08 December 2018

The Third Sunday in Advent, 16 December 2018

TheThird Sunday in Advent, 16 December 2018

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9 – Isaiah 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
St. Luke 3:7-18

Background: Gaudete Sunday

Before the liturgical changes in the rites of the Roman Church and subsequently in Anglican and Lutheran liturgies, the season of Advent was seen as having a penitential character, and the color for the season was purple. This Sunday was seen as a brief but necessary respite to this season of penitence. The Sunday was also known as “Rose Sunday” from the rose color seen in the vestments for that day. The readings all exhibit a joyful character – a change from the darker themes that preceded this Sunday. When the liturgy was revised in the late sixties and early seventies, the season of Advent was softened a bit, and was not seen as being a penitential season. Some churches, mainly Episcopal and Lutheran, began using blue vestments to signal that change, however the rose color for this day stuck. The name “Gaudete” comes from the first word of the introit for this Sunday’s mass, “Gaudete in Domino semper…”

First Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.

The Book of Zephaniah is in some respects a mirror of the spectrum that Advent presents. The initial chapters reflect the author’s theology of the Day of the Lord with oracles against Judah and the other nations that surrounded them. He saw God visiting them with judgment and destruction due to their unfaithfulness. However, in the third chapter there is a different atmosphere, a hopeful vision of when the nations would turn to YHWH, and honor the God of Israel. Our reading, this morning falls within that series, although the initial verses of Chapter 3 (1-13) also have a judgmental character. With verse 14 we have a new attitude, thus, the pericope begins with words of joy: “Sing aloud,” “Rejoice and shout!” And why should that be? The author is not shy to announce the reason, “YHWH has turned aside your judgments.” This seems to be related to the previous oracle in verses 1-8, and the promises to Jerusalem in verses 9-13. A new day has dawned, one in which the words of the prophets will no longer be words of judgment, but rather words of salvation and encouragement. God is pictured as a warrior who delivers and saves the people from their oppressors. It is a time of reversals, shame to praise, outcast to renowned, exiled to gathered to home.

Breaking open Zephaniah:
  1. What seems threatening about the future?
  2. How do you hope that these threats will be alleviated?
  3. How might your faith in God deal with the threats?

Response Canticle 9 (Isaiah 12:2-6) The First Song of Isaiah    Ecce Deus

Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Here we have a similar progression as seen in Zephaniah. In Isaiah, passages relating to the devastation of Judah and Jerusalem give way to hopes of transformation and the downfall of Assyria. Our pericope for today is a “Song to Sing in that Day.” Isaiah is certain that God will intervene and save them. He is so convinced of that eventuality that he offers a hymn to be sung (our pericope) on the day that these hopes and promises are realized. This certainty is enunciated in the first words of the pericope, “Surely, it is God who saves me.” The water images are lovely and evocative in a land known for its dry wilderness. These are more than words of hope, for the prophet encourages them to sing about them as if already accomplished.

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. How is God saving you?
  2. What in your life do you rejoice about?
  3. How do you share that good news with others?

Second Reading: Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This reading is one of two sets of imperatives that conclude the Letter to the Philippians (Set One: 4-7, and Set Two: 8-9). The first set speaks of Christian piety, while the second deals with ethical concerns. The first set is our reading for today and consists of three imperatives: 1) rejoice in the Lord, 2) Let your gentleness be evident, and 3) pray in order to relieve your anxiety. Each of the sets concludes with a wish for peace. The themes of rejoicing, gentleness, and patience/prayer are especially suited to this Sunday in Advent.
Breaking open Philippians
  1. How do you rejoice in the Lord?
  2. In what way do you show gentleness of spirit?
  3. When in the day do you pray – about what?

The Gospel: St. Luke 3:7-18

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
I always find the end to this Gospel to be somewhat amusing – “…but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” It seems necessary then to examine what this good news truly is, and what John’s vision of it is. The deprecations begin almost immediately with his naming the crowd as a“brood of vipers.” The heart of the good news is the request to repent and to bear the fruits of repentance. What those fruits might be are shown in the questions asked by the crowds (“what should we do?), by the tax collectors with the same question, and finally by the soldiers. The answers describe a more equitable society, sharing of resources, honesty in financial and government matters, and justice for citizens. We hear reflections of the prophets’ hope in the Baptist’s answers.

The result of the dialogue is expectation – but about what? To ascribe to John the title Messiah is one thing, but to know what expectations follow such a course is quite another. John deflects by describing a Messiah who will upset, really, all of their expectations. John sees Jesus as someone who will come and sort out the problems that society offers, “to clear”, and “to gather”, and “to burn.” It will take time for that to turn into good news for people, but then that is what Advent is – waiting.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. What are your expectations?
  2. Do you know what it is that you have to do?
  3. What if I said that you don’t need to do anything?

Initial idea:                  Rejoicing in difficult times

Example One:             Rejoicing in God’s ultimate judgment of us (Zephaniah)

Example Two:            Rejoice in your gentleness and in your prayer (Philippians)

Example Three:          Rejoice in your manner with other people (Luke)

Example Four:            Rejoice in God’s presence with us (Isaiah, last two verses)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller

04 December 2018

The Second Sunday in Advent, 9 December 2018

The Second Sunday in Advent, 9 December 2018

Baruch 5:1-9 or Malachi 3:1-4
Canticle 4 or 16 (The Benedictus)
Philippians 1:3-11
St. Luke 3:1-6

Background: Refining Gold

The separation of gold from silver in the ancient world was not practices until the sixth century BCE. The earliest evidence is from Sardis and it is linked to the production of coinage which required pure silver and gold. The separation process in which gold ore, which contains silver, was heated with soil high in salt resulting in a cementation parting process. In it the salt and iron sulfates act to dissolve the copper and silver found with the gold. The reading from Malachi takes us back to that ancient time, but apparently not any earlier than the sixth century BCE.

First Reading: 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.

This reading was written sometime in the second century BCE, probably in Jerusalem. It’s author writes as Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch, son of Neriah (Jeremiah 32:12-16). The fiction is that Baruch survived the exile of Jeremiah in Egypt, and that he wrote as an exile in Babylon. It is likely that the sorrows of Jerusalem that the author acquaints us with were really more related to Seleucid rather than Babylonian rule. In this pericope we see Jerusalem as a personified character. Here in Baruch the female characters of Wisdom and Jerusalem (Zion) appear often together. The Babylonian fiction allows the author to look forward to the time when Israel is released from her suffering and exile. The author has her face east, towards Babylon to await the peoples returning to the land of their fathers and mothers. Baruch recognizes the ancient prophetic argument that Israel’s suffering is the result of her sins, and the release is of the “children” and “daughters” (which are specifically noted) along with the sons. With those images in mind Jerusalem is in the guise of a mother as well. The gift of the Torah, Wisdom, and Prophets is their speech of redemption and freedom realized in the consolations of Jerusalem.

Breaking open Baruch:
  1. From what do you need to be freed?
  2. What consolation do you need?
  3. Who might give you that consolation?


First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight-- indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

This is an oracle of Malachi which dates from the Persian era, and has some of the hallmarks of apocalyptic. We don’t know much about him, excepting his name, which might be a title, “My Messenger”. His writing is compared to that of Zechariah, and with him he writes about the end times. His focus is different however, in that he orients to the Covenant at Sinai. He writes as a Levite (see Malachi 2:4-6). This reading comes from a section that describes “God’s Coming Day.” It follows three examples of Judah’s infidelity to the Covenant. The people to whom Malachi addresses his message are tired of waiting upon God. There seems to be a delay in God’s justice, and so now the prophet speaks.

A passage from Exodus (14:19) will help us as we read the oracle from Malachi, 

The angel of God, who had been leading Israel’s army, now moved and went around behind them. And the column of cloud, moving from in front of them, took up its place behind them.

He brings the people back to a remembrance of their plight as they fled Egypt, as he describes, “See, I am sending my messenger (angel) to prepare the way before me.God will suddenly appear – and what are the actions that will be the signs of his message and appearing – purification. First to be purified will be the Levites, the priests , so that they might present offerings to God. Then the offering of the whole people will be righteous and acceptable, just as in the old days.

Breaking open Malachi:
  1. Who is your messenger from God?
  2. What is the message that you long to hear?
  3. In what ways are you a messenger?

Response:Canticle 16 The Song of Zechariah     Benedictus Dominus Deus

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 his 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.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

These early parts of Luke are filled with song: the Magnificat of Mary, the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon, and now the Benedictus of Zechariah. We are also in the shadow of Hannah the mother of Samuel who mouthed her own song at his birth. Zechariah’s song is a sharing of what he learned from the Angel Gabriel (see 1:13-17). He is filled with the Holy Spirit, and so he functions as a prophet in this instance. His song is an announcement of the hopes of Israel and begins with praise of God and then the reasons for praising God. We are drawn again and again into images from Israel’s history and story. Like Malachi (above) Zechariah hopes for deliverance and redemption, and one who will be raised up as a deliverer. The hopes here are not about promised lands or future generations but about freedom to serve God.

The song abruptly shifts with the words,“You, my child,” and then describes what role and duties John, later the Baptist, will perform. He will be a prophet, he will be a forerunner, and he will be a teacher of what God intends – namely mercy.

Breaking open the Benedictus:
  1. What song describes your life?
  2. What song describes your faith?
  3. What song describes your hopes?

Second 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.

Letters are usually begun in this period with a salutation, a prayer, and then a thanksgiving. In these materials, Paul often describes what will be the concerns and message of his epistle. Our reading this morning leaves off the salutation and begins with thanksgiving and prayer. Other ancient letters often followed the salutation with a “health wish,” but Paul wants to know that the people to whom he is writing are “well in Christ.” So Paul gives thanks for the work that they have accomplished together, and then has a petition that they continue to have a fruitful partnership in Philippi. To make his intentions perfectly clear, Paul describes a sharing of God’s grace, that their love may grow in Christ, and that finally they be found as righteous by God.

Breaking open Philippians
  1. For what do you give thanks in your religious life?
  2. For what might your priest give thanks for what you have done?
  3. How do you share God’s grace?

The Gospel: St. 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.'"

In Advent we hear the words of prophets, and in this Gospel reading we are introduced to the work of John that was foreshadowed for us in the Responsory – the Benedictus sung by Zechariah. Luke wants us to know that we are in time, for he will later relate to us a Jesus who does things within the fullness of time. And so, in time, we meet John, son of Zechariah. The panoply of rulers, Tiberias, Pilate, etc. will be the subject of Jesus’ teaching – the world in which the Kingdom of God might be found in spite of these rulers. There are other important references, the wilderness, and the Jordan – the setting of Ancient Israel’s story and wanderings, and the place of refreshment for prophets, and for Jesus. It is a place away from the kingdoms of this world. The audience for this message is loosely indicated, so we hear at words to the crowds. Later as the gospel unveils itself, we will realize the various peoples that these crowds entail. It is a Lucan hint of his focus on the “little ones”, the poor.

A quotation from Isaiah (40:4-5) describes John and his mission. Thus, Luke connects John to all that has gone before in the prophets, and all that is to come in Jesus. In Mary’s song there are a series of reversals, “He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.” In Isaiah’s song “valleys are filled and rough ways made smooth.”Or as it was put fairly recently, “the times, they are a’changin’.” Isaiah’s hopes are well mated with Luke’s agenda in the words, “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. How would you describe John the Baptist’s mission?
  2. What is your mission?
  3. How is your message like his?

Principal Idea:                      Reversals

The first instance A:            Reversing our tears and sorrow (Baruch)

The first instance B:             Reversing our impurity (Malachi)

The second instance:           Reversing our darkness (Luke/Zechariah – Benedictus)

The third instance:              Continuation of life in Christ (Philippians)

The fourth instance:            Crying out in the wilderness (Luke)

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller