The Second Sunday of Advent - 9 December 2012

Baruch 5:1-9, or
Malachi 3:1-4
Canticle 16: Benedictus Dominus Deus
Philippians 1:3-11
Saint Luke 3:1-6


Background: Advent and the Prophets
We become so aware of the prophets during this season of expectation – and the Lectionary enforces that expectation by focusing so clearly on the prophets that proclaim to the people either threatened by or surviving the Exile.  In year A, all the readings are from the first of the Isaiahs, focusing on the place of God in Israel and upon the messianic vision that would follow the dire times of judgment.  In year B, three of the readings are from the later Isaiah and are filled strong words and concepts: play being molded into usefulness, the tearing open of the heavens, the comfort offered to a suffering people, the anointing of the prophet and the nation with the Spirit.  The final lesson from II Samuel recounts God’s promises to David.  In year C, the series of readings for this liturgical year, we encounter other prophets: Jeremiah, Baruch or Malachi, Zephaniah or I Isaiah, and finally Micah.  These readings all speak to a bright future following a difficult time.  There is a messenger and a road made easy, and always the people as the sheep whom God leads. 

If the culture is pounding us with the marketplace that Christmas has become, these readings, in each of the series bring us closely back to the reality of our time – of any time, really.  There are difficulties and there are sorrows.  It is God’s will to meet them.  At a time when most people attempt to ignore the problems of their time and satiate them with gifts and tinsel, Advent offers a more distinct and lasting hope.

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 is from a section of Baruch called “The Poem of Consolation” and borrows heavily from II Isaiah.  Here the exile is directly addressed, and the promise of something new is highlighted.  The prophet proposes that the people change their aspect by putting on clothing that depicts joy rather than “sorrow and affliction”.  Jerusalem is personified as a mother standing up to witness the return of her children.  Here the roadway becomes not a highway for the messenger, but rather a roadway cleared and accessible for all who “walk safely in the glory of God.”  Although we have yet to visit the joy of the Third Sunday of Advent, we are still encouraged to see God as leading God’s people with joy.  These weeks before Christmas are full of tragedy and sorrow for many who are alone, poor, or friendless.  They are exiles in a season of plenty.  What shall our Advent message be to them?

Breaking open Baruch:

1.     How do you invoke joy into your life when there seems to be only sorrow?
2.     How does God lead you into joy?
3.     How are you like mother Jerusalem welcoming her children home?


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.

If Baruch was holding up a theology of return, then Malachi has moved on to a theology of cleansing and reform.  The blush of joy that accompanied the people back to Jerusalem is now gone, and the shadow of a priesthood that is faithless and lax is cast over the people.  Here the prophet envisions a messenger who comes with a new message.  It is not a message of return but rather a message of the coming of the Lord as a refiner and purifier.  The reading is appropriate in this season in that it points to the Great Day of the Coming of the Lord – the theme and intent of our Advent celebration.  Although there is the hint of looking forward there is also a definite glance to the past.  It was in that time that the people offered themselves properly in the rites of the Temple.  Thus this reading confronts us with the whole spectrum of the experience of the people of God.

Breaking open Malachi:

1.     When you find less than satisfactory aspects to the way in which you live life, how do you clean that up?
2.     Do you think that God expects that of you?
3.     What do you understand the Great Day of the Lord to be?

Canticle 16 The Song of Zechariah
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.

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.

There are two segments to this hymn that is known to liturgical Christians as one of the Canticles sung at Evensong, and especially to Lutherans as a Canticle that may be sung after the Communion.  The first verses (68-75) are a piece that represents the hope of the Hebrews, mirroring the verses and phraseology of Psalms34, 67, 103, and 113.  In addition it also presents materials now known to us in the Thanksgiving Psalms in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The second segment (verses 76-79) has a distinctively Christian flavor.  Some commentators feel that this addition is to a psalm that was written by the disciples of John the Baptist, using the language of Malachi (see the second possible first reading).  Malachi understood his messenger to be Elijah, however these verses are focused on John the Baptist.  Regardless of their pedigree, the entire Canticle reflects that messianic vision and hope that was central to the inter-testamental period and to the emerging Christian community.

Breaking open Canticle 16:
1.       Do you identify with the Old Testament hopes that are expressed in the initial verses of the Canticle?
2.       What do you think that John’s message will be given his introduction by this Canticle?
3.       What are your Advent hopes?

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.

These initial verses of the Letter to the people of Philippi (absent the salutation of the first two verses) reflect Paul’s joy and love for these people.  In an interesting phrase, verse three can either find joy in remembrance of the Philippians (by Paul) or of Paul (by the Philippians).  Either is possible because there was a genuine relationship between the two parties.  There a clear evidences of the emotions that characterize the relationship.  “You hold me in your heart.”  “I long for you.”  Like the prophets who held up the promise of hope in difficult times, Paul holds up his own sense of hope in his own difficulties, mentioning his imprisonment.  This is a complete lesson for this Adventide, where we like Paul hold hope in spite of dire times.  The pericope ends with prayer – a prayer that asks for even more love and insight – so that these people might be found blameless “on the day of Christ”. 

Breaking open Philippians:

1.               How do you see love in your church – what is the evidence for it?
2.               How do you love those around you in the church?
3.               Do you need more “love and insight” in your life?

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 signals to us that something new is beginning, and leads us into this account of the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus as if beginning a whole new prophetic work.  The times are noted as to when this new prophetic and dramatic piece is to begin.  The times are quite specific, probably around 28-29 CE.  That John is in the desert leads us to know him in several roles: as a representative of Israel coming through the wilderness into a land of promise, as the prophet who is purified in his time in the wilderness – as Israel was, as a Nazirite (a holy figure who had taken vows, such as Samson and others) set to be a sign to the people.

Luke quotes Isaiah 40 (Mark uses a quote from Malachi) to show us how this prophet, John, meets the hopes of Israel.  We do not actually meet John in these verses.  We only experience the expectation about him and his role.  Liturgically this is the case as well.  This Sunday merely introduces us to the idea of John.  Next Sunday will introduce us to the reality of John, especially his preaching in which he lives out the hopes expressed in today’s reading.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Why does Luke want to pinpoint the time that John the Baptist enters the scene?
  2. How are the hopes of Baruch (see first reading) met in the person of John the Baptist?
  3. Does John meet Malachi’s standards?

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.

All commentary and questions are copyright © 2012 Michael T. Hiller


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