The Third Sunday of Advent, 13 December 2015

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Canticle 9: The First Song of Isaiah
Philippians 4:4-7
St. Luke 3:7-18

Background: The Gospel of Luke, Part Three

In the birth narratives, Luke already begins to signal his theological stance regarding Jesus’ status. The list of titles used in the narratives gives us ample clues as to his stance: a) “Lord” (1:17, 43, 76, 2:11), b) “Son of God” or “Son of the Most High” (1:32, 35, 2:49), c) “Messiah” (2:11,26), d) “King” (1:32-33), and e) “Savior” (1:69, 2:11).  Luke looks back from the mighty acts at Calvary and the Tomb to see Jesus in a new guise. He also looks back into the Hebrew Scriptures (which are seldom cited by him) to see Jesus as the fulfillment of promises. Thus he sees Jesus as the “Son of David” and in Simeon’s song, “A light for revelation to the gentiles,” and “glory to the people Israel.” The role of David is especially seen in Luke’s genealogy, different from Matthew’s both in number of generations and details, where Jesus is seen as a descendent of David on Joseph’s side. Also in this genealogy, Jesus is traced from Adam – a glimpse at the ministry to the gentiles, which Luke will promote in his double work of Luke/Acts. Of equal importance is the focus of the ministry of Jesus, and Luke’s theological vision, namely, the Anawim, the “poor ones.” In this focus we see the fulfillment of many prophetic writings that urged the care of widows, orphans, the oppressed, and those who were ill. Mary’s song, the Magnificat, is full of these emphases.

Next Week: Mary in the Lucan Birth Narrative.

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.

Zephaniah functions as a southern counterpart to the North’s Amos. The bulk of the book consists of oracles and judgments against Creation, God’s People, and the Nations. It is only that verse of the final chapter that give any grace or hope, and that is where our pericope falls in a “Promise of Deliverance”. What is left out of our reading for today is not only promises of deliverance for Judah, but also promises for the nations (3:9-10):

For then I will make pure
the speech of the peoples,
That they all may call upon the name of the LORD,
to serve him with one accord;
From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia
and as far as the recesses of the North,
they shall bring me offerings.

What also appears is an element that we have seen (or will see) in Isaiah, Micah, and Jeremiah, namely the notion of the “remnant”, those who survive the turmoil of God’s judgment, those who return from exile into the land of their fathers and mothers. Indeed, in our pericope for this day, there are “quotes” from both Joel 3 and Micah 4:6-7, promising a gathering of the peoples again, and a restoration of their fortunes.  Hidden in this text is a “mighty warrior”, who is none other than the God who has judged them and then freed and led them into the place that they had known as home. With Advent eyes, we look at Zephaniah’s promise and see something once seen in a manger.

Breaking open Zephaniah:
  1. Are your images of God about might or gentleness?
  2. Around what does your faith community gather?
  3. How has God been a “mighy Warrior” for you?

Canticle 9: 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.

Otto Kaiser, in his commentary[1], calls this poem “The Hymn of Thanksgiving for the Redeemed.” Kaiser sees this passage coming during the period of the Second Temple[2] where the editor wants to comfort the people in time of trial. He paints a picture of the “Holy One of Israel” assuring the daily life of the people, “Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation.” One wonders if even the common daily tasks that were done each day were done under the duress of trouble and oppression? The editor wants the people to realize that “on that day” (a new kind of Day of the Lord?) things will be new, and that God will once again be in their midst. More likely, or in addition, this passage may refer to the Feast of Tabernacles when water from the spring of Gihon was poured out as a libation before the altar in the temple. These are the trials that strengthen the people, so that they once again have a vision of the God who leads them and of the future into which they are called.

Breaking open the Ecce Deus:
  1. During what ordinary daily tasks do you think about God?
  2. Do you think about yourself during those times?
  3. What does the water symbolize for your?

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.

In this closing to the letter to the Philippians, Paul gives some final instruction to the congregation that he loves. Here is his list of virtues: rejoicing, gentleness, and prayerfulness. Though in the midst of life and its difficulties, Paul urges them not “to worry about anything.” Life is to be made up of a relationship with God that is seen in a daily life of prayer and thanksgiving. From these behaviors, and attitudes will flow a life of understanding, peace, and security. Given Paul’s present situation, in chains in a prison, his urging of this life speaks to what he has already undergone and is willing to urge for the peace of mind of others.

Breaking open Philippians:
  1. In what have you rejoiced lately?
  2. What has made you truly happy?
  3. How do you gain peace of mind?

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.

Luke prefaces the appearance of Jesus for Baptism with a description of John’s prophetic ministry. Last Sunday he tied it down to a specific time and place, and uses Isaiah to describe the ministry that John is to offer. That Luke should be specific about time and place makes for a reasonable extension of the urgency of the situation, “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees.” We wonder, along with the crowd, what must be taken away? What must be set aside for the sake of my salvation? The whole panoply of the people is present: the elect (who should put no importance to their standing), the crowd, the tax collectors, and the soldiers. All of them wonder as to what they should do. They are all looking into the future, or as Luke puts it, “as the people were filled with expectation.” What was to come, and from whence? John points to an unknown person who has yet to arrive. John is full of expectation. He sees in this coming one a level of judgment and “winnowing”. There needs to be a metanoia, a turning around, and a facing back to God. All of this sounds troublesome and difficult, and yet Luke summarizes it as “good news to the people.”

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What would your question to the Baptist be?
  2. What are your expectations about the coming Jesus?
  3. What are your expectations of yourself during this coming season?

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 © 2015, Michael T. Hiller

[1]   Kaiser, O, (1972), Isaiah 1-12, A Commentary, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, page 166ff.
[2]   Sometime after 530 BCE.


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