Eve, who died by the fruit of the tree. Then the deceit of the impious will be exposed and all the idols will fall face down. For they will be put to shame by a dignitary. For because (they were) lying by means of hallucinations, henceforth they will not be able to rule or prophesy. Honor will be taken from them and they will remain without glory.

For he who comes will take power and might and will give Abraham the truth which he previously told him. Everything sharp he will make dull, and the rough will be smooth. And he will cast all the iniquitous into the depths of the sea. He will work wonders in heaven and on earth. And he will be wounded in the midst of his beloved house. And when he is wounded, then salvation will be ready, and the end to all perdition. For those who have wounded him will themselves receive a wound which will not be cured in them forever. And all creation will bow to him who was wounded, and many will trust in him. And he will become known everywhere in all lands, and those who acknowledge his name will not be ashamed. His own dominion and years will be unending forever.

Psalm: Ode 33

Grace raced away from the Corrupter,*
then turned her back on him to denounce him.

He left utter havoc around him and spoiled his constructions.*

He stood on a summit and screamed from one end of the earth to the other.

He drew near those who obeyed him. He did not look evil.*

Yet a perfect Virgin stood near and cried,

“Sons and daughters, come back, leave the Corrupter.*
Do not destroy yourself. Do not perish. Come to me.
I will enter you and lead you out of devastation.*
I will make you wise in the Way of truth.
Hear me and be saved. I tell you of God’s grace.*
By me you will be redeemed and blessed.
I am your judge. Those who help me will not be injured.*
They will possess purity in a fresh world.
My chosen walks in me. I will inform those who seek me.*
I will make them trust my name.” Hallelujah!

Gospel: Infancy Gospel of James 9–10, SV

And Joseph, too, threw down his carpenter’s axe and left for the meeting. When they had all gathered, they went to the high priest with their staffs. After the high priest had collected everyone’s staff, he entered the temple and began to pray. When he had finished his prayer, he took the staffs and went out and began to give them back to each man. But there was no sign on any of them. Joseph got the last staff. Suddenly a dove came out of his staff and perched on Joseph’s head, “Joseph, Joseph,” the high priest said, “you’ve been chosen by lot to take the virgin of the Lord into your care and protection.”

But Joseph objected: “I already have sons and I’m an old man; she’s only a young woman. I’m afraid that I’ll become the butt of jokes among the people of Israel.”

And the high priest responded, “Joseph, fear the Lord your God and remember what God did to Dathan, Abiron,. and Kore: the earth was split open and they were all swallowed up because of their objection. So now, Joseph, you ought to take heed so that the same thing won’t happen to your family.”

And so out of fear Joseph took her into his care and protection. He said to her, “Mary, I’ve gotten you from the temple of the Lord, but now I’m leaving you at home. I’m going to build houses, but I’ll come back to you. The Lord will protect you.”

Meanwhile, there was a council of the priests, who agreed: “Let’s make a veil for the temple of the Lord.”

And the high priest said, “Summon the true virgins from the tribe of David.” And so the temple assistants left and searched everywhere and found seven. And the high priest then remembered the girl Mary, that she, too, was from the tribe of David and was pure in God’s eyes. And so the temple assistants went out and got her.

And they took the maidens into the temple of the Lord. And the high priest said, “Cast lots for me to decide who’ll spin which threads for the veil: the gold, the white, the linen, the silk, the violet, the scarlet, and the true purple.”

And the true purple and scarlet threads fell to Mary. And she took them and returned home. Now it was at this time that Zechariah became mute, and Samuel took his place until Zechariah regained his speech. Meanwhile, Mary had taken up the scarlet thread and was spinning it.

First Sunday of Advent

(Fourth Sunday before Christmas)

Reading: Testament of Adam 3, OTP

Adam said to his son, Seth, “You have heard, my son, that God is going to come into the world after a long time, he will be conceived of a virgin and put on a body, be born like a human being, and grow up as a child. He will perform signs and wonders on the earth, will walk on the waves of the sea. He will rebuke the winds and they will be silenced. He will motion to the waves and they will stand still. He will open the eyes of the blind and cleanse the lepers.

He will cause the deaf to hear, and the mute to speak. He will straighten the hunchbacked, strengthen the paralyzed, find the lost, drive out evil spirits, and cast out demons.

“He spoke to me about this in Paradise after I picked some of the fruit in which death was hiding: ‘Adam, Adam do not fear. You wanted to be a god; I will make you a god, not right now, but after a space of many years. I am consigning you to death, and the maggot and the worm will eat your body.’

“And I answered and said to him, ‘Why, my Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘Because you listened to the words of the serpent, you and your posterity will be food for the serpent. But after a short time there will be mercy on you because you were created in my image, and I will not leave you to waste away in Sheol.

For your sake I will be born of the Virgin Mary. For your sake I will taste death and enter the house of the dead. For your sake I will make a new heaven, and I will be established over your posterity. And after three days, while I am in the tomb, I will raise up the body I received from you. And I will set you at the right hand of my divinity. And I will make you a god just like you wanted. And I will receive favor from God and I will restore to you and to your posterity that which is the justice of heaven.’ . . .”

And I, Seth, wrote this testament. And my father died, and they buried him at the east of Paradise opposite the first city built on the earth, which was named after Enoch. And Adam was borne to his grave by the angels and powers of heaven because he had been created in the image of God. And the sun and the moon were darkened, and there was thick darkness for seven days.

And we sealed the testament and we put it in the cave with the treasures with the offerings Adam had taken out of Paradise, gold and myrrh and frankincense. And the sons of kings, the magi, will come and get them, and they will take them to the son of God, to Bethlehem of Judea, to the cave.

Psalm: Ode 14

As the eyes of a child turn toward father, so my eyes turn to You, Lord,*
at all times You are my consolation and joy.
Do not turn Your mercy from me, O Lord, nor Your kindness,*
but stretch out Your right hand and be my guide to the end.
Care for me, save me from evil,*
and let Your serenity and love be with me.
Teach me to sing of truth*
that I may produce fruit in You.
Open to me the harp of Your Holy Spirit*
so I may praise You, Lord, with all its notes.
From Your sea of mercy help me;*
help me in the hour of my need. Hallelujah!

Gospel: Infancy Gospel of James 11–12, SV

And she took her water jar and went out to fill it with water. Suddenly there was a voice saying to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” Mary began looking around, both right and left, to see where the voice was coming from. She became terrified and went home. After putting the water jar down and taking up the purple thread, she sat down on her chair and began to spin.

A heavenly messenger suddenly stood before her: “Don’t be afraid, Mary. You see, you’ve found favor in the sight of the Lord of all. You will conceive by means of his word.”

But as she listened, Mary was doubtful and said, “If I actually conceive by the Lord, the living God, will I also give birth the way women usually do?”

And the messenger of the Lord replied, “No, Mary, because the power of God will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, son of the Most High. And you will name him Jesus — the name means ‘he will save his people from their sins.’”

And Mary said, “Here I am, the Lord’s slave before him. I pray that all you’ve told me comes true.”

And she finished spinning the purple and the scarlet thread and took her work up to the high priest. The high priest accepted them and praised her and said, “Mary, the Lord God has extolled your name, and so you will be blessed by all the generations of the earth.”

Mary rejoiced and left to visit her relative Elizabeth. She knocked at the door. Elizabeth heard her, tossed aside the scarlet thread, ran to the door, and opened it for her. And she blessed her and said, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should visit me? You see, the baby inside me has jumped for joy and blessed you.”

But Mary forgot the mysteries which the heavenly messenger Gabriel had spoken, and she looked up to the sky and said, “Who am I that every generation on earth will congratulate me now?”

She spent three months with Elizabeth. Day by day her womb kept swelling. And so Mary became frightened, returned home, and hid from the people of Israel. She was just sixteen years old when these mysterious things happened to her.

Second Sunday of Advent

(Third Sunday before Christmas)

Reading: Deuteronomy 22:23–24, Tanakh

In the case of a virgin who is engaged to a man — if a man comes upon her in town and lies with her, you shall take the two of them out to the gate of that town and stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help in the town, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. Thus you will sweep away evil from your midst.

