The Collect of the Day
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.
The First Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10
Last week Isaiah’s vision (11:1-10) was of nature transformed, especially the natural enemies within the animal kingdom. This week the land is transformed as well. This is especially true of the wilderness, the desert, the places hostile to the people of God. The highway of which Isaiah speaks is the way back to Israel from Babylon, where much of Israel has been in exile. Read Psalm 137—a description of life in exile. This vision is meant to be its opposite.
35:1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8 A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
The Song of Mary (Canticle 15): Luke 1:46b-55
In place of a psalm today, we are using Mary’s song upon hearing the greeting of her cousin Elizabeth. What follows is the translation from The Book of Common Prayer (Canticle 15). It is commonly known as “the Magnificat” (the first word in its Latin translation). Mary rejoices in what God has done for her, but sees a much larger implication: the overturning of systems of oppression. She also sings in unity with her ancestor Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Her song also anticipates the words of her son in today’s Gospel reading.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
The Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit,
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.
Psalms 146-150 are sometimes called the “Hallelujah” psalms, as they are all psalms of celebration that begin and end with “Hallelujah” (Hebrew for “Praise the Lord”). Collectively, they serve as a kind of doxology to the entire collection of psalms. Psalm 146 declares “happy” those who hope in God and then proceeds to give reasons, a description of the God of Israel.
4 Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! *
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
5 Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever;
6 Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.
7 The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; *
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
8 The Lord loves the righteous;
the Lord cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
9 The Lord shall reign for ever, *
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.
The Second Reading: James 5:7-10
Our second reading reminds us that we are still in Advent and still pondering the mystery of the Lord’s future coming. Patience is needed, the patience of a farmer. Strength is also needed, and the will to keep from grumbling. All this is to protect us from anxiety and fear. The prophets are an example to us because they suffered while they were patient, steadfastly speaking a word of hope.
5:7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
The Holy Gospel: Matthew 11:2-11
On the Third Sunday of Advent we read something about the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. In this passage from Matthew we get a perspective from both sides. John, from prison, asks if Jesus is truly the one for whom they have been waiting. Clearly he has some doubts, perhaps simply because he is in prison, but perhaps also because reports about Jesus’ ministry are not meeting John’s expectations of the Messiah. Jesus, on the other hand, is clear about John’s purpose and appreciative of it. John was to prepare the way, and that was a mighty task. Yet in the ultimate manifestation of this way—the kingdom of heaven—all will know this greatness, and more.
11:2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Collect of the Day, and the translations of Canticle 15 and Psalm 146, are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries copyright © 2016 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved.