Weekday Gospel Reflection

December 17

Matthew 1:1-17 - World English Bible

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

2 Abraham became the father of Isaac. Isaac became the father of Jacob. Jacob became the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron. Hezron became the father of Ram. 4 Ram became the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon. Nahshon became the father of Salmon. 5 Salmon became the father of Boaz by Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed by Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse.

6 Jesse became the father of King David. David became the father of Solomon by her who had been Uriah's wife. 7 Solomon became the father of Rehoboam. Rehoboam became the father of Abijah. Abijah became the father of Asa. 8 Asa became the father of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat became the father of Joram. Joram became the father of Uzziah. 9 Uzziah became the father of Jotham. Jotham became the father of Ahaz. Ahaz became the father of Hezekiah. 10 Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh. Manasseh became the father of Amon. Amon became the father of Josiah. 11 Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the exile to Babylon.

12 After the exile to Babylon, Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel. Shealtiel became the father of Zerubbabel. 13 Zerubbabel became the father of Abiud. Abiud became the father of Eliakim. Eliakim became the father of Azor. 14 Azor became the father of Zadok. Zadok became the father of Achim. Achim became the father of Eliud. 15 Eliud became the father of Eleazar. Eleazar became the father of Matthan. Matthan became the father of Jacob. 16 Jacob became the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, from whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the exile to Babylon fourteen generations; and from the carrying away to Babylon to the Christ, fourteen generations.

Matthew laid out his genealogy in a deliberate manner to demonstrate his belief about Jesus. He was the Messiah as the "son of David, son of Abraham." He was heir to David's eternal throne. He was also THE faithful Jew who brought about the presence of the Kingdom.

Matthew structured his genealogy to emphasize the right moment for the Messiah's appearance and the people he would serve. Matthew listed the genealogy in three groups of fourteen; since Jews considered the number "seven" as the complete or perfect number, multiples of "seven" had significance. By using the number in this way, Matthew emphasized the appearance of the Messiah at the right time, the "fullness of time." It is interesting to note that Jesus himself marked the fourteenth generation in the list. In other words, the last name to appear, number fourteen on the third list of generations, was the Messiah. In Matthew's eyes, his appearance announced the presence of the end times, the coming of the Kingdom.

The people in the genealogy described not only the character and power of Jesus, they also indicated his mission. He was sent to the poor, the weak, the outcast. The appearance of four women on the list was extraordinary; no ancient man would boast of women in his list of ancestors unless they displayed extraordinary virtue. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (mother of Solomon) may have had outstanding characters, but their stories were flawed, tainted with immorality. Yet, all four had a great impact on their husbands and sons who were key in God's plans. So, too would Mary. The concept of the virgin birth would raise eyebrows among non-believers. For Matthew, the Christ came despite immorality. Indeed, he came to sinner, so they, too, could have a place in God's great plan of salvation.

How do you feel knowing that God prepared for the coming of his Son with less than perfect people?

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December 18

Matthew 1:18-25 - World English Bible

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was like this; for after his mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, before they came together, she was found pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, intended to put her away secretly. 20 But when he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, don't be afraid to take to yourself Mary, your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She shall give birth to a son. You shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who shall save his people from their sins."

22 Now all this has happened, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying,

23 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child,
and shall give birth to a son.
They shall call his name Immanuel";
which is, being interpreted, "God with us."

24 Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took his wife to himself; 25 and didn't know her sexually until she had given birth to her firstborn son. He named him Jesus.

The passage for the birth of Jesus can be divided into three parts: 1) the dilemma over the pregnancy, 2) the dream and the prophecy, 3) the birth of Jesus. Mary's pregnancy presented Joseph with few options; as a "righteous" Jew he wished to follow the Law, save personal face, and still have compassion on his betrothed. But the dream changed his mind. Like his name sake in the Old Testament, Joseph received God's will in his sleep. Many cultures hold dreams as a conduit to the divine will; the key to the dream was proper interpretation, for such would reveal God's intent. Not only did Matthew portray the scene in Old Testament terms, he reinforced the scene with Scripture. How did Joseph really know the message came from God? How could neophytes believe in the virgin birth? The quotation from Isaiah gave the answer. While Isaiah only referred to a teenaged girl expecting a birth, Matthew (along with Luke) presented the impossible; a virgin birth was the means for God to live among his people!

How does the birth of the Jesus change your outlook?

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December 19

Luke 1:5-25 - World English Bible

5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the priestly division of Abijah. He had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they both were well advanced in years. 8 Now while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to enter into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 The whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.

11 An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense.12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, "Don't be afraid, Zacharias, because your request has been heard, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 You will have joy and gladness; and many will rejoice at his birth.15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16 He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord, their God. 17 He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, 'to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,' and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to prepare a people prepared for the Lord."

18 Zacharias said to the angel, "How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and mywife is well advanced in years."

19 The angel answered him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presenceof God. I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. 20 Behold, you will be silent and not able to speak, until the daythat these things will happen, because you didn't believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time."

21 The people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marveled that hedelayed in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple. Hecontinued making signs to them, and remained mute. 23 When the days of his service were fulfilled, he departed to his house. 24 Afterthese days Elizabeth, his wife, conceived, and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 "Thus has the Lord done to me in the days inwhich he looked at me, to take away my reproach among men."

"He who hesitates is lost." That old adage speaks to procrastination, but more deeply to a lack of faith. Such was the case of Zechariah, father to the Baptist.

Zechariah was a member of the Abijah priestly division, a sub-group of priests that traced its lineage to the worship leaders who returned from the Babylonian exile. Being the eighth priestly division, the members of Abijah group served in the Temple twice a year, in April-May or October-November.

During his rotation, Zechariah served at the golden altar of incense, just beside the curtain entrance to the Holy of Holies, the room that contained the Ark of the Covenant, the focal point to the presence of YHWH in the Temple. (Exodus30:34-38 detailed the law for offering incense at the golden altar.). Like the scent of roasting meat offered in sacrifice to God, the rising aroma of incense represented a prayer oblation, a fragrance pleasing to the Divine.

The angel Gabriel confronted Zechariah during his duties with the Good News; even in their old age, the priest and his wife would have a son. Filled with the Spirit, the boy would be great in the eyes of God and man. Many in Israel would return to the Lord because of his efforts. And, he would stand as an Elijah figure, pointing to the coming Messiah. The message seemed to overwhelm the old man, who was struck dumb for his lack of faith.

This scene stood in stark contrast to another in the Temple, the call of Isaiah, the priestly prophet.

1 In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne,high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each one had six wings. With two he covered his face. With two he covered his feet. With two he flew. 3 One called to another, and said,

"Holy, holy, holy, is YHWH of Armies!
The whole earth is full of his glory!"

4 The foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 Then I said, "Woe is me! For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, YHWH of Armies!"

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having a live coal in his hand,which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar. 7 He touched my mouth with it, and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin forgiven."

8 I heard the Lord's voice, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"

Then I said, "Here I am. Send me!"

9 He said, "Go, and tell this people,

'You hear indeed,
but don't understand;
and you see indeed,
but don't perceive.'

Isaiah 6:1-9 WEB

Notice the similarities between the two scenes: the presence of YHWH in the Temple, the presence of an angel(or angels) in a worship setting, the smoke (either representing the presence of God or the prayer offering of the people or both), the call to action. Now, notice the main dissimilarity; Isaiah eagerly volunteered to his prophetic mission, while Zechariah hesitated. God gave one the power to speak in his name, while the other had the ability taken away. In both cases, the Lord carried out his will. Isaiah did prophesy, while Zechariah's silence implied he had a divine vision that would be fulfilled in the birth of a son.

Hesitation is not always a bad thing; sometimes it is wise to wait. But we should reflect on our motives once in a while. Do we hesitate to act because we don't have all the facts, or because we don't truly believe?

Do you hesitate out of the ignorance or skepticism?

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December 20

Luke 1:26-38 - World English Bible

26 Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of David's house. The virgin's name was Mary.28 Having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, you highly favored one! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women!"

29 But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what kind of salutation this might be. 30 The angel said to her, "Don't be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and give birth to a son, and will call his name 'Jesus.' 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom."

34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?"

35 The angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God. 36 Behold, Elizabeth, your relative, also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing spoken by God is impossible."

38 Mary said, "Behold, the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word."

Luke was an interesting author. While writing in an elegant style of the educated elite, he raised up the outcast and forgotten over his own peers. Mary, the mother of Jesus symbolized the poor, the powerless and the ignored in society. The Annunciation was a case in point.

When the angel Gabriel greeted Mary, she reacted in an appropriate social manner. Confronted in private, Mary wondered why she was greeted (young girls were considered to be too insignificant to greet). She also feared from the implications of the greeting. (Were her honor and the honor of her family compromised?) [1:29] The news would not get better for her. The angel proposed a conception and birth that could endanger her arranged marriage with Joseph and put her life at risk. (According to Deuteronomy 22:20-21, a girl who was not a virgin before marriage could be stoned to death. No wonder she defended her honor!) [1:34]

To overcome Mary's concern, the angel proclaimed her honor before God. She was highly favored by the Almighty. [1:28, 30]. And her son would by highly favored by God, for God would give him a title, and intimate relationship, and royal power over his people that would never end. [1:32-33]. Notice God gave her honor with his presence [1:28b] and with a mission [1:31]. The Lord would also honor her when he was present to her child and gave him a mission. (In ancient society, women could not have honor on their own; they could only stand in the honor of their husbands and sons. Hence, there was the important connection between Mary's honor and that of her Son.)

Gabriel announced the conception and birth of royalty. Mary's child would be "great" (as unique and history changing, like Alexander the "Great"). He would be Son of the "Most High" (a title for the greatest God, the highest concept of divinity one could have. The title "Son of" indicated a unique, intimate relationship with this highest God and a sharing in this God's power). He would have the Davidic throne of Israel forever. [1:32]

Faced with the objection of virgin, the angel reasserted her honor and that of her child. She would encounter (the Holy Spirit) and receive the protection of her true husband, God himself. (The wife lived under the "shadow" of her spouse. Mary would live under the shadow of the Most High). Her Son would have the titles of "holy" (in this case, equivalent to the word "great") and "Son of God." [1:35] Notice, God took the initiative in this announcement. He would impregnate the virgin. He would call her Son his own (see the passive voice ("he will be called") of Gabriel's announcements in 1:32a and 1:35b).

To reassure Mary, the angel announced the pregnancy of her relative Elizabeth. An elderly woman believed to be barren, Elizabeth could be paralleled with Hannah, the elderly mother of Samuel, last and greatest of the Judges (see 1 Samuel 1). If God could make the sterile fruitful, certainly he could father a king through a lowly country girl. [1:36]

Mary had no way out. The angel had upheld her honor in the face of future gossip; her honor would come from God, not from petty humans. Her son would be the Messiah; she would share in his honor. And, the impossible would take place within her elderly relative and her own womb. But she did not merely give in. Mary proclaimed her status as a daughter of Israel (Look, the servant of the Lord!) as much as Gabriel proclaimed her conception and pregnancy of Elizabeth. [1:31, 36, 38]

God can do the impossible. If he can take a lowly girl and make her the mother of his own Son, how much can he do for us!

Has God blessed you with the impossible?

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December 21

Luke 1:39-45 - World English Bible

9 Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah, 40 and entered into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 She called out with a loud voice, and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the voice of your greeting came into my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy! 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord!"

Luke used an insignificant meeting between two pregnant women in order to connect to two of the most important movements in first century Judaism: the followers of John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus.

John (and his lineage) represented the end of the Old Testament prophets. He was an unusual desert wanderer who preached from conviction and reckless abandon; his speech and lifestyle summed up the prophetic tradition in Judaism.

John's elderly father, Zechariah, represented Judaism and its priestly tradition. Judaism did mediate God to his people, but its ancient character stifled novelty. Hence, presented with a new revelation about his desired son, the priest Zechariah was struck speechless.

However, John's elderly mother, Elizabeth, represented the open, trusting tradition of the female in Judaism. Just as the elderly Sarah became the mother of Isaac and the old Hannah became the mother of Samuel, Elizabeth could receive and rejoice in the birth of a son, even at an old age.

The Blessed Virgin Mary represented a new revelation. God was entering the human stage not only with a new message, but in a completely new way! Through Mary, the Lord was visiting his people.

So the scene was set. Mary traveled to the clan (i.e., "house") of Zachariah and greeted the matriarch of the clan, Elizabeth. [40] No doubt the greeting was formal, for Mary was from a related clan. But Luke turned tradition on its head. Instead of the elderly woman receiving honor from the younger, the tables were turned; Mary was honored (along with her Son). [42-45]

Because of her age, Elizabeth should have been the one who received the attention of maternity. But Mary received praise because she believed in the new revelation. [45] Now, Elizabeth (and her son), too, believed because the Spirit acted. [41]

Notice the themes of exaltation and humility. Through the figure of Elizabeth, Luke humbled the old tradition in a time that honored ancient revelation. Through the figure of Mary, he exalted the new revelation. Through the meeting, he bridged the old to the new. From this moment on, Luke would exalt Jesus and diminish John's role. For Luke, the time of Judaism had past; the time of Christianity had dawned.

How do you cling to the old, yet welcome the new? How does that attitude affect your faith?

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December 22

Luke 1:45-56 - World English Bible

Elizabeth said to Mary,

45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord!"

46 Mary said,

"My soul magnifies the Lord.
47 My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked at the humble state of his servant.
For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed.
49 For he who is mighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for generations of generations on those who fear him.
51 He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He has put down princes from their thrones.
And has exalted the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things.
He has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has given help to Israel, his servant, that he might remember mercy,
55 As he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and his offspring forever."

56 Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her house.

In this reading, the scene from the Visitation continued with Elizabeth's beatitude for Mary and her faith. Then, Mary began the Magnificat with a song of joy. God had decided to use a lowly handmaiden to fulfill his will. His activity in Mary's life was a reason for praise and was seen as an act of divine power. This line of reasoning paralleled Luke's view of the crucifixion. Jesus died a shameful death in the eyes of his contemporaries, yet, in the eyes of the faithful, his lowly death was a mighty act of God. After all, just as the pain of childbirth gives way to the joy of new life, so the death pangs of Jesus gave way to the glory of the resurrection. The pregnancy of Mary was the first step in God's immediate plan for salvation.

What would that pregnancy mean to Israel? Mary's song listed two results: a sign of the faithfulness to the people and justice. God would change (even invert) the world order. The rich and powerful would be humbled. And the poor would be exalted. How? Through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His life would mark the beginning of the end time, when divine justice would reign and God would bless even the forgotten among the people. In the end, God would keep his promises.

So, Mary had reason for joy. Her status was not based upon local opinion, but upon her place in God's plan. She was the first to accept the Good News at the Annunciation. Now she was an instrument of God's will and power. For that reason, her reputation would spread from generation to generation. She would be the mother of the Savior. And, the Mother of God!

All generations would call her blessed. How do you honor the mother of Jesus in your life?

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December 23

Luke 1:57-66 - World English Bible

57 Now the time that Elizabeth should give birth was fulfilled, and she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had magnified his mercy towards her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 On the eighth day, they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him Zacharias, after the name of the father. 60 His mother answered, "Not so; but he will be called John."

61 They said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name." 62 They made signs to his father, what he would have him called.

63 He asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, "His name is John."

They all marveled. 64 His mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue freed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 Fear came on all who lived around them, and all these sayings were talked about throughout all the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them laid them up in their heart, saying, "What then will this child be?" The hand of the Lord was with him.

The narrative of the Baptist's birth revolved around the miraculous. An elderly couple could not have children, yet an angel told the man, Zechariah, that his prayer had been answered. Zechariah was incredulous, so he was struck incapable of speech. But the couple did conceive a son. When Mary visited the boy's mother, Elizabeth, the Spirit filled the boy when in the womb. Now, with the birth of the child, miracles would happen again. With the proclamation of the boy's name, Zechariah regained his power of speech, only to praise God over and over. The Spirit would also lead the boy through his adolescence until his appearance as an adult.

Notice the faith of the couple in the face of peer pressure. The name of the child was to reflect not just a favorite relative, but the identity of the clan itself. Male children would be given the name of an elder. In turn, the boy was expected to follow in the footsteps of that elder. When family and friends wanted to name the boy after his father, they wanted the boy continue the traditions of the priestly caste. By giving him a new name, Zechariah and Elizabeth defied convention and declared his identity and role would be different, outside family traditions and expectations. When speech was restored to Zechariah, he praised God to affirm his faith in the heavenly message he was given. In other words, Luke highlighted the movement of the Spirit over the parochial concerns of the immediate community. God, not humans, would guide events.

How many times have our parochial interests blinded us the to the activity of God in our lives?

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December 24

Luke 1:67-79 - World English Bible

67 His father, Zacharias, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying,

68 "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people;
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David
70 (as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets who have been from of old),
71 salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show mercy towards our fathers,
to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath which he spoke to Abraham, our father,
74 to grant to us that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies,
should serve him without fear,
75 In holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.
76 And you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the remission of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the dawn from on high will visit us,
79 to shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death;
to guide our feet into the way of peace."

80 The child was growing, and becoming strong in spirit, and was in the desert until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

In this passage from Luke, the healed Zechariah declared the Benedictus, a prayer of blessing on the Lord. We can divide the Benedictus into two parts, focusing on the two characters foretold in the passage: Jesus and John.

First, Zechariah proclaimed the presence and redemption of the Lord in Jesus. God raised up his "horn of salvation." This phrase has puzzled scholars over the years. Did it refer to a shofar, the rams horn Temple officials used to blow a tune and announce various holy days? Did it refer to bull's horn, the blunt instrument the animal used in fighting? Did it refer to a vessel for pouring oil (an ivory tusk)? While the meaning cannot be clearly ascertained, clearly the horn of salvation was a prophetic sign of Davidic linage that would free the people from persecution and would be a marker of the Lord's mercy. 1:70-72 and 1:73-75 form a thematic parallel: 1) prophecy (1:70) then salvation/mercy (1:71-72) and 2) promise to Abraham (1:73) then deliverance/service (1:74-75). In this construction, Luke emphasized the roots of Jesus in the Hebrew scriptures; he was the Lord's presence and redemption on earth.

In 1:76-79, Zechariah turned to his own son, John. The child would grow to become a prophet, preceding Jesus ("the face of the Lord") to prepare the people with a message of repentance, leading to forgiveness. The Lord sent John as only part of his mercy; the Baptist would point to the Christ, the dawn who would enlighten those in darkness and at death's door and who would lead to a life of peace ("guide our feet into the way of peace").

The Spirit that silenced Zechariah now filled him to prophesy, so his road to faith was complete. He saw that fulfillment in his own son.

How do you see God's will in your life? Does that experience lead you to praise the Lord?

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