Advent II, 6 December 2009

The Second Sunday of Advent

6 December 2009

This is a series that appears in the weekly Newsletter of Trinity Church; designed to get you ready to hear the lessons at next Sunday’s liturgy.  Your suggestions and comments are most welcome.
-       Fr. Michael T. Hiller


Baruch 5:1-9
St. Luke 1:68-79 The Benedictus Dominus Deus
Philippians 1:3-11
Saint Luke 3:1-6

BACKGROUND

The reading from the Hebrew Scriptures is from a book named for the secretary for Jeremiah.  Written after the Maccabbean period (160 – 63 BCE) it echos many of the hopes found in the prophetic works of the Isaiahs and Jeremiah.  The psalm is a canticle sung by Zachariah in the Gospel of Luke, and is discussed below.  The epistle is a piece from the Letter to Christians in Philippi, written by St. Paul around 62 CE.  The Gospel is from Luke, and not only gives us an introduction to the Birth Narrative of St. John the Baptist, but also gives us, in ancient fashion, time references as to when this story takes place by naming local rulers and situations.



Baruch 5:1-9

Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God;
put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name,
"Righteous Peace, Godly Glory."
Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
look toward the east,
and see your children gathered from west and east
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that God has remembered them.
For they went out from you on foot,
led away by their enemies;
but God will bring them back to you,
carried in glory, as on a royal throne.
For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low
and the valleys filled up, to make level ground,
so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.
The woods and every fragrant tree
have shaded Israel at God's command.
For God will lead Israel with joy,
in the light of his glory,
with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.


In asking Jerusalem to climb to the heights of Mt. Zion, and to look east, the author of Baruch recalls the messages of Jeremiah, and the prophets writing under the name of Isaiah.  The author also recalls a huge hope of Israel and Judah’s history, from Israel’s deportation under the Assyrians, through the successive Judean deportations under the Babylonians, to the trials of the Jewish people under the Syrian rulers.  Baruch talks about a coming time in which the people will return to Jerusalem, “gathered from west and east.”  This is probably more a spiritual hope than a physical one.  There had already been returns of the people beginning with Cyrus the Mede around 530 BCE.  Baruch hopes for a return of the people to the Jewish values, that were either abandoned, diluted, or forgotten in the troubles of the sixth and fifth centuries.  The language of Baruch is reminiscent of some of language of Second Isaiah, and is probably why the reading was chosen for this Sunday.

Breaking Open Baruch:

  1. Think about your own family’s history.  Who got lost as your family traveled either to or within America?  What is the religious history of your family?
  2. What are the journeys reported in the Christmas story?
  3. What is the command, “look toward the east” reminiscent of ?

Benedictus Dominus Deus, Luke 1: 68-79

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old,
that he would save us from our enemies, *
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers *
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear, *
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.






As I mentioned last week, St. Luke’s characters often break into song.  This week, and in the weeks following, we have examples of this.  The “psalm” for this morning is a canticle (16 – The Hymnal 1982) that is sung usually at Morning Prayer.  It is sung by Zachariah following the birth of his son, John (the Baptist).  Like the Virgin Mary, and Simeon, the song is a reaction to a great event in the Birth Narrative.  The song ties the story of John the Baptist (and of Jesus) to the history of Israel, and mentions two touchstones of the history, namely, Abraham and David.  These notions are unusual in that Luke was probably writing for a gentile audience, but he wanted the theology of his songs to be consistent with the message of Jesus, and the community’s hopes that had been built around Jesus.                 

Breaking open the Benedictus
  1. In what ways is Luke’s song similar to Baruch’s poem?
  2. What is the covenant that God makes with Abraham?
  3. Who is the child in the passage “you, my child, shall be called a prophet of the Most High?”
  4. How might the history of Israel, seen from the reading in Baruch, have figured into Luke’s song?  How might recent history with the Romans have figured in?
  5. Why is this chosen as an Advent reading?


Philippians 1:3-11

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God's grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Paul clearly has a great deal of love for the Christians at Philippi.  Their generosity in supporting his mission earned them the apostle’s respect and admiration.  In spite of their poverty, they gave to support the message.  In his greeting, Paul looks forward to “the day of Jesus Christ.”  In Paul we see a great deal of evidence that the hope of the second coming of Jesus was palpable and vibrant.  Written earlier in the period after the death of Jesus (62 BCE) such “second coming talk” would have been common. 

Breaking open Thessalonians:
  1. Paul talks about a “harvest of righteousness” that would come out of the pure and blameless lives of the Philippians.  What might that harvest be?
  2. What words in Paul’s introduction hint at the closeness with which he regards the Philippians?
  3. What Advent points are made in this reading?

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

Luke wants us to understand the connection of Jesus to the history of Israel, and he also wants to see Jesus embedded in time.  So, earlier in this section, as we are introduced to the family of John the Baptist, and to the priesthood of Zechariah, his father, we also come to know that these great events are taking place in the larger world, in which Luke, later in Acts, will chronicle the movement of this message into the wider world.  Luke sets the stage, both locally and globally so that the reader can understand the context from which this new message comes.

Luke has the ministry of John the Baptist introduced by words from Second Isaiah (Chapter 40).  Like Baruch, in the first reading, Isaiah looked forward to a return, and pictured a return through a desolate place made alive with a highway upon which the Lord would come to the people.  As Luke reports it, the reverse happened in the ministry of John the Baptist, for the people left the wooded highlands, and cities, and walked back into the desert, there to “see the salvation of God.”  The ministry of John the Baptist will be more in evidence in next Sunday’s readings.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Why would gentiles be interested in the Jewish history into which Jesus is born?
  2. What are the similarities in the quotation from Isaiah in the Gospel to the first reading for today?
  3. According to Luke, what is John’s mission and message?  Was that peculiar and new, or something that had already been done?
  4. How would the mention of secular rulers color the thinking of the gentile reader?


After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

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