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


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