Psalm: Ode 38:1–6

I move up into the light of Truth as into a chariot*
and Truth takes me and causes me to come.
Truth causes me to pass across canyons and ravines*
and preserves me against waves smashing against cliffs.

Truth is my haven of salvation*
and puts me in the arms of Eternal life.
Truth goes with me, soothes me, keeps me from error,*
because You were and are the Truth.

There is no danger for me because I constantly walk with You.*
When I obey You, I am not in error.
Error flees from You and never meets You.*
Truth proceeds on the upright Way.

Gospel: Infancy Gospel of James 13–14, SV

Mary was in her sixth month when one day Joseph came home from his building projects, entered his house, and found her pregnant. He struck himself in the face, threw himself to the ground on sackcloth, and began to cry bitterly: “What sort of face should I present to the Lord God? What prayer can I say on her behalf since I received her as a virgin from the temple of the Lord God and didn’t protect her? Who has set this trap for me? Who has done this evil deed in my house? Who has lured this virgin away from me and violated her? The story of Adam has been repeated in my case, hasn’t it? For just as Adam was praying when the serpent came and found Eve alone, deceived her, and corrupted her, so the same thing has happened to me.”

So Joseph got up from the sackcloth and summoned Mary and said to her, “God has taken a special interest in you — how could you have done this? Have you forgotten the Lord your God? Why have you brought shame on yourself, you who were raised in the Holy of Holies and fed by a heavenly messenger?”

But she began to cry bitter tears: “I’m innocent. I haven’t had sex with any man.”

And Joseph said to her, “Then where did the child you’re carrying come from?”

And she replied, “As the Lord my God lives, I don’t know where it came from.”

And Joseph became very frightened and no longer spoke with her as he pondered what he was going to do with her. And Joseph said to himself, “If I try to cover up her sin, I’ll end up going against the law of the Lord. And if I disclose her condition to the people of Israel, I’m afraid that the child inside her might be heaven-sent and I’ll end up handing innocent blood over to a death sentence. So what should I do with her? I know, I’ll divorce her quietly.”

But when night came a messenger of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream and said: “Don’t be afraid of this girl, because the child in her is the Holy Spirit’s doing. She will have a son and you will name him Jesus — the name means ‘he will save his people from their sins.’” And Joseph got up from his sleep and praised the God of Israel, who had given him this favor. And so he began to protect the girl.

Third Sunday of Advent

(Second Sunday before Christmas)

Reading: Isaiah 7:10–14, Tanakh

The Lord spoke further to Ahaz: “Ask for a sign from the LORD your God, anywhere down to Sheol or up to the sky.” But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask, and I will not test the LORD.” “Listen, House of David,” Isaiah retorted, “is it not enough for you to treat men as helpless that you also treat my God as helpless? Assuredly, my Lord sill give you a sign of His own accord! Look the woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Immanuel.

Psalm: Ode 38:7–14

Whatever I do not understand, You make clear to me.*
You warn me of all the drugs of error and pains of death which some consider sweetness.
You expose the corrupting of the Corrupter,*
the corrupting Bride and corrupting Bridegroom.

When I ask Truth, “Who are these?”*
You respond, “This is the Deceiver and the Error.”
They imitate the Beloved and his Bride*
They cause the world to err and be corrupted.

They invite many to an imitation wedding feast*
and allow them to drink wine of their intoxication.
They cause many to vomit up their wisdom and their knowledge,*
make them senseless, and abandon them.

Those invited stumble about mad and corrupted*
with no understanding and no desire to seek it.
You make me wise so as not to fall into the hands of deceivers,*
I rejoice when Truth goes with me.

You plant me and I am established and live and am saved*
Your hands lay my foundation and I am secure.

Gospel: Infancy Gospel of James 15–16, SV

Then Annas the scholar came to him and said to him, “Joseph, why haven’t you attended our assembly?” And he replied to him, “Because I was worn out from the trip and rested my first day home.”

Then Annas turned and saw that Mary was pregnant.

He left in a hurry for the high priest and said to him, “You remember Joseph, don’t you — the man you yourself vouched for? Well, he has committed a serious offense.”

And the high priest asked, “In what way?”

Joseph has violated the virgin he received from the temple of the Lord,” he replied. “He had his way with her and hasn’t disclosed his action to the people of Israel.”

And the high priest asked him, “Has Joseph really done this?”

And he replied, “Send temple assistants and you’ll find the virgin pregnant.”

And so the temple assistants went and found her just as Annas had reported, and then they brought her, along with Joseph, to the court.

“Mary, why have you done this?” the high priest asked her. “Why have you humiliated yourself? Have you forgotten the Lord your God, you who were raised in the Holy of Holies and were fed by the heavenly messengers? You of all people, who heard their hymns and danced for them — why have you done this?”

And she wept bitterly: “As the Lord God lives, I stand innocent before him. Believe me, I’ve not had sex with any man.”

And the high priest said, “Joseph, why have you done this?”

And Joseph said, “As the Lord lives, I am innocent where she is concerned.”

And the high priest said, “Don’t perjure yourself, but tell the truth. You’ve had your way with her and haven’t disclosed this action to the people of Israel. And you haven’t humbled yourself under God’s mighty hand, so that your offspring might be blessed.”

But Joseph was silent.

Then the high priest said, “Return the virgin you received from the temple of the Lord.”

And Joseph, bursting into tears ...

And the high priest said, “I’m going to give you the Lord’s drink test, and it will disclose your sin clearly to both of you.”

And the high priest took the water and made Joseph drink it and sent him into the wilderness, but he returned unharmed. And he made the girl drink it, too, and sent her into the wilderness. She also came back unharmed. And everybody was surprised because their sin had not been revealed. And so the high priest said, “If the Lord God had not exposed your sin, then neither do I condemn you.” And he dismissed them. Joseph took Mary and returned home celebrating and praising the God of Israel.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

(Sunday Next before Christmas)

Reading: Genesis 25:19–26, Tanakh

This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac. Isaac was forty years old when he took to wife Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel, the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac pleaded with the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD responded to his plea, and his wife Rebekah conceived.

But the children struggled inside her womb, and she said, “If so, why do I exist?” She went to inquire of the LORD, and the LORD answered her,

“Two nations are in your womb,

Two separate people shall be mightier than the other,

And the older shall serve the younger.”

When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first one emerged red, like a hairy mantle all over; so they named him Esau. Then his brother emerged, holding on to the heel of Esau; so they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.

Psalm: Ode 38:15–19

You plant me and I am established and live and am saved*
Your hands lay my foundation and I am secure.
Truth sets the root, waters, adapts, and blesses*
Truth yields fruits forever.
Truth penetrates deeply, springs up, and spreads out.*
Truth is full and growing.
I praise You, Lord, in Your planting and cultivation,*
in Your care and the blessing of Your lips.
I praise You in the beautiful planting of Your right hand,*
in the fruition of Your planting in the understanding of the mind.

Gospel: Infancy Gospel of James 17

Now an order came from Emperor Augustus that everybody in Bethlehem of Judea be enrolled in the census. And Joseph wondered, “I’ll enroll my sons, but what am I going to do with this girl? How will I enroll her? As my wife? I’m ashamed to do that. As my daughter? The people of Israel know she’s not my daughter. How this is to be decided depends on the Lord.”

And so he saddled his donkey and had her get on it. His son led it and Samuel brought up the rear. As they neared the three mile marker, Joseph turned around and saw that she was sulking. And he said to himself, “Perhaps the baby she is carrying is causing her discomfort.” Joseph turned around again and saw her laughing and said to her, “Mary, what’s going on with you? One minute I see you laughing and the next minute you’re sulking.”

And she replied, “Joseph, it’s because I imagine two peoples in front of me, one weeping and mourning and the other celebrating and jumping for joy.”

Halfway through the trip Mary said to him, “Joseph, help me down from the donkey — the child inside me is about to be born.”

And he helped her down and said to her, “Where will I take you to give you some privacy, since this place is out in the open?”